Someone gave me this cute little book journal in January, 2006. I really like the picture on the cover, although I prefer my own big cuddly reading chair, and the cluttered oak table beside it. I usually have a mug of coffee on the table so I’m pretty sure I’d knock that orchid over every time I reached for my cup. Still, I love this little journal. It sets on the cluttered table by my reading chair and every so often I pick it up and slide myself into that roomful of books. I look at all those overflowing shelves, try to read the titles, and imagine titles for those I can’t read. It’s really lovely. And when I open the journal, it gets even lovelier because I have kept a list of all the books I’ve read since that January 11 years ago. It’s like my little private bookshelf in a book.
Looking back at my 2016 bookshelf, I started the year with MERE CHRISTIANITY by C.S Lewis. I’ve read it a couple of times before, but somehow this time it came together as it never has in the past. It’s a clear, orderly, step-by-step description of Christianity and the path to belief. I was stunned at how current a seventy-five year old book could be and what a visionary C.S. Lewis was.
So as I was reading Mere Christianity for my morning “devotional” reading, I was reading Kate Morton’s THE LAKE HOUSE for pure enjoyment. Also because it was the January book for my book group. I love Kate Morton books. They are a little hard to get into because she throws out a bunch of threads and it’s hard to keep them sorted out, but the mystery grows and the sub-plots all come together, and they never disappoint! One thing I especially love about her books is the way she flows from generation to generation.
JABER CROW by Wendell Berry came next. I picked it up because I read Berry’s HANNAH COULTER in 2015 and loved it. I really liked the intertwining of the characters’ lives and the Ohio feeling it brought back to me. But Jaber Crow didn’t measure up to Hannah Coulter.
And I don’t know if there is any connection, but Jaber Crow made me think of LAKEWOBEGONE DAYS, which I have always kind of wanted to read, just because I have heard about it my whole life. Well… sorry, Garrison Keillor, I couldn’t take more than three chapters.
A fellow booklover once told me you should give every book at least three chapters before you decide you don’t like it. I’ve found it to be a good rule of thumb. Especially, as I said, with books like Kate Morton’s. But I was Wobegone to get through those three chapters of the Lake.
My final January book was LILITH by George MacDonald. I have read bits and pieces of this magical book before, but this was my first time to read straight through it. George MacDonald is a master of story-telling and amazing imagery! Pictures from Lileth and Phantastes (which I read in July of 2015) will be happily stuck in my mind forever!
My friend Sandy and I are both book lovers, but we have vastly different taste in books. For example I can’t be bothered with the Amish generational novels that are some of her favorites and she shudders when I talk about Hind’s Feet on High Places or other allegories. But her enthusiasm for SUMMER OF LIGHT by Dale Cramer got my attention and it was totally uplifting and enjoyable! Although I don’t really remember many details about it now, ten months later.
My second book of February was recommended by a different Sandy – someone I don’t know at all. I was at a “Friends of the Library” book sale in Livermore and struck up a conversation with the woman who was running the sale. It was obvious that this Sandy and I were miles apart philosophically and politically, but kindred spirits in our love for reading. I asked her who are some of her favourite authors. She said she loves anything by Jodi Picoult, but her favourite book in the world is OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout. She said she likes these books because they deal with “women’s issues” – which I was not sure what she meant, but I thought they might be in the same category as Anita Shreve, who I like very much. So I picked up a copy of Olive Kitteridge, intending to chat with her about it the next time I see her at a book sale. I have to say Elizabeth Strout is a good writer and she definitely knows about women’s issues. She nails a lot of the feelings and problems and situations we face, and I’d swear she had been reading some of my deepest darkest thoughts. I’m glad I read it. Details from that book will be stuck in my mind forever, and I find myself pondering what I would have done in such and such a situation. Well written – but no hope. No peace or joy. No answers.
John and I enjoy audio books on our long drives, but our first audio book of the year was THE POET by Michael Connelly, and it was just an average police procedural book. No big deal. Completely forgettable.
In March our Lalas Book Group read THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce. It was recommended by my cousin Debbi, as we were engaged in one of our hundreds of on-line Scrabble games. What a good book! Average, boring, middle aged Harold Fry, set out to mail a letter and that walk to the mailbox turned into a pilgrimage that changed his life and the lives of many people who knew him and who met him on the way. A book reviewer might say it is “A triumph of the human spirit!”
By this time I had finished Mere Christianity in my morning devotional reading, and was scanning the shelves for a nice uplifting biography. Considering the vitriol and underhandedness that was part of the politics of the election cycle, it seemed like a logical choice to read BORN AGAIN by Chuck Colson. Colson was heavily involved with President Nixon and the Watergate scandal, and all of that brought him to a deep, rich personal relationship with God. It was worth reading for the edification and also for the history!
Our book club book for March was A SEVERE MERCY by Sheldon Vanauken. Not our typical book group choice, but I was glad to reread it after reading it some 15 years ago. It’s a biographical and true love story about a couple who became acquainted with C.S Lewis, and partially because of his influence gave their life and love to the Lord. Heartbreakingly beautiful and profound.
And since March hailed the first call of baseball season I read SET-UP MAN by T.T. Monday. I heard the author interviewed on sports talk radio. The “set-up man” is the pitcher who comes in near the end of a baseball game, and sets things up for the closing pitcher. The hero of this book moonlighted as a private detective, and was not very heroic – too much sex and violence. But I enjoyed the baseball chatter, and it was interesting to read behind the scenes of major league baseball.
I tried a second book by T.T Monday in April. DOUBLE SWITCH. But the good baseball stuff didn’t outweigh the trash, so I quit after the obligatory three chapters.
I read TOUGH AS THEY COME by Travis Mills, a true American hero who survived quadruple amputee injuries during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, and has gone on to live a satisfying, productive life.
April also brought a new wrinkle to my brain in the form of THE BOG PEOPLE . It was written by P.V. Glob and translated by R.B. Mitford. This book, not surprisingly, was recommended by my sister, Monica, who is a docent at a big museum in Houston. It was a collection of amazing stories about the discovery of whole human beings preserved like mummies in peat bogs. Bog people! This was something I had never even heard of in my whole life.
After I left the bog, I read THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame. I told my son, David that I was reading it for the first time, and he reminded me that we read it as a family. I argued with him, and assured him that I had never read it. I said all I knew about it was a bad Community Theater production I took them to when they were little, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. He started quoting parts to me and reminding me of things that happened in the book, so I looked back at our family book list and sure enough, there it was. I had decided to read it because they talked about it in A Severe Mercy, and even though it’s is probably technically a children’s book, I was thrilled at how many breathtakingly beautiful passages there are. Still not a fan of Mr. Toad.
Finally, at the end of my April shelf is THE PRINCESS BRIDE: S. MORGENSTERN’S CLASSIC TALE OF TRUE LOVE AND HIGH ADVENTURE by William Goldman. Very much like the movie we all love, but even more so. Inconceivable!
So that’s the end of the first four shelves of my 2016 reading. I’ll come back next week and talk about May to August. But right now I have to go read! It’s kind of an emergency. There’s a bunch of mysterious threads pulling on me, and tangling my thoughts, and calling me to get back to this haunting story about a Forgotten Garden…