Friday, January 13, 2012

Best Reads of 2011

I was lucky enough to borrow a copy of My Reading Life by Pat Conroy from the library (Kindle library loans are a godsend to my bank account). Pat Conroy is my favorite living novelist. I have not read everything he has written, because then I will have read everything he has written. If that makes sense to you, then we are kindred spirits. I also reread Prince of Tides this year. The rhythm of that books moves inside me.

A favorite Line: "The writers who scoff at the idea of primacy of stories either are idiots or cannot write them."

Another of my favorite novelists, Barbara Kingsolver, had a new book out last year. The Lacuna was completely engrossing. Also, in reading it, I learned a ton. I loved that Frida was a real person, and I was able to look up some of her art online. Also, I found the paranoia of the 1960 fascinating. With the recent passing of the NDAA, America is poised to descend into that craziness all over again. Instead of communists, the fear is terrorists.

A favorite line: "My words, me, how could there be any difference?"

I stumbled upon this fun read and am glad I did. Amazon suggested it to me, and they were right on target. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making by Catherynne M Valente was a fantastical romp through brilliant imagination. I have her other stories on my to-read list.

A favorite line“She sounds like someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, which are the best sorts of people.” 

I take part in the Amazon Vine program, so I sometimes get my hand on a really good book before it even hits the shelves. That was the case with The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I absolutely adored every second of the story, and I am sure it will be one of those rare books I reread from time to time. I have also convinced quite a few people to buy their own copies and have seen some of them suggesting it to others. One of our youth guys even did his English project on the book. I missed out on getting to meet Erin when she was in MS on tour, but my sweet husband took my ARC by for her to sign. I just cannot say enough good things about this book. You can read my post on this book by clicking HERE.

A favorite line“The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.” 

1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp was the first book I purchased for my kindle, last year. It was a beautiful read, and it changed my life in a very literal way. I began listing blessings, challenging myself to reach 1000. I am well past 2000 now, and the notebook I list in lies open on the kitchen island. I still hear the word "eucharisteo" in my head all the time. I bought my mother a copy for Mother's Day, last year, and she loved it as well. She said the writing reminded her of me, and that is high praise in my opinion. Actually, I have not read the last few pages of this book. Once I read them, I will have finished reading it, and I don't really want to be finished. There is now a category on this blog called 1000. I list blessings there.

A favorite line“Just that maybe … maybe you don’t want to change the story, because you don’t know what a different ending holds.”

Yet another one of my favorite novelists, Jodi Picoult released Sing You Home in 2011, and I was sucked in, as I am with almost all of her books. She does so much research to get things just right, and I appreciate that. I worry a lot about messing up some tiny detail or another when I write, so her skill with legalities amazes me. Not to mention, she has this way of exploring all sides of a story that illustrates the very reason I think novels are so important to our society. When you read a novel, you have the chance to be someone else for a bit. It is okay if you feel or think differently, because it isn't real. But, that's just it, with a good book it IS real. By the end, you have felt and thought things you never would in real life, and you can't unfeel or unthink them. Novels can change how we see other people and the issues that confound and separate us.

A favorite line: "With my eyes closed, with every word a brushstroke, I do the kind of praying people do when they don’t know if there is a God."

During Lent, last year, I read Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler. The timing was perfect. As Passover (and Easter) approached, I explored the Jewishness of Jesus. A million little nuggets of truth found their way into my heart, and I began to look at Jesus differently. Always, He has been Savior, Lord, even Friend and Lover, but after that reading, he also became Teacher. Our church book group is reading it this month, and I get to lead the discussion in February. I am excited to see if they love it as much as I did.

A favorite line: "Would it surprise you to learn that the rabbis thought that study, and not prayer, was the highest form of worship? They pointed out that when we pray, we speak to God, but that when we study the Scriptures, God speaks to us."

Sticking to my little crush on Judiasm, I also read Strangers and Neighbors in 2011. It is a slim little book, by Maria Poggi Johnson, that I bought at Annual Conference in 2010. It sat on my To Read shelf for close to a year before I picked it up. The author lived among a group of Orthodox Jews and they all raised their children together. Her insights were refreshing and challenging. I love books that parallel the practices of Christianity with those of Judaism (think Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner), and I also love books where someone learns from another culture. The opening up of minds and hearts to invited in, well, strangers and neighbors... I love it.

A favorite line: "Christianity is built on the foundation of the Jewish covenant, but it is not just slapped on top of it like a trailer home onto a concrete lot."

If you have read here very long, you already know that owls have become a sort of symbol for me. I was attracted to them, originally, a few years ago. I had no real reason for this attraction, but God did. As my obsession grew, I found myself at the Cincinatti Zoo, face to face with Homer the Barred Owl. He was beautiful. I stared into his eyes and fell in love. The trainer surprised me by saying that owls are stupid birds, the hardest of creatures to train. That stuck with me. We call them wise, but they aren't? Then, I picked up Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien for a dollar at BAM (before ours went out of business). I was delighted to learn that owls are not stupid at all. They are hard to train because they have no need for us and see no reason to obey our commands. They are, rather, relational animals. To me, this showed the difference between being a religious drone and being a child of God, head over heels in love with Jesus. Honestly, I could go on forever about the spiritual epiphanies I had while reading Stacey's book. I will spare you, for now.

A favorite line: "Occasionally someone would ask to see "the baby," and when I opened the blanket, would leap back shrieking, "What is that?! A dinosaur?" Apparently, the world is full of educated adults with mortgages and stock portfolios who think people are walking around grocery stores with dinosaurs in their arms."

Finally, there was Little Bee by Chris Cleave. The writing was lyrical and beautiful. The story was shocking and heartbreaking and motivating. It is hard to properly describe this book. I'll just say, you have to read it. The girl on the beach, the missing finger, the scars... it is a story you need to hear.

A favorite line“We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, 'I survived'.” 

Stay tuned for my best YA/Kid reads from 2011.

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