Book #1 of 2020 was Rumer Godden's In this House of Brede. This was a reread, and I wrote about it before here. Actually, it was a reread then, too. I think the first time I read it was in high school. It's a remarkable book because very little actually happens; the characters are enclosed nuns and the majority of the action is internal and spiritual. Nevertheless it never drags, and I have thought about it for years.
Book #2 was another book by Godden, Black Narcissus. This one is also about nuns, but it's very different. These nuns live in a monastery in Darjeeling, India, and they go on a mission to the foothills of the Himalayas to set up a new house. What happens became the basis of an Academy Award-winning movie in 1947. I want to read more of Godden's books; I find her thought process fascinating. Her book The Peacock Spring is one of my all-time favorites.
Book #3 was We Were the Lucky Ones, by Georgia Hunter. This book was so harrowing that I quit reading it many times. It's the story of a Jewish family in Poland during the second World War, and all the anguish each member faces as each tries to escape the Nazi horror. As if that isn't bad enough, it turns out it's a true story, and all of it happened to Georgia Hunter's own family. They were "the lucky ones" of the title because they survived, but after so much suffering that it's really difficult to read about. I kept hearing people recommend it and say it was the best book they'd read that year or ever, so I kept coming back. I'm glad I finished it, but it needs all the trigger warnings in the world. Along the same lines, I started reading The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and it's gripping and very well-written, but also extremely upsetting, especially when read right before bed. I didn't finish it before it got sucked back into the void at the end of my library loan. I want to read it someday, I plan to read it someday. I don't like being too sensitive to read about trauma, since I consider myself a serious reader. There's no such thing as a satisfying reading life without being exposed to terrible sadness, because human beings do experience terrible sadness. Books contain misery because life does.
Book #4 was Seeing Through the Fog: Hope When Your World Falls Apart, by Ed Dobson. (Not James Dobson - different guy, no relation.) I bought this for my Kindle back in 2013 when I had heard some of Dobson's sermons. The book is about his diagnosis with ALS, sometimes known as Lou Gehrig's Disease (he's since died of it). It was hard to read because of the content, but very much worth reading. As in his sermons, Ed Dobson doesn't sugar-coat what it's like to live with a degenerative terminal illness, but his ultimate message is hope.
Book #5 was The Tenth Circle, by Jodi Picoult. I picked this up at a book sale for my classroom, but I don't think most middle schoolers would be mature enough for it. My reactions to Picoult's books are very mixed; I've loved some and hated some. I thought this one was well-done and very interesting, with its combination of Dante and Alaska and date-rape and graphic novels (there are several sections in the book in graphic novel style). The "tenth circle" of the title refers to the fact that Dante's Hell contains nine circles. I appreciated Picoult's refusal to turn away from the complexity of her subject matter. (Here's an interesting interview with Picoult from 2006, when this book came out.)
Book #6 was Southernmost, by Silas House. I read this because it was the choice of a book club that I am a sort-of member of. I say sort-of because it is in a different country from where I live, and I've only ever attended one meeting. I do put all their book choices on my library list and read them eventually when my holds come through. I wish I could have attended the group discussion on this one. It's about an evangelical pastor in Tennessee, Asher Sharp, who tries to take in a gay couple after they lose their home in a flood. His wife refuses to let him do so because of the couple's lifestyle. The wife was the least believable character in the story and we never really heard much from her point of view; she was kind of a standard stereotypical hater. But most of the characters in the book were quite well-realized, I thought. It turns out that Asher has been struggling with issues of homosexuality since his brother came out as gay years before. He has had no contact with him since, but he does get occasional postcards from Key West. The book was well-written and definitely worth discussing.
Book #7 has almost the same title as the first one of the year, but it's a completely different book. The title is Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines, by Preston Yancey. I first read this book last year, and I decided to share it with my husband because I thought he'd appreciate the links drawn between baking and spirituality, which go beyond the obvious. I read it aloud to him and he did very much enjoy it. I noticed many editing errors (and I did the first time through, as well), so looked to see if the book was self-published, but it wasn't. Zondervan, you can do better! Some examples are "yoke" spelled as "yolk" and "precedes" written as "proceeds"; it almost seemed as though they ran spellcheck instead of having a real editor. That's my only complaint about the book, which we both liked a lot.
Book #8 was Good Luck with That, by Kristan Higgins. I'm not sure where I got the recommendation for this book. It's not at all the sort of book I normally read. The book begins with three teenage friends at a weight-loss camp. They make a list of things they will do when they are thin. Fast forward many years, and now the three girls are together again, because one of them is dying. She makes the other two promise to do the things on the list. It was very sad to read about how difficult it is to live life as an extremely overweight person. It all works out in the end for the remaining two friends, in a way that might be described as a bit pat.
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