Monday, December 29, 2014

The Books of My Year

Last year ended with another defeat in the annual book reading contest with my Boy. Another defeat, the second in a row. This year I determined to be the winner, unfortunately my Boy enjoys the term "Three-peat" and was equally determined.

As the year rolled on we'd check on one another's progress:

"How many have you read?"

"Seventeen, how 'bout you?"

"20 {grin}"

Then we left for our August sabbatical which allowed for lots of reading time while we sat next to each other in doors and out of doors early in the mornings, during long afternoons and into long quiet evenings. Each of us reading for the sheer pleasure of it AND with certain victory in sight.

"How many have you read?"

"Thirty-four, how 'bout you?"

"Thirty {grimace}"

Somewhere around November I decided that I would keep my number private, remembering that last year the Boy, knowing my number read JUST enough to beat me. I figured this year I'd make sure to be ahead by at least five books that the BOY didn't know about to insure my victory. The problem with my plan is that somewhere around November my Boy quit sharing his number with me so I am not certain how many books equal five books more.

This was not the only problem...

...there was Thanksgiving and Christmas and cookies and wrapping and cookies and to the best of my knowledge (according to my many spies) at this date, the Boy and I are ALL TIED UP!

My sister Becky has provided a mystery prize for the winner which makes this year's competition the first one with a prize that is more than bragging rights.

{Thanks Aunt Becky!}

Soooooo I've read a book or two this year and here are the ones (in no particular order) that warmed my heart or rang my bell or made me smile or made my heart beat just a little faster or maybe a little bit of each of those:


The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry (click on title to go to the Amazon link for each book)

Written by Gabrielle Zevin. A CHARMER of a book. If you love books I can't imagine that this book wouldn't make you happy or like me sad...that it ended way too soon. This book earned it's own post here at The Wright Place earlier this spring.

The Rosie Project

Graeme Simsion has written a fun book with a unique central figure in Don Tillman who is searching for a bride using a scientific questionaire and formula. Full of colorful characters and lots of other "colorfulness," Rosie will surely make you grin. 

Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel had written three books before Station Eleven but all indications are that this one is her breakout novel. Writing about Amazon's "Best Book of September" Neal Thompson says, 
“No more ballgames played under floodlights,” Emily St. John Mandel writes in this smart and sober homage to life’s smaller pleasures, brutally erased by an apocalypse. “No more trains running under the surface of cities ... No more cities ... No more Internet ... No more avatars.” What’s touching about the world of Station Eleven is its ode to what survived, in particular the music and plays performed for wasteland communities by a roving Shakespeare troupe, the Traveling Symphony, whose members form a wounded family of sorts. The story shifts deftly between the fraught post-apocalyptic world and, twenty years earlier, just before the apocalypse, the death of a famous actor, which has a rippling effect across the decades."
I didn't find the book nearly as dark as I'd feared it would be and the writing was lovely. Give this one a try, you won't be disappointed.


Have we talked about Marilynne Robinson? She's a brain who can write for real readers...except for her essays which may well be understandable to real readers but which are completely above my comprehension but I still like how she writes all of those essays that I don't quite get because the writing!! So good. This year the MUCH awaited Lila was released. Lila is the third book in Robinson's trilogy often referred to as The Gilead Trilogy (Home, Gilead, Lila). You don't necessarily need to have read Gilead first, but I think it will enhance your experience with Lila. I heard recently that you don't read Robinson's work to enter her stories, you read her work so that you can live the stories through her characters. This is one to read slowly and savor.

The Book of the Dun Cow

I've always known of Walter Wangerin Jr. because I read his writing about marriage over 20 years ago. The man can put words on a page in an arresting way for sure but what I am just amazed about is that in The Book of the Dun Cow he managed to write a book that kept me enthralled and the teenagers engaged and Kate enjoying and Molly...Molly was so sad when it ended and has over the last months followed me around with the book begging me to read it again to her. It is written for adults. It is an allegory. It is phenomenal. As I read it aloud to the kids the story helped to heal some tender places in me. I was not surprised to find it on this list of 10 Books That Heal You a few months ago. You can find this as an ebook for Kindle for $2.99 here. It will be the most unique book you've read in some time, but you'll be better off for having read it.

Dear Mr. Knightley

A modernization of one of my favorite books of all time Daddy Long Legs (by Jean Webster ). Written in letters to Mr. Knightley the story's protagonist is the beneficiary of a scholarship based on one condition: that she write regular letters to the person anonymously granting the money for her education. The novel is well done and will make your heart pitter patter as you come to a few enlightening conclusions far before the scholarly letter writer.

Small Blessings

This book has the same feel as The Storied Life of A. J. Fickry  but with a much different storyline. The happy reviews for Martha Woodroof's charming work go something like this:
"Woodroof nails the debut novel: This warm, wise tale leaves a smile long after the final page is turned." —People Magazine
“This book is a charmer: quirky, clear-hearted and effervescent.” —
“A warm, caring and thoroughly entertaining debut that reads remarkably well.” —Library Journal (starred review)

"Along with dark humor and a confident command of story, strong characters and absurdist twists add to the fun.” —Publishers Weekly
"A delightful tale about what happens when good intentions go well." —Good Housekeeping
{And these too: All the Light We Cannot See...beautiful, written with light! The Time In Between...loved everything about is huge and it ended too soon.}


Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell 

This is a beautiful book about friendship between two writers who meet at a dog obedience class they've taken with, of course, their dogs which figure largely in the story but in a way that won't at all bother a non-animal sort of reader. If, however, you are an animal lover, you will enjoy this true tale all the more. The friendship displayed on these pages made me want to be a better friend.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King!?!? Are you kidding me? Am I kidding you? No, neither of us is kidding. This is the only book of King's I've ever read and it was so excellent that I was tempted, though for a short while only, to attempt another of his books...I do not have the stomach for his others though. I loved this book. It helped me, it made me laugh, and it made my family laugh as I read King's very funny description of his not very funny life-threatening experience of being hit by a car while walking down a country road. With warmth and humor King tells the tale of how he tells his tales and also of his rise to writing fame. 

Pursue the Intentional Life by Jean Fleming

The best spiritual growth book of my year. I wrote about it here for the Nourish Series. I am planning on beginning it again in the new year. So so good. I can't think of a soul who wouldn't benefit from the wisdom on these pages.

{And... True Companion: Thoughts on Being A Pastor's Wife; The Nesting Place: It Doesn't have to be Perfect to be Beautiful}

There are ten of the books {and four others} that made my 2014 more special but so many more added to my days. All of my books to date are listed here at

Happy Happy New Year! I wish you many happy reads in 2015!

Now ...I'm off to dive into my current book...there's still time in 2014 for me to attempt an upset!

If you, like me, are crazy for year end booklists head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy's Best Books blog post for list upon list upon list. It's the perfect place to plan your reading for 2015! 


Anne said...

You've got me curious about Station Eleven. Thanks for a great list. Happy New Year!

Jillian K. said...

I've been on the waiting list at my library for Station 11 for months. I can't wait!

Gretchen said...

Jillian and Anne,
Station Eleven is worth the wait. For a post-apocolyptic book the story telling was gentle and beautiful yet page turning. Enjoy!

Sheri said...

I loved Lila, Station Eleven, and The Rosie Project. Very interested in the Dun Cow book. Thanks for the suggestion!!

Jessica said...

I haven't read any of these yet, but The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, The Rosie Project, and Gilead are all high on my list of books to read in the next year. I've also heard lots of good things about Station Eleven!

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