Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Reading Recap

Last year in my reading recap post, I listed all the books I had completed — with kids, pre-reading, as audiobooks, and my own reading — but this year I think I’m going to simplify, be more selective, and focus on the books I read without any strings attached.

In 2017 I began a physical reading journal, and have faithfully entered every book I have read by month.  This list maintains that chronological order.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome - I had to read this one after reading To Say Nothing of the Dog.  I thought it was entertaining, but not hysterically funny.  But it was worth reading after reading Connie Willis’ book.

A Touch of the Infinite by Megan Hoyt

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis - I read this at the same time as my daughter and husband, and we enjoyed sharing the reading experience and discussing it.  A beautiful and haunting book.

On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard - I decided to re-read a couple books that I read around the time of my conversion as I approached my ten year anniversary of being received into the Catholic Church.  I remember when I read this book the first time it felt very foreign and strange, but yet like the story of a family I wanted to belong to.  It was fascinating to reflect on how much more of a sense of belonging and understanding I have now.

The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton - OK, so this one was a pre-read, but just so delightful I couldn’t pass it up.  If you have a student who is reading The Book of Marvels, you should read this book.  It is so much fun to get more of the story than the little bits he touches on here and there in that volume.

New Grub Street by George Gissing - This was one of my favorites from the year.  Extremely well written, complex, and with much to think about in the book.  I was also left wondering about where the author’s sympathies were.  Did Gissing think he was writing a happily ever after ending?

The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

My Path to Rome by Hillaire Belloc - I found this in my Kindle cloud and thought it was some sort of conversion story.  Much to my surprise, I realized it was travelogue and really nothing else.  In it Belloc slogs over hills and mountains, trying to take the most direct route from a point in France to Rome with nothing symbolic or particularly introspective about it.  He complains a lot, drinks a lot of wine, and occasionally marvels at the view.  I kept waiting for something more to tie it together or push it towards being something more, but it never happened.  This was one I regretted taking the time to read.

Marking the Sparrow’s Fall by Wallace Stegner - This is mostly a collection of non-fiction essays on the West, with one novella at the end.  I read this bit by bit as I rested after lunch during my first trimester and it was a wonderful companion, providing me with much food for thought and enjoyment.  One thought that stopped me in my tracks was this one:
Until the Civil War and after, most of the West was not a goal but a barrier. Webb properly remarks that if it had turned out to be a country adapted to the salve economy the South would have fought for it, and its history would have been greatly different.  He also points out that if the country beyond the Missouri had been wooded and well watered, there would have been no Oregon Trail.

Oranges by John McPhee - and early book by him, and not nearly as good as some of his later ones.  But interesting nonetheless.

A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep by Rumer Godden - While reading about what it was like to live in India before and during WWII was fascinating, and while I appreciated reading about how she was coached as a writer, I was left feeling like I would rather have not known more about her life and had just read her novels.

The Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden

Wade Hampton:  Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer by Rod Andrew Jr. - After reading Johnny Reb with the kids in the spring, I wanted to know more about Wade Hampton.  There are a few biographies about him, but I’m not sure any of them are especially well written.  This one was decent and reasonably thorough without being too detailed, but I thought the quality of the writing left something to be desired.

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv - We read and discussed this in our 14 and up family reading club.  For the most part it was interesting and we had a few good discussions about it, but I think we aren’t exactly the target audience for the book, as we live on 10 acres, spend a lot of time outside, hike and backpack as a family and provide a lot of open time for our kids to explore and play.

The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran - A blog post drawn out into a book.

Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy Sayers - I thought I had read all the Lord Peter books, but then this one came to my attention.  Oh happy day!  Even if it wasn’t particularly amazing, it was still fun to get to read some new stories with this character.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard - Excellent book, absolutely fascinating and hard to put down.  It also made me want to read a biography of Joseph Lister, but I don’t like the one I bought. Anyone have any suggestions?

The Vatican Pimpernel by Brian Fleming

The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth by Susan Windley-Daoust - I read this in an attempt to make myself understand that, yes, I really was going to go through childbirth again.

Through Spain with Don Quixote by Rupert Croft-Cooke - Quirky and fun to read.  In this book he was citing other authors who had done a similar sort of trip in the late 1800’s, which was about the same amount of time between when Croft-Cooke’s book and me.  I wonder what these villages and places are like now?

Catherine de’Medici by Honore de Balzac - Yes, I read it but I felt like it went over my head..  I found it puzzling and strange.  What was de Balzac trying to do here?  I'm really not sure.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - My Dickens for the year.  Can you believe I had never read this one before?  So good.

All the Gallant Men by Donald Stratton and Ken Gire - WWII autobiography by a Pearl Harbor survivor.  I enjoyed it as did my 12 year old history buff son.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown - Another favorite from the year’s reading.  So fascinating, and really neat to get to see Lake Washington where they trained when I was up in Puget Sound for the conference in September.

Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher - It sure would be nice if people would actually read the book before lambasting it.  I enjoyed it and found it thought provoking.  Yes, he's perhaps a bit over the top at times (I kept thinking, now this would be a hard man to be married to!) but I think what he says is worth thinking about.

Travels to the Interior of Africa by Mungo Park - Mentioned by Mason in one of her volumes and an interesting read.  Park was a very early explorer in Africa and I was surprised by how modern his writing felt.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry - Such a good book!  Another favorite from the year.

Paradiso by Dante - Hooray, I actually read all of The Divine Comedy!  I found this one a struggle.  Purgatorio was my favorite, but I’m glad I stuck to it and finished it.  I’ll look forward to reading it again sometime in the future.

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan - I read this while I was recovering from childbirth.  This is my kind of escapist literature - a book about building a little cottage out somewhere on the property where the author could be alone.  I would love to have a little building like this, but unfortunately I won’t have the time or means to do so until I no longer have the need to get away from the noise and bustle of a busy home.

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey - I was so pleased to find out that there are more Inspector Alan Grant mysteries!

Deep Work by Cal Newport - A family book club read.  It was a little strange to be reading and discussing this book as I was preparing to give birth and recover from having a baby.  But we had some good discussions and it was a helpful one for my husband in particular.

Crossing the Threshold of Hope by St. John Paul II - Another re-read from my time of conversion.  My favorite from that time, and one that was extremely meaningful to me.

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald - Great book, although I felt like it sort of dwindled at the end.  I am really bad at reading Scotch dialect in my head.  There were pages where I felt like I was only understanding a few words at best.  Interestingly, my daughter said she had no problem with the dialect.  I wish Audible had a recording of it, as I would love to hear it read.

Witness to Hope by George Weigel - I bought this book the day before I went into labor with Charlotte and read it throughout my labor that day.  St. John Paul II is Charlotte’s name saint (Karol being the Polish form of Charles, and Charlotte being the female form of Charles), which made it all the more appropriate.  I felt like the first part of the book before he becomes Pope was stronger, but I can see the challenges of writing about such a long and far reaching pontificate.  I felt like Weigel was summarizing more than storytelling though for the second half of the book, which made the book bog down.  I also thought he pushed aside some of the criticisms of his pontificate a little too readily, at times reading a little too much like a hagiography rather than a biography.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera - Absolutely least favorite book of the year, hands down.  Not worth reading.  Didactic and annoying.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss - I haven’t read any of his other books and I don’t intend to, but this novella about a minor character in a series of his was fascinating.

Surprised by Oxford:  A Memoir by Carolyn Weber - I loved reading about what it is like to attend Oxford.  I thought her conversion story was well told, but I thought the romance angle with TDH was annoying.  I think I just generally dislike romances, especially ones where’s there’s a lot of animosity and sparring in the relationship.  The book did make me reflect quite a bit on my own conversion to Christianity, 14 years ago. This enriched the experience of reading it as I could see similarities in our stories, but also detracted from it, because I knew there was no way I could remember the sorts of details she was pulling out for her story.  But then again, my story largely consists of God, me, a stack of books, a voraciously nursing baby and a lot of conversations in my head.  It doesn't really sound like good fodder for a book, does it?


  1. Royal Road to Romance - I have this sitting on my shelf and am very excited about it, but trying to hold off until it's time to preread it. :)

    The Doomsday Book was a favorite of mine a few years ago. Since I enjoyed that one as well as the Blackout set and To Say Nothing of the Dog, I picked up her tome Passage earlier this year. I do not recommend it. :/

    My friend bought me a Stegner book for Christmas last year and I still haven't read it! The one you read sounds delightful and just the kind of book I have come to enjoy.

    Travels to the Interior of Africa caught my eye since we read and enjoyed Livingstone this past term. I actually have been looking to read something about Venerable Edel Quinn, who also traveled through much of Africa as a lay missionary. I thought her story would be a nice companion to Livingstone after a friend mentioned her to me a couple months ago. But apparently there isn't much out there about her.

    I loved seeing all of your biographies and mysteries. Those are two genres I would like to read more of. I always tend to go for historical or classic novels or non-fiction.

    1. Good to know about Passage, thanks! My mom highly recommended Blackout and All Clear, and I am going to try and read those this year.

      I haven't read anything else by Stegner, but I have another book of his on my shelf. It is some of his fiction though rather than non-fiction and I'm curious what I'll think of that.

      I haven't heard of Edel Quinn, how interesting! You'll have to let me know if you find a book about her.