Favorite books of 2017

Breaking my blogging silence to follow Katherine’s lead in writing about the best books I read this year. I intended to read 24 books, doubling my goal of 1 book a month from the previous year. Little did I realize having a baby and discovering the library ebook apps in the same year would lead to a lot of nursing/binge reading sessions, so I nearly doubled my reading goal (finishing number 47th on NYE).

It’s hard to pick which ones were the best, and I gave more goodreads stars to some that aren’t on here than others that are but I went with the ones that have stuck in my head the most since reading.

Top Nonfiction

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I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux: for breathing life into my relationship with God and for helping me to break out of my overly analytical introspection that can be a stumbling block in my spiritual life.

Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting: for forcing me to fruitfully reflect on what worked and didn’t work in my own upbringing, for alleviating a ton of the anxiety and guilt I was experiencing in my relationship with my toddler, and for giving me concrete practices that I use every day.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World: kind of sensationalist, but it was the gut punch I needed to really examine my relationship with social media and screen time and realize just how much I get in my own way of my dreams and goals.

The Benedict Option + Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a two for one because though they are vastly different books, together they impressed upon me the significance of living as locally as possible. (The fact that my almost four month old can’t spend a minute in her car seat without screaming also impressed local living upon me.) Separately, they convinced me that I should be saying more rosaries and planting a garden.

Top Fiction

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: beautifully captured growing pains and joys and reminded me of how powerfully the inner landscape of our souls can be shaped by good books.

Middlemarch: because Dorothea Brooke should be the literary patron saint for any fiery young person who wants to change the world.

Emma: another book that impressed local living upon me in its own way.

Brooklyn: lyrical and lovely. Reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but definitely it’s own book. It was better than the film and the film was excellent. I’d happily pick up more Colm Tóibín.

In this House of Brede: a fascinating read for someone who ached for the cloistered life as a teenager. I think I’ve found a kindred spirit in Rumer Godden.

Reading Trends this Year

Jane Austen: two of her novels, one biography, and one sweet memoir of a young man’s life and how it was influenced by Jane. I love Jane all the more and think she would have been great fun to be friends with.

Contemporary reads: I habitually seek the comfort of British lit falling anywhere in the 19th century to the 1960s but I felt like I needed be more conversant of edgy contemporary (or if not edgy, just contemporary) things this year. Twenty-four of the forty-seven books I read were published after 2000. There were truly notable exceptions, but in the future, I think I’ll mostly stay off the best-sellers list and stick to my dead British authors.

Food books: food writing is such a funny thing and I feel like I could write a whole post on it. Somehow, I slipped into several food memoirs and books of food philosopy in 2017 and apparently mean to continue the trend in 2018 since my secret santa got me this book.

Memoirs: also not a genre I typically seek out, but I ended up reading five of them. Julia Child’s was particularly delightful.

Children’s Literature: I made an effort to read more of my favorite genre this year and it did not go unrewarded. I especially enjoyed Tom’s Midnight Garden and Half Magic (I sympathized with the kids feeling like only magical things happen to British children–I had the exact thought as a kid).

Quitting books: I’ve never been one to abandon books but then maybe my concerted effort to read more contemporary writing made me try out a lot of books not in my comfort zone and not to my taste. My conclusion is that I should have quit even more books this past year and that I will resolve to quit more books in the future. Time is short and there are more good books than I could fill a lifetime with.

Up next: my 2018 reading goals

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Favorite books of 2017

Advent Booklist

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I think this has been our best Advent so far. We may have fallen off the St. Andrew Christmas Prayer train last week and never got back on but for the first time we have an Advent wreath (sans greenery) and we’ve been reading a little bit of Scripture every evening around the candlelight. I’ve finally come to a place where I don’t feel like I need to start all the traditions immediately. Learning to be at peace with this small act which we can build on next year with another small act has been a good thing for me.

However, I did want to devote more time this Advent to extra spiritual reading. So far I’ve devoted my attention to other, less significant literature by the likes of Alexander McCall Smith, Dashiell Hammett, and Dorothy Sayers. All good stuff (there’s something about reading mysteries in the winter!), but not quite as meditative as I probably need right now.

This isn’t so much a list of books that I’ve read and am recommending to you as a list of books that have been recommended to me by blogs and friends which I’m compiling here for future, personal reference. But maybe you’ll find it useful too.

1. On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius. This is the only one on this list I have read. I read it freshman year of college in my honors class and was blown away by its beauty, simplicity, and depth. I think this one will always top the list of Advent/Christmas reading to better enter into the mystery of the Incarnation. Plus, the most popular edition in print has an excellent forward by C.S. Lewis (which you can read here).

2. Cradle of Redeeming Love: the Theology of the Christmas Mystery by John Saward: Auntie Leila has suggested this one on numerous occasions and calls it “a book that bears reading, re-reading, and bringing to prayer (not something that one often says about a theological work.)”

3. Redeemer in the Womb by John Saward. Saward again because when I looking up Cradle of Redeeming Love, I stumbled across this one and my slight obsession with the intersection of pregnancy and spirituality makes me think that it must be really good.

4. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Pope Benedict XVI. I was planning on putting this one on the list and then Kasia posted it on her Advent reading/watching list and affirmed my decision. It’s unfortunate that I haven’t read more of Pope Benedict because everything I have read is enormously moving and intelligent.

5. The Blessing of Christmas by Pope Benedict XVI. Another one! These reflections are taken from his sermons and other writings with beautiful illustrations and artwork. I’d love to incorporate this into our family’s Advent and Christmas reading each day.

6. Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross: The Little Way of the Infant Jesus by Caryll Houselander. This one has been recommended on several blogs and all the things I’ve heard about Houselander’s sacramental, mystical imagination makes me wonder why I haven’t picked it up already.

7. Child in Winter by Caryll Houselander: I didn’t mean to put two books per author up on here but here’s another one I stumbled across when looking up the previous book. This one is more of a devotional book taken from various writings from Houselander so there might be some overlap in the material between the two. That makes me think it’s a good choice when you can only devote fifteen minutes in the morning to spiritual reading rather than tackling a thick theological text for a couple of hours.

Do you have Advent reading recommendations? I’d love to find more homilies or texts by saints and the early Church fathers to add to the list.

Bonus! Here are some Advent articles and snippets from the web that I’ve been reading and loving this season:

The Coming of Christ, the Golden Blossom from A Clerk of Oxford

Dwindled Infinity from Dominicana Journal

Poetry and Prayers for Advent from The Catholic Catalogue

 

 

Advent Booklist

Booklist: Life-Changers

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I’m going through my master reading list depressingly slow, but I still continue to add to it. I do love when people make book lists though, so I thought it would be fun to do my own posting series of themed book lists.

Melinda Selmys recently wrote a list of the books that have changed her life. Not her favorite books, but ones that were pivotal in forming her mind and soul and thoughts and actions. I think tracing your intellectual and spiritual formation through the books that you’ve read is a good exercise, so that’s where I’m going to start with this series.

1.The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum: This series was so formative for my imagination. Apparently some people don’t like them? I was obsessed as a kid. With wildly fantastic characters, plots, and details, these books opened my tender little mind to new vistas of imagination.

2. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: the whole book is the loveliest and my favorite of all time. When I think of eternity in my limited way, Kenneth Grahame’s prose always springs to mind. The Wind in the Willows was life-changing for the chapter, “The Piper of the Gates of Dawn”. The intersection of spiritual ideas in fantasty literature (even in the domesticated fantasy of the Willows) was groundbreaking for me. My earliest literary memories are of being read to from The Chronicles of Narnia but I never thought critically about Lewis’s writing as a child, and I felt like most of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was simple allegory which as a budding young wannabe writer felt inhibiting. So this chapter describing the ache and mystery of beauty with a capital ‘B’ was a revelation to me of the transcendental power literature can possess.

3. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: When I read this in the sixth grade, immersed as I was in Harry Potter and the like, I found it amazing and liberating that a girl could be a heroine in a genuinely good book. So to sixth grade me, that meant it was okay to write about spunky, imaginative girls like me.

4. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken: As a teenager I was hesitant of the idea of marriage because I feared that it might turn out to be quite boring. A little excerpt from my diary at the time reads, “If I’m called to marriage, I hope it’s to a man that has the humor and charm of George Bailey and the holiness of Blessed Louis Martin” #aimhigh. Lucky for me, I got Inigo Montoya meets Alyosha Karamazov 😉 I just wasn’t sure that marriages overflowing with creativity and beauty and adventure, marriages present in the immanent plane but always looking to the transcendental plane, actually existed. Now I’ve come to realize that even marriages that are seemingly uninteresting from a worldly perspective might invisibly be teeming with divine love and grace. As a college freshman, however, I needed A Severe Mercy, the loveliest primer in the possibilities of enduring, romantic love to make me more receptive to considering the vocation of marriage.

5. On Fairy Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien: Not a book but an incredibly significant essay for me. It built off my intuitive experience with The Wind in the Willows: that fantasy literature (particularly written for children) can be a channel of transcendence.

6. The Dream of Gerontius by John Henry Newman: I don’t know when my preoccupied fear of death started but as a mother it haunts me frequently. I read this poem in a college course completely devoted to studying literature as an opening to transcendence (I know–get over this theme already…can’t…won’t). It details the process of a soul leaving this earth and experiencing purgatory. It’s an oddly comforting poem and it has reminded me since the day I first encountered it to try to live out the small acts that compose my day with dutiful love, to pray for the dying and the holy souls in purgatory daily, to pray for a good death for myself and for those whom I love, and to take comfort that our God is a merciful one.

7. Great with Child by Beth Ann Fennelly: I still get babycenter email updates from something I naively signed up for when I was pregnant. I have tried to unsubscribe and I think the unsubscription process was designed by Daedalus himself. Anyway, I could really do without their overflow of information on all the practical, medical, and joyless aspects of pregnancy and parenthood. Fennelly’s luminous words on pregnancy and new motherhood were exactly what I needed one morning last summer at 5am when I couldn’t sleep because of my irrational anxieties about the impending onslaught of frighteningly bright plastic baby crap. Apparently this trend of literature (both non-fiction and fiction) about pregnancy and new motherhood is growing, and I am glad for that. Something so profoundly transfiguring as motherhood demands to be written about with the same seriousness of other great literary subjects.

Honorary mentions: The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis; A Prayer Journal, Flannery O’Connor; The Golden Key, George MacDonald; various poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins

What’s on your list?

 

Booklist: Life-Changers