Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Bookworm's Year, Part 3

This is the third and last post about the books I read in 2013 (Part 1 is about adult fiction and Part 2 is about children's fiction.)

If you read my previous two bookworm posts, and then compare them with this one, you may be struck by how much more fiction than nonfiction I read last year. On the other hand, if you know me well you might be astonished that I read enough nonfiction to even make a decent blog post. (Sarah, I hope you are proud of me!) I grew up so thoroughly saturated in good fiction that I thought most books were fiction. Why read about real things, I reasoned, when novels are so much more interesting? Thankfully, I started learning some appreciation for nonfiction when I discovered C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity in my mid-teens. Then in college I discovered creative nonfiction (and no that is not an oxymoron!) and realized that nonfiction can be just as much fun to read (and to write) as fiction.

Meredith's 2013 In Books


Nonfiction- Unclassified 
More Than Words, edited by Philip Yancey

Quiet, by Susan Cain
This was in the stack of books which my parents gave me for a graduation present (how well they know me!) My mother read it shortly after I did (after I raved about it to her) and we decided that pretty much everyone should read this book. It's about introverts– and if you're an introvert you should read it because it will affirm you and reassure you that there's nothing wrong with you, and if you're an extrovert you should read it so that you understand the introverts in your life better (trust me, they'll appreciate it!) Cain explores how American culture has become increasingly extrovert-centric and how routinely in the workplace, school, church, and community life the strengths and gifts of introverts are overlooked or even seen as weaknesses. 

Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman
I just wish Neil Postman wasn't dead so that he could write another book on the further developments of technology since 1984 (the year this book was published). If you've read a newspaper or watched television, this book is relevant to you. Postman's brilliant prose might sometimes be challenging for American brains that are used to being spoon-fed mush, but it's well worth grappling with. This book is the reason I refuse to "watch the news" on television, regardless of station or political leaning– in Postman's view they're all a waste of time. Read it to find out why– as well as why the Information Age really began in 1844 with the telegraph, and why Aldous Huxley, not George Orwell, was right.

Firoozeh Dumas- Funny in Farsi
Madeleine L'Engle- Two Part Invention

Beverly Cleary- A Girl From Yamhill
Having grown up with Henry, Ribsy, Beezus, and Ramona, not to mention scads of Cleary's other beloved child characters, I was excited to read Cleary's memoir. I knew that one of my favorites, Emily's Runaway Imagination, was loosely based on Cleary's own childhood, but I didn't realize just how many of the details were transposed almost verbatim from Cleary's life to Emily Bartlett's. The one major difference is Cleary's difficult relationship with her mother– the memoir ends on a rather sad note, since Cleary's mother tried to compensate for her own discontent with her life by micro-managing Cleary's and living vicariously through her. 

Alice Ozma- The Reading Promise
Alice was my age when she published this very sweet memoir about being raised and read to by her bibliophile father. It is a pretty quick and easy read, and if you aren't already convinced of the beauty and necessity of reading out loud to children, then you should read it! It's funny, though– I read this at the very beginning of 2013, and a year later what I remember most is not all the books they read but rather feeling so sad for Alice when she talks about her parents' divorce. :-( 
Lynne Sharon Schwartze-  Ruined By Reading
A bit of fluff for bookworms. :-)

Heather Sellers- You Don't Look Like Anyone I know
I can't decide whether "depressing" or "fascinating" better describes this look into the life of someone with prosopagnosia (face blindness). Sellers was in her forties before she realized that she had a deeper issue than just being terrible at remembering faces. In fact, she simply cannot recognize faces: she tells stories of hugging a complete stranger, thinking it was her boyfriend, and walking right past her stepsons. There are two narrative threads– one is Seller's adult journey to self-diagnose her problem, and the other is Seller's childhood with a paranoid schizophrenic mother and sort-of-absent father. This type of memoir can be useful in cultivating gratitude that no matter how weird/ depressing/ messed up your childhood and young adult life was, at least it wasn't as bad as this! It's also very well written (Sellers has her doctorate in English) and lacks the "woe is me" attitude, which messed-up-life memoirs sometimes have.
Jennifer Worth- Call the Midwife
In case you weren't aware, the hit BBC show is based on Jennifer Worth's memoirs, and they are definitely worth reading! Worth is another author skilled at bringing a particular time and place into vivid life– I now feel thoroughly acquainted with life in London's East End in the 1950s, in all its colorful, gritty, raucous, seamy reality. 

Spiritual Growth
The Paraclete Book of Hospitality, published by the Paraclete Press
Scotty Smith- Everyday Prayers

D.A. Carson- The God Who Is There
The Pilot and I read through this book together, going through one chapter a week and discussing them together. Carson is brainy but comprehensible and enjoyable. He's also accomplished exactly what he intended: to give his readers, Christian or not, a big picture of the Bible. He shows that, massive as the Bible is, all its individual books are still in essence part of one big Story. He also does a tidy job at dispelling the prevalent attitude that the Bible is all about us.  The chapters move chronologically from Genesis to Revelation, and in each chapter Carson shows how God and God's meta-narrative is revealed. Carson brings readers face-to-face with "The God Who Is There"– and by that he means not the god we are comfortable with nor the amorphous god of western deism nor the god we would like to exist– but God as He says He is. One of the most helpful things about this book for us was that Carson is writing with the assumption of zero to very little familiarity or understanding of the Bible. Even though I've grown up hearing the Bible from birth, Carson's thoughtful but basic approach filled in a lot of mental holes for me.
Tim Keller- The Prodigal God, The Meaning of Marriage
Keller is one of my very favorite modern Christian authors. His writing is straight-forward, down-to-earth, and unpretentious, and he shows clearly how the Gospel of Jesus applies to every single facet of life. The Prodigal God is Keller's study of Jesus' parable of the prodigal son and what that parable reveals about man and God that was radical both in Jesus' day and age and in our own. The Meaning of Marriage is probably the best practical book on marriage which anyone can ever read (I've already given it as a wedding gift to several couples). Keller simply shows how marriage, just like anything else in this fallen world, only works the way it's supposed to when it's grounded on the realities of the Gospel. Only when you understand how deeply Jesus loves you (to the extent that He willingly died for your sins!) are you able to die to your own selfishness and selflessly love your spouse. I especially appreciate Keller's vision for Christian marriage as one where spouses love each other not just for who they are now but for who God is making them to be, with marriage as a primary way in which we are sanctified and made more and more into beautiful new creations. 

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