What I Read in 2016

Here it is, the complete list! While I will likely never again reach the reading heights of 2015, this was a good year, book-wise. Hope it was the same for you!

Fiction:

Top Ten:

  1. The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (Back Bay Books, 2013)
  2. The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene (Penguin Books, 1981)
  3. Wenjack – Joseph Boyden (Hamish Hamilton, 2016)
  4. The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Vintage International, 2015)
  5. The High Mountains of Portugal – (Yann Martel (Knopf Canada, 2016)
  6. Commonwealth – Ann Patchett (Harper, 2016)
  7. Daydreams of Angels – Heather O’Neill (Harper Collins, 2015)
  8. Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace (Back Bay Books, 2006)
  9. Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese (Vintage Canada, 2010)
  10. The Secret History – Donna Tartt (Vintage Contemporaries, 1992)

And the rest…(alphabetical by author’s last name)

11. Fifteen Dogs – André Alexis (Coach House Books, 2015)
12. A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson (Doubleday Canada, 2015)
13. The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday Canada, 2015)
14. The BellmanHeidi Barnes (Vireo Rare Bird Books, 2016)
15.The Secret Chord Geraldine Brooks (Viking, 2015
16. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes (Penguin Books, 2003)
(translated by John Rutherford)
17. The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix-Sweeney (Harper Avenue, 2016)
18. Waiting for the Cyclone – Leesa Dean (Brindle & Glass, 2016)
19. The Wonder – Emma Donoghue (Harper Collins, 2016)
20. A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (Anchor Books, 2010)
21. Swimming Lessons Claire Fuller (House of Anansi Press, 2017)
22. Paper Towns – John Green (Penguin Books, 2008)
23. The Humans – Matt Haig (Harper Collins, 2013)
24. Before I Fall – Noah Hawley (Grand Central Publishing, 2016)
25. His Whole Life –  Elizabeth Hay (Emblem Editions, 2015)
26. The Painted Kiss – Elizabeth Hickey (Atria Books, 2005)
27. A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby (Riverhead Books, 2005)
28. The Vegetarian – Han Kang (Portobello Books, 2015)
(translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)
29. Trying to Save Piggy Sneed – John Irving (Arcade Publishing, 1996)
30. Flight Behavior – Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Perennial, 2012)
31. A Separate Peace – John Knowles (Bantam Books, 1998)
32. Music for Wartime – Rebecca Makkai (Viking, 2015)
33. A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon – Anthony Marra (Vintage Canada, 2014)
34. Transatlantic – Colum McCann (Harper Perennial, 2013)
35. Thirteen Ways of Looking –Colum McCann (Harper Collins, 2015)
36. The Company She Keeps – Mary McCarthy (Penguin Books, 1966)
37. The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be – Farley Mowat (Pyramid Books, 1968)
38. The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien (Little, Brown and Company, 2016)
39. By Gaslight – Steven Price (McClelland & Stewart, 2016)
40. Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson (Vintage Canada, 2001)
41. Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson (Harper Perennial, 2005)
42. The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy (Viking Canada, 1997)
43. Today Will Be Different – Maria Semple (Little Brown, 2016)
44. The Trees – Ali Shaw (Bloomsbury, 2016)
45. I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith (Red Fox, 2001)
46. Missing, Presumed – Susie Steiner (Harper Collins, 2016)
47. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel (Harper Avenue, 2014)
48. Modern Lovers – Emma Straub (Random House, 2016)
49. On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light – Cordelia Strube (ECW Press, 2016)
50. The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories – Leo Tolstoy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)
(translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky)
51. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist – Sunil Yapa (Lee Boudreau Books, 2016)
52. Revolutionary RoadRichard Yates (Vintage Contemporaries, 2008)

Non-Fiction:
(alphabetical by author’s last name)

53. Six Walks in the Fictional Wood – Umberto Eco (Harvard University Press, 1994)
54. A Tale of Three Kings – Gene Edwards (Tyndale House Publishers, 1992)
55. Prayer – Timothy Keller (Dutton, 2014)
56. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson (Flatiron Books, 2015)
57. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer – C.S. Lewis (Mariner Books, 2012)
58. A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis (Faber & Faber, 2013)
59. But You Did Not Come BackMarceline Loridan-Ivens (Penguin, 2016) (translated by Sandra Smith)
60. Last Child in the Woods – Richard Louv (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2008)
61. The Dirty Life – Kristin Kimball (Scribner, 2010)
62. The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers – Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw Hill, 2005)
63. The Givenness of Things
– Marilynne Robinson (HarperCollins, 2015)
64. An Invisible ThreadLaura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski (Howard Books, 2011)
65. Half Broke HorsesJeannette Walls (Scribner, 2009)
66. Rumours of Another World – Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 2004)

Children’s:

67. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library – Chris Grabenstein (Yearling, 2014)
68. The Adventures of Miss Petitfour – Anne Michaels, illustrated by Emma Block (Tundra Books, 2015)
69. Pax – Sara Pennypacker (illustrated by Jon Klassen) (Balzer + Bray, 2016)
70. At the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness – Andrew Peterson (Water Brook Press, 2008)
71. The Fox at the Manger – P.L. Travers (Virago Modern Classics, 2015)

Re-read:

72. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (An Airmont Classic, 1963)
73. A Tangled Web – L.M. Montgomery (Bantam Books, 1989)
74. The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery (McClelland & Stewart, 1989)
75. We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor Books, 2014)
76. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut (Vintage, 2000)

The Year in Review:

  • As always, my fiction reading far outstrips my non-fiction. Only 18% of my 2016 reads were non-fiction
  • Only five of those non-fiction reads were theological/religious in nature. (Maybe six, if you include Marilynne Robinson’s essays.) This was less than previous years but based on my To Read list for 2017, that may look different next year.
  • 23% of my reads were from Canadian authors. Most of them were very good. We’re a country of good books.
  • My male to female author ratio was pretty even but female authors did win out this year.
  • I only read five books translated from other languages. This is something I continue to need to work on.
  • I read five books that would best be described as “tomes” (ie: 500+ pages). I’m happy to see that each was worth the time invested, for various reasons.
  • I reviewed 80% of my 2016 reads here on the blog. That’s definitely my best percentage since I started sharing book reviews and I hope to maintain and even increase that number in 2017.

What about you? What did 2016 look like for you in books? What was the best book you read this year? Or the worst? What have you read from my list and what are you looking forward to reading in 2017?

Happy New Year!

What I Read – December 2016

Check back tomorrow for my complete 2016 reading list, including the highlights of my reading year. (If you’re into that kind of thing.)

The BellmanHeidi Barnes (Vireo Rare Bird Books, 2016)

The Wonder – Emma Donoghue (Harper Collins, 2016)

The Fox at the Manger – P.L. Travers (Virago Modern Classics, 2015)

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and other stories – Leo Tolstoy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009) (translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky)

On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light – Cordelia Strube (ECW Press, 2016)

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (An Airmont Classic, 1963)

Trying to Save Piggy Sneed – John Irving (Arcade Publishing, 1996)

Currently Reading:

Reflections on the Psalms – C.S. Lewis

News of the World – Paulette Jiles

Book Review: The Fox at the Manger by P.L. Travers

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The Fox at the Manger – P.L. Travers (Virago Modern Classics, 2015)

This 20th century Christmas fable comes from the author of Mary Poppins and offers a similar quaint story with a British flavour. The story is really made up of two parts – the opening set is set on Christmas Eve at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The first Christmas Eve service since the end of World War Two. St. Paul’s, miraculously, still stands, though surrounded by destruction. Our narrator is there with three small boys. While the formalities of a Church of England holiday service may no be foreign to most readers, anyone who has tried to keep a child quiet during a solemn occasion will be able to sympathize. (And as someone who was at one point a child in Anglican services, I sympathize with the boys too.)

The boys are inquisitive and curious and on leaving the service ask why there were no wild animals present at Jesus’ manger. In response the narrator says that there was and she tells the story of the fox.

The story here in the second part of the book is more fable – talking animals, cunning fox, surprisingly articulate baby Jesus – than story and I doubt it would capture the attention of most children today. It does have a decent idea behind it of all being welcome in Jesus’ presence though and I can’t argue with that.

While I did read the book aloud to Pearl, she’s too young to expect real engagement over a book this long. It will be interesting to try it again in a few years, maybe as a bedtime story leading up to Christmas. What Pearl did enjoy were the pictures scattered throughout. The engravings of animals by Thomas Bewick weren’t created for the story but this edition matches them together nicely and it adds some visual interest.

If you’re looking for a Christmas Eve story slightly off the beaten track, this might be it.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is Coming

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We’ve had more snow around here this winter than is normal for our little coastal community. Granted, it’s still not that much snow but we’ve been enjoying it nonetheless.

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Every time it’s started to snow, I’ve bundled Pearl into her snow suit so we can go out and enjoy it as much as possible. Around here, you never know how long the snow is going to stick around.

We are in the final countdown to Christmas now and getting more and more excited. Pearl doesn’t really know yet what’s coming but she loves the lights and the fact that there’s a tree in our house and I can’t wait to see her face Christmas morning.

Watching the snow come down.

Watching the snow come down.

Christmas feels a little different this year. As thankful as I am and as much as I have to look forward to, there is a sadness. It has been a hard year. This last season has been really hard in our little house. Every day I can’t help but think about where I should be by now in my pregnancy and every day I grieve the loss of our little boy. Some days I feel surrounded by pregnancy announcements and friends excitedly waiting for their little ones. And I’m happy for them because I love them and I love their babies but it’s really hard too and I wish my happiness for them wasn’t also tinged with jealousy.

And so, when I’m struggling with those feelings, it’s easy to look at the Christmas story as yet another story about a woman who can have a baby when I can’t. And yes, I know, it’s ridiculous to be jealous of Mary – a virgin who unexpectedly becomes pregnant with her own Saviour – but for someone who has had two out of three very planned, very desired pregnancies end in loss, I envy those who can get pregnant so easily.

I’ve found myself skipping forward to the story of Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a woman I can sympathize with right now. A woman who probably spent years trying, unsuccessfully, to have a baby. A woman who had probably long ago given up hope. Or maybe a woman who held on, silently, secretly, to a ridiculous hope for her longed-for baby. A woman whose husband was so shocked by the news that she would have a child that the angel Gabriel literally had to shut him up. That’s a story I understand.

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This year, too, I’ve been thinking about the Christmas story itself a little differently. We like to focus on the starlight, the lambs, the newborn baby. Those things are all important and beautiful but it’s not the whole story. Some focus on the reality of what it must have been like to give birth in a stable, far from home. The stink of it. The fear. How helpless Mary might have felt to be given such a responsibility when she couldn’t even find a room in which to deliver her son.

At Christmas we celebrate the arrival of Christ. That’s a good and wondrous thing to  celebrate and we should probably celebrate it more. But this year I’ve been wondering what that moment was like for God. To send His son into our sinful, filthy world as a helpless baby. To send Him to grow up, to suffer, to die. This year, God is whispering in my ear, I, too, have lost a son.

There is no path I can trod that my God has not walked. There is no road I can take that my God does not walk with me. That is part of the Christmas story. It’s beautiful, yes, but it’s messy and it’s painful and death is part of it. The really beautiful part is that the story doesn’t end on Christmas Day and it doesn’t end with death.

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I don’t really know what it means that I will meet my baby one day in Heaven. I don’t know what that looks like – what he’ll look like – and so I don’t find that much comfort there. What I find comfort in is knowing that the Lord embraces those who mourn. I find comfort in knowing that He holds my baby – all my babies – in the palm of His hand. That He holds me there too.

I know this is not the most uplifting Christmas post but Christmas is still Christmas even in the midst of grief. God is still good.

Camera timer family photo before our church Christmas dinner.

Camera timer family photo before our church Christmas dinner.

Book Review: The Bellman by Heidi Barnes

The Bellman - Heidi Barnes (Vireo Rare Bird Books, 2016)

The Bellman – Heidi Barnes (Vireo Rare Bird Books, 2016)

So many questions are raised by this story of a young man – Stanley – who sets out from his small town and takes the first job offered to him.

Why does he only go the next (also small) town? Why does he expect finding work to be so easy? Why is this story even set in 1983 when it makes absolutely no difference to the plot or setting? Why would a cheerful, pretty waitress be interested in Stan when he never even has a conversation with her? And, most importantly, why is Stan such a jerk?

Fun fact: when I was 18 (the same age as our protagonist) I also worked in a hotel of sorts. I cleaned rooms for a summer between terms at university. While the place I worked at wasn’t nearly as fancy as Stan’s Bar Harbour hotel, I can sympathize with the hard work, the sometimes eccentric guests, and the fact of doing a job that others might look down on. But I could not sympathize with Stan.

The story is told from his first person perspective so we are in Stan’s mind as meets guests and co-workers and as he describes them to us. He is often cruel in his descriptions and for no reason. One co-worker’s appearance is criticized mentally by Stan every time he sees her even though she’s never been anything but decent to him. He is apparently offended that woman he deems unattractive might dare to be in public and have some self-confidence. Similarly, Stan has a crush on a waitress in the hotel restaurant who he never takes the time to get to know. He seethes with jealousy when other men look at her but never makes a move to interact with her as anything more than an object of desire.

The story seems like it would be about a young man who strikes out on his own and works his way up in the world, with a few comical pitfalls along the way, And I think that’s what the novel wants to be but it never seemed that Stan got very good at his job. Or even that he put much effort into it. The funny anecdotes are mostly the same old hotel stories we’ve heard and read before. People have affairs, the chef is French and grumpy. The novel tries to have some depth by including two surprising deaths but lacks the strength to carry it off and so they only feel awkward and out of place. The best thing I can say about this book is that it was short.

Snow Day (and other Christmasy moments)

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We don’t get a lot of snow in our part of Canada and when we do it tends to melt away pretty quickly. Despite seeing snow in the forecast, it was a lovely surprise to look outside this morning and realize the white stuff really was coming down.

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Pearl’s seen snow just once before in her twenty-one months of life. Last year on Christmas Eve we drove up to a slightly higher altitude so that she could experience it. This morning, as the flakes were coming down, I bundled her up and we went for a walk right away because I wasn’t sure if it would last all day. (It’s now past noon and it’s stopped snowing though there’s still a little on the ground.)

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Thank goodness for hand-me-down snowsuits from older cousins!

It’s wet and slushy and it won’t be here long but Pearl had a blast stomping and playing and insisting I make more snowballs. Today nicely corresponds with a professional development day so our local park was full of kids out playing in the snow.

And then we came home and cuddled up with warm milk, banana loaf, and The Littlest Hobo.

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It’s definitely feeling like Christmas around here. This past weekend we went out on our annual Great Christmas Tree Hunt and we found a good one.

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Pearl’s not that in to looking at the camera these days.

We picked a full-sized tree this year in hopes that Pearl’s old enough to understand that she has to leave it alone. So far, so good. She loves when we turn on the lights and is delighted by all the new little decorations around the house for her to play with.

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Every day Pearl is growing and learning and it feels like every day we have more fun together. I’m so excited to watch her enjoy her second Christmas.

Book Review: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible - Arthur Miller (Bantam Books, 1977)

The Crucible – Arthur Miller (Bantam Books, 1977)

I have yet to see The Crucible in its play form so it feels a bit unfair to judge what is only a script. I have no doubt that the play is more compelling when seen than when read.

Because, let me tell you, it’s not that compelling when read.

This is primarily the fault of Act One in which Miller consistently interrupts the action to give background information on characters, something going on for pages. (Once all the characters have been introduced he stops doing this but it made for a painful slog through Act One.) While the information is relevant, it’s an entirely artless way to present it and it’s clearly not necessary since (I presume) these wouldn’t be included for the viewers of the play. From there, the script picks up the pace but it definitely required some recovery time.

The Crucible famously depicts the Salem Witch Trials and was written in McCarthy-era USA. Miller brilliantly captures what it can look like when the courts have too much power, as well as the dangers of combining church and state. There is a real sense of powerlessness as the characters struggle against accusations of witchcraft. How do you declare yourself innocent of invisible crimes?

There are a fair number of characters for a relatively short play and it took me a while to sort of who was who and how they were connected. (Miller’s interruptions did not help.) I felt like I was just beginning to get a sense of the main characters when the play ended. Again, this is something that maybe wouldn’t be an issue in a well-acted play.

As it is, I felt like I was reading something with a lot of potential but left vaguely unfinished.