Sunday, 7 January 2018

Books read in 2017 - Part 1

This is the first year I've actually tracked my reading (just title, author, date started and finished and a few lines of my impressions in a pretty notebook).

Pretty notebook+galette des rois = the best combo 

It has been good fun, but also showed that I am a compulsive book starter, and a somewhat lacklustre book-finisher (I have eleven still going at this exact moment.) It is also the first year I allowed myself to give up on a book. I mean, I *have* not finished books before, but there were always somewhat naggingly taunting me from my shelves. This is the year I said: No more! I shall not be bullied by books that don't engross me anymore! And I officially allowed myself to admit I was not going to finish those books.

The things grown-ups get to do, hey!

Overall, it hasn't been a great year for reading. Hard pregnancy, new baby, three children three and under, the ludicrous hours junior doctors are made to work, all this didn't help, but mostly I think giving up on my Audible subscription for several months is what really slowed me down. It reduced my reading time to just before bed (grabbing my book at naptime instead of collapsing in a heap and scrolling on my phone after chores requires more self-discipline than I have).
I'm happy to report Audible is back, so knitting should also pick up pace again, all the hurrays!

Nonetheless, here is what I managed to finish in 2017 (I'll add a list of ongoing books in the second post) :

1. Middlemarch - George Eliot - re-read

Ok, this is just cheating. This is my favourite book ever, so it's kind of permanently on the go (I have this audiobook - really well read, and this pretty edition. Both are sheer joy for the soul.)

2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

Another re-read, but it was my first time reading it in English - I hadn't picked it up since my teenage years (pre-enough English fluency to read hundreds of pages in the language). It was fantastic, unsurprisingly.

3. The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan

Part of the Reading the Classics project. Did NOT enjoy it, fun as it was to pick up where many literary references came from. Here are my thoughts.

4. The Quiet American - Graham Greene

As always, Greene is an amazing storyteller. It was actually fascinating to read it in parallel with The Pilgrim's Progress, considering Greene's understanding of human flaws and sinfulness.
This is an amazing portrait of dangerous innocence. Watch out for the scene in the bell tower and then the last sentence of the book - showing how confession and the mercy it represents is only trifled with by people who have not yet done their worst. But Greene believes it is only a matter of time until we do.

5. The Wednesday Wars - Gary D. Schmidt

A lovely story; the Shakespeare analysis is very compelling. There are a few gimmicks in style that get very repetitive ("let me tell you" in particular) but the plot is very enjoyable and the characters endearing. Bonus points for the inspiring teacher NOT turning out to be a bland saint-like mentor nor a "look at all my flaws" character, but very human.

6. God's Smuggler - Elizabeth and John Sherill

This came highly recommended by one of my heroes, but wasn't as good as I hoped. It made the Iron Curtain sound quite tame. Or at least, didn't show him taking many personal risks there. It was still a very interesting account of discernment and following the will of God.

7. The Lamb's Supper- Scott Hahn

I listened to this in one day (admittedly one day when I had a lot of time to listen, travelling to London and back on my own, but still!). There are too many insights to write down, it was fascinating. It was an excellent way to focus on what really is happening during the Mass and how the war really is fought - in personal relationships. The idea that revenge is only complete in the culprit's change of heart really stayed with me.

8. The Power of Habit - Charles Duhigg

Many insights and fun stories on how habits can be/are used. The author sets rather too much store by his own theories, but the last chapter concentrating on a "changing habits how-to" is very practical and useful.

9. The Little World of Don Camillo - Giovanni Guareschi

This was made into a French film some decades ago and I remember it with delight from my childhood. The book turned out to be just as delightful. Funny and tender. I can't wait to read it aloud to the children (and show them the film, obviously). I was surprised to find some gun violence which wasn't in the film, but it made it even better, adding just the right amount of depth to an otherwise very light-hearted story.

10. A Charlotte Mason Education - Catherine Levison

Slightly disappointing. A whistle-stop tour of the main principles of Charlotte Mason's education theory arranged by topics, but it could really do with offering more practical ideas. Plus, why exactly the author is meant to be an expert when she had only been doing it for a year when she wrote the book leaves one flummoxed.

11. Letters from Father Christmas - JRR Tolkien

Very sweet and inventive. It makes me wonder whether we should put more effort into the whole Santa Claus thing for the kids (at the moment, we merely say that he is Saint Nicholas and leaves chocolate coins in shoes on December 6 but are somewhat inconsistent on the other stuff). The antics of the goblins and other characters hint at a detailed vision which I wish JRR had put on paper somewhere.

12. Hillbilly Elegy - JD Vance

An absolutely fascinating insight into the white poor in America, who have, I suspect, a lot in common with their British counterparts. Replace "hillbilly" by "pikey" and I reckon the problems will be very similar. Interestingly, he does not advocate for sweeping government intervention - beyond avoiding "poor enclaves" and taking the extended family into account in the child protection system - but rather encourages a culture change by wanting the hillbillies to take a hard look at themselves. His reflections on the importance of a stable family life sounded very much on point to me. Worth the hype.

13. Gérard - Mathieu Sapin

The drawings were not what I typically like in BD, but oddly suited to Depardieu's character. It makes you wonder whether his incredible ability to inhabit the characters he plays comes from being so larger than life himself. Or whether art and life have become so intertwined in him that there is no good line to draw between the man and the actor. Fun read, but sad too.

14. Being Mortal - Atul Gawande

Another book well worth the hype. Instructive but also inviting you to reflect on your own life and choices. A lot of what he talks about made me marvel at what a wonderful thing Maminou did for Papinou. There is an odd advocacy for euthanasia right at the end which goes against almost the entire book (my tin-hat self wonders whether the publisher asked to have it added in so an not to alienate any potential readers), but this is small matter compared to the attention he draws to end-of-life care and the other options beyond "acharnement thérapeutique" (a hard-to-translate French expression to describe the extraordinary and invasive types of medical interventions one will be pushed into in the face of terminal illness).
I have been forcing this book on everyone I meet.

This is about half of them.
The second part is here if you want more of my impressions on books. In the meantime, go well and read, reader!


  1. My reading list has just grown tremendously! I'm currently reading Flannery O'Connor's letters, and have Cardinal Sarah's book on silence after that (not to mention whatever we're reading next in Well Read Mom), but eventually I want to get to some of these books!

    1. I keep meaning to read Flannery O'Connor - but the way people describe her works scares me a little!

    2. I can see how it can be scary to pick her up if you've only heard about her. While I haven't read all of her short stories (and I haven't read her novels yet), I have read quite a few of her stories and I personally think that "Parker's Back" is a less-scary, easy-to-follow starting point. It seems a lot more straightforward than some of the other ones, though there are a lot of really good stories that she wrote!

  2. First: how great that you are writing here again!
    I have not read any of the Flannery O'Connor stories and novels, I can absolutely recommend the letters (it's "The Habit Of Being", isn't it?). They paint a very insightful and beautiful picture of a remarkable person!