Monday, 15 January 2018

Books Read in 2017 - Part 2

Continuing on my list of books I finished in 2017 (here is the first part).

Random Christmas morning photo
15. From the Holy Mountain - William Dalrymple

A road-trip retracing the steps of a monk from the eleventh century through the Middle-East. A very sobering read although written in a light-hearted enough manner. Realising the huge Christian and Greek presence there used to be in the Middle-East right up until the mid-twentieth century is very challenging to West-centric narratives. The account of the treatment of Armenians, although merely evoked, is chilling and Turkey and Israel's memory-erasing policies so painful to read as a historian.The book does make you want to go and visit these places, the Holy Land in particular, but the terrifying foreshadowing in his description of the ill-at-ease security of Syrian Christians was hard to read post-ISIS. 
A great (if heart-breaking) read to realise one's own partial understanding of history.

16. 33 Days To Merciful Love - Fr Michael Gaitley

This was a great Lenten read, but I feel like I should get back to it again. Not sure I got as much out of it as I could have (but really, I'll just read whatever Fr Mike Schmitz tells me to).

17. The Shed That Fed a Million Children - Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow

I actually read this in a book I borrowed from Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow's nephew, who is a good friend (hi Thomas!), so although the story was fascinating, I kept getting distracted by recognising people's names and places I have heard a lot about. Some literary mannerisms but a very hopeful book that made me want to get involved with Mary's Meals straight away.

18. The Collapse of Parenting - Leonard Sax

Possibly the most influencing book I have read all year. I actually listened to it all over again with Simon as soon as I finished it. It is very affirming of what we are attempting to do in our parenting gig (I refuse to pretend I have a parenting philosophy) - but also challenging and a bit of the kick up the backside to actually be the kind of parents we always said we wanted to be. Another one I want to listen to again.

19. A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman

A huge disappointment after all the hype. Ove was very hard to bear with his constant whining at the beginning, but only got worse as the plot kept on being predictable (or just uninteresting). Pandering to the current cant, with the classic tokenisms (look! we have a gay! look! we have a foreigner!) and "modern-tribes-are-so-much-better-and-diverse-and-happy-and-inclusive-than-families". Dull. Predictable and dull.

20. Dark Matter -Blake Crouch

Good, solid, fun science-fiction. I was worried it would be predictable but was only so at the beginning. Not the hyperbolic achievement the cover claims it is, but solid, and great to listen to with Simon (our tastes in fiction don't typically overlap).

21. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying - Mari Kondo

Finally got my hands on this, two years after everyone else. Not particularly well written but a lot of good ideas to take away (storing things together, not keeping anything in the bathroom - especially true in our "I'm actually the outside" terribly insulated bathroom - sorting by type not by room etc) but, tempting as she makes her lifestyle sound she is clearly not writing with big families or hospitality in mind. And also, the obvious: tidying doesn't actually change your life.

22. The Great Divorce - C.S Lewis

A little Lewis never hurts. A lot of Lewis never hurts. All the Lewis never hurts. As usual, his ability to give a glimpse into unintelligible matters, whilst showing you that they are, in fact, impossible to describe, is amazing. The solidity of heaven vs the ghost-like quality of hell was particularly striking. 

23. The Silk Roads - Peter Frankopan

That was a beast of a book to go through. I learned plenty of interesting things about a region of the world I don't know enough about, and taking the long view has some very illuminating effects. However the author mostly merely mentions all the things I wanted to know more about, and for an author who claims he wants to correct an overly west-centric history, he writes an awful lot about the west. The ex-soviet republics of the actual silk roads are entirely jettisoned around the 14th century, only to picked up again in the conclusion - it reminded me of bad essays from my students, when they don't have information about all the points they want to make, so they spend the essay talking about things they do know, and pretend in the conclusion like they talked about everything  (or in Frankopan's case, keep referring the reader back to that one sentence about the Sogdians as if it was a whole chapter of facts and explanations). So, interesting facts, but not a tight enough argument.

24. Not of This World - Sterling Jaquith

I was hoping for a book to address the gaps in Mari Kondo's method (big families and entertaining in particular) but turns out I'm more of a minimalist than the author. Abandoned.

25. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafan

The story started out really engrossing but I got halfway through and just lost interest. I was dreading the scenes of torture it seemed to be foreshadowing and simply did not care about Julián Carax, so watching the protagonist get so enthralled by him was perplexing and ultimately off putting. And I am a grown up now, I don't have to finish books that put me off.

26. Happier at Home - Gretchen Rubin

A fun read, I like Rubin's voice and anecdotes (but not her use of the word "healthful" - there is already a perfectly good word in the English language to describe this concept, Rubin!). However, it made me wish I had read the original happiness project book, to see what led her to the idea, and also because I couldn't help but feel like I was being used (book 1 was successful? here is the same one, but blue!)

27. Better Than Before - Gretchen Rubin

A much more useful book! The first chapter made me worry there would be nothing new (the opposing pairs were just not that groundbreaking)and the four tendencies were interesting (if again not as groundbreaking as she makes out) but everything else was overall great encouragement to pick up new habits and lots of common sense and practical tips.

28. Le Liseur du 6h27 - Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

In an attempt to read in French again (which I hadn't done for years) I picked a few novels back in October. This was not a great pick. It read well, but the writing was a long list of clichés, whilst the plot was trying too hard to be original ("look at me! I've got a dame pipi as a protagonsit!"). Very meh.

29. The Lost Tools of Learning - Dorothy L Sayers

Cheating again, as this is an essay, not a book, but I loved it so, I want to include it! So much wisdom, so many one-liners. We are very interested in the classical method of education for homeschooling the kids, so this was fascinating, but also, the former secondary school teacher in me couldn't help but burst out laughing at her description of the "pert" age:

"It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands. It may, indeed, be rather less obtrusive at home if it is disciplined in school; and anyhow, elders who have abandoned the wholesome principle that children should be seen and not heard have no one to blame but themselves"

And that's a wrap! A lot more non-fiction than in previous years, and no crime (come to think of it, that probably explains the low numbers as well as I normally tear through those - I haven't found a new series I like yet, not since I broke up with Louise Penny). Hopefully I can do better this year, and maybe actually finish some of the books I am still reading:

1.The Way - Josemaria Escriva
2.Catholicism For Dummies
3. Unbound - Neal Lozano

Although, I have excuses for these three, I am actually going slowly on purpose as I use one as a devotional and try to reflect as I go along with the other two.

4.The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark

Which, if I am honest, I am probably not going to finish... I did like it, I just got distracted by a squirrel and now I don't have the book anymore, so... 

5. A Charlotte Mason Study Guide - Penny Gardner 
6.The Religious Potential of the Child - Sofia Cavalletti

Those are to inform my teaching - so I need to make myself read them... which I am not really doing.

7. Le Quatrieme Mur - Sorj Chalandon

This one is actually great, a much better attempt at reading in French again - but I can tell it's going to be tough reading, so, surprise, surprise, I'm procrastinating.

8. Danubia - Simon Winder

Actively reading this one and loving it. Should be done soon.

9.Gargantua - Rabelais

Current reading-the-classics read. Mostly hating it. I just don't find crass humour funny. Not in a shocked-prudish way, just in a that's-not-actually-funny way. So mostly wasted on me. Dear dear. Not doing well with the French literature!

Cute picture of Mathilde to reward you for making it to the bottom


  1. Sack off Brodie and watch Dane Maggie slay and then add The Power and The Circle. Both technically for a younger audience, and both very nice ideas you can tear through quite quickly. Sheona x

    1. For more knowledge of the east? To get my numbers up? Or because they’re just good? 😊

  2. haha j'aime ton style! je suis d'accord pour Fr Schmidtz,il avait recommandé une fois "the shallows" N. Carr, je ne regrette pas de l'avoir lu.
    et d'accord aussi pour CS Lewis.
    Je n'ai pas lu beaucoup de français récemment non plus, mais je découvre encore pas mal de classiques en anglais, plus accessibles, donc ça attendra.
    je vais ajouter collapse of parenting et the shed that fed a million children à ma liste. merci