10 Best Books of the Year (So Far…)

c8774-toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists! Each week they will post a new Top Ten list that one (or more) of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers. All of us readers have those books that really started us on our way to becoming book lovers. It could be something we read as young children, or it could be a book we picked up in adulthood after years of a reading drought. Or, it could be an author or book that introduced us to a new favorite genre. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday puts a spotlight on those books and authors that we credit with our bookishness.

10 Best Books of the Year (So Far…)

1.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – definitely my favorite of the year!  I have always been drawn to WWII, and specifically Holocaust, literature.  There is something sadly riveting about it, and I am always struck, even with novels, by the lengths of depravity that human beings are capable of reaching.  Zusak has written a book that will, in my opinion, be a staple in the literary canon, as it is certainly a worthy representative of quality literature in general, and of 20th century fiction in particular.

2.  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – I am amazed at the fact that McCullers produced this when she was only 23 years old.  She clearly had wisdom beyond her years, and deeply understood the nature of loneliness.  This is an excellent book…dark and sad certainly,  and McCullers has the ability to draw you in and make you feel like more than just an observer.

3.  Animal Farm by George Orwell – A brilliantly written allegory that is a total and utter indictment of communism.  Everyone should read it.  EVERYONE!  I’m sort of aghast at myself for not having read it until now, and I am m-a-n-y years removed from school.

4.  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – I thoroughly enjoyed this book…much more, in fact, than I thought I would.  Interestingly, in all my years of reading and through both B.A. and M.A. in English, I never heard the term “marriage plot.”  I read a number of the novels referenced by this book, but I do not recall ever discussing the marriage plot, and how it is a prevalent literary convention in Victorian literature.  Either I completely skirted any class that would have addressed it, or it wasn’t covered.  I’m leaning toward the latter.  At any rate, this is a worthy book, and while it is enjoyable on its own, it is better if you’ve read some Victorian lit.

5.  Philippians – easily one of my favorite books of the Bible.

I don’t actually think anything else qualifies as the best of the year so far, so five it is.

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Top Ten (or Seven) Series I Need to Finish


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!
Each week they will post a new Top Ten list  that one (or more) of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.
All of us readers have those books that really started us on our way to becoming book lovers. It could be something we read as young children, or it could be a book we picked up in adulthood after years of a reading drought. Or, it could be an author or book that introduced us to a new favorite genre. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday puts a spotlight on those books and authors that we credit with our bookishness.

Top Ten (or Seven) Series I Need to Finish (or Start and Finish, as the Case May Be)

  1. Millennium series by Stieg Larssen – I read (listened to) the first book with my husband, and he went on to finish, but I haven’t yet.  I l-o-v-e-d the first book, so I need to either make the time to listen, or just plow in and read them.  One of my favorite series ever.
  2. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling – I’ve read six of the seven, and I still have the seventh sitting on my bookshelf.  I fear it’s been so long since I read them that I need to start from the beginning again.  Again, loved the series, but I got distracted and never got back to it.
  3. Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis – This is a series I have never read.  I grew up with my head in the literary sand, and I have never put this at the top of my “to-be-read” list.  However, this is the year.  My son starts 3rd grade in the fall, and he will be reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for school, so I will be reading with him.
  4. Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke – I have read (or listened to) about half of these books, and I always thoroughly enjoy them.  Dave Robicheaux is a character I love, and I especially appreciate how he has developed over the years I have been acquainted with him.  Additionally, the bayou setting really functions as character in and of itself, and it is a setting I love.
  5. Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr – Another series I have dipped into quite a bit, but have only read (or listened to) about half of the books.  She is another detective character that I have loved over the years, and her job as a park ranger takes her all over the United States, so the location is constantly changing, but the setting is always within the federal park system.  It’s different, and that is one of the major reasons I enjoy this series.
  6. Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien – I have never read this series.  <GASP>  I have seen the movies, which were brilliant, and I fully expect the books to be even more brilliant.  It is a bit of a travesty that I am mid-way through my 40s and have never given these a try.  My husband raves about them, and my son will read them for school at some point, so they are definitely in my future.
  7. The Gunslinger series by Stephen King – I hope I get back to these books one day.  I read the first three as soon as they were published, but got distracted and caught up in other things while waiting for the fourth book to come out.  I tried 2-3 years ago to listen to The Gunslinger, and I had to set it aside because I thought it was awful.  I actually dreaded listening, and that is unheard of for me.  I love Stephen King, so it is really hard for me to admit that, and I’m hoping that it’s more a case of being in the wrong frame of mind for that series than to have truly had a chance of taste such that I can no longer enjoy it.  We shall see…

A Bookish Bucket List – Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week we will post a new Top Ten list  that one of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

So, without further ado…My Bookish Bucket List!

  1. Read Les Miserables…one of these days, when my kiddos are grown.
  2. Finally read Anna Karenina.
  3. Finish The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor.
  4. Read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.
  5. Read The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis with my sons.  My first time through will be when I read them with my oldest son.
  6. Read everything by Willa Cather, Cormac McCarthy and Kent Haruf.
  7. Have over 300 classics on my finished list.  I’m currently at 186.
  8. Buy no new books for an entire year…including Kindle books.  Limit my reading during that year to my personal library and our local public libraries.  (I’ve tried this before and failed magnificently.)
  9. Get back to reviewing books on this blog.
  10. Own my own used (and loved) book store…perhaps with a reading nook complete with coffee and comfy chairs.

 

Top Ten…ok, Five…Books on my Spring TBR Pile

Top Ten Tuesday is a book meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish.  I haven’t participated in a l-o-n-g time, but since it’s Spring Break this week, and I’m working on getting the baby on a new nap schedule, and my 8yo is happily eating breakfast and watching Curious George, I have time.

So, what are my reading priorities for Spring 2014?  Read on…

  1. Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal by T. David Gordon…I’m a pianist, and until recently, I was playing part time at our church.  Long story short, I am no longer doing that, due to some major differences of opinion that are not necessary to discuss here.  So I’m reading this book, which was recommended by a friend.  It should shed some light on some things I’ve felt for a long time.
  2. The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather…This past winter, I finally read (well, listened to) O, Pioneers! and My Antonia after many years on my TBR list.  I loved them.  L-o-v-e-d them…and loved O, Pioneers! especially.  Yes, I know My Antonia is Cather’s premier novel, and I really did enjoy it, but O, Pioneers! resonated deeply with me.  So I’m on to The Song of the Lark, to complete the Great Plains Trilogy, and then on to the rest of Cather’s work.  If you haven’t read her books, I encourage you to do so.  They are wonderful.
  3. Pain Redeemed: When Our Deepest Sorrows Meet God by Natasha Metzler…I started this early last year, and have yet to finish it.  I mean to do that this spring.  It is a deeply moving book of Metzler’s struggle with infertility.  I also read her blog (http://natashametzler.com/), and it is very encouraging.  She is a deep, thoughtful woman with a lot to say, and it’s high time I finished her book.
  4. Joy! A Study on Philippians for Women by Keri Folmar…I have a really hard time finding Bible studies that resonate with me, and truthfully, it’s not something I have ever been very good at.  However, I have lately felt like I need to do some sort of study, and I when I ran across this book, I connected with the idea of studying joy immediately.  So, this is another spring goal…to complete the study.  I’ve read Philippians – recently – so I really have no excuses.
  5. Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen of People I Want to Punch in the Throat…This book is a collection of essays inspired by the blog of the same name, which is utterly hilarious.  If you’re not familiar with Jen, stop by her blog and read some of her entries.  She’s a bit of a potty mouth, so if you’re sensitive to that, consider yourself warned.  My personal favorite is her post on The Elf on the Shelf, which was gut-wrenchingly funny.  That was also the post that initially went viral, and launched her into the public consciousness.  She’s snarky & funny, and finds hilarity in every day life.  That is right up my alley.

That’s all I have on my short list for the moment.  There are many others, and you can peruse my entire list at Goodreads if you like.

Between The Times | Why Should Christians Read Literature? by Michael Travers

For the Record (Michael Travers): Why Should Christians Read Literature?

August 1, 2012 by administrator

[Editor’s Note: Michael Travers is Professor of English and Associate Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness at Southeastern. He is author of Encountering God in the Psalms (Kregel, 2003) and co-author (with Richard D. Patterson) of Face to Face With God: Human Images of God in the Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2008). As a disciple of Christ and good literature, and teacher on both at Southeastern, we asked him to write on the topic of reading literature for Christian formation.]

Why should Christians bother reading literature at all? Because reading literature humanizes us—in the best sense of the word. Literature helps us realize the image of God in us in ways that we cannot afford to miss. Consider….

Literature exercises and develops our emotions and imaginations. People write about what they experience and how they respond emotionally and imaginatively to their experiences. As we read good imaginative literature, we begin to see our own experiences and emotions in the larger human context. Which emotions are healthy, which not? Which emotions ought we to cultivate, which should we put to death? In literature, we can see the expressions and consequences of human emotions in real-life situations and can be encouraged or take warning accordingly. It is the same with our imaginations. Reading literature gives us what Kevin Vanhoozer calls “the power of synoptic vision”: through our imaginations responding to the imaginative writings of others, we see the important issues in life, not just the urgent and immediate circumstances around us. Imagination allows us to see the universal and timeless human issues and truths in the particular experiences of the characters in the book we are reading.

Literature speaks to the human condition in which we all find ourselves all the time. As humans, we all share the same human condition. No matter our gender, race, or nationality, we all struggle with sin, experience the emotions of love and hate, give expression to our strongest desires, and we all long for something that this world cannot satisfy—in the end, God. Literature connects us with others who have given effective expression to our common humanity and longings and, while we may not agree with a writer’s worldview, he or she illuminates our common condition in ways that can help us understand our situation better and relate to others outside of our immediate community. In Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective, Leland Ryken helpfully suggests that literature “clarifies the human situation to which the Christian faith speaks.”[1] Likewise, with C. S. Lewis, a Christian can think of literature as one form of “pre-evangelism”: a means to help people ask the important questions—the eternal questions—and which gives us an opportunity to speak the gospel into their lives.

Literature expands us. Reading imaginative literature takes us outside of our own immediate situation. We get to meet other people from other places—even from other times—that we would otherwise never meet. When we read a novel, we don’t just follow a plot line; we become acquainted with more people—some friends, some not so much friends—who hone our humanity. We get to look in on other cultures—oriental as well as occidental, contemporary as well as ancient—and in its turn that experience helps us not to be blinded to the realities of our own culture and time. Again, C. S. Lewis is helpful here. What he says in An Experiment in Criticism is worth quoting at some length: “We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own….”[2] He continues, “in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here [i.e. in reading great literature], as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”[3] Think a bit about that!

Literature can help us glorify God in our lives. Humans are “wordish creatures.”[4] Only we, of all God’s creatures, use sounds and graphics symbolically to communicate what is not immediately present to our five senses. Only we imagine and create what is not essential to our immediate needs. Only we can appreciate beauty, truth and goodness in their own rights. God made us wordish creatures, and he communicated the gospel to us in words. Even Jesus Christ is given the epithet, “Word made flesh,” and only He communicates the Father to us sinful people. Because literature is a wordish medium, it is in some senses the form of artistic expression that allows us to get closest to our Creator. After all, we are all part of that great Story, and our stories fit into the larger Story. And you can’t tell a story without words.

Why read literature? How can you not? It’s part of our heritage as humans. But we must cultivate it if we are not to lose it again and revert to an earlier age or place where the Word and the word were both darkened. Make your words flesh that the Word made flesh might be glorified.


[1] Leland Ryken, Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 34.

[2] C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 137.

[3] Ibid., 141.

[4] Bradley Green, The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life (Crossway, 2010), 104.

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Letters of Note: The Bulk of All Human Utterances is Plagiarism

In 1892, deafblind author Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism after a short story of hers, named “The Frost King,” was identified as being extremely similar to Margaret Canby’s “Frost Fairies.” An investigation followed, as did a tribunal in which she was eventually acquitted. Amazingly, Keller was just 12 years of age at the time.

A decade later, her friend, Mark Twain, learned of the episode after reading Keller’s autobiography. He then wrote her the fascinating letter of support seen below.

(Source: Mark Twain’s Letters, Vol. 2 of 2; Image: Mark Twain, via.)

Riverdale-on-the-Hudson
St. Patrick’s Day, ’03

Dear Helen,—

I must steal half a moment from my work to say how glad I am to have your book, and how highly I value it, both for its own sake and as a remembrance of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted between us for nine years without a break, and without a single act of violence that I can call to mind. I suppose there is nothing like it in heaven; and not likely to be, until we get there and show off. I often think of it with longing, and how they’ll say, “There they come—sit down in front!” I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same. I was at Henry Roger’s last night, and of course we talked of you. He is not at all well;—you will not like to hear that; but like you and me, he is just as lovely as ever.

I am charmed with your book—enchanted. You are a wonderful creature, the most wonderful in the world—you and your other half together—Miss Sullivan, I mean, for it took the pair of you to make a complete and perfect whole. How she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy, penetration, originality, wisdom, character, and the fine literary competencies of her pen—they are all there.

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men—but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite—that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

Then why don’t we unwittingly reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well as the story itself? It can hardly happen—to the extent of fifty words except in the case of a child; its memory-tablet is not lumbered with impressions, and the actual language can have graving-room there, and preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person’s memory-tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase. It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed on a man’s mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to turn up some time or other to be mistaken by him for his own. No doubt we are constantly littering our literature with disconnected sentences borrowed from books at some unremembered time and now imagined to be our own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes’s poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year and a half later I stole his dedication, without knowing it, and used it to dedicate my “Innocents Abroad” with. Then years afterward I was talking with Dr. Holmes about it. He was not an ignorant ass—no, not he; he was not a collection of decayed human turnips, like your “Plagiarism Court;” and so when I said, “I know now where I stole it, but whom did you steal it from,” he said, “I don’t remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anyone who had.”

To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child’s heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn’t sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole lives, their whole histories, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid rock of plagiarism, and they didn’t know it and never suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of disciplining and purifying a kitten that they think they’ve caught filching a chop! Oh, dam—

But you finish it, dear, I am running short of vocabulary today.

Every lovingly your friend

Mark

via Letters of Note: The Bulk of All Human Utterances is plagiarism.

These (Books) Should Have Some Staying Power

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Everyone is welcome to join.

Just link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out your list! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday Topic:
These Should Have Some Staying Power
(or Books Written In The Past Decade That I Hope People Are Still Reading In 2042)

1.  The Help by Kathryn Stockett – Excellently written and deeply moving, this is a powerful & thought provoking reminder of part of our nation’s history.

2.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows – A beautifully written epistolary, and definitely worth of a place in the literary canon.

3.  Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling – Not only are they well crafted and packed with action, the story line from start to finish is incredible, and they have been instrumental in getting kids (even professed non-readers) steeped in reading again.

4.  Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larssen – With an unusual protagonist and an oddball sidekick, technological intrigue and danger in spades, this is a detective / mystery series that rises above the rest.

5.  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – So well researched and realistic that it is hard to believe this is “just” a novel, but it is, and it is stellar.

6.  The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas – Controversial, and therefore so worth the read.

7.  The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – A gripping story that spans a generation (or two), an emigration to the U.S., and all the difficulties and joys that are part of life-changing events.

8.  No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy – It’s dark and disturbing and violent, and written so well that you can’t help but be effortlessly carried to the end on McCarthy’s words.

9.  Rain Gods by James Lee Burke – As will all of his novels, the writing is wonderful, but this one is an especially gripping, disturbing tale of serial murder.  Similar in scope & setting to No Country for Old Men, it is my favorite of the two, though both are worthy of being in the literary canon.

10.  South of Broad and My Reading Life by Pat Conroy – Really, I would say anything by Pat Conroy should have longevity, and there are several that have already proven their mettle, but since we’re focusing on the most recent decade, I must include both of these books.  Pat Conroy is as accomplished an author as we have currently writing, and I believe all of his works will have staying power for decades to come.