A normal tradition for Americans on New Year’s Eve is to make a promise, a resolution, in an attempt to improve their lives or self-discipline. After two or three weeks of very honestly trying to uphold the ideal, we listen to the excuses our minds tell us for why we really don’t need to go to the gym today. A day or two goes by, then a week, then two, without our touching whatever it is we promised. We recall our resolution with regret, and find comfort in the fact that none of our friends had kept their resolution, either. I think the problem here is that we either really don’t want to do whatever it is we promised, or that we didn’t put in place an accountability system in place to keep us on track.
This year, I picked something I do want to do (read) and then told people about it. I decided my resolution should be to challenge myself with the goal of reading 100 books in a year. Since I took a gap semester between college and seminary, I had plenty of free time to do this.
I have read (…wow, has it really been thirty?!)30 books so far. There are classics and newbies, science fiction, historical fiction, and biography, young adult fiction, cookbooks, and theology. As I went along, I kept notes. I thought maybe you would be inspired to pick up a new book.
One Hundred Books in a Year – 2014
Title, author, yearpublished, date I finished it, # of pages, my evaluation/thoughts
1. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks, Jan 2, 342 pg. A rather gruesomely captivating story, full of foul language, this book of eyewitness accounts contains the fictitious “history” of the spread of the undead infection and the living’s hard-earned journey to regaining control of dominion. Interesting to read once; won’t read it again.
2. The Island of Dr. Moreau, H. G. Wells, Jan 3, 185 pg. Another frightfully engrossing story, this parable by Wells explores the tension between humanity and animals. The animals which were distorted into a kind of human resemblance by Moreau’s vivisection stand as a reminder of our own more primal urges. Wells sought to express his own exasperation at the suffering and lack of purpose of the human race. Glad I read this classic sci-fi.
3. The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson, Jan 4, 253 pg. This is a collection of funny and philosophical cartoons depicting a boy and his stuffed tiger. Calvin and Hobbes deal with many of the troubles of a six-year-old, like dealing with a babysitter, his girly neighbor, and the daily homework. Good stuff, rather delightful.
4. The Spymistress: a novel, Jennifer Chiaverini, Jan 6, 351 pg. This historical fiction follows the life of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Unionist living in the Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia, during America’s Civil War. Using her power, wealth, and friendships, Lizzie supplied crucial information to General Grant about military and political movement in the city. A good way to learn historical facts in a narrative style.
5. A Good Neighbor: Benedict’s Guide to Community, Robert Benson, 2009, Jan 9, 92 pg. This short book looks at how some of the core principles of St. Benedict’s Rule (obedience, humility, suffering, confession, mercy, and serving) are also key to fostering community with those one is given to and those given to one. Written by a quiet Anglican layman who I could easily befriend; delightful read.
6. Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life, Margaret Kim Peterson, 2007, Jan 10, 165 pg. “Of course housework is about making a home, but a Christian home, properly understood, is never just for one’s own family. A Christian home overflows its boundaries; it is an outpost of the kingdom of God, where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and there is room enough for everyone. […] Housekeeping is about practicing sacred disciplines and creating sacred space, for the sake of Christ as we encounter him in our fellow household members and in neighbors, strangers, and guests.” (pg xiii) This book contains a thoughtful theology of making a house a home. It rambles a bit, but is worth reading.
7. Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save Children in the Sudan, Sam Childers, 2009, Jan 13, 223 pg. A man once addicted to drugs and alcohol turns his life over to Christ and puts his fighting spirit to better use protecting orphans from the Lord’s Resistance Army. It is clear that he is a pastor from how he writes, and he is very down-to-earth. It was Childers who inspired the movie Machine Gun Preacher. This book made me rethink my opinion of NRA people.
8. Monk Habits for Everday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants, Dennis Okholm, 2007, Jan 14, 137 pg. Okholm is a Protestant professor who fell in love with the lifestyle of Benedictine monks. He writes about how all Christians can implement St. Benedict’s Rule guidelines: meditation on the Word, disciplined speech, common goods, submission, humility, hospitality, stability, and balance in all areas of one’s life. I appreciated his natural sense of humor.
9. Man of Blessing: A Life of St. Benedict, Carmen Acevedo Butcher, 2006, Jan 15, 167 pg. Starting with what little we know about St. Benedict’s life, Carmen fills in the details with what we know was going on culturally and politically in Italy during his life. She tells miraculous stories about him that have been passed down, which all point to Benedict’s peacefulness, grace, and humility. It made me want to become an abbess.
10. Open Heart, Open Home: The Hospitable Way to Make Others Feel Welcome and Wanted, Karen Mains, 1976 and 1997, Jan 20, 208 pg. This book is perfect for any Christian who has been gifted with hospitality! This pastor’s wife goes into Biblical examples and exhortations of hospitality, the necessary humble attitudes that must accompany it, and the ministries that are possible when a person offers an open heart and welcoming home. Good for my soul.
11.The Hidden Art of Homemaking: Creative Ideas for Enriching Everyday Life, Edith Schaeffer, 1971, Jan 22, 214 pg. This book is written with the foundational idea that “a Christian, above all people, should live artistically, aesthetically, and creatively” (pg 32). Because God, the great Creator, has created humanity in His own image, Christians should strive to make the most of their creative giftings, whether it is in decorating, growing plants, cooking, writing, or reading aloud. The author filled the book with ink illustrations she drew herself, which add character and prove that she is not just talking the talk. It is filled with good ideas.
12. Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliot, 1976, Jan 23, 175 pg. This easy read is Elliot’s letter to her eldest daughter Valerie, about biblical womanhood and marriage. Her tone is gentle and wise. I’m going to recommend this to other Christian women.
13. Austenland: a Novel, Shannon Hale, 2007, Feb 12th, 194 pg. Here is a fiction about a thirty-some year-old woman who is obsessed with Mr. Darcy and Jane Austen’s romances, but she has never found a good man herself. Her great-aunt leaves her an Austenian vacation in her will, but what a strange place! She battles feelings of confusion, shame, interest, and wonders if she is ready to give up on her fantasy—and even on men! Surprising ending. Great for getting me out of my reading slump.
14. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Kathleen Flinn, 2011, Feb 17th, 272 pg. Flinn tells the story of how she took nine women who had almost no cooking skills and taught them how to feel at home in the kitchen. She records what everyone says and how her basic classes changed their lives. I learned a lot about cooking in just reading the book! It has recipes in it, too.
15. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1932, Feb 18th, 259 pg. In this dystopian novel, Huxley paints a picture of a completely hedonistic world, where promiscuous sex and drugs are demanded by the culture which mass produces humanity with the goal of blissfully ignorant happiness. A man named John is born in a “savage reservation” and is introduced to the modern London. The clash of mocking and meaningless philosophy climax in suicide, which I suspected all along. A very intriguing book indeed.
16. Bread and Wine: a love letter to life around the table with recipes, Shauna Niequist, 2013, Feb 23rd, 280 pg. Shauna tells stories about life—precious memories and lessons learned—all entwined around food, tastes, and smells. She reminds me of my mother.
17. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1866, March 13th, 551 pg. This old classic follows what happens in a few weeks in the life of a Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, who commits murder in St. Petersburg. Though it is a rather long story, by the middle, I was hooked. I had no idea how it would end. Surprisingly, one could say that it ended with resurrection and the story of Lazarus. Totally worth it.
18. Til We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, C.S. Lewis, 1956, March 15th, 309 pg. Jack rewrote this ancient Greek story of Psyche and Cupid through the eyes of her older sister, Orual. Psyche makes Aphrodite jealous with her beauty, but is saved by her son, Cupid, who marries her. Orual does not understand everything, and convinces Psyche to disobey her husband and look upon his face. This causes consequences which include much suffering, as well as Orual finally coming closer to understanding the intentions of the gods. A bit of a strange story, but one filled with wonderings about things that are beyond human understanding.
19. Divergent, Veronica Roth, 2011, March 17th, 557 pg. Set in a dystopian future in Chicago, this teen-fiction novel tells the story of Beatrice, who must choose her own faction. There are five, which are based on the virtues of bravery, honesty, knowledge, harmony, and selflessness. What Tris doesn’t know is that she will not fit into any one box, because she is divergent. I read this because the movie comes out next week; it was rather enjoyable, and I finished it in about 5 hours.
20. Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? Gary Thomas, 2000, March 19th, 268 pg. Gary’s point is that marriage can be a tool to make us more Christ-like, more forgiving, and more selfless. He tells great stories. A must-read for married Christians.
21. Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families, Cokie and Steve Roberts, 2011, March 26th, 180 pg. Written by a Jewish man and his Catholic wife, this book is the product of decades of having the Passover meal with friends. It explains traditions and includes both Hebrew and transliteration of blessings as well as the English translation. There are also Seder recipes in the back. Good resource.
22. How God Became King: Getting to the Heart of the Gospels, Tom Wright, 2012, April 3rd, 276 pg. In this book, N.T. Wright digs deep into the Scriptures, explaining the over-arching story the Bible. God reigning as king over God’s people has always been the goal. The last third of the book is about how the Kingdom of God is related to Jesus’ death on the cross—perfect reading during Lent. Takes some perseverance to get through it, though.
23. Emma, Jane Austen, 1816, April 15th, 320 pg. This is the story of a young woman who thinks she knows everything about love. Her attempts at matchmaking fail as she finds out she doesn’t know anything. But she realizes she is head over heels herself and finds true love in the end. Good stuff for a girls’ soul.
24. Life of Pi, Yann Martel, 2001, April 18th, 319 pg. The story of a 16-year old boy who is shipwrecked and survives over seven months on a lifeboat with an adult male Bengal tiger. In the end, he retells the story with people instead of animals, letting the reader decide which of the two versions to believe. A fascinating story recently made into a movie.
25. Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld, 2009, April 21st, 440 pg. This is a steampunk novel, reimagining World War I as a battle between “Clankers” who fight with enormous machines and “Darwinists” who use genetically-engineered animals. Alek, who must hide the fact he is heir to the Austrian empire, meets up with the airshipman Deryn, who must hide the fact she is not a man. A quick read teen novel set in a very creative world.
26. Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld, 2010, April 22nd, 485 pg. This is the second book of the Leviathan trilogy. This one covers Alek and Deryn’s adventures in Istanbul. A very good read. Looking forward to the third.
27. Goliath, Scott Westerfeld, 2011, April 25th, 543pg. Deryn’s secret gets out in the midst of escalating war tensions. It was good stuff, seeing how WWI could have gone (in a Darwinist/clanker reality). I read all three books in three days.
28. Jane Austen’s World: The Life and Times of England’s Most Popular Author, Maggie Lane, 2013, April 27th, 140 pg. This educational book is full of pictures; each pair of pages tackles a topic related to Jane Austen. There are five chapters; they are entitled “Jane Austen’s Life,” “Who was Jane Austen?,” “Daily Life in Jane Austen’s England,” “Society and the Spirit of the Age,” “The Visual World,” and “The Immortal Jane Austen.” That just tells you how in-depth this book is! Sheesh. I quite enjoyed learning about Regency England, though.
29. Women of Excellence, Delores L. Kendrick, 2012, May 5th, 86 pg. Probably the best part of this short guide can be found on page 20: “I believe there is a woman inside waiting to come forth, a woman who is healed emotionally as well as physically[…] who has discovered her identity at the foot of the cross, and is ready for all God wants her to be. She does not have to imitate or mimic anyone. […] She is comfortable in her womanhood and does not have to impress anyone by placing a mask over her emotions and becoming something she is not in order to be accepted[….] she can be just that—a woman of excellence.”
30. Without Apology: Sermons for Christ’s Church, Stanley Hauerwas, 2013, May 13th, 169 pg. This is a collection of an American theologian’s sermons. Each one is short and thought-provoking, though I have never encountered sermons that had such a familiar tone before. It has inspired me to read more of his work.
Book Count: 30 Page Count: 8,160
If I had to pick a top 5, here is what I would choose:
5. The Spymistress, because I am a sucker for a good historical fiction.
4. Sacred Marriage, because I really believe that mutual self-sacrifice is the key to a good marriage.
3. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, because it made me want to start teaching people how to cook, though I’m no pro myself.
2. Brave New World, because though it is fiction, it dealt with real-world issues.
1. Crime and Punishment, because in the end, he finds a kind of resurrection through another’s love.
I’m a little behind if I want to read another 70 books in the next 7 months.
Hey, looks like 43% of these books were written by women! Woot! Go ladies!
What are you reading? Or what is a book that changed your life/way of thinking?