Thursday, January 14, 2010

2009 Books

It looks like, thanks to my iPod, I read 36 books in 2009. Considering that I had my worst pregnancy ever and two very small kids to take care of, and a very busy husband, I think that amount is not too shabby. (Let me count … 12 of these books were listened to via iPod while I did housework. How I love that thing.)

Feminine Appeal (C. Mahaney)—This book on the seven virtues of a Godly wife and mother listed in Titus 2 was a great way to start the year. I bought it for my home library immediately after I read it. I thought it was practical and very encouraging. I’d like to read all of Mahaney’s books.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Haddon)—This is a novel written from the perspective of a teenage boy with autism who lives in a dysfunctional home. It kept my interest because it was really different from other things I had read and I thought it was well-written and convincing.

Breathe: Creating Space for God in a Hectic Life (Wyatt)—This was an easy read and the author had good reminders about prioritizing and keeping the Sabbath and how this ultimately benefits every other area of our life.

The Secret Garden (Burnett)—I enjoyed The Secret Garden, and the truths conveyed by this piece of fiction, but it wasn’t my favorite. I think audio books are a great way to do the classics, especially if you’re already familiar with the story. Classics can be a little too descriptive and dry at times and I think having a narrator read it out loud really helps me stay involved in the story during those dry periods. I always try to get the unabridged (undramatized) versions so I don’t lose any of the beauty of the written words.

The Kitchen Boy (Alexander)—This is a novel of the Last Tsar, recommended to me by Megan. It was absolutely gripping. I love reading a book that is impossible to put down. The book also had a surprising plot twist at the end. Having said that, this book also has one of the most graphic depictions of violence against children I have ever read. If you can stomach reading about the murders of innocent children, this book is truly worth reading.

David Copperfield (Dickens)—This book really moved me and I found many of the characters to be very engaging. I’m not a huge Dickens fan but I did enjoy reading this book.

Raising Money Smart Kids (Bodnar)—I had been contemplating if we should begin giving Meredith an allowance. While financial savvy is not the most important virtue, I do really want my kids to understand saving and investing and to grasp the importance of being smart with their money. This book was very excellent. I will definitely be reading it again as my children approach their teenage years. And, I did get an answer to my allowance question—age six is a good age to start. First grade is also when kids typically learn about money in school.

Kids and Money (Pearl)—This one had some pearls of wisdom (no pun intended) too, but I thought that Raising Money Smart Kids was much more reader-friendly and better organized.

Wuthering Heights (Bronte)—I really wanted to love this book. So many wonderful people I know really love this book. But I hated this book. I hated all the characters, except for a few. Maybe that’s the power of the book—the author invoked in me such a passionate dislike of everyone involved. I didn’t even really have sympathy for the “victims” in this book. In the end, they all got what they deserved.

Almost French (Turnbull)—This was one of my absolute favorite books this year, or probably of any book I’ve ever read. It’s a memoir of a young Australian woman who met a Frenchman while traveling elsewhere in Europe and decides to take him up on his invitation to move to France and pursue a relationship with him. The whole book is about her trying to assimilate into the very peculiar French culture, and all her adventures along the way. The book was like pure candy. I enjoyed every page and was very sad when the book had to end.

The Practice of the Presence of God (Lawrence)—This book was excellent and very spiritually encouraging and convicting. I was blessed to read the words of this very humble and godly man who wanted nothing more than to experience the presence of God in his everyday life. This book was a good reminder that I can and should pursue constant communion with God during my everyday experiences.

Eat, Pray, Love (Gilbert)—This book was easy to read and the author is engaging and funny. I admire people who are willing to take risks to pursue what they ultimately want. However, I couldn’t help but feel sad for this woman who was so lost and never seemed to get good answers because (in my opinion) she was looking in the wrong places. I’m glad she was happy in the end of the book, but I was still unhappy for her, wanting her to have more. I don’t particularly recommend this book.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Fitzgerald)—Kevin and I saw the movie so I thought I’d read the book. The book was amusing but had a very different plot from the movie. The only thing the two had in common was the fact that Button was born old and ended life a baby.

Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me (Begoun)—This book had been updated since I read it last. This book makes me feel empowered. There’s a lot of good information on wisely buying the facial products and cosmetics that work well for you and don’t cost a fortune.

Worldliness (C.J. Mahaney)—Kevin read this book for a men’s group meeting and I thought it looked interesting. It was good food for thought about evaluating our media, music, stuff, clothes, etc.

Shopping for Time: How to Do it All and Not Be Overwhelmed (C. Mahaney)—This was another of my top-favorite books. At the time I read it, it was just what I needed to hear to encourage me to be more disciplined with planning my day. There are no easy solutions to finding more time to do what you need to do. But I thought Mahaney had a lot of practical wisdom to dish out and this girl needed to hear it.

Don’t Waste Your Life (Piper)—I don’t know why but I just couldn’t get into this book. It felt like a very long sermon and nothing was particularly insightful. I’ll have to give another of Piper’s books a try sometime and hopefully I’ll be more impressed. I know a lot of people really love his books.

Julie and Julia (Powell)—This is a cooking memoir and, if you can get past the fact that she speaks like a sailor, it was interesting and funny. I love cooking and trying new recipes, so I especially enjoyed it. I also really enjoyed the movie. I love it when it works out for me to read a book first and then see the movie.

He’s Just Not that Into You (Behrendt)—I remember talking with a single friend about this book when it first came out, many years ago. I saw that they were making it into a movie, so I decided to finally read it. While the author definitely has a worldly perspective on dating and premarital sex, I think the message is something that is so obvious and yet so many women need to hear it.

Outliers: The Story of Success (Gladwell)—This is my favorite Gladwell book so far and a top-pick of the books I read this year. Gladwell uses example after example to show how successful people all have some sort of lucky break along the way. They are very determined people who have worked hard and there is some other factor that makes them successful. It goes against the American image of a completely self-made person. This book is fascinating. For instance, nearly all professional hockey players in Canada are born between January and March. If you live in Canada and want to play hockey, but you are born in November or December, you might as well not even try. No professional hockey player in Canada was born in these months. Gladwell explains why this is.

The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway)—It took me a while to get into this book. (But it was an audio book so I persevered!) I kept thinking, “Who cares to read about an old man sitting alone on a boat in the middle of the sea?” But I’m glad I kept reading/listening because I became more involved in the story later on in the book. It was interesting to read later (in another book) about how Hemingway wrote the Old Man as a type of Christ.

Copper Beech (Binchy)—
This was a fun read about a group of school children and how their lives interwove as they grew. Binchy is always so good at making her characters interesting and realistic. I enjoy her novels.

How to Read Literature Like a Professor (Foster)—This was another of my top favorite books of the year. I cannot believe I ever led a Book Club discussion without reading this book. Foster helps to crack the codes in literature. For instance, rarely does an author write a scene that has bad weather, or people eating together, or birds in flight, etc., etc., without there being meaning and significance behind those things. Foster discusses numerous works of fiction and helps to open them and explain them to the reader so that we can be more discerning when we read other works of fiction. Very interesting book!

Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury)—This book was interesting enough but it wasn’t one of my favorites. I liked Orwell’s 1984 much better, when I read it years ago. The author got his point across really well and you really hate how apathetic and pitiful the people are who have no art or literature to enhance their lives and make it more meaningful.

Lenten Lands (Gresham)—This is a memoir written by the stepson of C.S. Lewis. What a great book! I really enjoyed every chapter and appreciated the author’s transparency and hearing his perspective.

Casino Royale (Fleming)—This is the first James Bond novel I’ve read. Kevin read it also and we both enjoyed the word pictures in it. I need to watch the movie again because I can’t remember the plot differences. But it was a fun read.

Beyond Bedtime Stories: Promoting Literacy in Children (Bennett-Armistead)—I was glad I picked up this book. There were practical tips and some good reminders that I need to keep doing what I’m already doing. This book was organized well and easy to get through.

Passionate Housewives Desperate for God (Chancey & McDonald)—I have to admit that I was very skeptical when I picked up this book. I wouldn’t have read it except that my mom left it after she came to visit. The authors are part of the patriocentric movement, which I find to be off kilter and alarming. So, I read this book with a very critical eye. Much to my surprise, I was glad to have read this book. I appreciated the authors being very careful to seek out what scripture really teaches about homemaking, even though it’s not a very popular viewpoint, even among Christians. I was encouraged to be careful to take scripture for what it is without looking at it through a humanistic or cultural lens. I think it’s really difficult to remove all filters, because there are so many. The two big ones for me are a) the messages culture sends that are so ingrained, it is part of my worldview without me even realizing it, and b) thinking that everything has to make sense in my own mind for it to be true. Either the bible is true or it’s not. I believe it is true. Therefore I need to read scripture and take it as God’s word without trying to qualify it or twist it into what I want it to say. This book made me think.

Dating Jesus (Campbell)—I read this book at the same time I read the Passionate Housewives book and I couldn’t help but see an extreme contrast. Dating Jesus is a memoir of a woman who grew up in a fundamentalist church and ultimately rejected the faith of her youth and embraced feminist teachings. Passionate Housewives delivered the message that it’s important to start with scripture first and use that as our filter. Dating Jesus is the story of a woman who struggled with scripture not making sense to her and she therefore rejected it. Dating Jesus ultimately shows the problem with bad theology. If Campbell had been raised in a church where leadership supported and encouraged her inquisitive mind and helped to give her answers, she would have likely written an entirely different book. Unfortunately she grew up in a church with bad theology and a twisted view of scripture, where she was taught to just accept what she was told without thinking independently. And she rebelled. I would have most likely rebelled under these circumstances, too. A sad story.

Sarah’s Key (deRosnay)—This is a novel translated from French about the holocaust and evacuation of Jews from Paris. The plot is about a girl who locks her brother in a closet and takes the key, promising him she’ll be back for him after the roundup. This book was truly a page-turner. Each chapter alternated between the story of Sarah and the modern-day story of an investigative reporter. Just as soon as Sarah’s plot became less gripping, the reporter’s story picked up and you just can’t wait to find out what happens to her. This book was difficult to read because many of the tragic things that happened in it are true. But it’s very important to read and remember. And the story is incredibly well written. I really enjoyed it. I only wish more of deRosnay’s novels can be translated into English for me to read.

Calm My Anxious Heart (Dillow)—This is a book about finding contentment. I really appreciated the reminders in this book and the author’s heart in writing it. Each chapter had something good to say. She reminded me that there are always two ways to view our situation. We need to focus on the good and rejoice in the portion God has given us. Why is it that we Americans have so much but we are so unhappy? This book was encouraging and convicting.

Strong Poison (Sayers)—It was fun to read a good murder mystery again. It’s not my favorite genre but it was a really nice change of pace.

Service Included (Damrosch)—This is a memoir about a woman who waited tables at one of New York City’s top, four-star restaurants. It was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes view of what it is like to work in that capacity. It was fun to read about the food and food preparation, the celebrities who came to dine, the stresses of trying to woo a food critic, and the joys and agonies of the job.

Washington Square (James)—I read this for a book club and enjoyed it. The plot is about a plain, gullible, wealthy young woman who falls for a suave, beguiling and penniless young man. Her father the whole time warns his daughter that the man is only seeking her wealth. It’s about the young woman’s decision and the father/daughter and man/woman relationships involved.

Grace Based Parenting (Kimmel)—This book was excellent. It gives the larger picture of parenting and encourages parents to trust God and allow their children freedom to fail and freedom to be different. I will probably read this book again in a few years … and maybe even again a few years after that.

Husband Coached Childbirth (Bradley)— I have had short labors and thought I would read this book in case I choose to forgo the epidural this time around. The second edition of this book, written in 1974, was loaned to me. Much of it was outdated (e.g., he makes wild, completely outlandish assertions about the cause and effect of drugs taken by pregnant women) and there were a lot of stereotypes which I found to be pretty humorous. I would hope the updated version of this book is better in this regard. I was also disappointed at how the book was organized and didn’t find it particularly helpful or inspiring. The natural childbirth arguments have never deeply resonated with me. Having said that, I can see how if I were giving birth in 1960 instead of 2010, I might have an entirely different opinion. The descriptions of women being doped up to a state of near unconsciousness, and delivering babies who are born also doped up and gray colored, would drive anyone to consider alternatives. Thankfully, the options we have today are very different than the ones our mothers and grandmothers had.

Top Picks:
Feminine Appeal (Mahaney)
Raising Money Smart Kids (Bodnar)
Almost French (Turnbull)
The Practice of the Presence of God (Lawrence)
Shopping for Time: How to Do it All and Not Be Overwhelmed (C. Mahaney)
Outliers: The Story of Success (Gladwell)
How to Read Literature Like a Professor (Foster)
Lenten Lands (Gresham)
Sarah’s Key (deRosnay)
Calm My Anxious Heart (Dillow)
Grace Based Parenting (Kimmel)


Janice Phillips said...

I am SERIOUSLY impressed. Way to go, Amy!

Heather L. said...

Thanks so much for all the reviews!!!! It's fun to see that we read several of the same books this year. :) But, there are many that I haven't read and so I'm taking notes and hope to read some in the near future. Wuthering Heights is on my list because everyone I know hates it and I don't want to just take their word for it!!! :)

S. Mehrens said...

That is impressive, especially because of all else you've had going on. I am thrilled to see another busy mom taking the time to read. :)

Btw, you said thanks to your iPod - do you keep track on it, or just read and listen via the iPod? Curious.

Oh and it seems your reading tastes are very much like mine - eclectic. :) I love it! (We read several of the same books in 2009)

Steve said...

You might find the following blogs of interest about C.J. Mahaney and the group he leads, Sovereign Grace Ministries:

They tell another side.

Hope this helps.

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Natalie said...

Very impressive!
About the author whose work was translated from French: why not teach/learn French with your children and then you can read the original yourself? That's what the Pritts do. {And with a reading list like this, you seem ambitious enough. :) } Just a thought.