Sunday, March 03, 2013

Books of 2012

2012 was quite a year in books. Reading is the one thing I hold onto, and won't give up, in the midst of this whirlwind of mothering young children! Reading keeps me sane some days.

So, before it's Easter already (!), I will post some thoughts on last year's books.

The Pursuit of God (Tozer) - A Christian classic, about seeking a personal relationship with God and knowing Him better. We should not be content with sitting back and having opinions about God. We should actively seek after Him. My dear friend Kristi picks me up at 6 a.m. on Tuesdays and we head to Starbucks to discuss these books (well, she used to do this and then I had a baby ...). This was a convicting but encouraging book.

Standing on the Promises (Wilson) - This book had a few good points. The one that I took from it was that people often parent backwards, where they are lax with small children (because when kids are little their misdeeds are often "cute" and easy to laugh off) and then when the children become teenagers parents start reigning them in. This leads to the teenagers' frustration and more rebellion. Wilson's idea is that the opposite should be done. Parents should be consistent with discipline and stay on top of small children's behavior and then loosen the restrictions as children age. So, when children are teenagers, good behavior should be a habit and thoroughly ingrained. By the time a child is 16 or 17 there should not be a need for any rules. A child should be self-governed at that point. This line of thinking made sense to me. Having said all this, I was really put-off by the author's legalism and judgmental attitude. He also makes the outrageous claim that if you do X, Y, and Z (allegedly raising kids the "right" way), then they will always turn out correctly. I just don't believe this is true and it fails to take into consideration why some siblings grow up to embrace the faith of their parents and some don't. Proverbs 22:6 ("Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it") is a wise saying and a general truth, but it is not a guarantee. We have to do what is right, model our faith, and then trust God for the rest.

The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne) - I enjoyed re-reading this classic and better seeing all the symbolism. It is a portrait of guilt and how unconfessed sin and hypocrisy eat away at the human spirit.

Steve Jobs (Isaacson) - If you are someone who is interested in either technology or business development, especially start-up companies, then I think you would find this book enjoyable. Apple devices have become ubiquitous in our society and I personally enjoy using them. It was fascinating to learn about the complex man who spearheaded Apple. Steve Jobs was also the founder of Pixar. He also came up with the idea for iTunes, revolutionizing the music industry. I enjoyed this book and have talked about it a lot and recommended it to a lot of people.

Moby Dick (Melville) - This book would have been absolutely riveting and maybe one of my favorite adventure books--who doesn't love the idea of a crew of men chasing after mammoth whales on the open, blue sea?--but it was so incredibly long with so many really tedious portions. It's as if Melville wanted to explore "everything whale" instead of just telling a good story. If the book had been edited down to about 170 pages, it would have been a gripping, amazing, completely enjoyable read. I did enjoy the symbolism in this book!

Middlemarch (Elliot) - This was one of the better novels I have read and maybe one of my favorite English novels. The character development was realistic and excellent. This book was largely about marriage relationships and contentment. I felt after reading it that I had been to a real Middlemarch and back and I enjoyed the journey.

The Latin-Centered Curriculum (Campbell) - This book, despite the intimidating title, was a super-easy read. I finished it in about two sittings and found it really interesting. I have read a lot of books on classical education and this was thought-provoking and I would recommend it. It referenced the classical school that we are sending Meredith to as a model of an older style of classical education where the classical languages are the foundation of the curriculum. This is the first time I understood the differentiation between traditional classical education as opposed to neoclassical education, something promulgated by Dorothy Sayers. Sayers' writings radically changed the definition of what people had traditionally understood classical education to mean.

A Thousand Gifts (Voskamp) - I might just be the only woman in all of Christendom who doesn't think this book is All That. It was good, despite the annoying sentence structures (which made more sense after I learned she was a writer for Day Spring greeting cards), but I didn't think it was profound enough to spur all of the hullabaloo that it has caused. Maybe the power of it is that it is so simple. Be grateful and see God's gifts in the ordinary things around you.

When I Lay My Isaac Down (Kent) - This book is the testimony of a woman who had a "perfect" Christian life. She had the model son--her only child--who had been a Christian youth leader and a U.S. Naval Academy graduate. She was a speaker on topics of raising children and family relationships. Suddenly her world was shattered when her son was arrested on charges of, and ultimately convicted of, first degree murder. It's a story about how she kept her faith and and saw God's purpose, even in these unthinkable circumstances.

Uncle Tom's Cabin (Stowe) - This, of course, is a very moving book about the evils of slavery. But I thought it was as much about Christianity as slavery. This is a provoking book and it is plain to see why it stirred people so passionately against slavery before the Civil War. The book highlights, not just the physical torment of the slaves, but even more compelling, the emotional torture they endured when they were forcefully separated from their family members. Even if a particular slave owner was kind and good to his slaves, as were many slave owners, their position was insecure and volatile unless he made specific provision for them in his will, which often didn't happen.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Chua) - I had been using the phrase "Tiger Mom" a lot so I figured I should read the book. This book is a fascinating contrast of Chinese and American cultures concerning raising kids. American mothers worry about self-esteem and lavish their children with compliments for mediocre levels of achievement. Chinese mothers think play time is wasteful and they demand excellence and respect for elders. These are generalizations, of course. This book was an interesting portrait of one Chinese-American family and it gave me a lot to think about concerning parenting styles and philosophies.

Madame Bovary (Flaubert) - I thought this book was depressing and I never really got into the characters. I never really liked Emma, although I know a lot of people say they can sympathize with her. I wonder if she had been kept occupied, e.g., not had servants doing all the work, if she would have had less time to ruminate on her domestic discontent and she would have actually found happiness.

Mere Christianity (Lewis) - Parts of this book were excellent and parts of it were just okay and some of the analogies were more helpful than others. I was particularly encouraged by Lewis' chapters on Christian virtues. For instance, when Lewis talks about forgiveness, he points out that we don't have to pardon others, but just forgive. He explained that we should treat others as we treat ourselves when it comes to forgiveness. We may still feel that we should suffer a punishment when we do wrong, but we never stop rooting for ourselves and believing the best about ourselves.

Midnight in Peking (French) - This was a dark book about the rape/murder of an Englishwoman in pre-WWII Peking. Even though some parts of this book were gruesome, dealing with a mutilated body, it was interesting to "participate" in the criminal investigation that ensued. The author delves into all of the complexities of the unsolved murder to try and uncover what really happened. The setting and historical details in the book were also interesting.

Give Them Grace (Fitzpatrick) - This is the best parenting book I have ever read. I reviewed it more fully here, six months ago. After all these months I can still say that this method has worked for us. The child I was struggling with has a whole new perspective and attitude, and so do I. Things are so much better, in every way. We can compare and contrast parenting books that we "like" or "like better" or "don't like," but this book worked for us and transformed us.

Out of a Far Country (Yuan) - This true story was written by a mother and her son who was involved in homosexuality and eventually drug dealing. Each of them wrote alternating chapters to tell their story from their perspective. Although the son's sins were more obvious and led to more drastic consequences, it is clear that the mother had her own set of sins to deal with and both were in need of saving grace and forgiveness. This book was a beautiful, and also sensitive and illuminating, testimony of the love of a mother for her son and God's unconditional love for both of them. It is a story of healing and forgiveness. I would recommend this book.

Six Ways to Keep the Little in Your Girl (Gresh) - I suddenly realized that we are on the brink of the "tween" years. I remember when Meredith was a baby and I would finally feel like I had a handle on her schedule and her needs and then everything would change and I would have to figure it all out, all over again, starting from scratch. Well, I guess all of life must be like that. A new season is almost upon us, again. Gresh's book made me think about what kind of foundation I want to lay for the teenage years. It reminded me that it is important to be intentional about directing my girls' activities, guiding their friendships, creating family oneness, and having important conversations with them sooner rather than later. I really appreciated what she had to say about developing moral values by induction. I agree that it is much wiser to guide your children's thinking by asking them questions instead of constantly telling them what to think, believe, and do. Nine times out of ten, you can get your child to reason themselves into the right answer based on what they already know. (Of course, leading questions are allowed.) Then her values truly become her own, rather than simply something her parents preach at her. This was a great book. I bought it and have already loaned it out to friends.

Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky) - This was an interesting study in guilt and the criminal mind. I have decided, however, that Russian novels are not my favorite. (I also finished Anna Karenina at the beginning of this year.) And, as with other lengthy classics, I think this book could have been condensed greatly to make it more interesting. Or, do I just have a short attention span?!

100 Ways to Simplify Your Life (Meyer) - This book was full of tidbits and nuggets of wisdom, some more insightful than others. The chapters are short and it was easy to read and gave me some things to think about. Life is busy. Am I living simply so that I can maximize my time and efforts and reach my goals?

Confessions of an Unlikely Convert (Butterfield) - This book blessed me in many ways. It is the conversion testimony of our former pastor's wife in Virginia. Butterfield was on the fast track to tenure at Syracuse University as an English professor, and was also the head of women's studies. She was a lesbian activist who was passionate, articulate, kind, hospitable, and generous. Then she met an unassuming, modest pastor and his wife, who showed her Christ's love and some of their own hospitality. They gently challenged her and prodded her, but they mostly loved her. This unlikely friendship evolved and Rosaria was confronted with Christianity. She is clear that she did not seek Christ. He sought after her. She describes her conversion as a messy ordeal. She was broken and felt like she had lost everything she had lived for. This book was brutally honest and just might challenge your thinking about our stereotypes of Christians and non-Christians both. Butterfield allowed Christ to shape her life and transform her and flood her with grace. She writes with transparency and humility, as someone who has been broken. Butterfield is a beautiful soul. I already knew that, but was reminded of it and know it better after reading her book.

In But Not Of (Hewitt) - I have had this book on my shelf for years and am glad I finally picked it up. It's the kind of book I wish I had read in high school. Hewitt, a radio talk show host based in Southern California, tells it like it is and gives lots of great advice for people who want to reach their potential and impact culture--everything from why you shouldn't dress like a slob, say negative things about coworkers, and why you should try to get into a really good college, etc.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Skloot) - The president of our Friends of the Library group recommended this one. Henrietta Lacks was a poor, illiterate colored woman who fell victim to cervical cancer in her thirties. Before she died, her doctors removed some of her cells and put them in a petri dish. The cancerous cells (now named HELA cells) were the first to be resilient enough to multiply in a lab and be distributed to other labs for research, and eventually commercialized. The book chronicles Henrietta's life and the lives of her immediate family, some of whom are living today and became personal friends of the author. As you can probably guess, much of the book is a discourse on the ethics of removing body tissues without the consent of the donor for scientific research. What the doctors did to Henrietta, whose cells are still alive and ubiquitous in research today, was legal in the 1950s when it happened. It is also legal today. Courts are hesitant to impede medical research that could benefit countless millions of people. The HELA cells have been used to find cures for numerous diseases and also to develop the polio vaccine. I know a lot of people, several of whom I have talked to personally, got in an uproar over this book. I thought the book was fascinating and really worth reading but, in the end, I was not disturbed by what happened to Henrietta. She received good care and, unfortunately, met an untimely death. The removal of her cancerous cells for research did not cause her any additional pain or discomfort or increased morbidity. The fact that her tissues were used to help save countless lives is an incredible legacy.

Heaven (Alcorn) - This book is a thought-provoking look at what Heaven might really be like. The majority of humanity, and all Christians, believe in the afterlife but few people have actually studied it, including trained pastors. The author notes that courses on heaven are rarely offered in seminaries. I think one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the author's assertions that, according to the scriptures, heaven will be a recreated earth. The same God who created all the things that we love about earth and our present life, is the God who will someday create our permanent eternal home, where we will enjoy many things that we enjoy today, but without the taint of sin. God is not in the business of destroying and abandoning his projects. He is the great Redeemer. I never really thought about heaven in terms of a New Earth. It was interesting food for thought!

Finding Grace (VanLiere) - I picked up this book because the author of "Six Ways to Keep the Little in Your Girl" (see above) recommended it. I thought it would primarily be about healing after experiencing childhood abuse, and it was about that, but it was even more a story about VanLiere's journey to adoption. The author allowed her broken dreams to be reshaped by God into something better than she could have ever imagined. This was a good story.

Left Neglected (Genova) - This is a second book by the author of Still Alice, which was one of the best novels I read last year. Left Neglected was a really easy, quick read. The author's background is in neuroscience and so this book centered on similar themes as Still Alice, yet I didn't find it as thought-provoking or interesting. Basically, you have a busy, career-oriented woman who is forced to slow down due to brain trauma, then she has to reevaluate her priorities. The ending was predictable. As 2012 wound down, I was in the mood for some "lighter reading." A friend laughed when I told him that "lighter reading" meant a book about a brain-damaged woman. Ha!

The Secret Daughter (Gowda) - Despite some really traumatic scenes at the beginning of the book (warning: do not read this book while pregnant, which I did), I really enjoyed this story of a birth mom in India and an adoptive mom in California, and a child who is caught between two different cultures (her adoptive father is also from India) and who is trying to find her own identity and find her own way. It was a touching story about parent-child relationships, misunderstandings, and coming-of-age and I recommend it.

Call the Midwife (Worth) - This book was a page-turner, about a young midwife who served on the east side of London during post-WWII. The book is filled with many colorful characters, and both funny and poignant stories. There are also some body fluid descriptions, which remind me why I was never turned-on to nursing. But I'm glad I picked up this book. Worth is a fantastic story teller.

I think my Top Favorites, in terms of books that I either really enjoyed or books that affected me and stayed with me are:

Steve Jobs


Uncle Tom's Cabin

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Give Them Grace

Out of a Far Country

Confessions of an Unlikely Convert


Secret Daughter

Call the Midwife


Queen of Carrots said...

I'm impressed that you have a list for the whole year. I always lose track.

I also loved Middlemarch. There is a great mini-series version, which DOB was willing to watch. I thought the insight on relationships were so good--I definitely plan to have the kid watch it as teens. Even the boys. ;-)

Rachelle said...

I always love this list Amy! And I'm with Q of C...I am terrible at keeping track. I am going to try to post a few more reviews this year because of you!

Catherine said...

Middlemarch is one of my favorites too. And I am the second woman in all of Christendom who doesn't like Ann Voskamp's writing style. Previously I thought I was alone in that sentiment. :)

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Some good stuff in there.

I need to read Middlemarch. I have read and enjoyed other works by Eliot.

I'm glad to see you are continuing to work through the classics.

Heather L. said...

Thanks for typing up your list!!! I'm so glad you loved Call the Midwife! It was fantastic!! Must read Middlemarch....

Shannon Schrage said...

Oh my goodness. So with you on A Thousand Gifts. I was expecting something wonderful because she was so widely recommended but I couldn't stand the writing style and couldn't even finish it. Her blog posts are equally wordy and exhausting to read.