What I Read 2017

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I read 100 books this year. That number sounded insurmountable at the beginning of the year. It sounds like a ridiculous amount now. But I feel like I barely read many of the titles I want to read, so there’s always a new year ahead. I thought I had a fantastic goal in the middle of the year until I listened to a podcast and the guest said they regularly read 200 books a year. I felt somewhat deflated then, but what I accomplish is good for me, not for a comparison with someone else.

I focused on reading this year and it took up most of my time. I survived, managed to keep my children alive, taught my students, and read. And I really enjoyed it. I hope to write more this coming year, and read many books again, so I’m always up for a title suggestion or two.

I realized a few things about my reading habits.

-I love biographies. I have always loved the stories of peoples’ lives. I love pouring over photos and hearing stories of interesting people. I suppose I’m just nosey. Or I could call it my inner trapped journalist.

-I read more productively when I have several books going at a time- and bookmarks. I would start books in years past and get distracted and not mark my spot and then forget where I was and never finish the book. I would also get bored or not be in the mood for a current read, put it down and walk away never to revive the appropriate mood for that book.

-I love to analyze writing styles. Make me interested, don’t bore me, engage my senses, and I’ll be your fan forever. Go all numbers and dry facts on me and you better hope I have a bookmark ready so we don’t lose each other forever. Be creative and you can probably sell me an otherwise mundane story.

-Audiobooks are a great way to get thru the books. I listened to some exclusively as audiobooks. Some I read in print. Some I listened to in the car or when running, but would alternate with the print version when I was snuggled in bed at night – if they were particularly engaging or I was trying to get thru the book at a reasonable pace during a busy time.

So my favorites. People ask me what my top five favorites were. I see book lists online with the top ten titles of the year. So I picked my top five favorites across the titles and then I listed my favorites by categories – fiction, non-fiction, history, memoir/biography, religion. Here they are!

My Top Five

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Fiction

Novels

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles

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Think F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This book was my first attempt to “read” a book during pointless hours spent driving in the car.  I loved it and couldn’t wait to finish it, but hated to end it. It evokes the gorgeous scenes of New York City in an era long gone, relationship struggles, and a raw humanity disguised by vaporous glamour.

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

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I saved Harper Lee for my adult reading consumption.  I read To Kill a Mockingbird last summer and Go Set a Watchman this year. I listened to Reese Witherspoon read this book and no one can ever have Scout’s voice besides Reese.  She will forever embody Scout for me.

Home, Marilynne Robinson

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I read all three of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead books this year.  Home won as my favorite.  I loved Jack Boughton’s character and the redemption themes that run through the book.  A masterful and beautiful piece of writing that shows without telling.

Runners Up

A City Baker’s Guide to Country Living

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A really fun book, fantastic character development. This is not the next great American novel, but I really liked it. I think it was because the characters seemed like people I knew, the setting was cozy and realistic, and there was a neat little plot with a happy ending.  A feel good read that wasn’t mind numbing.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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I sadly didn’t precisely know where Guernsey was until I read this book.  Now I do.  Set during WW2, the story and it’s narration is unique and engaging.  There are parts that drag slightly in the middle and then it picks up and the ending is wonderful and delightful .

Constant Favorite Author

Alexander McCall Smith – 44 Scotland Street & Isabel Dalhousie series

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Anything Alexander McCall Smith writes is fun to read.  He has a charming way of taking ethical questions, philosophical problems, and vague current events and intertwining them into masterfully told stories of people and places.  Each book transports the reader to another place, makes them think, and makes them smile all at the same time.

Poetry

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Gorgeous – just beautiful, genius use of words and images.  Perfection in phrases.

Non Fiction

Memoir/Biography

Sisters First, Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager

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“All the feels” is the expression I use for this book.  I laughed out loud, I cried, I reminisced, I ached, and basically I laughed a lot more.  I listened to the audio version, where Jenna and Barbara alternate reading the chapters they each wrote.  I wanted to be best friends with them by the time the book was over.  They brought stories to life, entertained, and totally brought common human experience to life in this book.

No Higher Honor, Condoleezza Rice

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This is a long one, but definitely an interesting read.  This book is the memoir of Condoleezza Rice’s work in the Bush Administration.  I felt like I had a semester of civics, history, and political science while reading this book.  This was definitely a hybrid read of print and audio book.

Vacationland John Hodgman

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Ok, this one is a little different.  I never really watched the Daily Show so I wasn’t familiar with John Hodgman.  There was some “questionable” content depending on your filter and a few words here and there that not everyone would like, but I loved the writing.  It was sarcastic and ironic and humorous and I found it really funny.

Coolidge, Amity Shlaes

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I didn’t know much about Calvin Coolidge, but he was interesting and I enjoyed reading about his life.  This book is well written and detailed.  The budget chapters dragged for me (shocker) but most of the book was interesting.

Condoleezza Rice, a Memoir of my Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me, Condoleezza Rice

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Condoleezza Rice’s autobiography of growing up. An excellent, inspiring read.

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

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Fascinating writing style makes this book captivating.  This is the story of a Cuban family, obviously.  The way the author tells the story of his life, of Fidel’s takeover in Havana, his immigration to the USA is intertwined with a narrative style that is unique and brilliantly engaging.

History/Current Affairs

Democracy, Condoleezza Rice

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I loved the positivity in this book.  Dr. Rice details the progress of democracy throughout the world, country by country.  She discusses the important role that America has played in the rising tide of freedom.  I read this book in a weekend and was impressed with her clear writing style and engaging narrative ability.

Religion

The King’s Cross Tim Keller

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An excellent book.  This book deals with the life of Jesus and the meaning that His life has had on the world.

Ordinary Michael Horton

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This book deals with the fact that our lives are typically ordinary, not extraordinary.  It is an important work that brings reality and living as a Christian together.  This was a book that I kept bombarding  friends with quotes from because there were so many pithy statements and truths in it.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi

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Excellent book on apologetics, culture, and conversion.  I really appreciated the insights the author shared about the Muslim culture as well as his story of struggle with leaving his faith and converting to Christianity.

Books about Reading

How Fiction Works, James Wood

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This is a geek-out book for people who like to analyze literature.  So I loved it.  I would have enjoyed reading this in a writing class.  I would use it if I ever taught a writing class.   So if you like to analyze literature and fiction and love literary criticism, here’s your book!

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