Monday, January 20, 2014

Better late . . .

I'm terribly late with this but I did want to do a recap of books I read in 2013. I definitely don't set any records as far as number of books read. With a "day job" and my chair position of a non-profit board for the past two years (which ended 12/31), I have had to grab times for my passion for reading when I can.

I'm going to list the 20 books I read last year, in chronological order of when I read them, then I'll give some brief comments on some of my favorites. Here goes:

1.  The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett.
2.  Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxes.
3.  Still Life, Louise Penney.
4.  The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom.
5.  Killing Kennedy, Bill O'Reilly.
6.  First Family, David Baldaci.
7.  Fall of Giants, Ken Follett.
8.  Seven Men, Eric Metaxes.
9. When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Finkert.
10.  A Natural Woman, Carole King.
11.  Winter of the World, Ken Follett.
12.  In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan.
13.  Younger Next Year, Chris Crowley and Harry Lodge.
14.  The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult.
15.  The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen.
16.  The Death of Santini, Pat Conroy.
17.  More Things in Heaven and Earth, Jeff High.
18.  Sycamore Row, John Grisham.
19.  Double Down, Mark Halperin and John Heilmann.
20.  Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist.

I can honestly say I enjoyed each book. The first one on the list is The Pillars of the Earth, the first of a two-part series which, with an addictive storyline, chronicles the building of some of the great European cathedrals. I read most of it on our Mexico vacation last January and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have not yet read the sequel but probably will this year.

The other two on the list by Ken Follett (Fall of Giants and Winter of the World) tell the story of four different families from four different countries, starting around the turn of the century and going through World War Two. These are the first two of a trilogy, the third of which will come out in September. Each is about 1,000 pages (as is The Pillars of the Earth) and they are both page-turners.

For a couple of years I have been on a quest to improve my health. In Defense of Food, which is a bit of a technical narrative about the history of food and the food industry in this country, and Younger Next Year, an instruction manual of sorts for living well "in the last third of your life" by eating well and maintaining a high level of physical activity, were my nod to that goal. Both inspired me to keep up good habits.

On the spiritual side, Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son is one of the most beautiful commentaries I have ever read on my favorite Biblical parable, told from the viewpoint of Nouwen after studying Rembrandt's famous painting depicting the story. Nouwen unveils the richness of this timeless parable like no one else.

I loved A Natural Woman, Carole King's autobiography. Any fan of hers should enjoy reading the story of her life and career.

The Death of Santini is the latest from one of my all-time favorites, Pat Conroy, and it's largely autobiographical, the story of his dysfunctional (to say the very least) family and his lifelong struggle to come to terms with his relationship with his father. To put it quite simply, his writing is beautiful.

Grisham's latest, Sycamore Row, which is a sequel to his first novel, A Time to Kill, certainly did not disappoint. His artful storytelling continues.

Bread and Wine, last on my list, is by a young writer named Shauna Niequist, who happens to be the daughter of Bill Hybels, one of the founders and senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, one of the country's original "mega-churches."  In this book she celebrates cooking and hospitality (and includes recipes) while interweaving personal stories. I think I enjoyed this book so much because Shauna reminds me a lot of  Wife, an accomplished cook and the most hospitable person I know.

An improbable favorite from last year was More Things in Heaven and Earth by fellow Tennessean Jeff High. I say improbable because this author is relatively unknown and the book was sent to Wife by her friend who happened to be Daughter's and Younger Son's orthodontist. They became good friends during the braces years through their love of reading and that friendship has continued.

He sent this one to her in the mail with a note that simply said he thought she would enjoy it. I saw it when it came and thought little of it.

After Wife finished it she told me she thought I would like it too and it is one of the most entertaining and sweetest stories I have read in a long time, reminiscent of Jan Karon's Mitford series. It's the story of a young doctor and set in a small rural Tennessee town. The author says it's the beginning of a series and I hope he makes good on that.

I just looked back through the list and again, I really did enjoy and would recommend each book on this list, even those I did not specifically comment on. I hope one or more piques your interest and you'll let me know how you like it/them.