Sunday, December 31, 2023

Thoughts on reading: 2023

 It is hard to name favorite books of this year because I liked every book I read. 

That really comes as no surprise. At my age, I am not going to waste time with books I don't like. I have a "50-page rule," meaning if after 50 pages, I don't like the book, I stop. 

That rarely happens because I research books before I read them, and I am a pretty good judge of what I will like or not like. Also, I often read books Wife recommends and she's a pretty good judge of that also. Only once this year did I stop a book after 50 pages, and I won't tell you the title just in case it is something you might consider reading. 

Earlier this week Wife asked me to name favorite fiction and non-fiction from the year.

For non-fiction I told her it's a tie: How to Stay Married by Harrison Scott Key and All My Knotted Up Life by Beth Moore. 

I have become a big fan of Harrison Scott Key, whose previous works, The World's Largest Man and Congratulations, Who Are You Again? are two of the funniest books I have ever read. In my view he rivals David Sedaris for humor writing, and that is high praise. 

In How to Stay Married, Key chronicles the story of his wife's affair. And yes, this is a departure from his previous works, but believe it or not, his trademark humor is still front and center. But along with that is a raw poignancy and some heart-wrenching sadness. 

One of my good friends (and probably my best reading buddy) rang my doorbell a few months ago. When I opened the door, he was standing there holding this book and said, "You have to read this." 

I would say, if you're reading this post and you are a non-fiction reader, you also must read it, but only if you are willing to read with an open, non-judgmental mind. Some will likely not agree with how Key and his wife navigated through a painfully difficult season, and this might be too much for them. But not having walked where they have walked, I can only read what he has written from the point of view of an observer. And I loved this book. 

As for All My Knotted Up Life, I devoured renowned Bible study teacher Beth Moore's lookback at her life, from her growing up in south Arkansas (less than 100 miles from my hometown!) to her eventual move to Texas and unintentionally becoming one of the most well-known Bible teachers in the country. Her outspokenness over the past decade led to a rift with and her eventual departure from her Southern Baptist denomination.

As I said, I liked all the books I read, but other non-fiction of note would include Not In It To Win It, Pastor Andy Stanley's take on evangelical Christians and politics; Unreasonable Hospitality, Will Guidara's reflections on running a New York City restaurant selected as world's best (believe me, I am no foodie, but I found this one fascinating); Leadership: In Turbulent Times by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, in which she compares and contrasts leadership styles of Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt and Teddy Roosevelt; and Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, founder of Nike. A late entry is Alba Donati's Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop which I picked up in a bookstore in Bologna, Italy in September. Alas, I did not read this until I had been home a few months. Otherwise I would have tried to find what I know is a delightful literary establishment on a hilltop in the Tuscan region of Italy, not far from where I was staying. Oh well, that's a good reason to go back! 

Moving to fiction, I would have to say American Dirt by Jeannine Cummins would top the list. Following the main character's and her young son's path as they flea the Mexican drug lords that killed their husband and father and migrate into the U.S. is disturbing and at times hard to read. But it's a riveting story and worth the effort. 

Anything else from my fiction list is also worth your time. John Grisham's latest (although he has a new one that's a sequel to The Firm which I have not yet read), The Boys from Biloxi, is another lose-yourself-in-it story. Probably the most surprising was The Cartographers, which has elements of fantasy, which is usually not my thing, but I think my interest in maps caused it to keep my interest. Also, if you are not familiar with Charles Martin, I would highly recommend him. Two of his, Chasing Fireflies and Water from my Heart, are on this year's fiction list, and they are excellent. 

I read 30 books this year. As I have previously written, I do not have a goal of how many books I read in a year, nor do I read certain books in certain seasons, e.g. "beach reads." I keep both a physical and mental TBR (To Be Read) list, and I read them as I get to them. This year there were some long ones. In Search of History (non-fiction) was about 600 pages and Never (fiction) weighed in at 800. Both were worth the time it took to get through them. 

The only real "rule" I try to follow is with regard to variety. I try to read different genres, a balance of fiction and non-fiction, and some older as well as more recent books. My wife's book club tends to read more recent ones, which Wife sometimes passes on. I have not been invited to join this all-female monthly gathering, nor even had my offers to be a guest speaker accepted, but through my limited influence on one of its members (my spouse), I try to steer them toward the occasional classic. 

I will be starting 2024 with non-fiction -- How to Know a Person by David Brooks, one of my favorite New York Times columnists. We will see where I go from there. 

As usual, I hope there are some titles on my lists that pique your interest, and I hope you will pass on some of your recommendations to me. Because I know this: when I die, I will not have read all the books I wanted to read. 

Happy New Year to all of you, and happy reading! 

Friday, December 29, 2023

2023 fiction

Here are the fiction books I read in 2023. Back soon to give commentary on my favorites and/or least favorites. 

1.    The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham

2.    The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman 

3.    The Year of Jubilee by Cindy Morgan

4.    American Dirt by Jeannie Cummins

5.    Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. 

6.    Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin

7.    When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash

8.    The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

9.    The Dog Stars by Peter Heller 

10.    Go as a River by Shelley Read

11.    The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

12.    Water from My Heart by Charles Martin

13.    Never by Ken Follett

14.    Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

15.    Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Sunday, December 24, 2023

2023 non-fiction

With a few minutes to spare on this Christmas Eve morning, I will list the non-fiction books I read this year.  This is for all of you, but especially blog friend Ed, who only reads non-fiction! :-)  

1.    Not In it to Win it by Andy Stanley

2.    The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson (This one is a historical novel, based on true events, but with some liberties taken with the dialogue. I'm calling it non-fiction.)

3.    The Sea Between Us by Yoseley Perera and Billy Ivey

4.    Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara

5.    Spare by Prince Harry. 

6.    All My Knotted Up Life by Beth Moore

7.    Pops by Craig Melvin

8.    In Search of History by Theodore H. White

9.    How to Stay Married by Harrison Scott Key

10.    From Strength to Strength by Arthur C. Brooks

11.    Never Settle by Marty Smith

12.    Laundry Love by Patric Richardson

13.    Leadership: in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

14.    Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

15.    Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop by Alba Donati

I'll post fiction reading from this year in a few days, and I'll make some comments and tell you my favorites after that. There are some really good ones here! 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Season's greetings

Season's greetings to all. 

I'm definitely rethinking this blog. My Substack "newsletter," a continuation of the column I wrote for a local publican for 11 years, is my priority right now, so this space does not get as much attention as I might like. 

But since this is the place where I met a handful of friends I like to stay connected with, I want to keep it going. Postings here, for now, will simply be less frequent. 

I hope next week to post about books I read this year -- fiction and non-fiction. I have the list ready, so it should not be difficult to share here. 

I'll also share some pictures from our annual international Christmas. This year's country is Korea, chosen in part due to a comment from a reader here last year who cautioned us against lumping all Asian countries together as we did one year. 

Point well taken, and this year we are focusing on Korean food and decor. Wife and I visited a local Korean restaurant a few weeks ago and we will get most of our food from them, which will certainly make it much easier for preparation. 

So I hope to close out the year strong here. 

Now it's time to get ready for Christmas. Wife and I will go to Daughter's house in Huntsville Christmas Eve. We'll go to church with them and have dinner and will come home Christmas morning after we see what Santa brought our three grands there. 

Younger Son and his wife will join us here late Christmas Day, then everyone else will arrive the 26th. We'll pretend that is Christmas Eve and have our Korean dinner that night, then have our family Christmas on the 27th. 

There are 13 of us, with a new one due in April --Younger Son's first, a boy, and our sixth grand. 

I hope however, wherever and with whomever you are celebrating, it's most enjoyable. Merry Christmas and hope to see you back here soon!