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! 


Kelly said...

Wonderful wrap-up, Bob! Beth Moore's memoir also topped my NF list this year (maybe tying the Fleming Rutledge's book on Advent).

Of course I'm curious as to which book was your DNF. I sure hope it wasn't Tom Lake since I downloaded that one from Libby this morning. You might remember I didn't enjoy the only other book of hers I read, also for bookclub. (Commonwealth)

May you have a wonderful 2024 of reading good books!

Ed said...

Thanks for this post! I too am a big fan of Harrison Scott Key but wasn't aware of this book. Despite the topic, I'm going to have to read it.

Like you, I am too old to suffer through books and employ something similar to your 50 page rule. I'm pretty sure I used it a couple times this past year to pass the book onto my donate pile. I think all were books given to me by others who said I would like them. Like you, I tend to do my research so it doesn't happen to all by my hand. But, many times I have bought books on interesting non-fiction topics only to be bored to tears by the author side stepping to tell the history of every side topic. Like they were 150 pages short according to the editor and had to fill the book up with irrelevant history. Those, I tend to skim through until I get back to the meat of the book again. Some of my favorite authors like David Grann or Erik Larrson, are favorites because they specifically stays on focus.

Jeff said...

Happy New Year!

I like reading what people read (and I'll post my 2023 anontated reading list next Wed -Jan 10, God willing). I have both Beth Moore's and Harrison Scott Key's books waiting to be read. I like Key's writings and hate that I wasn't in Savannah for his kick off for his latest book (as I was for his first two).