Reading Year in Retrospect

DSC_1833“I am an inveterate browser of people’s bookshelves, always curious to see what other people have been reading, and which books they choose to display. but I am equally curious about the manner in which they array them. Are their books neatly aligned, like the leatherbound books in the Levenger catalog, or do they teeter on the shelf at odd angles?”  — David Levy in Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital AgeI love looking back at my reading year, and yet I also shrink from the raised eyebrow of my inner critic. Deciding on categories and distributing my titles in those gives the same thrill that I get in organizing my books. This is my reading year in retrospect.

My own Book of the Year? It’s a tie! N.D. Wilson’s Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent was both the slowest and most profound read. I read it aloud to my husband a page or even a paragraph at a time. But reading through Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence was also deeply satisfying. (confession: I have 60 pages to finish)

Africa
This Rich & Wondrous Earth Linda Burklin (life in boarding school)
When a Crocodile Eats the SunPeter Godwin (living in Zimbabwe)
The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild Lawrence Anthony (animal conservation)

British
Over the Gate Miss Read (cozy read)
Lark Rise to Candleford(trilogy) Flora Thompson (a portrait of a culture)
Lady Anna Anthony Trollope (novel of a marriage)
Cousin Henry Anthony Trollope (a study of a guilty conscience)
Tyler’s Row Miss Read (not my favorite Miss Read)

Catholic
The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith Bruce Marshall (story of a Scottish Priest)
Father Hilary’s HolidayBruce Marshall (priest gets involved in political intrigue)

Christian
Death by Living N.D. Wilson (memoir/family heritage/travelogue/random thoughts)
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community Dietrich Bonhoeffer (crammed with good stuff)
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert Rosaria Butterfield (unusual story)

Culture
From Dawn to Decadence Jacques Barzun (500 years of cultural history, EXCELLENT) Scrolling Forward David Levy (e-book or bound book debate, written a decade ago)

Early American
Rip Van Winkle & Other Stories Washington Irving (some classics improve as we age)

Family
Fit to Burst : Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood Rachel Jancovik (wise)
Real Marriage Mark and Grace Driscoll (yes and no: all the stats got old)

French
Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed Philip Hallie (5K Jews saved by people of Le Chambon)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog Muriel Barbery (postmodern novel, quotable sections)

History
First Family: Abigail and John Adams Joseph Ellis (very enjoyable read)

Kid Lit
Anne of Green Gables L.M. Montgomery (priceless)
Anne of Avonlea LMM (sad to lose Matthew Cuthbert)
Anne of the Island LMM (away at school)
Anne of Windy Poplars LMM (winning over the Pringles and Katherine Brooke)
Anne’s House of Dreams LMM (early marriage, bereavement)
Anne of Ingleside LMM (a houseful of kids and dear Susan)
Rainbow Valley LMM (add the Meredith kids to the Blythes: delightful)
Rilla of Ingleside LMM (I love Rilla; more Susan; a great view of WWI at home)
Chronicles of Avonlea LMM (12 short stories, Anne is just a cameo)
Further Chronicles of Avonlea LMM (includes a delicious story of a revival meeting)
The Story Girl LMM (she can make a story reciting the multipication tables)
The Golden Road LMM (a hilarious mistaken identity story)
Kilmeny of the Orchard LMM (a mute girl plays the violin)
Emily of New Moon LMM (appeals to all aspiring writers)
Emily Climbs LMM (word lovers will love Emily)
Emily’s Quest LMM (overcoming obstacles to writing)
The Blythes are Quoted LMM (more short stories)
Charlotte’s Web E.B. White, (classic, test-drove with a grandson)
Island Magic Elizabeth Goudge (Guernsey family, classic Goudge)

Memoir/Biography
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers Maria Augusta Trapp (must read for S o M fans)
God’s Arms Around Us William Moule (heart-pounding tale of family in WW2 Philippines)
Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism Temple Grandin (she translates autism)
The End of Your Life Book Club Will Schwalbe (terminally ill mom and son read books)
A Little Moule History William Moule (life of a vagabond adventurer)
Appetite for Life Noel Riley Fitch (bio of Julia Child)
The Bookseller of Kabul Asne Seierstad (daily life in Afghanistan)
The Alpine Path LMM (frustrating in its brevity)

Mystery
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie Alan Bradley (I ♥ Flavia de Luce)
Speaking from Among the Bones Alan Bradley (another Flavia book)
Chop Shop Tim Downs (Bug Man is a forensic entomologist)
First the Dead Tim Downs (almost had a heart attack reading this)
Less than Dead Tim Downs (difficulty breathing while reading this thriller)

Plays
Twelfth Night W. Shakespeare (mistaken identities)
The Tempest Shakespeare (full fathom five thy father lies)
The Comedy of Errors Shakespeare (TWO sets of identical twins)

Recovery
Little Black Sheep Ashley Cleveland (the gift of willingness)
Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk Heather Kopp (story of addiction)

Science
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot (spellbinding story of HeLa cells)

TV Reading (one-night read without substance)
A Lancaster County Christmas Suzanne Woods Fisher (English stranded with Amish)

Travel
Shadow of the Silk Road Colin Thubron (China-Turkey by one of my fave travel writers)
In a Sunburned Country Bill Bryson (winsome writing…mostly)
Stephen Fry in America Stephen Fry (witty, sometimes coarse flyover)
Roads : Driving America’s Great Highways Larry McMurtry (he drives the interstates)

Western
The Whistling Season Ivan Doig (the Wendell Berry of Montana)

What have you been reading?

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which allows me to buy perhaps one or two new books a year. But I’m thankful if you decide to buy a book through the links.)

E. Goudge’s Island Magic

0848813421When Hope at Worthwhile Books reviewed Elizabeth Goudge’s first novel, I wanted to read it.  The setting is St. Pierre, the capital of Guernsey, a channel island between England and France. Island Magic quenches two of my current fascinations: island culture and late 19th century rural life.

André and Rachell du Frocq are barely eeking out a living on a farm called Bon Repos (“Good Rest” or, as I like to translate it, “Sweet Tranquility”), a place that comes with a benediction written on stone outside the farmhouse:

Harbour and good rest to those who enter here,
courage to those who go forth.
Let those who go and those who stay forget not God.

The characters of André, Rachell, their five children, Grandpapa, and the stranger Ranulph— who is taken in after a shipwreck—, are vivid and unique; they linger in my thoughts days after I finished the book. Among the five siblings are a humanitarian, a poet, a failed academic, an adventurer, and a joyspring.

The story is sad and yet not without hope. The children have individual minor tragedies, they also have the confidence and security of being part of a bustling family. The tension resides between husband and wife as they begin to think about conceding failure at farming. The stranger’s assistance is helping the bottom line, but brings more marital conflict.

Typical of Goudge, there is a fairy element in the story. Themes of faith, bitterness, the value of beauty, hard work, service, gratitude, grief and sacrifice make the story shimmer. One point of the plot beggars belief. Of course I can’t identify it without giving away part of the story.

Rarely—and happily— I come across a sentence, with which I can fully relate, and about something I’ve never before seen in literature. Island Magic delivered! This is used to be me!!

How thankful she was for her one great gift—the gift of making her nose bleed at will.

Here is a great Christmas quote:

Christmas Day at Bon Repos was something terrific. The du Frocqs took the whole of December preparing for it and the whole of January recovering from it.

Goudge’s mother was a native of Guernsey; summer visits to the grandparents were part of Goudge’s childhood. Her final thoughts on island living in this book are a bit idealistic, but they reflect some of the necessities of interpersonal relationships in a closed society.

You can’t be an individualist on our Island. There’s so much magic packed into so small a space. With the sea flung round us and holding us so tightly we are all thrown into each other’s arms—souls and seasons and birds and flowers and running water. People understand unity who live on an island. And peace. Unity is such peace.

 

 

The Herb of Grace

After Hitler, Churchill, D-Day, Band of Brothers, Pearl Harbor, staggering holocaust memoirs — heaviness and grief — it was time for a change.  My son is hacking, coughing, aching … and just needs to rest.  I’m on the edge [insert well-placed sniffle, cough-cough] and want to land on the healthy side of the equation.  This is the one day this week I am not obligated to go anywhere.  Melting snow, crackling fire, a pot of tea…what to read?

My friend Lynne suggested Elizabeth Goudge.  I haven’t yet read The Herb of Grace, purchased at Oxfam (charity shop) last year in England for £1.  It is such a treat, such a balm, such a comfort.  I’m too impatient to wait until I’m done with the book to write a full review.  One must share quotes.  I found the attitude to telephones fascinating in light of our recent pop culture technology discussions.

And she [Sally, the protagonist] vastly preferred writing a letter and walking with it to the post to using the telephone and hearing with horror her voice committing itself ot things whe would never have dreamed of doing if she’d had the time to think.

All the water-sounds are unforgettable, he said gently.  The best sound of all, I think, is the sound of ripples slapping against the hull of a boat.

And the smell of Damerosehay was just the same: the mingled scent of wood smoke, flowers, furniture polish, dogs and oil lamps.

She [Grandmother] had always been beautiful, was beautiful now, and had every intention of remaining beautiful until the end of her days, and she did not in the least begrudge either the spending of a great deal of time and trouble upon the outer facade of beauty, or the curtailing of her activities by the elimination of those which she could no longer accomplish with grace. It seemed to her children and grandchildren that she did not mind growing old.  There was nothing of desperation in the firm hold she kept upon her beauty, it was rather that she appeared to be taking good care of something entrusted to her care, but did not seem to regard it as an integral part of her.  [Don’t you know an older lady, always put together like this?] 

Lucilla knew always, and Nadine knew in her more domesticated moments, that it was home-making that mattered.  Every home was a brick in the great wall of decent living that men erected over and over again as a bulwark against the perpetual flooding in of evil.  But women made the bricks, and the durableness of each civilisation depended upon their quality; and it was no good weakening oneself for the brick-making by thinking too much about the flood.

Her feeling for her mother-in-law swung always between reverence and exasperation, according as the selflessness of Grandmother’s autocracy, or the autocracy of her selflessness, was uppermost.

Her [Grandmother’s] voice was full of distress.  She hated these modern inventions, telephone and wireless; they did nothing but make a noise and pour out information one was generally better without.

Lady Eliot is afraid you will not be willing to live in London?  ~ I’ll be perfectly willing, Madam.  I did tell Lady Eliot, when she asked me, that I liked the country best; but of course wherever the children are I will make myself contented. [Jill interviewing for Nannie position, emphasis mine.]

This book was published in 1948.  It’s gentle, unsentimental narrative seems appropriate post-WWII literature. Elizabeth Goudge.  A light but nourishing read.  [Don’t get confused: Eileen Goudge, Elizabeth’s niece, writes romance novels.  I know nothing about their quality.] 

Other Elizabeth Goudge books I’ve enjoyed: The Little White Horse, Green Dolphin StreetLinnets and Valerians,  The Scent of WaterThe Dean’s Watch.