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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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

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)

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)

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.)

The Lost Heart of Asia


[Publishers] realised that travel writing could also be literature.
~ Colin Thubron

What made you interested in reading The Lost Heart of Asia?
I read Colin Thubron’s Where Nights Are Longest this spring; I needed to read more.  His travel memoirs carry no touristy weight; his concern is to understand how the region’s culture is translated into lifestyle, art, architecture, literature and religion. 

Why do you like Colin Thubron? 
Thubron is particularly gifted at meeting people and making them comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.  A humble polyglot–I say humble because this fact is invisible in his writing–, Thubron can communicate with many different people groups in a native or near-to-native tongue.  He travels alone and strikes up conversations. People tell him compelling parts of their lives. 

So what, exactly, is the Lost Heart of Asia?
The five Central Asian republics: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kirghizstan.  These countries sit between Russia, China, India and Iran.  The book was written after their independence from the Soviet Union.  In short, the book explores the tensions between the two dominant ideologies, Communism and Islam, played out in this region. 

I’ve never even heard of some of those countries!   
In that sense it was a challenging book to read.  Nothing was familiar.  Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, reminded me of Tashbaan in C.S. Lewis’ book The Horse and His Boy.  That was the extent of my familiarity!  The book has two good maps which I used often.  The other challenge was the vocabulary: Thubron used more than a dozen words I’ve never before seen.  (That is not a criticism; it makes me want to read more.)

There must have been something else that pulled you into this book…
If someone writes well, the unknown becomes interesting.  Listen to this:

frothy muslin ribbons
his curtained politeness
a sunny robustness
a callow charm
his Brezhnev eyebrows
a reticent evangelism
an alto sanctimoniousness
a measured unraveling of pride
veil of splintered sunlight
a rumpus of old women
a strenuous happiness

And sentences like these:

The woman was violently silent.
He seemed perpetually stooped, not physically but emotionally stooped.
Somehow, for years, she had seen her nation bifocally.
Their decor dithered between cultures.

Learning for him was a process of accumulation.
I was entering the fringes of a formidable solitude.
Their Islam was like the Kazakhs’, drawn lightly over nomadic shamanism.

Favorite story from the book?
The story of the beginning of a Korean Baptist church in the capital of Kirghizstan was unusual.  A Korean Christian came from Los Angeles and asked the Korean community what they were.  They thought they might be Buddhist but weren’t sure.  He replied, No you are Christians.  And they became Christians.  He preached; they came out of pity for him, and then started believing.  

A favorite quote?
A girl in the capital of Kazakhstan, Dilia, who dreamed of becoming a conductor said, “If I didn’t become a musician, I’d starve inside.”

Do you want to read more Thubron?

Definitely.  Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China is on my shelf, in my queue.  In Siberia, Shadow of the Silk Road Mirror to Damascus, and Journey into Cyprus all interest me.  I’ve only read one of Thubron’s novels, Falling, and didn’t care for it.  I think my next read should be Shadow of the Silk Road,  another trip through Central Asia, while some residual geography of the region remains with me.