Last year I managed to read 43 books, so during 2013 I’m trying to up that slightly and read 50. It’s a challenge for me as reading isn’t something that I have a great deal of time to do, so I’ve taken to shoe-horning it in at every possible moment; from reading while cooking through to locking myself in the loo so I can finish a chapter! Putting reading above, say, watching television is a choice I’ve made, so you will have to forgive me if I appear clueless at your excitement over the current series of Sherlock. I’ve never seen it, but I will read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books…
This year I’m on a bit of an economy drive when it comes to books. I possess close to 90 books that I have never read. This isn’t because I don’t want to read them, it’s because I haven’t had time to read them. I am an absolute pest when it comes to buying them because there’s always a 3 for 2 offer in Waterstones and the deals that clothes shops never get me with I am powerless against in a bookshop. So this year, the quest is not to buy any books until I have read these ones. Well, that’s the idea anyway, but it excludes anyone of my personal acquaintance who actually publishes one. That is legitimate book buying
So here’s a round-up of the first 15 books I’ve read this year:
“The eastern sky was a wonderful rose-petal pink, promising a fine clear August day. A new door to the unbelievable, to the possible, a new day that can always bring you anything if you have no objection to it.” The Exploits of Moominpappa.
So started my January 1st and I’ve been working through the moomin books. It’s been decades since I’ve read them and possibly I am ‘too old’ for them because my brain, instead of taking them at face value, over-analyses what Jansson is saying. But this line on the first page set me up for a years’ worth of reading. That’s the beauty of reading, one day you can be in a children’s fantasy world and the next you can be in the far future and every place in between.
Moominland Midwinter – Tove Jansson
I think this is my favourite moomin book, mostly because of the quite beautiful descriptions of winter that Jansson gives. Moomintroll is amusing as he rattles around not really knowing what to do; but for me the real star is Little My who I adore! Especially her face on the cover art. She’s my mentor Winter’s fast becoming an obsession for me to read about although I’m sure if it drags on much longer I’ll be longing to read something set in the tropics.
The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
This was a re-read because it was my bookgroup book in January. I probably read it shortly after it came out in paperback and really wasn’t that caught up in the hype, mainly because Christianity depicted in paintings, symbology and the whole shebang that is Roman Catholicism has never held any interest for me. Christianity for me is simply about Jesus, end of. But, think what you will about the subject matter, Dan Brown can write a page-turner and no mistake – although there are plenty of mistakes, factual and grammatical littering the text. The Royal Holloway? No, I think you’ll find it’s just know as Royal Holloway and any cursory check on google would’ve yielded that information. Still, second time through I found it engaging but not enough to make we want to read any more of Robert Langdon’s adventures.
The Book of God – Walter Wangerin
Now, if there’s any book with the potential to fall flat it was going to be this one. Wangerin has attempted to depict the Bible as a novel and I would say pulls it off. His depictions of some of the Old Testament passages brought them alive in a most magnificent way. I was really looking forward to reading the Gospel bits, but in the end found it phenomenally hard to do. It was almost like when they make a film adaptation of your most favourite book and the casting doesn’t quite concur with the images you’ve created in your head. I’ve never imagined what Jesus might physically look like, but Wangerin does and he gives Jesus gold eyes… Gold eyes? What is he, Edward Cullen? Despite the odd choice of eye colour, the Crucifixion scenes were a gut-wrenching read; it was almost like watching The Passion of The Christ all over again. I really must praise Wangerin for the phenomenal scene with Jesus and Mary Magdalene, where she’s asking him questions and he’s not replying. All the times you feel annoyed reading the NT that Jesus didn’t speak about certain things and give us absolute clarity and Walter Wangerin sums up the frustration of it brilliantly.
The Tiger Warrior – David Gibbins
This was our bookgroup book for February and, I’ll be honest, never one I would ever have picked out to read for myself. I seemed a case of Indiana Jones meets Robert Langdon and Jacques Cousteau. It took me two attempts to get through the first 80 or so pages and found the descriptions of the Roman Legionaries far more interesting to read about that the main bulk of the book. The main characters had a propensity to drift off into long segments that sounded like they were reading from history books and I didn’t really care too much for them in the end. However, it did spur me to get my own history books and atlases out and remind myself what and where the Silk Road was.
Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster
As well as working through my unread fiction books, I’m also taking the opportunity to work through some of the many Christian books that I have on my shelves. Celebration of Discipline was one that I’d started years ago and never finished (a common occurrence in my house). I found it to be a truly outstanding book that challenged an inspired me on every page. The whole thing goes against so many modern ‘pumped-up’ books on how to be a fantastic Christian with this really awesome program and strips everything back to the bare essentials: Prayer, mediation, solitude, fasting, study etc; which in themselves do not produce change, but place us before God so that he can make the changes. A truly classic book.
Life Management for Busy Women – Elizabeth George
Another book that I had started several years ago and never completed was this one. Whilst I have empathy with what Elizabeth George is trying to communicate here, her finished product left me feeling despondent, inadequate and overwhelmed. This was supposed to be for busy women? Well, if I’d tried every one of the things she says we must be doing, I would be receiving treatment for a mental breakdown. This book is American and is a great struggle for a British woman to read because, with all due respect, the Christian lifestyle espoused in this book is at clashing odds to the experience of most of us on this side of the Atlantic. This is picket fence, middle-class American Mom territory, this book does not speak into the lives of women brought up on a council estate in Birmingham and actually smacks of legalism. I felt that I was being judged by Elizabeth George for not thinking that the crowning achievement of my life was putting dinner on the table for my family every night. This promotes the view that women have a place, were not created equal to men and is therefore not a book I can recommend to other Christian women.
A Clash of Kings – George R.R. Martin
This the the second book in the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series and is the basis for the second season of the HBO series Game of Thrones. It’s nearly 900 pages of blood, guts, sex and fighting and it really doesn’t feel a quarter that long as it rattles along at a breathless pace, telling the stories of various people up and down Westeros and over in wherever the heck Danerys is. Will read books 3 and 4 before we get Season 3 on DVD (I am a non-Sky person. Yes, such freaks exist).
Moominsummer Madness - Tove Jansson
I really didn’t enjoy re-reading this moomin book. It felt disjointed and never caught my attention the way Moominland Midwinter did. This seemed to be very much life in the abstract and throwing things at me that I couldn’t really understand. Like I said earlier, perhaps I’m just too old for this
Tales from Moominvalley – Tove Jansson
This one I enjoyed more, so perhaps Tove was going through her ‘difficult fourth book’ phase. This is collection of individual stories and it appeared to be more allegorical and less abstract. There are two more still to read and I’ll keep going to finish the series.
Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis
I’ve only ever know C. S. Lewis through his Narnia books, but I was aware that he’d published a great number of Christian books. I don’t know what I was expecting, but certainly not this, which right from the first page were stunningly simple explanations of quite weighty theological concepts. This is quite rightly considered a classic and again, it’s one of those books I’ve had on my shelves for years – perhaps a decade – and I’m sorry that I didn’t read it much, much earlier. A little dated (he does harp on about the war a lot) and a little theologically not to my taste (such as his views on women and sexual “perversions” i.e. being gay), but otherwise outstanding.
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
This was my bookgroup book for March and I’ve read it before, last year in fact. This is one of of the best books I have ever read and one of the most heartbreaking. The characters of Mariam and Laila are astonishing and the depiction of their lives at the hands of both their husband Rasheed and the Taliban is grim at times. I know very little about Islam and find it hard to understand the treatment of women in that culture, just as sure as they can’t understand the treatment of women in ours. For instance, I can’t see how completely covering a woman from head to foot is liberating. Modest dress I understand, but denying a woman the ability to see where she’s going properly, I don’t. This may be a story but it’s a big one to be told and awesome is an applicable word here.
Gold Rush – Michael Johnson
I always look forward to hearing Michael Johnson when he’s working as an expert analyst for the BBC Athletics coverage. He always comes over as deeply knowledgeable and I have a high degree of respect for him, both as a broadcaster and for what he’s achieved in his career. It’s unusual for me to buy a book on sport, but Michael Johnson was the name that hooked me in. It was a fascinating read and my respect for people such as him who give decades of their lives to their sport, has increased. At times it’s a little sanctimonious and a bit of an advert for his company, but considering what he’s achieved, I’ll forgive him that. He comes over as a very serious and professional man and those two qualities must have stood him in good stead when lesser competitors fell by the wayside.
Bel-Ami – Guy De Maupassant
As I admitted when I bought the book, I didn’t buy this for any other reason than the pretty man on the cover. It was number 2 on my list of 87 other books I haven’t read and I’m starting from the top. What started as an amusing tale of Georges Duroy borrowing, conniving and sleeping his way through the ranks of French society turned into me absolutely detesting the man. His quick-thinking became mercenary, his minor gripes became things he harped on about constantly and minor disagreements with his lovers became slapping one of them about in the most hideous way. By the end I was longing for the three women he’d seduced to gang up on him and bring him down, but he’d got under the skin of a fourth woman by then and sailed off into the sunset to ruin her life too. Deeply unpleasant protagonist with no redeeming features whatsoever.
The Liberating Truth – Danielle Strickland
If Life Management for Busy Women is the nadir of Christian living advice for this quarter, then this is the zenith. In recent years we’ve been seeing the rise of people talking about women – whether that be Page 3 girls or women bishops – and this is a very important book for Christians when looking at the subject in their own faith. Jesus was a feminist Danielle says and goes on to explain how Jesus’ whole ministry was deeply revolutionary when it came to women’s places in society at that time. She also explains some of Paul’s comments in context and you begin to understand that by looking at who he was talking to and the experiences of Christians living in the culture he was addressing, his comment make perfect sense and don’t mean what generations of men and women have taken it as meaning. We do not serve a God who wants his women on the subs bench or in the pavilion making the tea. He wants them out there on the pitch using whatever gifts he’s given them. This is a book that I can wholeheartedly recommend.
I’m currently reading The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs – Christina Hopkinson and The Essential History of Christianity – Miranda Threlfall-Holmes