I don’t know why, but there is just something luxurious about reading books. I think it has to with time. I mean, if I have time to read, I must live a privileged life, right? Seriously, who has time these days to do anything? Especially something as leisurely as reading an actual, bound book! And not just any book, but a book chosen based on one’s own interest and desires? That’s crazy! And the fact that I’ve had enough time to read at least ten such books…I mean really, what am I doing with my life??
Here’s the thing, though: I think we all really do have time. Some of us have more than others, granted. I’m guessing all you who work a full-time job, at, you know, an actual place of employment that pays you in money might have a little less time than I do, although I feel like I have a fair enough workload in life. Even so, I do think that people generally have more time than they think they do. For instance, it seems like we all have time to get on Facebook. Or surf the web. Or watch tv. So if we have time to do those things, then we have time to read, right?
This year, I decided that I would try to keep up with the books I read, so I made a little note of them as I read them. And I wanted to put that list somewhere where I could keep up with it. It occurred to me that the best place to keep up with anything these days is my blog, and to me, such a list fits into the theme of Kingdom Civics because I really do think that reading edifying books is a good, God-honoring use of time. Just to make it interesting, I decided to put my list into a “top 10” format. That helped me narrow my books down into the ones most worth mentioning. So without further ado, here are
My Top 10 Reads of 2013
10. Grace-Based Parenting, by Tim Kimmel
I read this book at the beginning of the year, so I don’t remember a lot of the details. I do know that it inspired me to be more graceful and loving with my kids, and provided me with a lot of comfort and affirmation. So often I worry that I need to be more disciplined with my kids–always teaching and training. That’s definitely a big part of parenting, but in this book, Kimmel helped me to see how gentleness and love are also essential ingredients for successful child-rearing. Kimmel gives the reader a sense of freedom in parenting; his book is the opposite of a manual. I came away feeling very inspired and empowered.
9. The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This is a fiction book, and I tend to favor non-fiction. In fact, I really don’t read much fiction at all. I chose this book, though, because it had garnered rave reviews, including a shout-out from Momastery. Plus, it was written by a long-time foster mom, and it’s main character grew up in the foster care system. Because of that, the novel served as an eye-opening look at the lives of neglected children and their tumultuous journey into adulthood. I read it more for social research than anything else, and was pleasantly surprised by the compelling narrative that accompanied the social message. The novel had it’s share of heartbreak and pain, but it ultimately ended on a hopeful note.
8. The Johnstown Flood, by David McCullough
First, let it be said: hands down, David McCullough is my absolute favorite historian. Seriously, at this point, he has reached the level of personal hero for me; he’s one of the few “famous” people that I would love to meet in real life. In my opinion, his best work is in biographies, but this (relatively) short look at the most famous flood in America is riveting. The Johnstown flood itself is fascinating history; it’s one of those things that you can’t really believe happened, even as you read about it in all it’s awful detail. And McCullough writes about it in such a way that key moments in the flood are seared into my mind. It feels like I’ve seen film footage of the event, even though none exists. His words just paint amazing pictures. Even with the grim subject matter, this was just a fun historical read.
7. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
I tend to divide my reading interests into three genres: historical, spiritual, and parenting. However, this year, I found a new favorite niche: books about psychology and/or sociology. After I’d heard raves about Cain’s exploration of introversion, I had to check it out–especially since I myself am a definite introvert! Cain’s findings regarding introversion and American society were fascinating. They helped me understand both myself and my children better. In addition, Cain specifically discusses introversion in the areas of school and church, and her insights were insightful to me, since I am deeply interested in both of those areas.
6. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Cheryl Wu Dunn
This is yet another book that had been on my “must read” list for awhile. It’s a secular book about women’s issues worldwide, which interestingly, made it even more interesting for me as a Christian. I’m used to hearing about social issues from a Christian perspective, and this more clinical (yet extremely interesting) analysis of global ills was kind of refreshing. The authors care passionately about women’s rights, and they definitely have opinions on what the best solutions are, but they take pains to stay somewhat detached in their examination of women’s issues. I will warn you that some of the realities they share are incredibly disturbing. This book is not for the faint of heart, but it balances out the grimness with some thoroughly researched suggestions of ways the reader can make a tangible difference in the lives of oppressed women. The call to action is what made the book worth it to me.
5. Real Simplicity, by Randy and Rhonda Frazee
The Frazees’ book makes ranks high on my list because it was so practical to my life. They look at the “typical” American life of busyness and chaos and make a good case for how this frantic rushing causes isolation and the breakdown of true community. They also offer a specific solution in the form of a return to the Israelite concept of a day. While I found the “Israelite calendar” idea to be somewhat impractical in our family’s life, Greg and I have nevertheless implemented many of the book’s principles as we have determined our family’s direction. We spent a lot of time this fall cutting unnecessary busyness out of our schedule, and this book was our chief inspiration. And honestly, my satisfaction with my life has been a lot higher since we’ve made those changes!
4. Redwall, by Brian Jacques
Remember how I said that I’m more of a non-fiction gal? Well, even when I do read fiction, I do not read fantasy. It just holds no appeal to me. And I will most certainly NOT read a book that stars talking animals; that’s a deal-breaker. So when people kept recommending the Redwall series as potential readers for Luke, I usually listened to them until they got to “talking mice” and then just shook my head. However, I could only ignore so many recommendations, and so I eventually gave in and checked it out from the library. And, oh my. It was a hit. The language is rich and descriptive, the characters are exquisitely drawn, and the book is epic in scope. We’ve been studying the Middle Ages, and this book almost read like a historical novel: it features a monastery, a siege, and lots of medieval fighting tactics. Now, keep in mind that the Middle Ages could be pretty gruesome, but in this case, the horrors are mitigated by the all-animal cast. Things just don’t seem as serious when it’s mice and rats and badgers and sparrows, instead of people. Regardless, Luke and I were riveted by this book; we would read it for hours. Upon the death of one character, I found myself choking back tears as I struggled to keep my reading voice steady. I read lots of books with the kids in “school,” many of them good or great; however, this is the only one that merits a spot on the top ten list. Luke summed it up best the afternoon we’d finished the book. I think there were 17 chapters in the third and final “book” of the novel. Luke wandered in a few hours after we finished and said wistfully, “I wish we could read chapter 18 of book 3.” Me, too, Luke. Me, too.
3. Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills that Every Child Needs, by Ellen Galinsky
Alright, time to get back to the psychological genre. This book on child development relies heavily on research from psychological studies, and it was fascinating. Both philosophical and practical, it was full of the type of information that physically made my heart beat faster, just because it was so mind-blowing and cool! Galinsky relies on rigorous analysis and decades of experience to narrow down the key elements of a successfully-developing child. A chapter is devoted to each of these seven “life skills,” and at the end of each chapter, there are LOTS of practical suggestions for how to teach these skills to children. I loved this book so much I taught a class on it.
2. Harry Potter, Books 1-7, by J.K. Rowling
What can I even say that would do justice to the Harry Potter series? That my six-turning-seven year old devoured the entire series over the space of a few months? That I myself inhaled them in less than two weeks? That the series was gorgeous and epic and moving and inspiring and all the things that literature is supposed to be? I don’t know…I can’t…I don’t have the words to sum up their greatness. So I’ll just say this: I skimmed another book this summer called Cultural Literacy, which talked about the “canon” of knowledge that is shared by the members of a given culture. These books rightly have a place in the our cultural canon, along with Shakespeare and Dickens and Hawthorne and Tolkien and all those guys. Don’t bother disagreeing with me on this one; you’ll just lose:).
1. Truman, by David McCullough
Given my raptures for the Harry Potter series–and I’m certainly not alone in that–it’s shocking that they don’t have the number 1 spot in my top 10 list for the year. In fact, I myself am shocked by their relegation to #2. Here’s the thing, though: I measure greatness in terms of life impact. And honestly, Truman changed my life more than Harry Potter. Of all the genres that I read, my favorite is the historical biography. A well-written biography (which would include anything by McCullough) leaves you feeling like you personally know the subject–and Harry Truman is a great guy to know. His ascendance to the highest office in the land is about as likely as Harry Potter’s ascendance to greatness, and yet Truman’s is real. Here was a perfectly ordinary guy, seemingly unexceptional in every way. He had no riches, no family connections, no particular brilliance…and yet through an unlikely series of events, he found himself negotiating the end of World War 2, making fateful decisions about the atomic bombs, and guiding not only our nation, but the world, in the aftermath of a truly devastating war. At one point, he thought (and not without reason) that he was staring down World War 3, and that the fate of the entire world was in his hands. And really–it was shocking that it didn’t turn out to be World War 3, that it just turned out to be the Korean War. But this ordinary guy made it through all that and a lot more through sheer grit and determination to do right. He had this idea of standing firm and facing whatever comes your way that has really stuck with me. I honestly think about his outlook about once a week whenever I feel overwhelmed with life. It’s a little pathetic, because my issues are slightly less cataclysmic than a World War, but the difference actually gives me hope. Because if Harry Truman could go through everything he went through and come out strong and honorably (which he did), then surely I can handle the curve balls that my little life throws at me. Because of Truman’s example, McCullough’s biography had more of an impact on me than Harry Potter did–and that’s saying something!
Well, that’s my top ten list for the year. Honorable Mention goes to Nurtureshock, Persepolis, In the Country of Men, Paul Among the People, and The Happiness Project. There were several other books I read or skimmed this year, but these are the ones that were the best use of my time.
What about you? Did you read anything good this year?