Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Top Books of 2019

Fifty-five books! Wow! Last year was my first year reading again after decades of not making time, and I read 40. This year I hit 55! I don’t set goals, that usually stresses me out and makes me want to run away from reading. I just read what and when I want.

What I Read
For 2019, I continued (and solidified my love of) reading a lot classics. I’m enjoying both adult classics and reading children’s classics to the kids at bedtime. There is a reason that most classics are classics, and it’s because they’re really, really good (with a few exceptions). As I’ve written in one of my “didn’t like” reviews, I can really feel that reading so much truly good literature has refined my tastes so that I don’t care for mediocre stuff. And really, life’s too short to read mediocre writing when there are so many amazing books out there.

I’ve also continued to look for books by African or African American authors. The Beautiful Struggle, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, The Last Resort, Becoming, Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, and The Warmth of Other Suns were all by such authors.

I also LOVE biographies and autobiographies.

When I Read
I get asked often how I make time for reading. I do most of my reading with Audible while I’m doing laundry, gardening, driving alone, showering, or any other chance I get. I love listening to books when I'm occupied with an easy task where my mind would be otherwise fairly idle. I mostly read Kindle books on my phone when I’m somewhere with my phone and want to do something more productive than scrolling Instagram, like waiting in line at the grocery store, bank, etc. And I read physical books mostly during afternoon rest time or in the evenings.

Let's cut to the chase! Here are my top 5 books of 2019, followed by 5 I didn't like:

Top Five
#1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Unlike a lot of people, I was never made to read this book in high school or college. I only knew that it was a classic, and in my drive to read more classics, pulled it off the shelf. Josh, who did read it in high school, warned me that I wouldn’t like it. As I read, I would comment how much I was enjoying it, and he would say, “Don’t worry, you won’t by the end.” But I got to the end and loved every moment of it! Steinbeck is a masterful writer. Even the end (which if you’ve read it, you understand) is a bit odd but I thought so redemptive for her.

#2. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This was possibly the most emotionally engaging book I’ve ever read. The whole book kept me spellbound and emotionally on-edge, and it left me completely undone at the end. On top of that, as with The Grapes of Wrath, I learned a viewpoint from history that I hadn’t previously considered.

#3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
I listened to this one on Audible, and really loved it. It took a chapter or two for my ears to adjust to Dickens’s style, which I can only describe as a delectable treat for the ears. I’ve really loved all the Dickens books Ive read.

#4. The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
I feel like this book should be required reading for parents of tweens/teens, educators from middle school through college, and late high school/college students.

#5. The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
I don’t even remember how I came across this book, but it is written by a white Zimbabwean who grew up there and his parents still live there. The destruction that Mugabe caused to his own country as president is devastating, and Rogers is an excellent writer who captured the ups and downs of life as a white Zimbabwean under Mugabe’s regime through the lens of his parents’ backpackers lodge. I couldn’t put it down.

Five I Didn’t Like
#5. Farming Grace by Paula Scott
I got this for free or cheap on kindle and thought it looked worth a try. It is one woman’s true testimony of coming to adulthood and then to faith, and how God saved her, her husband, and their marriage over the course of several years. It’s a great story of lives drastically changed by the Gospel, and there aren’t glaring grammatical issues or anything, but it just isn’t great writing. It reads more like a blog than a novel. I feel a bit bad putting this one on my “didn’t like” list, cause it honestly isn’t terrible, but every time I thought about books I didn’t care for this year, this one came to mind.

#4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
It feels a bit like heresy to put this one on my “didn’t like” list, but I have to be honest. I just really didn’t care for The Hobbit. I’m told the Lord of the Rings books are better than this one, but after reading it, I don’t have much of a taste in my mouth for more Tolkien.

#3. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Have I ever read a more boring, didactic book in my life? I can’t remember one. This is another one I read to the girls, and we didn’t enjoy it at all. The girls and I had a few duds this year. It’s one long sermon about why people should treat horses better, which I guess I can see the need for back in its day when horses were used for transportation and farming, but have mercy. This was so boring.

#2. The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
The idea of a doctor who can talk to animals seemed right up my girls’ alley, and the 90’s Eddie Murphy movie Doctor Dolittle was so cute, that the girls and I thought we’d enjoy this one. Wrong. It was terrible, and worst of all racist. The author even used two particularly terrible racist words that I had to stop and explain that they were very not ok words.

#1. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
The only book this year that was so bad that I deliberately stopped reading about 2/3 of the way through. This is a new tween/teen book that gets glowing Amazon reviews, so I decided to read it with the girls at bedtime. First of all, I hate kids books that are written in first person in an “authentic voice” that’s full of incorrect grammar. I believe that an important part of reading is for kids to learn good writing and grammar, and books like this just reinforce what is incorrect. Second, it's just booooooring. Third, the whole premise of the book is that Coyote, a teen, thinks she's smarter and knows better than her dad and so she’s justified in lying to him multiple times. (Granted, most teens probably think this, but they don't need books to reinforce the idea.) The first lie never got so much as a, "you shouldn't have lied to me," from her dad, so I strongly doubt the second big one did either. Her dad doesn't actually parent her at all. She makes a lot of really stupid choices because she’s supposedly so street smart, which her dad of course never corrects, and I would actually have to stop reading and explain to my girls why things she did were terrible ideas and dangerous things to do. The last straw for us was when they picked up a runaway girl who had gotten kicked out of her parents’ home for being gay, and Coyote muses about how it doesn't matter who you love.

The Full List by Genre
I kind of want to say a little something about each of these, since most of them feel like good friends that I spent a lot of time with over the past year. But for the sake of brevity, I'll just give a list.
Orange font = I listened to it on Audible
* = Strong contenders for Top 5, it was a tough call to narrow it down to just 5

Fiction- Adult Classics

Fiction- Children’s Classics

Fiction- Historical

Fiction- Other

Nonfiction- Self Help

Nonfiction- Biography/Autobiography

Nonfiction- History

Nonfiction- Poetry

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