A Year In Books — the final bit

Life got hectic.  It does that, doesn’t it?  And so this post, which I meant to make weeks ago, has finally lumbered into the light.

I’ve already posted the first 50 books I read last year, which you can read about here and here.

Below is the final 21…

51.  HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson.  This feels like a novel the author slaved over for decades. That’s how precise, how polished every sentence is. It’s the sort of novel that haunts you, stays with you for years after you read it.  This is the third time I’ve read it.  Some people feel its overwritten and light on plot.  I disagree.  I think it’s a classic.  But I recognize that folks who enjoy speed-of-light page turners with lots of action and things that go BANG!… will probably not enjoy it. But if you love language, if you love unforgettable characters and piercing observation, you’ll love it.

52. UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE by Thomas Hardy.  I’m a Hardy fan.  THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE is one of my favorite books.  This novel is Hardy’s beautiful elegy to a lost time and place. The story of the romance between church musician, Dick Dewey, and the new school mistress, Fancy Day. Gentle, pastoral, lovely.

53. SOMEWHERE TOWARDS THE END by Diana Atill. Like spending a long, fabulous afternoon in conversation with an intelligent, well-lived, well-read, witty woman, pondering her life, and the inevitable end of it.

54.  CITY OF STAIRS by Robert Jackson Bennett.  Fantastic world-building, with six different religions and various histories and political intrigue by the boat-load. An exciting read, once past the first 40-50 pages, which are coma-inducing — get through them as fast as you can and you’ll be hooked.

55. WOLF WINTER by Cecilia Ekback.  I blurbed this book, and did so with pleasure. I said, “As dark as a winter night in the Arctic, as magical as the northern lights, WOLF WINTER kept me turning pages long past my bedtime. A marvelous mixture of terror and delight.”  You’re sure to be hearing a lot about this one.

56. RARE BIRD by Anna Whitson-Donaldson.  If you share the author’s Christian faith and are dealing with enormous loss, I imagine this will be a most useful book. If you are not Christian, you might find the focus tiresome and narrow.

57. OPEN THE DOOR by Joyce Rupp. Rupp is a wonderful spiritual guide and this book is terrific, even if some of the exercises may be the teeniest bit corny.

58. THE ENCHANTED by Rene Denfield. Denfeld paints an accurate picture of the insanity of prison life, and writes a fine sentence, which makes up for the horrible POV problems. I suspect I am in the minority on this one, as many people have loved the book, but I found the technical wonkiness detracting.

59. THE MAGIC BARREL by Bernard Melamud. Beautiful stories of the Jewish immigrant experience, haunted by the Holocaust, poignant and full of struggle.

60. THE BRIEF WONDEROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz.  Oh, I’m sure I’ll get blow-back for this, but I just couldn’t love this book. Very clever and often humorous, but too far removed, due to POV & narrative voice, to be truly moving for this reader. And the POV is confusing and often implausible. I found it terribly self-aware, in a sort of David Foster Wallce lite way.  One of those books that advertise the intellect (which if clearly formidable) of the author, but which didn’t entirely work for me.  Did love DROWN, however!

61. THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman. A wonderful exploration, in fairy tale form, of the terrors of childhood.

62. THE SPELL OF THE SENSOUS by David Abram. Philosopher & ecologist Abram writes an absorbing, challenging treatise on written language’s power to separate human beings from experiential relationship to the nonhuman world.

63. COLLECTING FEATHERS by Daniela Norris. Spiritual short stories about death and mysticism from a former diplomat turned medium, written in response to the sudden death of the author’s brother.

64. A RECIPE FOR DISASTER AND OTHER UNLIKELY TALES OF LOVE by Eufemia Fanetti. Fantetti has such a fantastic understanding of how to reveal character and meaning, such a terrific grasp of the symbolic moment. My only complaint is that at 83 pages, the book is hardly long enough!

65. WATERLAND by Graham Swift.  One of the great joys of my reading year.  A challenging, enchanting novel about geography, history, and memory, set in the Fens. Depth, formidable intelligence, and complexity. Beautiful language and indelible images.  Can’t recommend this one highly enough.

66. FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM by Phillip Pullman. Well retold tales with lovely historical notations. Best for students of myth and folk tales. Great resource for lessor-known tales.

67. TIL WE HAVE FACES by C.S. Lewis. Terrific retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth, from the POV of the older sister’s argument with the gods. Wonderful exploration of one’s experience of Mystery.

68. ANNIHILATION: BOOK ONE OF THE SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY by Jeff Vandermeer.  I know there’s been a great deal of buzz about this book, and the other two, but I was disappointed. While a mysterious, imaginative work of speculative environmental fiction, I found it an odd mix of intrigue and frustration.

69. AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD: A GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH by Barbara Brown Taylor. Wonderful essays on how to live a life more connected to The Sacred, whatever that may be for you.

70. ONE SUMMER, AMERICA, 1927 by Bill Bryson.  Although I am generally a Bryson fan, I don’t this this is his strongest work. Interesting, but not as funny as his other books, and he made a statement about Mt. Rushmore being unimportant to anyone prior to the carving, which put me off. The Lakota Sioux would take exception.

71. GONE SOUTH by Julia Leggat. Terrific short stories about women and how we relate to just about everything. Although the set-ups aren’t new, the psychological depth and insights are impressive.

And now, here we are into the new year.  so far I’ve read some wonderful books, including Anthony Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, Emily St. John-Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN, Cynan Jones’s THE DIG (brutal but beautiful)  and Edward Aubyn’s hilarious, LOST FOR WORDS.  It gives me high hopes!

Would love to hear the books that have thrilled you recently!

Happy reading, everyone.




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