Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Books of 2014

I haven't felt like doing a year recap, As much as I enjoy them on other's blogs, when I think about my own I just get depressed.  There isn't much to highlight here, this year at least.   So I thought, why not post something I haven't written about yet?  And talking about my reads of the year seemed good, as I've been wanting to post about books for a long time.  In fact, think the last time was back in my first year of blogging.  Anyway, I'm going to try to just give the highlights, so here it goes.

Walking on Water by Madeline L'Engle: I've read a lot of Madeline L'Engle in the past two years.  I loved A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid.  I think of it as one of those "turning point" books, probably my first actually, you know, where you read it and once you're finished, the world is bigger.  And I'd say at least a third of her books have been that way in some shape or form for me.  And always at just the right time too.  Walking on Water her only non-fiction writing that I've read, it's primarily her thoughts on Faith and Art, and the beautiful oneness that they are for her (and I'd venture a guess that goes for all artists in one way or another).  She gracefully covers many parts of life, like a very refined and orderly stream of conscience.  I (lightly) underlined often, all the while knowing that only by re-reading the book could I really re-capture the wisdom she was sharing.

Phantastes by George McDonald:  This is where I wish I wrote my thoughts down fresh, but right after reading a new book, I'm usually to overwhelmed to articulate them.  One of the things I love to do is read the authors that inspired my favorite authors.  And George McDonald was just that for both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein.  He's also an author who my mom always had on the shelf while I was growing up, but I never really found interesting (aside from his fairy tales that were written more for children, like The Princess and the Goblin and The Light Princess, those I read and loved) with the exception of one.  Now this was Lilith, and I remember trying read it when I was probably eight or nine but I never made it past the second page. The copy my mom has is a small paper back, but the picture on the front is one of those many layered fantasy illustrations where there is so much going on that every time you look at it you notice something new.  I read Lilith last year, and loved it, this year I was finally able to track down a copy of Phantastes, which is the book C. S. Lewis wrote about in Surprised by Joy.  It's a fairy tale crossing into fantasy, a book that's rather like slipping into a dream.  And you wake up and find it difficult to remember, all you know is that it was lovely and you wish it could have lasted longer.

"The quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live.  I should have been shocked in my teens if anyone had told me what I learned to love in Phantastes was goodness.  But now I know, I see there was no deception.  The deception is all the other way round- in that prosaic moralism which confines goodness to the region of Law and Duty, which never lets us feel on our face the sweet air blowing from "the land of righteousness," never reveals that elusive from which if once seen must inevitably be desired with all but sensuous desire- the thing (in Sappho's phrase) "more gold than gold". " 
-C. S. Lewis
The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter: This year I rediscovered my love of 19th century authors.  There's just something about them, the way they use words, it's like reading a painting.  That's really the most resonant way (for me) that I can think to describe it.  Their language is fluid, and high-reaching, yet tethered well to the earth and not at all proud or caught up in it's own virtues.  At least what I read of it last year was.  The Keeper of the Bees... well, I picked it up at work, because I recognized the author as one I've been wanting to read, and it was about bees, which I love.  I guess mainly I expected it to be a sleepy, gently buzzing sort of book, about a man learning to tend bees and healing from a war (based off of the back of the book).  And it was, yet, it wasn't. It was unexpectedly romantic and spiritual, in the best way.
I surprised myself this year by finding myself unable to put down the books I'd expected to work my way through slowly.  It goes back to the language again, the use of words, this one, Phantastes, and A Tale of Two Cities... man, I'm in love by the fifth chapter.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:  The book I've been meaning to read for about as long as I can remember.  I think what finally spurred me to pick it up was, looking at my life, in one of those moments of dark reflection, and thinking of how little I'd done that I've truly wanted to do, how little of my dreams I've successfully pursued (and most likely comparing myself to my friends who are traveling the world, getting married, and finishing degrees).  And fortunately, I adjusted my attitude and determined to go after a dream that I could control and see through, and so I picked up A Tale of Two Cities.
In high-school I enjoyed my literature classes.  I enjoyed reading the classics I was assigned, probably the most of all my other assignments.  But there was still something about them that was difficult, not a bad sort of hard, just not easy.  You know, not the same as breezing though a YA novel and a half a day.  They were enjoyable, but not escapes, like I needed in a lot of my reading.  So I expected this to be more like exercising, enjoyable while you do it, but difficult to make yourself pick it up each day.  Fortunately, I was wrong, I planned to take it slowly, to read a few other things at the same time.  But instead, it drew me in.  After I got through the first quarter, I couldn't put it down.  For the characters, for the language and the imagery, for the plot and the mystery, for the compelling need to hear the pain of a people long dead and at rest, I was captive.  And I think this book was where my journey of this past year really began, as well as other events, to re-awaken and grow a deep, deep, hatred for violence and war, injustice and death.
The Love Letters by Madeleine L'Engle: So far I haven't been very good about giving actually information about the books, mostly I've just told you about myself and how I felt.  Sorry about that. But I find once again, I'm not quite sure how to explain this book.  That's just the problem I've always had with book reports, how can you truly sum up a good book?  ESPECIALLY a good book.  Plus, different thing stand out to different people... and I guess I'll just say what stands out to me, that's why you're reading this right?  This book is about two women,of different times, and their recovery, and discovery of love unfolding out of pain.  One is a nun who committed adultery, the other... well you're not supposed to know what really happened with her.  The love letters were written by the nun.  It's multifaceted and deep, it crosses cultures and imparts wisdom that is missed by staying only within our own (something I always love about Madeleine L'Engle), and it touches on loneliness.  A topic that is rarely touched with acceptance, like I, in my heart, know it should be.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel: Like reading of different cultures and different view points, I find it fascinating to read of different religions, especially from the perspective of actual followers and lovers of these religions.  I think one of the great faults of most people is that we would rather learn of the beliefs of others from people who believe what we do.  Meaning, rather than talk to people of different religions or read their literature, we would rather let a biased third party (of our own party) do the research for us and then tell us all of the ludicrous things they have learned.  Which is hardly fair, but safer, if we are afraid of loosing members of our own way of thinking, I guess.
Obviously, I don't like or agree with this position or approach.  This is why I am more than willing to read books by Atheist and Jews and Pagans and others, in fact, I seek them out. There is a lot of truth we loose if we limit who we can learn truth from to those who we already know we agree with.  There is so much wisdom we will never gain, if we believe that only we can be right.  And there is only ignorance if we ignore the voices of those who believe something that we don't, especially if they are telling us that they don't believe what we are accusing them of believing.
And once again I've said a lot, without actually telling you anything about this book.  This, as you no doubt have heard, is an amazing book.  It's beautiful and awful and inspiring and horrifying.  And I love how it talks about so many positions of belief with love.  I love how it looks at humanity.  I love how it makes you question.  And I love how it puts you there, in the life boat, with a tiger.  I saw the movie before I read the book, something I usually try to avoid, but it did not hurt my experience.  I don't think the book needed a movie made of it, I had no trouble following anything that happened.  But I was very glad that I did not only see the movie, for the book explained things with more de and took me places that a movie cannot.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman: This was an enjoyable read.  I picked it up right after my best friend's wedding this summer, which had been consuming my mind and energy for several months.  So it's simple story and old-fashioned fantasy feel was exactly what I needed to make me feel like myself again.  I haven't seen the movie of this one, all of my friends who have seen it say that it's terrible, but eventually I'd like to see it and form my own opinion.  

Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller: I've been hesitant to include these, I don't know why exactly, there's just too much that can be said about them, I guess.  Pretty much they hold freedom and truth.  Those good freeing truths that remind you that you aren't alone, and you are okay.  Plus, they are really funny.  Like laugh out loud, and hard funny. 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: If you want to read a book that makes you feel like you can write a novel, (if you want to write a novel, or have tried or are currently trying, but are stuck and you feel like a looser because you can't seem to connect one idea to the next or because the words just won't go on the page) then you should read this book.  She's funny, and sassy, and smart.  And I want to read this book again. 
Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok: A very long time ago, I blogged about The Chosen.  The first book I read by Chaim Potok, it is a book that I will always think of as one that called into the dark and spoke my name.  There have been many of those books in my life since then, but that was one of the first, at least one of the first as a more aware person (there are many wonderful books that do the same thing as a child, but it's harder to know how they're different at the time, they just become a favorite, a favorite that made you still for a while) to do so.  After that I read a few others of his books, but they went over my head, unfortunately, or maybe I just wasn't in the right place for them yet.  I'm not quite sure.  Anyway, it'd had been about four years since I'd read one of his books, although I'd had a few in my possession that I was planning to read.  I truly believe in timing for these things though, and the right time came this year.
So, Davita's Harp.  It's a coming of age story, about a girl... gosh, how can I give a glimpse into the magnitude of this book?  Maybe this, it's not for everyone.  This book is painful, is not a "feel good" read, but it is an expanding one.  The books I treasure the most are one of two kinds.  There are the books that seem to crawl into your heart and make a nest for you there, and they tell you a story of great beauty and healing and love and courage, and they (because they are in your heart) tell you details that make it impossible to know once the tale is done whether they were yours before you read it or not, because it is so apart of you now.  And the second kind also crawls into your heart, but rather than make a nest, it shows you things that hurt.  It balms as it rearranges, with whispers of hope and otherness, and it asks you questions that echo deep within you, and it brings things to light that you'd never noticed before.  And it pushes around, it stretches while it's in there, and pokes and pinches, and pulls out memories and fears that you had forgotten (or pretended you'd forgotten), and it makes you uncomfortable again with things that you'd gotten use to.  Like war, and death, and hate.  And those are the books that expand you.
Davita's Harp is the latter, with occasional breaths into the first.  It's rare that a man writes a book about a woman.  It's rarer still that he writes about an adolescent girl trying to swim her way through an adult world, as she fights to become a woman.  It's even more rare that he writes from her perspective, with insight and compassion, not ignoring or gliding over any of the difficult, ugly, or unpleasant details of her life or the world she is in.  Yet here is that exact, nearly impossible to find, instance.

The Book of Lights by Chaim Potok: Like the above, this is an expanding book.  Like the above, I'm not sure what to say about it, though it's easier to lay a premise for.  It's about a young man who loves to study the mystic Jewish writings, who loves to study light.  And he becomes friends with the son of one of the men who developed the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a man who is haunted by the work of his parents.  And it is so good.  Again, not easy.  But good and expanding.

Here  (you'll need to click on Books, and then Read in 2014) is the complete list of books I read last year, if you feel like perusing, what I've shared here now is by no means all of it.  I'd be happy to answer any questions about any of them.  I might at some point do a post on the children's books I've been reading, because there were a bunch of fun ones.  It was just a bit much to include now (this post is already super long! (and it's take me weeks)).

I hope you all are having an enjoyable January, I can't believe we're already to the twenty-second, it's super crazy.  Anyway, love you all!

Love, Clara