Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tuesday Reflection: Annual Favorite Books of the Year List

In our family there is almost no better gift than a book. We quickly become almost anti-social when we get a new book, for we are that eager to open the cover and read. All of us got new books for Christmas, and now somehow the cold temperatures we are experiencing don't seem so daunting, for we can curl up with our books. 

However, before doing that, it is time look back on this year's reading. This year's reading included books read for our couples' book group--a group that has been in existence for decades. Bruce and I were part of the group before we moved away from St Paul twenty years ago, and we have been graciously welcomed back to the group now that we live here once again. Our meetings are a highlight of each month. Now anytime I am reading I wonder if the book will be a candidate for our book group. This is an added dimension for my reading, and several of my 2014 favorites are books discussed in book group. 

Here's this year's list of favorites--in no specific order. 

1. How the Light Gets In and The Long Way Home, mysteries by Louise Penny (Now we have to wait again for the next installment!)
2. The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout, the author of Olive Kitteredge, a favorite from an earlier year. (Book club selection
3. Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Nancy Horan (the story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny. You may recall that Horan wrote Loving Frank.)
4. The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey. (Another book club selection, set in 1920 Alaska and based on a Russian fairy tale)
5. Mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear. (I am now waiting for a new one to be published. These mysteries are set in post WWI London and the main character, Maisie Dobbs, is a private investigator. I also really liked her stand alone novel set during WWI, The Care and Management of Lies.)
6. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Book club selection. While I thought this book attempted to hit too many themes, it still was engrossing.)
7. The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert. (Book club selection again. Not everyone in the group loved it, but I was fascinated by it.)
8. Vacationland, Sarah Stonich. (This was on my "favorites" list last year and we read it for book club this year.)
9. All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville West (Book club. Do you detect a theme here? We paired this with Being Esther by Miriam Karmel, which I liked, too. Each book focuses on an older woman and the choices made in old age.)
10. Lila, Marilynne Robinson (Now I want to go back and reread all of her books.)
11. Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (Challenging and creative structure, but well worth it.)
12. I also reread some Barbara Pym books and thoroughly enjoyed the reprise. 

Note: I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, but I am one of those that doesn't understand why it got such critical acclaim. Oh well!

The majority of my favorite nonfiction books are in the realm of spirituality. I am also reading (and using) books about writing
1. A Religion of One's Own, A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, Thomas Moore 
2. The Ten Things to Do When Your Life Falls Apart, An Emotional and Spiritual Handbook, Daphne Rose Kingma (My life did not fall apart in 2014, although there were challenges, but there is such wisdom here and strategies and reflections for whenever life hits us in a way we don't expect.)
3. The Paper Garden, Mrs. Delaney Begins Her Life's Work at 72, Molly Peacock (My second reading of this gorgeous and inspirational book.)
4. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett (You know her for her novels. Now read this wonderful book of essays.)
5. Calm Surrender, Walking the Path of Forgiveness, Kent Nerburn
6. Handling the Truth, On the Writing of Memoir, Beth Kephart
7. The Rebirthing of God, Christianity's Struggle for New Beginnings, John Philip Newell (I heard the author speak this year, and he was thought-provoking about the present and future state of organized religion.)
8. Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul, Jane Vennard
9. The Situation and the Story, The Art of Personal Narration, Vivian Gornick
10. Ask the Beasts, Darwin and the God of Love, Elizabeth A. Johnson (Johnson is a renowned feminist theologian. Her writing is always challenging, and I am so glad I read this in the context of a class.)
11. The House on Teacher's Lane, A Memoir of Home, Healing, and Love's Hardest Questions, Rachel Simon (I have had this book on my shelf for a long time and so enjoyed her reflections on creating and being home.)
12. Small Victories, Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, Anne Lamott (Classic Lamott. She is always a star.)
13. A Season of Mystery, 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing A Happier Second Half of Life, Paula Huston (Both this book and the book by Jane Vennard are excellent new looks at spiritual practices.)

Over the course of the year I have consulted many times two spirituality books on an ongoing basis: The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully,  Joan Chittister and The Endless Practice, Becoming Who You Were Born to Be, Mark Nepo. Both are perfect companions during my morning meditation time. 

I have a feeling that the novel I am reading now, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, will end up on my 2015 list. Excuse me while I take a reading break! Happy reading, everyone!

An Invitation
What were your favorite books this year? If you read any of the books on my list, I would love to know your opinion. What are you planning to read in 2015? I would love to know.   


  1. I listened to more books than I read this year, having decided to always have a book on CD in my car. My favorite was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. The actor who read it was wonderful and the main character - a curmudgeon stuck in his ways who gradually lets others get closer to him - was very endearing. I highly recommend it!

    This holiday, Peter was the perfect example of our family's antisocial tendencies when we get a new book!

  2. I don'y this book. Whoops, another one for my list. Oh, and yes, Peter--when he wasn't playing with new Lego sets his nose was in a book. Excellent!


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