Monday, April 20, 2009

What I've Been Reading, Part I

I’m keeping track of my reading this year; I think it’ll be interesting to see what and how much I’ve read at the end of 2009. Also, last year, with the hospital and the babies and all, I got out of the habit of reading books, preferring the easy junk food reads of Magazine and Internets.

So, keeping track of what I read is also a way of motivating myself to read more. A couple of weeks ago, I was reading about 7 books at once (no, I’m not kidding, I think that was the actual number), but now I’m down to 3 or 4 (The Lady of the Lake, Never Silent, Local Custom, Lord Valentine’s Castle, Introduction to the Devout Life, The Riddle of the Reluctant Rake, Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense and The Partner – okay, guess it’s more like 8). I thought it’d be fun to post my list here, and then update it when I have more to add, along with a short paragraph or two per read, reviewing the book.

So this first post will be a bit long, catching up with the first three and a half months of the year, but the following ones should be shorter.

First up, several books on weight loss, not all of which I actually read cover-to-cover. Some, I skimmed. Why weight loss? ‘cause I was sick of the baby weight, and I tend to lose weight when I read about losing weight. Yes, I’m weird. It’s not weight-loss-by-osmosis (I wish), but more like getting my head in the game. Feels a bit like osmosis though. Anyway, it worked: I’m happily below the weight I was when I got pregnant with my first child. Yay!

3 Fat Chicks on a Diet – Barnett, Suzanne, Jennifer and Amy
Finally Thin! – Bensen, Kim
Naturally Thin – Frankel, Bethenny (didn’t even actually finish)
The Big Skinny – Lay, Carol (skimmed recipes at end)
3 Fat Chicks was basically a bunch of reviews of various diet plans. Finally Thin! was a testimonial, more or less. Naturally Thin had lots of good ideas (most of which equaled: “eat less!”), but the author’s voice was almost unendurably mean girl (well, mean-girl-trying-to-be-supportive, which is almost worse). The Big Skinny is actually a graphic novel about weight loss. The author was just a tad obsessive, but the illustrations were great, and some of the visual gags were really funny, and the story of her journey was interesting. If you’re going to read one of these books, go with the graphic novel.

The Uncommon Reader – Bennett, Alan
Bennett’s book I heartily recommend. It’s a novella, and so short and smooth that you’re done almost as soon as you turn the first page. He’s so good that you barely notice you’re reading. Basic plot: the Queen discovers a roving library and becomes a reader, to the great distress of her family and staff. I’ve never really read anyone write about reading the way Bennett does, but if you’re a reader yourself, you’ll identify with the titular heroine (even if you are, unlike her, a reader of the common variety).

The Sharing Knife: Horizon – Bujold, Lois McMaster
Bujold is amazing. She just is. Though this one, like most of the Sharing Knife books, gave me disturbing dreams. I don’t know whether to recommend it or not: it’s a good book, but I don’t know if it’s a good book, if you know what I mean. Go read Shards of Honor instead, or give A Civil Campaign a go (for the twenty-third time).

Engaging Father Christmas – Gunn, Robin Jones
Gunn’s romance is short and sweet and, I’m pretty sure, a sequel to something I never happened to pick up.

The Children of Men – James, P. D.
I’d seen the movie, so I decided to read the book. I liked both, but they’re very different from each other, and the changes from book to movie were interesting.
The premise is that the world is hit with universal infertility. The book talks a lot more about what this would do to the human heart and hence to civil life; the movie is a bit more of a thrill ride.
The book is fascinating. Like the other James book I read, the ending left me unsatisfied. Also like the other James book I read, the writing left me awestruck. James is an absolute master of the English language.

Marrying the Captain – Kelly, Carla
Ah, I like Carla Kelly, and this is a good one. I read it back at the beginning of the year, so it’s not entirely clear in my mind anymore, but I remember that it takes place in a port town in England, near the shipyards, and that both characters and plot were compelling. (I think there were probably some sex scenes between the married characters, though I don’t remember; the author is religious, and tends toward the inoffensive in these things. But, you know, reader beware.) I loved the feel I got for the port town in Kelly’s writing, and the obstacles she put in the way of her main characters’ happiness were truly daunting. Kelly tends to be heavy on the “historical” part of “historical romance”, which to my mind is no bad thing. She’s definitely a romance author, but one who reminds me of Patrick O’Brien and Bernard Cornwell.

Agent of Change – Lee, Sharon and Miller, Steve
Carpe Diem – Lee, Sharon and Miller, Steve
Conflict of Honors – Lee, Sharon and Miller, Steve
I Dare – Lee, Sharon and Miller, Steve
Plan B – Lee, Sharon and Miller, Steve
The above five books are all part of the Liaden series by Lee and Miller, and after Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, are my favorite sci-fi books. They are not hard sci-fi, and instead tend towards the space operatic.
They are pure joys. I love that the authors uninhibitally give their heroes all sorts of wonderful skills. Our hero is a master trader, a master pilot, speaks four languages fluently, is part of the aristocracy and, oh yes, has wizardly mind powers. Of course! And did we mention he was rich?
There are fascinating new worlds, several fascinating societies, compelling plot, imminent danger, gun fights, romance, world-imperiling, world-saving and family drama. And fire-ball-throwing. And secret-agenting. Pretty much anything you could ask for in a good read.
These are the books my husband and I have been reading aloud to each other to get through the evening chores. They’re so much fun they make me want to do the dishes every night.

Betsy, Tacy – Lovelace, Maud Hart
Lovelace’s Betsy series was one of my favorite book series growing up. It starts here, with Betsy, Tacy, and follows Betsy all the way through childhood, into adulthood and marriage. A special favorite of mine is Betsy and the Great World, in which Betsy travels through Europe right before the outbreak of the Great War.
This time reading through Betsy, Tacy was on the occasion of my eldest becoming old enough to be interested in chapter books. I can’t tell you what a joy it was to share one of my favorite books with my own daughter, and have her love it as much as I did.

Writing the Breakout Novel – Maass, Donald
This was recommended to me by my writing mentor, and it is excellent. If you’re a fiction writer, you should read this. I’d read a chapter or so while helping my son fall asleep (he’s had trouble sleeping since we transitioned him out of his pack-n-play and into a regular bed, so I’ll sit beside him for ten minutes or so at naptime, and remind him to keep his eyes closed till he nods off), and then come downstairs and write down notes about what I needed to change in my novel.
I especially appreciate Maass’ thoughts on heightening the stakes for your main character, but really, it’s all good, useful stuff.
As a bonus, I’ve started reading several of the books he uses for examples of various principles, and am really enjoying them.

Are Women Human? – Sayers, Dorothy
The short answer is “yes”. The longer answer concerns what that “yes” implies. Sayers says that if women are human first, and female second, then they have vocations, or “proper work” just as men (human first, male second) do.
This essay was out of print for awhile, but is now back. I highly recommend it.

Quo Vadis? – Sienkiewicz, Henryk
This one took me a long time to read mostly, I think, because it is in translation, and though I had a good translation, translated books just don’t read very naturally (I wonder if this is part of why it’s hard to read the Bible, sometimes?).
But well worth the read. The picture that Sienkiewicz paints of the early church in Rome is enthralling and convicting. Though I did not entirely buy the romance at the heart of the story, and am not entirely sure I buy the characterizations of Peter and Paul (especially their tender feelings about said romance), I was both fascinated and horrified by the accounts of the suffering of the church under Nero. Fascinated, horrified, and humbled. Especially as I recalled that what they went through is not so different than what other Christians in the world are going through right now. A good book for fixing your mind back onto the truth of our calling, and what it costs and what it is worth.

Well, hopefully in a month or two, I'll have those other eight books finished (ha!) and have more to share. btw, this is largely inspired by Melissa Wiley's excellent blog; if you want some good ideas for reading, go there (that's where I heard about Uncommon Reader). Anyone else have ideas for making my list longer? :)

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


Amie said...

When life and beliefs collide. An argument for woman theologians that are actively practicing theology in the diapers of life :-) Sooo good and so well written and intelligent.

Bailey said...

Thank-you for introducing me to the Liaden universe!!!
I also enjoyed 'The Uncommon Reader'