2018: My Year in Books

red chamber

My favourite book of 2018: The Red Chamber by Pauline Chen

I read 148 books in 2018. Phew! Lots of children’s books. I think my daughter is right when she says I am going through a second childhood. Hurrah! It’s part of the healing process. Especially in the absence of any actual therapy (cheers, NHS). Jesus made a point of the importance of being childlike so I figure I can’t be too far wrong.

It’s worth adding that as well as these, I read the bible: a chapter of the Old Testament every day and a chapter of the New Testament every day. When I get to the end of either, I begin again. Also, when I get to the end of The Practice of the Presence of God, I start again. I’m clearly a poor apprentice in this area as I need to immediately begin again as soon as I have finished, which means I have read the book more times than I can count, but I’m not stopping any time soon. The Practice of the Presence of God, written 400 years ago, is about living life with God always on your mind and in your heart – basically a practical guide to living out the Gospel, from an ordinary person’s perspective.

I’m currently enjoying reading Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Confusion, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie, Lucia Capacchione’s Recovery of Your Inner Child and Margaret Walker’s Jubilee. I’m also listening to a series of lectures entitled The Story of Human Language by Professor John McWhorter, which are absolutely fascinating. I’ve long had a penchant for linguistics and McWhorter is an excellent teacher for the layperson.

The Great Courses lectures are a wonderful resource for anyone wanting to broaden their horizons with talks from academics. I have previously listened to The Science of Mindfulness by Prof. Ronald D. Siegel, An Economic History of the World Since 1400 by Prof. Donald J. Harreld, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy by Prof. Jason M. Satterfield and about half of America and the New Global Economy by Prof. Timothy Taylor.

Drumroll, please. Here are all the books I read in 2018, courtesy of Goodreads:

CF – Books aimed at children under 14

NF – Non-fiction

F – Fiction aimed at 14+

Titles with links are my favourites of 2018 (new-to-me) books.

Joan Aiken – A Necklace of Raindrops and Other Stories, CF

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, CF

Black Hearts in Battersea, CF

Night Birds on Nantucket, CF

Louisa May Alcott – Rose in Bloom, F

Eight Cousins, CF

Good Wives, F

Little Women, F

Elaine Aron – The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, NF

Jane Austen – Persuasion, F

Pride and Prejudice, F

Northanger Abbey, F

Lauren Bates – Distraction Addiction, NF

Mary Beard – Pompeii, NF

Katie Berry – 30 Days to a Clean and Organized House, NF

Enid Blyton – Five on a Treasure Island, CF

Five Run Away Together, CF

The Amelia Jane Collection, CF

Hollow Tree House, CF

Five Go Off in a Caravan, CF

The Folk of the Faraway Tree, CF

The Valley of Adventure, CF

Mary Elizabeth Braddon – The Christmas Hirelings, CF

Jo Brand – The More You Ignore Me, F

Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre, F

Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights, F

Frances Hodgson Burnett – The Secret Garden, CF

A Little Princess, CF

Little Lord Fauntleroy, CF

Jessie Burton – The Miniaturist, F

Nora Carroll – The Color of Water in July, F

Father Gary Caster – The Little Way of Lent, NF

Jung Chang – Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, NF

Pauline A. Chen – The Red Chamber, F

Agatha Christie – Murder in Mesopotamia, F

Toby Clements – Kingdom Come, F

Clara Cannucciari – Clara’s Kitchen, NF

Susan Coolidge – What Katy Did, CF

What Katy Did at School, CF

Jill Cooper – How to Get Organized, NF

Penny-Pinching Mama, NF

Patricia Cornwell – Post Mortem, F

Richmal Crompton – William the Pirate, F

William’s Happy Days, F

Just William, F

William Again, F

Carolyn L. Dean – Bed, Breakfast and Bones, F

E.M. Delafield – Diary of a Provincial Lady, F

The Provincial Lady Goes Further, F

The Provincial Lady in Wartime, F

The Provincial Lady in America, F

The Provincial Lady in Russia, F

Monica Dickens – One Pair of Hands, NF

Berlie Doherty – Abela, CF

Arthur Conan Doyle – A Study in Scarlet, F

The Sign of Four, F

Andrew Eade – Coldwater Fishkeeping, NF

Edith Eger – The Choice, NF

Grace Foakes – Four Meals for Fourpence, NF

Neil Gaiman – The Sleeper and the Spindle, F

Coraline, CF

Norse Mythology, F

Lisa Gardner – Catch Me, F

Fear Nothing, F

Right Behind You, F

Look For Me, F

Elizabeth Gaskell – Ruth, F

Wives and Daughters, F

Cranford, F

Lewis Haas – The Basics of a Healthy Vegan Lifestyle, NF

James Herriot – All Creatures Great and Small, F

Let Sleeping Vets Lie, F

Elizabeth Jane Howard – The Light Years, F

Marking Time, F

Laila Ibrahim – Mustard Seed, F

Eowyn Ivey – The Snow Child, F

David Jackson – Don’t Make a Sound, F

Kevin Jackson – Mayflower: The Voyage from Hell, NF

Julian of Norwich – Revelations of Divine Love, NF

Judith Kerr – When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, CF

The Other Way Round, CF

A Small Person Far Away, F

Jeff Kinney – Cabin Fever, CF

Choderlos de Laclos – Les Liaisons Dangereuses, F

Brother Lawrence – The Practice of the Presence of God, NF

Ursula K. Le Guin – A Wizard of Earthsea, F

Bonnie Leon – To Love Anew, F

C.S. Lewis – The Horse and His Boy, CF

The Silver Chair, CF

Patricia MacLachlan – The Sarah Plain and Tall Collection, CF

More Perfect than the Moon, CF

Katie Davis Majors – Daring to Hope, NF

Imogen Matthews – The Hidden Village, F

Anne McCaffrey – Dragonsong, F

Thomas Meehan – Annie, CF

A.A. Milne – The House at Pooh Corner, CF

L.M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables, CF

D.L. Moody – A Life for Christ, NF

Jill Murphy – The Worst Witch, CF

Rebecca Musser – The Witness Wore Red, NF

Nujeen Mustafa – The Girl from Aleppo, NF

Kristin Neff – Self-Compassion Step by Step, NF

E. Nesbit – The Phoenix and the Carpet, CF

The Magic City, CF

Five Children and It, CF

The Railway Children, CF

Trevor Noah – Born a Crime, NF

Amanda Prowse – My Husband’s Wife, F

The Art of Hiding, F

Weina Dai Randel – The Moon in the Palace, F

Ruth Rendell – Simisola, F

Richard Rohr – Preparing for Christmas, NF

Letting Go, NF

Jennifer Roy – Yellow Star, F

Simon Schama – A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3500BC-AD1603, NF

William L. Shirer – The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, NF

Jim Smith – My Dad is a Loser, CF

Ruth Soukup – 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero, NF

John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men, F

Noel Streatfeild – Ballet Shoes, CF

David Suchet – Questions of Faith, NF

Sun Tzu – The Art of War, NF

Amy Tan – The Joy Luck Club, F

The Bonesetter’s Daughter, F

The Kitchen God’s Wife, F

Ann Tatlock – A Room of My Own, F

Cynthia Voigt – Homecoming, F

Ann Voskamp – One Thousand Gifts Devotional, NF

One Thousand Gifts, NF

Susanna de Vries – Great Pioneer Women of the Outback, NF

Sabra Waldfogel – Sister of Mine, F

Paul Washer – Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church, NF

Lauren Weisberger – The Devil Wears Prada, F

Tara Westover – Educated, NF

Oscar Wilde – Lady Windermere’s Fan, F

Laura Ingalls Wilder – Little House in the Big Woods, CF

Little House on the Prairie, CF

On the Banks of Plum Creek, CF

By the Shores of Silver Lake, CF

The Long Winter, CF

Little Town on the Prairie, CF

These Happy Golden Years, CF

The First Four Years, CF

Jacqueline Wilson – Hetty Feather, CF

Wave Me Goodbye, CF

John Wyndham – The Chrysalids, F

The Day of the Triffids, F

Pam Young – Sidetracked Home Executives, NF

 

 

Beginnings

…Cells began to divide and re-form, as they do, and something new was made. As the weeks went by and the woman began to feel odd and sick, the new thing took shape: a comma, a tadpole, eventually the bud of a brain and a spinal column. Suddenly, in the shallow darkness of a summer night, a heart completed itself and began its iambic beat… At last, one bright April morning when white clouds drifted high in a blue sky and leaf-buds beaded the tired grey trees, it was time for the woman and the new thing to part, a painful work that took many hours, into the cold night and through the next morning… 

The child was a girl, but the most important thing about her was that she was herself. She was someone new, someone who had not been before and so, like all babies, she was a revelation…

~ from the opening lines of The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss. I was struck by the beauty and rhythm of the words. I hope the rest of the novel lives up to this early promise.

 

‘All We Had’

‘She was only thirty-two, but the weight of a hundred hard lifetimes was etched across her face. Last winter’s cough had never fully gone away. The rattle in her lungs had worsened. And no amount of makeup could cover the heavy darkness that had settled beneath her eyes.

My mother began to weep. She dropped her head and her shoulders shook. I could see the winged bones of her back beneath the thin fabric of her dress. A length of hem hung below her knees, weighted down by the safety pin that had held it up for days.

“Don’t cry,” I said. When my mother cried, nothing else existed but her sadness, and her sadness ran so deep that if I didn’t stop it, it would drown us both.’

from All We Had by Annie Weatherwax

I have just finished reading this novel. It was so well written that I read it in two days. Usually I listen to audiobooks because reading is tiring, but this was worth it (it also isn’t available, as yet, on Audible). The excerpt above struck me as both one of the most beautiful passages that I have ever read, and also as heart-strikingly true. That final sentence is something I think many children can relate to, and many adults as they look back to childhood, particularly if they grew up in a dysfunctional home. I wonder if my own children ever felt that way, when I was going through those dark, dark days? I tried so hard to keep going, for their sake, but I was profoundly broken. I hope they didn’t, but at least I can thank God that those days are long gone.

What I loved about this novel was the simple, yet painstaking, portrayal of flawed, broken people and the ways in which we can overcome, at least in part, the brokenness. I loved that it was never sentimental, yet the author always tackled pain, grief, love, despair with a direct, honest and humorous approach. I loved the fact that, despite the darkness within the novel, ultimately it proved to hold a message of hope and a quiet, unspoken focus on the idea that in the end,  the only thing that matters is love one another. I guess, really, I was reminded of myself and my own life, and all that I have overcome, by grace.

On the final page the main character writes:

‘The meek shall inherit the earth, the Bible says, but how many have to suffer first? Where I come from, children are wrenched away from homes. Men are disposable, boys are lost, women are beaten or killed. Little girls are left quaking at the sight of so much blood. And we blame them when they become less than perfect mothers. The meek shall inherit the earth, but why can’t we just share it?’ 

A pertinent question, I think, for all who profess to follow Jesus.