12.20.14 [books for the year]

About this time last year, I was very unhappy with myself because I had not read a book in a long, long while. I kept buying books, and writing titles down to read later but never made time to actually read one. Shameful. One day I had enough of myself and vowed that I would read! Read until I was sick of reading! That fate has not befallen me and instead, I have found some of the greatest satisfaction reading titles that have been sitting on my bookshelves for years who have patiently waited their turn to be picked up and read.

Beginning to read again, just for enjoyment, not only introduced me to some of my new favorite books but also helped alleviate a problem that was really eating away at me. I mentioned before about a health problem I have that causes insomnia. Now every night, instead of immediately trying to fall asleep and (on most nights) lying there for hours before I can eventually drift to sleep, I read. I read until I'm too weary to continue and I also read until my eyes close and I pass out with a book on my chest and my head on my shoulder (my husband can attest to this). Insomnia is still prevalent, but reading has really eliminated most of its power.

Without further ado: a year's review of books. You may notice that I rarely read new books. I'd love to do that and I hope to pick up some new titles soon. But this year I tried not to spend any money on new literature and chose to pay attention to the books I own & have never read.


1. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. ★★★★★

This book has been on my list to read for a long, long while. C.S. Lewis has been on my list for a long, long while. Well, he waited patiently and I have been slowly working through his body of work. I started with Till We Have Faces, which was a DOOZY. This was much more my speed and utterly fascinating. Ever since I read it, it has made me think about what demons are working at me and the triumphs and defeats they feel. It made me that much more grateful for salvation.

2. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. ★★★★★

Each person I spoke with about this book enjoyed it immensely and it is not often you hear something that unanimous. Jacob and I saw the movie and we were wrecked. Just, awestruck and so sad. So I borrowed the book and ate it up. It was an enchanting, melancholy read with a very unique narrator. I can see how some readers may call it trite or over-romanticized but, I thought the viewpoint of death was beautiful. Supremely grim but just beautiful.

3. An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin. ★★

 In highschool, I heard that Steve Martin was a playwright. In college, I heard he was an author. It wasn't until now that I gave him a shot and I was a little disappointed. The subject matter was wonderful, I'd love 15 more stories written about the NYC art world - not just the artists but the galleries and art houses, and art auctions, and art theft! I loved reading about specific pieces of art within a fictional storyline. But the characters were pathetic and I had no one to cheer on or empathize with. Is that the purpose of literature? NO. But it's why I like to read.

4. The Maid's Version, by Daniel Woodrell. ★★★

If you enjoy intrigue, mysterious deaths, mobsters, MISSOURI - you will enjoy this book! I really did, and right before I read this book Jacob and I were in the exact setting as we journeyed to Eureka Springs, Arkansas in April. The story is set in southwest Missouri in 1929 following a tragic explosion in a small town. Woodrell not only tells a riveting story in only 170 pages but gives us poignant, haunting vignettes of depression, grief, and tragedy.

5. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. ★★★

I am only giving this book a temporary three stars. A friend of mine holds this book very dear to her heart and when she gave me a copy for my birthday I was very honored. Giving someone your favorite book is somewhat vulnerable because you could both connect over it or you are disappointed if they are. I understand that! I get so sad when people turn their nose up at the things I like. I say all this to preface that I read this book with that honor in mind, and I was enchanted by it and befuddled by it. I will need to read it several more times because my first impressions are not set in stone.

6. I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak. ★★

This could not have been written by the same author as The Book Thief. Because that book was flawless. The plot line of this book was intriguing - I'll give it that. But it was predictable and repetitive and the "twist" at the end was hastily explained and, in my opinion, lazy. I could not believe that was how he chose to end the whole story. It could have been so interesting but it fell flat and then ended suddenly. I gave it two stars because it was compelling enough that I didn't stop reading it. I almost gave up midway but I thought, "This guy wrote The Book Thief! It must become good eventually!" And then came the disappointment.

7. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaeffer & Annie Barrows. ★★

Ya know, it was nice. But truthfully, I read it because it was like Ambient. It took me forever to get through because it put me right to sleep.

8. Into The Wild, by Jon Krakauer. ★★

I am so appreciative that the author just tells us right upfront that the kid does not make it. It's a cautionary tale of following your dream but having both feet planted in reality. It is heartbreaking that Christopher was so close to possibly making it back to civilization if only he had a freaking map.

9. Paper Towns, by John Green. ★★

This was my first venture into the fandom and universe that is John Green. I was bracing myself for the main characters to fall in love and then DIE because I hear tell that is Green's MO. Instead it was a wistful tale of idolizing someone in your mind to the point where you love the version you have created. I can appreciate that as it is an important thought for teenagers to consider as first loves can be intense & all-encompassing and reality can get lost in the mixture of all that. The plot was just predictable, but I enjoyed it overall. It was teetering on three stars and I was feeling nice so I tipped it to four.

10. Watership Down, by Richard Adams. ★★★★

Oh my gosh. Holy crap. I have never been more fascinated by a story about rabbits. Beatrix Potter is dribble now. Velveteen Rabbit is dead to me. Hazel-rah all the way. The story follows a group of rabbits as they try to find a new place to call home. It's an allegory on how different societies can function, as told from the viewpoint of rabbits. They want to feel safe, they want a leader they can trust, and they want to prosper where they are. But every safe place seems to be spoken for and when they consider joining those societies, they discover that each place functions in a way that does not align with their vision. And it all culminates in a GIANT RABBIT WAR. I FREAKING LOVED IT.

11 - 17. Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. ★★

I would review them each one by one but, you don't need a Narnia dissertation. Each book is great by itself and remarkable as a series. They are children's books that should be read to kids from 1 to 92. Narnia writes so colorfully and creates a universe that you wish you could visit, if only for one trip. My favorite books out of the series were the first, The Magician's Nephew, and the final, The Last Battle

18. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. ★★

It has been months since I read this book and I still think about it often because, as a whole, it is haunting. I would not be able to watch the movie because the images it created in my mind, solely by reading the story, were eerie enough. I recommend this book for everyone to read at some point because it challenged me to reflect on what I would have done and hypothetical situations are always fun to consider.

19. Chasers of the Light, by Tyler Knott Gregson. ★★

Seeing as I've watched Tyler's career grow over the past five plus years, and am collaborating with him, and am a huge fan of his work - he gets five stars. His poetry is clean and succinct. He creates imagery that echoes the scenery of his hometown. He describes a love that makes you want to track down the anonymous woman he writes about and ask her what she did to him. My guess was it was something wonderful & terrible. Because he writes about the triumphs of love & throes of heartbreak so well.

20. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez. 

More like ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF TORTURE. As appropriate as the ending was, every night I sat down to read it I would think, "Is this the night when the ramblings and endless paragraphs start to make sense?" And every night the book would whisper back to me, "No, señorita." I could not keep track of the many, many characters because they were all basically named the same name. Yes, for like, symbolic reasons and crap like that, but it was a nightmare for the readers who were trying to keep track of what that symbolism meant, which uncle or brother was sleeping with which mom or cousin or sister, and who exactly had a pig tail at this moment in the century. About halfway through the book I resigned myself to just reading the words, powering through to the end, and not concentrating on exactly which generation or person I was reading about. I don't need that kind of stress in my life. Therefore, the book lulled to me to sleep each evening like a literary Ambien.

There you have it, folks. If you read this far, man, thank you. I was just rambling at the end there. You are a trooper.

What was the best book you read this year?

And based on what you've read, do you have any book suggestions for me next year?

Love, Jillian.