The last couple of years I hadn’t been reading very much. Here and there I’d start a new book, but it would take me forever to read it and I usually just watched movies instead. For 2011 I was determined to read more. I vowed to read 2 books a month, and I ended up reading 28. I enjoyed all of them, but here are the creme de la creme of books I read this past year.
Based on the historical legend that a woman disguised herself as a man and became one of the most influential popes of the Vatican’s history. Pope Joan is both a historical drama, suspense novel, and romance. As a young girl, Joan learned to read and write, an education forbidden to women in 800 AD. The author definitely did her research finding the few facts we know about Pope Joan. Of course, the Vatican denies her existence, but because of this, the story of Pope Joan is all the more intriguing.
This book was a complete surprise for how raw and open the author was in this memoir of growing up. The book begins with her in a cab watching her own mother pick through a dumpster. Now that’s a scene that will evoke emotion in a reader. The Glass Castle is really about a family, their ups and downs, the realities and the truest form of magic that exists in Walls’ phenomenal storytelling. A must read for any author considering writing a memoir.
This might have been my favorite book of 2011. I am both immensely impressed with the amount of research this author did on early circuses and her story in general. She was haled by critics for her ability to write an elderly character’s voice and her characters created for the traveling circus were priceless. Water for Elephants is a romance and a tale of finding oneself. It sets you in a world of mystery and hard work. It inspired a road trip to the Circus World Museum, a place where Gruen began some of her research! This was a book I could not put down!
I read this book in my book club and we had such a fun time discussing the themes of spirits, witches, and magic. The synopsis of this book, which was inspired by the author’s doctorate research, is a graduate student who discovers an ancestor’s physick book, or medicine book, or book of magic. As Connie uncovers more about her own family, she’ll learn more than she wants to about the powers within it, but she has to do so before her professor takes matters into his own hands.
I guess I like books with stories behind the stories. I love looking into how the author’s do their research, and for Stockett, she began this book after September 11th. She needed to hear a voice that was comforting again, and the voice she thought of was the maid that raised her when she was young. Thinking about what life must have been like for her is the premise for the story of The Help. Set early in the civil rights movement, The Help takes on a variety of voices, from the soft spoken and ethical Aibileen, to the no holds barred Minny, and the idealistic, coming of age Skeeter. Everyone I know who’s read this book has loved it. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
Um. Ok, The Hunger Games. They ruled. What more do you want me to say? The movie comes out in March and I’ll be there. I’m Team Gale. I do not condone the growing trend of naming your kids Bella or Katniss. But I Love These Books.
I had read Jody’s blog before, but not her books. I won this title in a contest and I couldn’t put it down! I would’ve never pegged myself as a christian historical romance reader, but I was swooning by page three over Eli Ernest, the rough rider doctor who sets foot towards the new west crossing the Oregon Trail. And Priscilla White is no weakling, prairie marm. She may have lots to learn, but she will prove herself to be a tough and strong-willed companion. I can’t wait to read to Jody’s first book, The Preacher’s Bride this year!
There you have it! My favorite reads from 2011. What books were your favorite? What’s next on your “to read” list?
By the way, the winner of my Life List Club blog post and receiver of an I-Tunes Gift Card and chance to guest post or interview here is Marcy Kennedy! Congratulations, Marcy, be contacting you soon!
I’ve been reading more of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Her book is positively moving. Growing up in a home with an alcoholic father and unruly mother, Walls captures the spirit of childhood and adventure. I’m continually amazed with how candid she writes and the amazing imagery to all the senses. Recently a passage about her experience learning to swim struck a chord with me:
“Dad picked me up and heaved me back into the middle of the Hot Pot. ‘Sink or Swim!’ he called out. For the second time, I sank. The water once more filled my nose and lungs. I kicked and flailed and thrashed my way to the surface, gasping for air, and reached out to Dad. But he pulled back, and I didn’t feel his hands around me until I’d sunk one more time.
He did it again and again, until the realization that he was rescuing me only to throw me back into the water took hold, and so, rather than reaching for Dad’s hands, I tried to get away from them. I kicked at him and pushed away through the water with my arms, and finally, I was able to propel myself beyond his grasp.
‘You’re doing it, baby!’ Dad shouted. ‘You’re swimming!’
I staggered out of the water and sat on the calcified rocks, my chest heaving. Dad came out of the water, too, and tried to hug me, but I wouldn’t have anything to do with him, or with Mom, who’d been floating on her back as if nothing were happening, or with Brian and Lori, who gathered around and were congratulating me. Dad kept telling me that he loved me, that he never would have let me drown, but you can’t cling to the side your whole life, that one lesson every parent needs to teach a child is ‘If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim.’ What other reason, he asked, would possibly make him do this?
Once I got my breath back, I figured he must be right. There was no other way to explain it.”
Right here, in this passage, I feel a kinship to the author. Just here. I can’t say, and am fortunate to not have to, that my childhood was full of stories like Walls. I wasn’t cooking my own food at age 3, I was never thrown from a moving vehicle rolling across a train track, I have never slept in a cardboard box, or had to pack up and move everything in the middle of the night. I am grateful for that. I know I am privileged coming from the working family I grew up in. But that notion, “Sink or Swim,” now that I remember.
That is exactly how my dad said he and all his brothers learned how to swim. And I can recall, with vivid fear, being tossed into the pool and flopping in the water until I could paddle my way to the edge and get the burning out of my nose and throat. Once, my duck shaped waist floaty escaped my grasp while I was on the ladder and I jumped to grab it, missed, and sank right to the bottom. Thank god my brother was there and dove in to rescue me. Eventually, my mom insisted on signing me up for swim lessons. I went one summer for like 2 or 3 weeks. We practiced blowing bubbles underwater, but I don’t recall learning to swim. Honestly, I think I just finally figured it out. I stayed in shallow waters long enough to learn how to tread on my own and just get by. Still, water isn’t my favorite element to be in. I like air. I’ll jump out of a plane no problem, in fact I have! But water still makes me a little nervous sometimes.
Then there was learning to ride a bike. My dad also refused to put training wheels on. We had them, he just refused to put them on. Endless trips around the block involving me crashing into trees. I had a record at school for number of bloody lips and bruises! My siblings tried to help me out once by putting the training wheels on for me. They had just tightened up the screws and told me to hop on. I jumped on the bike, and started pedaling expectantly. Nothing happened. The training wheels didn’t work right and my bike became a stationary bike, good only for short term moderate exercise complete with unicorn banana seat and streamers on the handlebars. I’ll admit a secret to you. I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until 5th grade. Go ahead, laugh, it’s embarrassing! My sister, bless her heart, finally took the patience to spend all afternoon in a parking lot with me doing wavy circles. I was getting the hang of it and feeling pretty confident so I looked across the street and yelled “Dad, look at me!” As I was waving, and he was looking up, I biffed it in some sand and gravel and wiped out with the bike falling on top of me.
The point? You’ve got to work at it. In life. In swimming “lessons” and in bike riding lessons and in writing. I’ll admit I can be a slow learner when something scares me, hell, I’ve been known to occasionally still crash into people’s houses while on a bike. But, I’ve persevered. And I’ve overcome embarrassing setbacks and social timelines that prevented me from achieving my goals. And right now, I’m starting all over again, with writing. And let me tell you folks, I’ll win this bloody lip contest too!
What about you? What scares you? What have you survived and learned from?