Books I read in December

According to goodreads.com, I read 148 books in 2019. Fifty of these were for the PopSugar Reading Challenge (not counting where I read more than one for a category), twelve were for the local library book club, and a few were for a Bible study group. Thirty-three were audiobooks that I listened to either while riding the exercise bike or during my daily commute.

Some of these were novellas rather than full-length books, but it adds up to a lot of pages read! I used a spreadsheet this year for tracking the number of both books and pages I read for the PopSugar Reading Challenge; for 2020 I decided to track number of books and pages for all books I read.

Just for fun, I decided to compile some numbers of types of books I read. (There is some overlap, particularly between children’s books and books I had read previously.)

  • 12 books related to time travel
  • 19 books about faith, spirituality, the Bible (mostly but not all from a Christian perspective)
  • 5 books about books and/or libraries
  • 6 books about science
  • 6 books about history
  • 9 children’s books
  • 7 books I had read previously (mostly as a child)
  • 21 mystery books

I finished the last book on my list for the PopSugar Reading Challenge in December. I had initially picked Glinda of Oz by L. Frank Baum for a book published posthumously, but then only was able to find an ebook version of it, and frankly I don’t enjoy reading from a screen. So I found another book that was listed as having been published posthumously, but then realized that while the English translation had definitely been published after the author’s death, I wasn’t sure about the original. Then last month I found an audiobook version of Glinda of Oz, so that was back on my list for the Reading Challenge. It was OK, but certainly not one of my favorites of the Oz books (my favorite is the second one, The Marvelous Land of Oz, which I plan to listen to in 2020).

I decided to read Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas, based on a friend’s review on goodreads.com. I enjoyed it, and went on to read the second book in the series, To Kingdom Come. It is an interesting mystery series set in 19th century England, using some of the social issues of the day, such as attitudes toward immigrants (the first book) and terrorism (on the part of Irish nationalists, in the second book). It’s hardly my favorite mystery series, but the main characters, Barker and Llewelyn, are interesting, and the stories good enough that I will probably read more, assuming the library has them.

How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig, uses an unusual approach for having a book set in multiple time periods (multiple centuries, not just decades). Usually, this is accomplished by using different characters, often different generations of a family. In time travel books, of course, a single character can jump around in history. But Haig uses a single character who simply lives a very long time, due to an unusual physical condition which drastically slows down the process of aging. Many people would think this a very good thing, and it does have some definite benefits. But when most people age and die at the usual rate, someone who does not is viewed with suspicion (is this person in league with the devil?), thought to be insane (yeah, right, you knew Shakespeare personally), or may be destined for laboratory experimentation. The storyline is so-so, but the questions it raises about our relationship to time are interesting ones.

I had heard of Laura Hillenbrand, though I have not yet read Seabiscuit, and when I saw she had written a book called Unbroken, I initially thought it was going to be about a horse. But Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, is about Louis Zamperini, a mischievous boy who becomes first a great teenage athlete, then a lieutenant in the Army Air Force, then a POW held by the Japanese. If this were fiction, one would be inclined to say that no one could go through all that Zamperini and his comrades did and survive. But they did, and Zamperini’s story after the war is even more inspiring, in some ways, as after years of alcoholism and bitterness, he comes to faith in Christ and is transformed.

I read some sci-fi books by Randall Garrett back when I was in my 20’s, and really enjoyed them, and for a long time I looked for anything else he had written. He wrote a lot, but apparently it was largely short fiction, which is why I didn’t find them when I was looking for books by Garrett. I recently downloaded A Spaceship Named McGuire and His Master’s Voice from Librivox, to listen to while riding the exercise bike. I would not call them great, but they are well-written and entertaining, and they explore interesting problems related to how to get a robot to obey the right person (the one authorized to give orders).

Since I enjoy time travel fiction, I thought it would be interesting to read Time Travel: A History by James Gleick. I had expected it to deal more with the ways time travel has been depicted in books and movies, and there was some of that, but more of the book than I had expected was about changing views of our relationship to time, rather than about time travel specifically. The sections on time capsules and on the metaphors we use for time were interesting, for instance, even if I didn’t really see them at all that relevant to time travel.

Hearts of Fire: Eight Women in the Underground Church and Their Stories of Costly Faith is available, at no cost, from The Voice of the Martyrs. I considered for a while whether to take advantage of the offer. Even if it was free to me, it costs them to produce and send out the book. And I was afraid it would just make me feel guilty for having such an easy life and such weak faith, compared to these women. But that seemed a poor reason for not reading it, so I went ahead and requested it. It is, as expected, a book that makes many of our difficulties in life seem very mild in comparison. And the faith and faithfulness of these women is impressive. I have to admit, the differences between their lives and mine are so huge that I think I might find a book more inspiring that depicted the life of faith of someone with experiences somewhat more like my own. But it is good to know what Christians are experiencing in some countries, and how God is working through people with little education or social standing.

I like books about libraries, though The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith is hardly about a typical library or books. This library, housed in a wing of Hell (why this is, the book never explains, other than perhaps that heaven is supposed to be perfect and a book that was left unfinished can’t be considered perfect), contains books that don’t exist in the conventional sense. The author either never finished writing the book, or perhaps never even got as far as the actual writing, just creating characters and storylines in the imagination. I have a few bits and pieces of books like that, some of which I have written fragments of chapters, but mostly they live in my mind, and a good deal of the ideas I came up with I have since forgotten. I like the idea of a library of those books, and what happens when the characters are so desperate to live that they escape from their books. Hackwith’s novel goes far beyond that premise, however, involving angels and demons and inhabitants of other afterlife realms (e.g. Valhalla), the search for the Devil’s Bible, and one demon’s plot to gain greater power in Hell. It was an interesting story, but I would rather it had stuck more to the idea of the unwritten library and escaping characters.

I put a hold on an audiobook copy of Louise Penny’s latest novel, A Better Man, before it was even published, and I was pleased, one day this month, to discover it was waiting for me to download. Gamache has come full circle, in a way, back to being Chief Inspector after having been Chief Superintendent and then going on suspension in the aftermath of some very controversial decisions he made. As usual, he is back in Three Pines, investigating another murder, with most of the usual cast of locals and cops, plus a few new ones. I have no idea what I would have thought of this novel if it were my first one by Louise Penny, but since it brings back the familiar cast of characters, as well as the familiar human strengths and weaknesses revealed by the stresses of life, I enjoyed it as usual.

I came across Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage by William L. Rathje and Cullen Murphy in the library’s shelf of books for sale, when looking for something to read while waiting for people to arrive for book club. I liked the idea of “archaeologists” learning about modern people based on the detritus of our lives, as they do for ancient cultures. There was less of that than I would have liked, and more about strategies for garbage management. But it was still a very interesting book, on a subject relevant to all of us yet one which most of us know fairly little about. I am not surprised to find out that people waste more of types of foods they don’t use regularly than of those they use daily. I throw out very little of the kinds of food I buy weekly – the occasional half-slice at the end of a loaf of bread, a few grapes that went bad at the bottom of the container, the last bit of spaghetti sauce at the bottom of the jar. But I have trouble using up the gravy after Thanksgiving, or finding a use for ingredients bought specially for a recipe my son wanted to try. I also was unsurprised by how little garbage biodegrades in a landfill, even biodegradable materials, since I had read about that previously, or how small a proportion of landfills is taken up by disposable diapers and fast food containers, compared to how much people often think it is. What I did not know much about was the history of landfills (and other means of disposing of garbage), the different types of landfills, and how things can be built on top of them later.

The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner, is our book club selection for January, so I spent my break between Christmas and New Year reading it, along with reading the book just mentioned and the next one, both of which I enjoyed more. Someone mentioned in one of the reviews on goodreads.com that people seem to either like it or not like it, and I’m in the latter group. It will be interesting to see what the other book club members think of it. I’m sure there’s value in knowing what life is like for people in the prison system, and being able to relate to them as people rather than as objects of hatred or derision, but I really couldn’t relate much to any of them. The one character I could relate to more was the English teacher who was teaching in the prison – and even he quit.

With Hope for the Best, I have caught up with the books Jodi Taylor has published in her Chronicles of St. Mary’s, other than some of the short stories. Now I have to wait for the next book to come out in a few months to find out what comes next. But my husband got me, as a Christmas present, the first book in another series by Jodi Taylor, a spin-off from the St. Mary’s books, about the Time Police. So that will be one of my first books to read next year.

Finally, I finished the last book I have been reading (I think that’s a first, not having any books left at the end of the year that I’m in the middle of – not counting those that I stopped in the middle of years ago and forgot about), Where Have All the Dreamers Gone? by William Brown. It is supposed to be about how a biblical worldview enables us “to understand the world with greater clarity and insight” and to show us “how to live meaningfully and right the wrongs of society.” But I did not find that the author showed how the biblical worldview was doing that, only a lot of pointing out what is wrong in the world, and sometimes with Christians who are apparently not using a biblical worldview. He may be using a biblical worldview in making his criticisms, but I did not find that he showed the reader how he is using it, so it’s hard to see how to benefit from his insights.

One Response to Books I read in December

  1. Kizzie says:

    I have read both Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Unbroken was hard to read at points, because of the brutality he experienced, but was a good book.

    Seabiscuit was a very enjoyable read, and I recommend it to you. It is about so much more than the horse. (Although he was an interesting horse. 🙂 ) For instance, the research she did on how jockeys lived was more interesting than I would have imagined. It really is more a book about the people surrounding Seabiscuit than about him, although it is about him as well. I will probably read it again sometime.

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