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Notable books read in 2022

According to Goodreads, last year I read 49 books! The shortest book at 112 pages was Discover Galway, by Paul Walsh, which I read when I thought we may be going to Galway, Ireland (didn’t happen last year, but would still love to go).  The longest book was by the same author as the longest book I read the previous year: Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon – her second book in her Scottish Highlander series, “Outlander,” at even longer than her first one, at 947 pages (way too long, so we’ll see if I’m inspired to read her third book this year).  The most popular book was “The silent patient” by Alex Michaelides, which was read by at least 2,604,312 people on Goodreads. The least popular (read) book was Discovery Galway again (sorry Paul Walsh), which was on only 5 shelves of Goodreads readers.

Amongst those 50 or so books that I read in 2022, here are some that I would recommend reading:

Sailing true north: ten admirals and the voyage of character, by Admiral James Stavridis. Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan (which I attended for one year) sponsors a lecture series, called “The January Series.” I was able to catch some of the lectures online, including one by Admiral James Stavridis. I was so enchanted by his charisma that I sought out (i.e., purchased) several of his books for Michael. We enjoyed his writing and learned a lot about various admirals throughout history. Now we are reading his “Sailor’s bookshelf: fifty books to know the sea.” Some of the books we’ve read before, but he’s introducing us to more that are now on our “to read” list of “boat books.”

The Violin conspiracy: a novel, by Brendan Slocumb. Two years ago, in the midst of the pandemic, I picked up the violin (a lifelong dream), and have really enjoyed playing it (albeit still pretty badly). So, when I saw this title, I knew I had to read it. After the initial chapters, I checked the author bio, as it seemed like whoever wrote this had to be a musician. That was my favorite part of the book, the descriptions of Ray playing the violin. You could feel his passion. I also liked Ray’s story, of falling in love with the violin, and his challenges along the way (especially standing up to racism). This first novel is based somewhat on the experiences of the author (without the “conspiracy,” which while interesting, was not as compelling as the other parts).

My Story, by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. “My sister went to Abu Dhabi, and all she bought me was…” this amazing book by the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. Michael and I read a chapter each evening and agreed that this should be required reading for world leaders, or anyone interested in the politics of the Middle East. How refreshing to read about someplace in the Middle East that is not fraught with war and corruption. The chapters are deliciously short, well written, and interesting. The author spends a bit of time talking about his mother and his horses, but his wife gets only one brief mention (later I found out why – he’s not so great on the women in his life, aside from his mother). Overall, we were very impressed with this man, and his poetic soul and leadership.

Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times, by Katherine May. Okay, I admit it, I was a sucker for the beautiful cover, as well as the great title. While not all of this book grabbed me, there was so much that I felt like I would carry forward. I do at times feel like I am wintering – not only on the calendar, but with other factors in my life, including the pandemic. And I do admit to loving winter, although it can be challenging. I liked the approach of writing the book in monthly segments, and I also liked that the author is British and her home is in a seaside village. Katherine May intertwines her personal stories with experiences of other places and people and creatures. Her admission that this book turned out differently than she intended is quite true to life – despite our best intentions, life happens.

The bookshop of second chances: a novel, by Jackie Fraser. This is my kind of book – great setting, lovely characters, good story (even though predictable ending, which is just fine with me). I loved Thea and her wonderful honesty and introspection, as well as Edward and his curmudgeness (not a word, I know). And who can resist, in general, books where people escape their lives and start over in a small idyllic village somewhere – in this case in Scotland. And working in a bookstore! What could be better, indeed.

Wanderlost: Falling from grace and finding mercy in all the wrong places, by Natalie Toon Patton. I went on a spending spree at my favorite publisher, Paraclete Books, and this is one of the titles that intrigued me – I thought my friend Elizabeth may like it, as she is a spiritual soul who loves to travel. Of course, I had to read it first – and loved it! What an inspiring story, and so beautifully written (and very funny!). There is much here to chew on, and reread. Like the author, I’m also intrigued by the intersection of travel and spirituality. I loved how Natalie’s  perceptions changed with her exposure to different cultures and faiths and people. I think that happens to some of us, whose faith evolves throughout life, and what we are drawn to (such as Celtic Christianity for me). Church and religion can disappoint us (reading “Jesus and John Wayne” the previous year was a real eye opener), and we peel away the layers we try to find what remains true.

Finding Dora Maar: An artist, an address book, a life, by Brigitte Benkemoun. I read about this book, in which the author finds an address book that she eventually realizes belonged to artist Dora Marr (1907-1997), in one of the magazines lying around our staff kitchen. It looked so interesting that I suggested it for my book group. I am so glad I read it – it’s right up my alley in so many ways. As an archivist I am always trying to puzzle items out – so I loved that aspect of the book. I also find that whole era of these 20th century French artists and writers fascinating. I had heard of some of the people in the book, but it was fun to learn about them all on a deeper level, and Dora’s relationship with them.

The Lost Apothecary: a novel, by Sarah Penner. This impressive and well written first novel, about a female apothecary in London who secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them, is a fun and fast read, with three different voices telling the story, in two different time periods. Yes, this seems to be a common way to tell historical fiction these days, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. For the most part this does work, and I found myself interested in the two stories, and caring about the women. The contemporary story of a marriage is also compelling, about how one can lose themselves in expectations and doing the “right” thing.

The Cottage Fairy Companion: A Cottagecore guide to slow living, connecting to nature, and becoming enchanted again, by Paola Merrill. A friend introduced me to the Cottage Fairy videos on YouTube, and I found myself falling into Paola’s beautiful world in a rural valley in Washington State. When I was on vacation in Rockland, Maine, I found a copy in a local bookstore, and purchased it. It’s the kind of book where you can read a few pages at a time, and just savor the good writing and beautiful photographs. Paola Merrill is an old soul, and is so thoughtful and sensitive about how she approaches life. I love how she grows as a person throughout her videos, and in her book. She also has a puckish sense of humor, and is a unique and honest individual. Having watched her videos for the past year or so I can hear her voice when I read her book. I like how the book is laid out in seasons, too, with various recipes to try.

This Year It Will Be Different, and other stories: a Christmas treasury, by Maeve Binchy. By the time Christmas rolls around I’m in the mood for light reading, especially Christmas stories. This book came into my hands at the perfect time, as I had been reading a lot of more serious books. The short stories were so readable, and while I liked some of them better than others, overall they were very enjoyable. They had a bit of depth to them, and not always the happy endings that one would imagine.

Notable books read in 2020

According to my Goodreads page, in 2020 I read 65 books or 20,091 pages. The shortest book, at 105 pages, that I read was Between mirage and miracle: selected poems for seasons, festivals, and the occasional revelation, by J. Barrie Shepherd. This was also the least popular, as far as Goodreads. However, in this case, it makes my “notable books of 2020” list. Here is why, as well as my other choices of recommended books.

Between mirage and miracle: selected poems for seasons, festivals, and the occasional revelation, by J. Barrie Shepherd. Rev. Shepherd is originally from Scotland, but lives in the summer on Chebeague Island. Every year, at the Choral Arts Society’s Epiphany concert, he has been reading his poetry, in his enchanting Scottish burr. At last year’s concert, I said to my fellow music lovers, “I’m buying one of his books.” This is the one I ended up with, and I have loved it so much, sharing poems with friends and my church. Favorite poems include “Ordinary time,” “Winter solstice,” “Don’t stop me … ,” “Stained glass windows,” and “Why I still go.”   

The dearly beloved: a novel, by Cara Wall. This first novel took my breath away, and stayed with me a long time. The story of two ministers, who share a church leadership, and their wives doesn’t seem like it would be that engrossing, but the characters and story really drew me in. 

Almost French: love and a new life in Paris, by Sarah Turnbull. This absorbing and entertaining book has all the right elements for me, and made me laugh out loud. It’s a great love story, as well as a commentary on French life and culture, by this Australian author, who falls in love with a Frenchman.

American dirt: a novel, by Jeanine Cummins. Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore before her life changes dramatically, thanks to her favorite patron, who turns out to be her greatest nightmare. This extremely well written and paced book is a thrilling book to read, although I could only handle one chapter each evening, due to the intensity of the story telling.

To build a trail: essays on curiosity, love, and wonder, by Paul Willis. This was such a lovely book to read – I so enjoyed each chapter. I think poets make the best essayists. Reading this book by Paul Willis, a professor at my alma mater, made me wish I had been an English major. I loved his humility and honesty and humor, but best of all his fabulous writing.

The Eyre affair: a Thursday Next novel, by Jasper Fforde. What a great find! I came across this book in a Little Library, and had to bring it home, given my favorite book ever is Jane Eyre. What a rollicking tale I stumbled into – so many interesting layers of science fiction and historical fiction, with characters stepping in and out of classic novels. This book is one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time!

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux. I had read this book years ago (I think on a cross country train ride), but we read it again, as a “read out loud by the fire” book. It’s such an enjoyable book to read together – we learned so much from Theroux’s travels, 30 years after his original trip. He doesn’t just travel by train, he takes buses and whatever means of transportation gets him to where he wants to go. We especially enjoyed reading about Turkey, Turkmenistan, Thailand, Northern Japan, and his trek home through Russia. Despite the breadth and depth of the book, we were never bored, and thoroughly entertained.

Rodham: a novel, by Curtis Sittenfeld. This was such an amazing book, from beginning to end. First, the writing was spectacular – at times intense and detailed, and then at other times full of wonderful wit and humor. I totally felt Hillary’s passion for Bill in the early years, and loved how she says “it could have gone either way.” In real life, it went the other way, which makes for fascinating reading of what could have been, had Hillary said “no” to Bill’s proposals. I did at times get bogged down with the politics, but for being a 400+ page book it held my interest the whole way. I was very happy with the conclusion of the book.

The dirty life: on farming, food, and love, by Kristin Kimball. I had a very serendipitous encounter with this book, and was so glad I found it – loved reading about this odd couple who found each other and built on a dream, on a farm in northern New York. My kind of book, although some of the animal husbandry wasn’t as interesting to me as the relationship between Kristin and Mark, and the community they found.

This tender land: a novel, by William Kent Krueger.  Last, but definitely not least, this is possibly the best book I read in 2020. I had heard of this author, but had not read any of his books. A friend lent this to me, thinking I would like it, and boy, was she right! I so loved the writing, the setting, the story, the characters, and the somewhat mystical magic of the story. Even though there were grim themes, it always felt hopeful. This book had great depth of writing and entertainment, as well as giving insight to the times of the Great Depression, and the history and geography of the area the “Voyageurs” travel through.

May 2021 continue to bring wonderful new books our way – so far, we’re off to a great start!