January 2017 Reads

Wendel Berry speaking at the Circe Institute Regional Conference in Louisville, KY, January 20, 2017

Yes, I got to see Wendell Berry do a reading. [Swoon!] I’ve read Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow by him, the latter which was discussed on Close Reads. It was a great evening!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith — I read this soon after I graduated from college and absolutely loved it. One of those books where you wish all books were like this. So when I saw it as the January selection for the Well Read Mom, I wondered if I could possibly love it as much again as I did the first time. I started out pacing myself to read it over the course of the month, but it was so wonderful I could stop reading and finished it in the middle of the month. I loved it just as much the second time as I did the first. Highly recommended.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles — This was the main selection for January in the Modern Mrs. Darcy (MMD) book club. I would give it two stars. It is historical fiction, which I struggle with. I would much rather read about another time and place by someone who lived it or knew those who lived it. This book had several inaccuracies that made me question much of the plausibility of the book. For instance,  someone was singing “It Is Well With My Soul” in backwoods Texas a couple years before the song was written on the Atlantic Ocean. Ugh. However, at the back of the book, the author said it was based on another book which I read and very much enjoyed, namely…

The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier by Scott Zesch — This is a very well researched book about kids who were abducted by Indians on the Texas frontier. Their stories are known because they returned, in varying degrees, to white society. The book gives a history of relations with the Indians of that region going back to the 1820’s including the debate surrounding whether or not to negotiate with the Indians for captives. It describes life in Indian society for the white captives and helps explain why they resisted returning to white society. If you enjoy history, this is a great read.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger — This was a flight pairing along with News of the World as part of the MMD book club. One of the chapters explored heavily the issue of Indian captives not wanting to return to white society. This article is a thoughtful response to the book and sums up my reservations about it well.  I think The Captured lent far more light on the subject than this book. That said, this book was very thought provoking and great fodder for discussion.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty — This was the other flight pairing for January in the MMD book club. I listened to this as an audiobook – all 36 hours of it. Great book. One that will stick with me for a long time. After reading this, I feel like I know what it was like to live in the late mid-1800s in Texas and beyond. It will likely be one of my favorite books for the year.

Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie) — I found this book through Gretchen Rubin’s book club and listened to the audio version on Overdrive. It was written by Agatha Christie who took a pen name when she wrote books outside her usual genre. Joan, the main character, gets stranded on her return journey and has nothing to do for a few days and ends up re-thinking much of her life, seeing it in a very different light. Ironically, it reminded me of reading a book everyone else “gets” while missing what is obvious to everyone else (aka how I feel when I read a mystery). Great read. Highly recommended.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson — This was one of the January selections for Book of the Month Club. I haven’t joined but was thinking about it so I decided to read one of the selections to see what I thought. This was the story of several teenagers going through school. Bad things happen to them, but there was never any exploration of the consequences or what came of it — there were all sorts of things that could have been explored but were just left on the table unopened. I did not like it at all and probably won’t be reading any more Book of the Month Club selections unless they are recommended to me otherwise. When one is accustomed to reading the classics – books that are so good they’ve remained in print, it is difficult to find contemporary fiction that measures up.

War by Sebastian Junger — I picked this up after reading Tribe. It is a first-hand account through the eyes of a journalist on the front lines in Afghanistan. I read a comment about this book somewhere that being on the front lines and observing isn’t the same as being on the front lines and fighting, to which I wholeheartedly agree. This book definitely gives a piece of the picture of what it’s like serving in the US military in Afghanistan, but I don’t automatically assume that everyone who served over there (and I know several who served there and in Iraq) had experiences similar to this. The writing style is rather scatterbrained – jumping from this to that and only sticking loosely to the storyline. Three stars, if that.

Honorable mention: Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers — This is the current selection for the Close Reads podcast from the Circe Institute. I’m only four chapters into it, and it is not something I would ever pick up and read on my own. However, I love and adore this podcast – listening English teachers discuss, argue and debate good books. The third episode covering chapters 5-8 is already up, but I became obsessed with listening to Lonesome Dove so haven’t listened to the second episode yet. So far I’m about as lost as poor Joan in Absent in the Spring, but that’s just another reason why I love Close Reads.

On the docket for February:

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte [Well Read Mom] – this is actually a re-read but I plan to listen to the audio version narrated by Juliet Stevenson which should be excellent
  • This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel [MMD February main selection]
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides [MMD February flight pairing]
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennet [MMD February flight pairing]
  • and several others, hopefully