January 2018 Reads

My favorite summer reading spot may be unavailable but the reading goes on.

I finished 2017 with over 200 books read. The new year doesn’t seem to be bringing a change to that pace. Here’s what I read in January.

Reading for Challenge

The Rights of Man | Thomas Paine This is Paine’s response to an attack on the French Revolution by Edmund Burke. While it might have been interesting to read Burke’s work first, Paine’s work is full of substance. He is very opinionated about how government should be formed, refers heavily to the newly established United States as a model, and discusses various reforms he thinks ought to be introduced in England. He is very much a libertarian. It was fascinating to read about the United States at that time from a non-U.S. point of view. This book is studied in Year 9 of Ambleside Online under government and economics.

The School for Scandal | Richard Sheridan I listened to an Audible version of this while following along with the text. Written in the late 18th century, the title pretty much sums it up. It was interesting how the director of the version I listened to edited the text. I didn’t have any trouble following along, but what they did was quite different from the text in many places. If someone put on this play locally, I would go out of my way to see it. I’m not always one for comedy, but this was pretty fun. This book is also studied in Year 9 of Ambleside Online as one of the literature selections.

On Pilgrimage | Dorothy Day A book composed of diary entries made in 1948, On Pilgrimage give an intimate view of Day’s life as both a mother attending to her adult daughter as well as a religious worker running retreats and serving the working class. Day headed the Catholic Worker’s Movement, arguing for a plot of land and self-sufficiency along with better treatment of the working class. I found it ironic that at first glance one would think her to be a Democrat with her concern for the poor yet her methods quietly reflect the ideas of many Republicans. This was the December selection for the Well Read Mom which I quickly read the first week of January so as to be ready for the discussion.

Strangers and Sojourners | Michael O’Brien Every description of this book (and the series in which it appears) mentions something about the Millennium, yet had I not been told it was about that, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Anne is an Englishwoman who immigrates to Canada after World War I and settles in a remote village in British Columbia. Highly educated, she is like a fish out of water yet makes a life for herself there, marries and raises a family. Eventually an inheritance at her father’s death brings her the opportunity to buy the town newspaper which fits well with her tendency to be outspoken about local issues. The Millennium aspect of it sort of creeped me out, so I only gave it three stars; I think the book would have been much better without the backdrop of all the Millennium hype (just write a good story and quite trying to be dramatic, I say). This was the Well Read Mom selection for January.

Reading for Fun

The Deal of a Lifetime | Fredrik Backman A very short tale (a mere 45 minutes of audio), a businessman has the opportunity to do good and possibly redeem himself while visiting a children’s hospital. A good story worth revisiting.

Americanah | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The story opens as Ifemelu has decided to leave America and return to her native country, Nigeria. The story then goes back to her teen years in Nigeria and her struggles once she immigrated to America to study. Woven throughout the stories are blog posts Ifemelu writes about racism in America, written from the perspective of a woman who did not think of herself as “black” until she experienced racism in America. On one hand, she is very blunt about what blacks face in America, yet at the same time, the whole game of how to act and what one must do seems ridiculous to her and, I think, largely contributes to her desire to return home. After my own experience studying abroad at a conservative religious school where I found it difficult to fit in, I really empathized with Ifemelu’s desire to go home and leave America behind. I hope this book becomes a classic as it so well captures the state of racism in America today.

Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest | L.M. Montgomery These were the second and third books in the Emily series by L.M. Montgomery. I didn’t give the first book very high ratings, but either I warmed up to the series or each book was successively better than the last. In the middle of the second book, she finally stands up to her relatives silly notions, though she doesn’t go through with what she threatens to do (and wisely so). These books were great bedtime reading for a few minutes before turning out the light each night.

Tell Me Three Things | Julie Buxbaum A YA book about a girl who is suddenly transported from Chicago where she attended public school to LA where she attends a private school funded by her new stepmother. A fellow student sends her anonymous messages giving her tips on who to befriend and how to fit in, and the mystery of who this anonymous friend is becomes a central plot element. I read this the last weekend of January when I once again completed the 24-in-48 challenge (read for 24 hours during a 48-hour period); it served as a good palette cleanser to alternate with How Green Was My Valley.


Deep Work | Cal Newport I read this last fall, but when Anne picked it for January’s Modern Mrs. Darcy book club, I knew I had to read it again. I’ve read many business time management books with varying degrees of success. Newport is the first to really “get” the time management struggles I’ve always faced. I seem to have an inherent need to do “deep work” and finding time for it away from the distractions of daily life is always a struggle. In the book group forum, many disliked the book because his examples didn’t come from a wide enough array of fields or he seemed to demean their work by calling it “shallow work.” Perhaps the books I read an gained little from might speak better to those readers than they did to me. For me, though, this book is a clear winner.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work | Mason Curey Anne chose this as the book flight pick for Deep Work. The fact that this book is about artists and thinkers I think speaks volumes about which people may find Newport’s work relevant. Anne herself is an avid reader, blogger and now author so it comes as no surprise to me that she loved this book and chose it for her book club.

How to Become a Straight A Student | Cal Newport I was so enamored with Deep Work that I read more books by Newport, this one being my favorite. I never did an all-nighter in college or high school yet I consistently got good grades and took honors courses. Newports approach is not unlike my own. It was fun to hear a similar approach spelled out. This book will be required reading for my kids as high school seniors (or sooner).

How to Be a Highschool Superstar | Cal Newport As a parent, high school -regardless of which school your child attends – is a completely different ball game than elementary or middle school. This book provides a strategy for getting into Ivy League colleges without having perfect grades and doing all the things when it comes to extracurricular activities. That said, his strategy of making yourself stand out by doing something unique is far more common among homeschoolers in that students have not only the time but the freedom to design their schedules to accommodate unique interests. It was interesting to hear this approach from someone speaking to traditionally schooled students. Well worth a read, especially if you are not a homeschooling family.

The Sound of Gravel | Ruth Wariner This is an autobiography of a child who grew up in polygamy and her take on her life and the choices her mother made. In this case, they lived south of the border in Mexico but came to the States often enough to collect welfare checks which they used to support themselves. Ruth’s mother was the second wife of her second husband and raised her children in dire poverty – no electricity or running water. It was sad to see the grandparents interacting with the kids – so powerless to do anything yet so desperate to help. A very compelling story on so many levels, one which I will not soon forget.

How Green Was My Valley | Richard Llewelyn This is the story of a Welsh family during the early 20th century when mining brings both prosperity and misery to their small town. The youngest son in a large family, Huw watches his brothers as they each begin to work in the coal mines and his sisters as one by one they marry and leave home. Eventually he, too, goes to work in the mines. There is unrest, though, as the miners are paid less and less as others are willing to do the same jobs for less pay, ending the prosperity mining had once brought to their small town. The miners try to organize and stand together, but to no avail. A heart wrenching book that won the 1940 National Book Award and was the basis of an Academy Award winning movie by the same name.

 With the Kids

The Matchlock Gun | Walter D. Edmonds Short and sweet, this book tells the story of a young boy who has to defend his family against the Indians. A very simple story, I might not recommend it to the average kid who knows very little about this era of American history. But taken in context of history as we study it, this book is very well done.

Across Five Aprils | Irene Hung I had not heard of this book before I saw it on the list for Free Reads for Year 5 of Ambleside Online. It tells the story of a family living in southern Illinois during the course of the Civil War. Several boys from the family go off to war – one is killed, another deserts but then goes back, and one sneaks off during the night to join up with the South,  which brings contempt on his family from their neighbors. If you’ve ever struggled to put together the story of all the battles of the Civil War (this army went here and that one went there and it all mixes together and becomes mud), you will have no trouble after reading this book. I got choked up and struggled to read aloud so many times. I assumed the book was fiction until the endnote when the author talks about which facts she was able to confirm and which she had to fill in based on hearsay which had been passed down through the generations of her family. A very moving story that deserves far more attention than it gets.

18 in 2018

Here is my spin on the 18 in 2018 – 18 books I want to read in 2018.

These are books I’ve been meaning to read – seriously – but for whatever reason haven’t yet got around to. They’re the best of the best, books I’m pretty sure I’ll love. They’re books I want to read slowly, to savor. Many of them are candidates to become “heart books,” as Andrew Kern calls them. I want to read them when I can fully enjoy them, when I can totally immerse myself in them. Which is why maybe I haven’t gotten to them – because I put too much stock in them and it’s never the “right” time to read them.

I read over 200 books last year, many of which inspired the books on this list. I am sure that even if I get through all of these, they will be replaced by more great must-reads for next year.

  1. Home by Marilynne Robinson. Also, Lila. I read Gilead last year and loved it. These two books finish the series.
  2. Dinner at Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler or Breathing Lessons. I so loved A Spool of Blue Thread when I read it last year. It was the perfect book, and I want to read more by Anne Tyler.
  3. My Antonia by Willa Cather. I began the Prairie Trilogy last year and read O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark, the latter which I had never read before. My Antonia will be a re-read but it’s a classic so well worth it.
  4. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy followed by The Crossing. Or The Road. I’ve heard lots of chatter about these books on the Close Reads podcast, which means they come very highly recommended.
  5. Kristen Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. This was a Well Read Mom selection before my time (I didn’t join until the third year), and it’s been discussed in several of the more serious book groups I belong to on Facebook.
  6. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I got the audio version of this on Audible shortly after reading Half of a Yellow Sun a couple years ago. I really want to read more works by this author. [Listened to this in January – check!]
  7. The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. Another book I’ve heard mentioned regularly that I own and really want to read. [One more read in January – check!]
  8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. This is the next to the last book in the series. I read the series several years ago and then started listening to the audio versions, which are excellent. It’s a comfort read, and comfort reads are always a good thing to make time for.
  9. Either Angle of Repose or The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner. I loved Crossing to Safety and want to read more by this author.
  10. The Goldfinch or The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. Two more books recommended in serious book groups I frequent on Facebook. As much as I loved The Secret History, chances are pretty good I’ll love these also.
  11. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. I’ve never read anything by this author, but I hear she chooses issues and explores them well (which basically sums up why I like to read).
  12. A major classic I haven’t read. Candidates include The Count of Monte CristoMiddlemarchWar and Peace, and Northanger Abbey. 
  13. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. I’ve had my eye on this book and the next one he wrote, Books for Living, for some time. The only reason I’ve hesitated on these is because I fear they will explode my to-be-read list.
  14. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. This just came out in December, but I love books like this and it comes highly recommended by several trusted sources. The library has a long wait list and I don’t want to rush through it, but the price is giving me pause (as all new/full price books do).
  15. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand or The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. A couple books that keep flashing by my radar – or maybe keep catching my eye because of the pretty covers. I suspect these will be great light reads at some point.
  16. Plainsong and Eventide by Kent Haruf. I’ve never read these and, once again, I keep hearing great things about them from very trusted sources. Also, they are somewhat local books so I really ought to read them.
  17. Being Mortal or Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance or Complications by Atul Gawande. All three have been on my to-read list forever and it’s time I finally got to them.
  18. The Lost Art of Learning by Dorothy Sayers. Since I’m educating my own children, I try to read several books on education every year. This is a classic I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t yet gotten to. It’s time.