Friday, December 26, 2014

Favorite Books of 2014

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.
Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
            --Attributed to Groucho Marx

I spent no time during 2014 inside of a dog. Consequently, I was able to get in a lot of good reading. (I also spent accidental time doing some bad reading, but I won’t mention those books.) As usual, the books I list are among the best I read during the year, irregardless of the year they were published.
While I didn’t spend any time inside a dog this year, I spent many hours inside airplanes. And you definitely can read inside a plane. As I write this, we’ve already deplaned and are in La Paz, Bolivia.

Love & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman (2014): A holocaust novel, based on the true story of the Hungarian Gold Train during World War 2, this story weaves events and lives between 1913 and 2013, in Budapest, Israel, Salzburg and New York. Asks searching questions about the value of possessions in a time when human life is valueless.
The Ice-Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman (2014). Fascinating story about Russian and Italian immigrants in New York and the development of an ice cream empire, a rags-to-riches tale that focuses on what happens to the people who are transformed through success.
Spider in a Tree by Susan Stinson (2013): Fascinating historical novel centered on the figure of Jonathan Edwards during the First Great Awakening in New England.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio (2012): A young adult novel about a horribly deformed boy finding his way in a public school culture that does not easily accept what is not “normal.”
Olivia, Mourning (2013) and The Way the World Is (2013) by Yael Politis: Two historical novels of a young woman growing up in Pennsylvania in the mid-nineteenth century, who defies convention and flees to a back woods area in Michigan to see if she can farm her uncle’s property and thus inherit it. I just ordered the third volume which carries the story over into our times.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (2009): Based on the historical figure of Mary Anning, an uneducated woman who was fascinated with fossils. It’s also about her friendship with Elisabeth Philpot, a gentlewoman interested in Mary’s discoveries. On one level, the fossils are the remarkable creatures, but on another these two women and their friendship are the more remarkable ones. About being women at a time they were not valued as highly as men. About being human and relating with integrity and making a real contribution to the world.
A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama (2012): About China under the communists and how a particular family is affected when the father is captured for “re-education.” The title is based on a proclamation by Chairman Mao: “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” It falsely promised a new openness. The story centers on family, relationships, risk taking, love and forgiveness—all in a context of violence, deception and danger. 
Phantom (2012) and Police (2013) by Jo Nesbo: Two Harry Hole murder mysteries, both in the setting of the low-life drug world of Oslo. I like Harry Hole. He is such a humanly imperfect hero. I like the way Nesbo leads you to believe one thing is happening in the story, then turns you upside-down with a strange twist in the plot. It makes for exciting reading.
Cold Comfort Farm (1932) by Stella Gibbons. This old book was my favorite discovery of the year. Apparently the author is giving satirical comment on the gothic romantic rural novels of England in the 1920s and 30s. The heroine, Flora, recently orphaned, goes to live with unknown relatives on a dismal run-down farm in the country, and immediately decides to rescue the whole works. She makes a hilarious Messiah.

I Heard Their Cry: God’s Hope for the Chorti People of Guatemala by Ray and Virginia Canfield (2014): About the Canfields’ missionary life in Guatemala and specifically their project of re-locating a group of Chorti people from their ancestral mountain land, now barren, to the tropical lowlands. I was especially interested in this story since I know Ray and Virginia.
Sadhu Sundar Singh: A Personal Memoir by C. F. Andrews (n.d.): Andrews was a close friend of Sundar Singh and wrote this biography based on the relationship. The book barely escapes being hagiography, but Singh’s life is so exemplary and challenging, I found it worthwhile.
Santuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer by Richard Foster (2011): Excellent, as usual. This both encourages me and instructs me in a practical way to keep journeying forward in prayer. I can fail (and I do) yet not feel guilty.
Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World (2013): Very moving and well written memoir about growing up conservative Mennonite. A critical and yet tender view of this young girl’s struggles to figure out who she is and who she will become.
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi (2014): Engaging story, respectfully and compassionately told by one whose painful search led him, almost unwillingly, to Jesus. The insights into Islam are helpful.

Past Imperfect by Suzanne Buffam (2005)
As if Words  (2012) and Home Ground (2013) by Jeanne Lohmann 

I would love to learn about the books that especially moved you in 2014.

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