Friday, January 3, 2020

Best books read in 2019

This has been one of the best years for good reading. I discovered some new (to me) authors and re-read some old favorites. These are the favorites that I read during the year; most were published in other years.

--Richard Powers, The Overstory (2018): Possibly my favorite novel this year, this is the account of the relationships between humans and trees, with the trees being the real protagonists. Nine different stories eventually intertwine as the people share their concerns for the trees of the earth.
--Min Jin Lee, Pachinko (2017): About generations of Korean immigrants into Japan and the racism between the two groups; how the immigrants manage to survive and flourish through their involvement in the casinos (“pachinkos”), although the triumph is bitter-sweet.
--Richard Russo, Bridge of Sighs (2007): In a town in New York state divided by race and social class, three young people from different strata develop a relationship and explore their limitations and possible destinies. How much do family heritage and environment shape lives? Or are humans free to dream and grow?
--Nadia Hashim, When the Moon is Low (2015): A wonderful and difficult book about an Afghani woman and her children trying to escape and migrate to Europe amid incredible hardships. Illuminates and personalizes the refugee crisis.
--Madeline Miller, Circe (2018): Based on Greek mythology, this is the story of Circe, the witch banished to an island who later becomes the lover of Odysseus on his journey home. The characters are quite human in their struggles and joys. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
--Elizabeth Goudge, The Dean’s Watch (1960): By a favorite “old” author, a story about a friendship between a cathedral dean and a common watchmaker, set in a small English town. Goudge’s wisdom comes through, without a cloying superficial righteousness sometimes seen in Christian fiction. Profound and full of grace.
--Delia Owen, Where the Crawdads Sing (2018): I loved this story of a strange girl who lives alone in the marshes of the North Carolina coast. It brings together the themes of stereotyping people, caring for nature, what it means to be a person, and the serendipities of grace.
--Lois Lowry, The Giver (1990), Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012): This was my first time through these award-winning young people’s futuristic books. Beautifully written, set in a strange dystopia, they show brave, creative individuals discovering the values that make life worthwhile.
--Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered (2018): About two families in two different centuries who occupy the “same” house and find it falling down around them. Both stories are set amid the clashes of science and tradition. As their houses are falling apart, so are their cultures, and both families are facing the possibilities of becoming “unsheltered” on different levels.
--Heather Morris, The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018): Based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who met in the camp of Auschwitz. Well written and moving, but hard to read because of the details of life in the camp.
I read too many good novels to write here about them all. Other authors I read and would recommend include Celeste Ng, Kristin Hannah, Ken Follett, Elizabeth Wingate, Anne Tyler, Liane Moriarty, Barbara Delinsky, and Ocean Vuong.

--Nina Willner, Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall (2019): A wonderful story, written by the US born daughter of a young woman who escaped from East Germany to make her way in the West. I learned so much about that historical situation, and about the courage to act with integrity in dangerous places, even while measuring the risks.
--Greg Koskela, Finding Hildegard: Healing through Medieval Wisdom (2019): Written by a friend (Friend) who tells about finding a path toward healing from church controversy through the writings of Hildegard. I found much I could identify with, and so experienced a measure of healing myself.
--David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life (2019): Part memoir, part essay on what it means to be a mature person. Good.
--Francisco Cantu, The Line Becomes a River (2018): Unforgettable memoir by an ex-border patroller along the US/Mexican border. Cantu tried to change the system from the inside, but finally gave up in frustration. A hard, but important story.
--Sonia Sotomayor, My Beloved World (2013): The memoir of her early life, up until the time she became a federal judge. Shows her determination to overcome the odds of her immigrant family upbringing, as well as the influence of family members, friends, and mentors who supported her along the way.

I read lots of poetry this year, as usual, but especially enjoyed Jane Kenyon’s collection, Otherwise (1997).