This has been my slowest reading month all year, with 12 books finished. November and December have always been a crazy time of year for me, but now I know why the creators of Christmas chose December: in the Northern Hemisphere it's winter and there's nothing else to do. In the Southern Hemisphere it's spring too, so all the busyness associated with warmer weather is compounded by the upcoming holidays. Which means I spend November and December throwing a lot of longing looks at my books as I'm rushing past them.
At least the books I did read were all pretty good. I had two 5 star reads this month, A Christmas Cornucopia: The hidden stories behind our Yuletide traditions by Mark Forsyth and The Chosen by Chaim Potok and the rest were all between 3 and 4 stars.
I usually only showcase 4.5 and 5 star reads, but I will give a special shoutout to A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger as the most surprising, breakout read for me in November. I didn't want to like it, and I flinched so often reading it, I likely looked as though I had developed a tic, but I could not put it down. I had to know how it ended and it didn't disappoint me (in terms of plotting; the language make me want to wash it's mouth out with soap, but the plotting was excellent!).
Tasks for Pancha Ganapati: Post about your 5 favourite books this year and why you appreciated them so much. –OR– Take a shelfie / stack picture of the above-mentioned 5 favorite books. (Feel free to combine these tasks into 1!
Tough cull... the best of the best for 2017. It wasn't a straight "5 star" rating thing, but rather the books that stuck with me long after I finished them. Here then, is my list:
Hands down my favourite book of the year - possibly my life. It's fiction, but it isn't. Imagine an easy, but in-depth, look at Einstein's theory of relativity, discussed within the frame work of a fantastical time-out-of-time construct. Throw in a small amount of speculation on what it might have been like to be Einstein, and then throw in a little humour in the form of Sir Isaac Newton constantly trying to crash the interview and get Einstein to admit he was wrong, and you have a small idea of what this book is like.
It is not possible to adequately explain how much this book delighted me and moved me. If you have any interest at all in Relativity and/or Einstein, this book is definitely worth investigating.
On the other side of the spectrum is Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume. I loved Judy Blume's books when I was a kid, and at some level I knew she was a best selling author. But until I read this book I had no idea she'd had as profound an effect on so many others as she had on me.
These essays were funny, moving and amazing. I don't remember a bad essay in the bunch, but the ones that stuck with me were the essays about Deenie terrifying one author, though ultimately helping her when she herself was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, and the author essay about having to hide Forever while secretly passing it from friend to friend. That one might have been my life.
A lot of you read this right along with me, so you know how good this book was, even when it stumbled a bit towards the end.
Humbolt ... I still can't wrap my mind around how someone who contributed so much can be so neglected today. There are ancient Greeks whom we now know to be full of shit that get more recognition than this man who was the first to do so many things, and to discover so many things that are absolutely vital to every person's life today. Accurate things. Like better weather maps. And keystone species. And, and, and.
We need to bring Humbolt and his work back, before the world goes to hell in a hand basket.
This was a very recent read for me, but such an incredible find. I feel like my life would have been lacking had I never discovered this book.
The friendship at the heart of this book is the Jewish equivalent of a Fundamentalist born-again Christian and a Roman Catholic being best friends; both practicing and headed for a life in their faith. Only, of the two, one is doing it because he wants to, and the other because he has to.
There's also a little softball, a fair amount about father-son dynamics and ultimately an entire book's worth about listening to your soul when it speaks.
I have always been fascinated by the Norse myths - far more so than the Greek ones. But I've never known much about the real myths - only what shows up in popular culture and we all know how accurate that is. But studying Greek myths in college left me intimidated and wary of tackling the Norse myths. I don't know how you can make stories involving minotaurs and swans dry and academic, but my university, at least, managed to do just that.
But Gaiman... Gaiman can't make anything dry and academic. And after hearing he honoured the originals rather faithfully, I bought a copy on audio. Then went out and bought a print copy. I loved them. They were horrific but entertaining and Thor is hilarious in his oafishness. I feel like I can now say I have some familiarity with Norse mythology, and it didn't come from Marvel Comics.
I seem to have inadvertently found myself on a theological reading streak. Like The Alchemist, this book was recommended to me by a friend (although more enthusiastically), and also like The Alchemist, I picked it up for reasons that ended up having nothing to do with the book. I thought The Chosen was about baseball.
It's not about baseball.
What it is about, at its core, is exactly the same thing The Alchemist is about (which almost defies coincidence): the power of silence, listening to your heart/soul, and following your own true path. But while The Alchemist uses parable, allegory and fantastic storytelling to get its message across, The Chosen tells the same message using an opposite style, set in WWII New York, and using first person-past tense POV. This is the story of two boys brought together by a softball game; one is a Hasidic Jew and one is Conservative (I think–it's never explicitly stated whether he's Conservative or Reform). Although they live only 5 blocks apart, they inhabit completely different worlds within the same religious faith, and have very different relationships with their respective fathers.
I can't do justice to this book in my review, but it works for me so much better than The Alchemist did; while I could appreciate the beauty of the writing and the story Coelho created, Potok's creation had the profound effect on me that I think the author was aiming for. The Chosen is going to be one of those that stay with me permanently.
Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish, any story about the Jewish people