Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Ends

For a while, I've been wanting to write about the books I've read this year.  I always keep a list on the blog of books I read each year but I don't really make any comments about the books themselves.  I thought this might be a fitting end to look back on my year.

The Book of 2012 that Changed my Life:

Why We Can't Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One-liner blurb: The Civil Rights Movement.
My thoughts: I thought it would be an interesting mental exercise to read a book about a significant American event while living in a foreign country.  Instead, I found myself thinking that not only every American, but every person, should read this book.  It's a book about the Civil Rights Movement, yes, but it's also a book about what we should hold dear, what issues we should be willing to fight for and what means we should fight for them.  I learned a lot about love and long suffering and the beauty of the human spirit.  I recommend this book to anyone.  Read it.  And then read it again.  

Books of 2012 that Changed My Perspective: 

Sky Burial by Xinran
One-liner blurb: A woman in China goes to Tibet to look for her missing and presumed dead husband and ends up spending the rest of her life there.
My thoughts: I love everything written by Xinran - this is her third book that I have read.  There is something about her writing style and her voice that just speaks to me.  However, this isn't really why this book made the list.  This book asks a very serious question, "What if something you spend your whole life working towards is for naught?  Is it really for naught?"  After reading this book, a friend and I went on a long walk and discussed this issue, back and forth and back again.  We didn't come to any solid conclusions but we definitely had a greater appreciation for being human.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks-
One-liner blurb: A boy with famous scientist family members almost blows himself up several times.
My thoughts: After reading this book, I feel like I would like to repeat my chemistry courses.  I want more explosions and more experiments and more scratching my head over how the elements fit themselves together.  Life before the periodic table?  I used to think it was all about the plum pudding model but I have since realized that it was a lot about understanding physical properties and gaining an intuitive sense of how the world was put together.  By the end of the book, I was singing the praises of science all over again - we live in a beautiful, beautiful, chemical world.  

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore -
One-liner blurb: Rhodes scholar finds himself sharing the news with someone of the same name, similar age, similar background but entirely different circumstances and writes their stories
My thoughts: The message of this book was really, "We all have so much to offer the world."  There is so much we can/should do to help and lift each other to reach our potentials because when it comes down to it, when we fail to meet up to the best of who we could be, the consequence is that everyone misses out.  This book also, interestingly, raised good issues about taking responsibility for our own actions and choices.  

The Girl I Left Behind by Shusaku Endo - 
One-liner blurb: Man drops a girl after a one-night stand but continues to keep tabs on her throughout a misdiagnosis, a life of service in a leper colony and her tragic death in an accident.
My thoughts: Disclaimer: I actually read this in 2011 but it was so moving that I still find myself pondering on it.  It's a book about loneliness.  At the end of the day, the girl who was abandoned by everyone ended up being the most Christlike.  How can that be?  I've come to the realization that while I (and the characters of the book) believe that when we suffer, our God suffers with us, there is something refining about being left to ourselves.  I'm not saying that God isn't with us when we suffer, but perhaps, perhaps, we will all have moments when we suffer alone, when we feel that we have been forsaken.  It is in those moments that we gain something we never gain otherwise.   

Books of 2012 that Raised Questions: 

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - 
One-liner blurb: Missionary family tries to make a difference in Africa and finds it changes them in ways they never anticipated
My thoughts: This book left me breathless.  The book takes you into this world and you find yourself swept along on a scary and unsettling ride through the lives of the Price family.  Who is right?  Who is wrong? What is the 'best' way?  At the end of the day, who is the happiest?  None of those yield easy answers.  I'm still asking questions.

I am the Clay by Chaim Potok - 
One-liner blurb: A starving boy is taken into the care of an elderly refugee couple during the Korean War
My thoughts: I loved the boy.  I loved the mother.  I struggled to understand the father.  But most of all, I wondered, "What does it mean to love?"  "How do we express it?"  "What makes a family?"  I want to discuss this book long into the night with some good friend who has read it.  Please, what does this beautiful and moving, sad little story mean?  

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M.Forster - 
One-liner blurb: English woman marries Italian man rashly and confuses everyone (including me) 
My thoughts: What the what?  I'm not even entirely sure what this story was about.  I wandered around for days after reading this book.  Words cannot express my confusion.  I waffled between liking and disliking the main narrator and settled on simply leaving him be.  The woman he falls in love with, on the other hand, throws me through a loop.  

When I Whistle by Shusaku Endo - 
One-liner blurb: Old man thinks about his past; his son worries about his future
My thoughts: Endo, you brilliant man.  Why do you always leave me wondering?  What does it mean to live?  What makes life what it is?  What will make life worth it?  The juxtaposition of a father who is a failure and spends his life thinking of his high school friend and that high school friend's crush and the son who spends his time fighting to get ahead is fascinating.  What does it all mean?  Who should I want to be like?  Why can't father and son communicate?  Is life something we must all just figure out on our own?

Dear Faithful Friends of 2012: 
Jean Webster (Wheat Princess and Dear Enemy), L.M. Montgomery (Blue Castle), Charlotte Bronte (The Professor), Maud Hart Lovelace (Emily of Deep Valley) - kindred spirits, every one.  

Author I found in 2012: 
Ann Patchett.  I read both Bel Canto and The Patron Saint of Liars.  She has a fascinating narrative style but I wouldn't put either of these books on my 'best reads' list.  However, I thought it might be worth mentioning.  

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