Monday, December 30, 2013

From Cover to Cover

I so enjoyed my post last year summarizing my year through my reading that I thought I'd try the same thing again this year.

Overall, it was a year of fluffy fun reading interspersed with reading that challenged my religious perspectives and my world views.  All in all, I've gone on an emotional journey that has had its ups and downs but one I don't regret taking.

The Books of 2013 That Changed my Life:

A Life of Jesus by Shusaku Endo -
One-liner blurb: Explaining Jesus Christ to an audience unfamiliar with Christianity
My thoughts: This book challenged my previously conceived notions of Jesus Christ and turned many events entirely upon their heads.  I didn't realize how concrete my view of Christ was and how limiting such a view could be in my faith.  I realize that my new perspective is not perfect either but being open to a different idea of Christ than I've conceived is a nice step in the right direction.  Endo's perspective on the events leading up to and including the crucifixion now stand in parallel in my faith with other interpretations.

The Messenger by Markus Zusak
One-liner blurb: An ordinary man is given the chance to participate in other ordinary people's lives and somehow the result is quite extraordinary.
My thoughts:  I should have expected nothing less from the author of The Book Thief (which also changed my life but not as significantly as this one).  I summed this book up to my friends as "The Gospel".  By that, I mean, this life feels like a challenge to me, to stop worrying only about ourselves and to see if ordinary people with no special abilities or even special interests can impact someone else's life for the better.  This books shows that it's possible; but at the end of the day, people will always change your life for the better more than you will change theirs.

Books of 2013 That Changed My Perspective: 

The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo
One-liner blurb: Vivisection on American prisoners during WWII emotionally scarred one of the doctors forever.
My thoughts: Hats off to Endo for tackling a difficult topic; I can't imagine that this was received well by critics.  He not only alludes to the war crimes committed by Japanese soldiers during the war but he also raises the question of what we define as 'moral' and under what circumstances those morals hold or are overturned.  When I finished this book, I was like, 'What did I just read?' and thanks to some good friends, I was able to discuss it and figure this book out.

The Book of Lights by Chaim Potok
One-liner blurb: Semi-autobiographical story of a young Jewish rabbi who serves as a chaplain in the Korean war and finds himself asking questions about his faith.
My thoughts: The part of the book that made this book a stand-out was when the main character traveled to Japan and saw people praying sincerely at their Shinto temples and wondered, "If we believe that our God is the one true God, then who is listening to their prayers?" It was an interesting dive into faith and believers in other faiths.  The side character who struggled with the choice to drop the bomb on Japan and its aftermath brought a poignant touch to the question of "us" vs. "them" as well.

Escape from Camp 14... by Blaine Harden
One-liner blurb: The story of a man who was born and raised and then escaped from a political prison camp in North Korea
My thoughts: After reading other North Korean books, I was ready to go into North Korea when it opened up and love and serve the people until they were healed.  Hahaha, this book showed me now naive my thoughts were.  I didn't think the answers would be easy or simple but now I'm starting to realize that I have not the training, understanding or well, anything that would aid in making 'healing' possible.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz
One-liner blurb: A boy in an addiction therapy facility learns to face his demons and survive
My thoughts: I always get emotionally invested in the characters' lives but this one especially rang true with me.  Can we survive the bad stuff that happens to us?  How do we face the broken parts of ourselves that we don't want to admit even exist?  I found myself cheering the main character on in part because I wanted to cheer myself on through my struggles.  This book changed the way that I view my problems and how to address them.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
One-liner blurb: The author spends a year living up to the ideals for women canonized in scripture.
My thoughts: If I believe the Bible to be the word of God (and I do) then should I be living like a woman in biblical times?  I expected to balk at the entire treatment of this but also to enjoy the good sense of humor along the way.  I found it exceed my expectations on both counts; many thoughts and points made throughout the book impressed me and helped me realize a little more about what it means to be a woman of faith.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
One-liner blurb:  A concierge of a hotel in Paris finds unlikely friends in rich 12 year old girl Paloma and enigmatic Japanese man Ozu.
My thoughts: "You are not your sister."  Those words alone turned this book from a good read to a perspective changer.  What is holding me back from truly living?  The ending though is tragic and kind of negates the power in the statement that marked this book for me so maybe I'll just continue living in my own happy world of the mantra "people can change"?

Honorable Mentions: These books didn't change my life per se but they definitely made it a lot more fun
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
Johnny Wander Series by Ananth Panagariya and Yuko Ota
A Matter of Magic by Patrica C. Wrede

Authors I Discovered in 2013: 

Markus Zusak - His books are moving and his storytelling style is so different in each book that I marvel they were written by the same person.  Seriously, how did he create such interesting narrative styles?  I highly recommend both The Book Thief and The Messenger.  I definitely cried partly through both of them.

Jessica Day George - She came as a recommendation from a friend and I found her books a delightful fun read for those days when you want a satisfying fairy tale with good characters and plot.

Benjamin Alire Saenz - I've read three of his books now.  The first one came as a recommendation from a friend who wanted someone to discuss the book with.  I so enjoyed that I picked up two more of his books.  He definitely uses a lot of language in the books but getting past you, you meet some characters that you find yourself cheering on.  

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