Top Book Picks from 2019

I’m not sure how it happened. We moved to the country. The children lived outdoors in the summer. And I read. I sat my pregnant body on the couch every nap time at noon and read. I snuggled in the covers when the kids protested bedtime in their beds at 7 p.m. and read. When deep reading happened, I read for hours. When book club deadlines came up, I read for hours.

For me, reading is a pleasure, a professional development and an academic pursuit. Picture books are an opportunity to stop the pressures of the days, put aside the to-do list and enter a magical world with my children.

The books I loved in 2019 are fairly diverse and I share them here by category.

In Literature

three books stood out to me.

Cover of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

First, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as a familiar, the cozy, and feel-good winter read.

Cover of “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley

For a summer book club, I made my way through Frankenstein by Mary Shelley the monstrous Halloween cultural icon placed in the story of which has lessons we would do well to consider in this remarkable scientific age. Its themes include the responsibility one bears after playing with life through scientific research and the question of what makes someone human. Bearing almost no resemblance to movies young and old, “Frankenstein” is a thoroughly thought-provoking read and groundbreaking book in the canon of science fiction.

Cover of “The Portrait of a Lady” by Henry James

But my favorite work this year in literature was The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. Flannery O’Connor, whose work I love and whose life I admire, read everything James wrote. His characters are nuanced, the story intriguing. I love a good female protagonist, and although the ending did not quite offer the closure I craved, the writing was impeccable and I look forward to returning to this one again and again.

Spirituality and Religion

Cover of “I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux” by Jean C. J. d'Elbée

In books focused on spirituality and religion, nothing quite compared to reading I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Jean C. J. d’Elbée and How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art by Elizabeth Lev. I read “I Believe in Love” as a high school student and delving into that work was a reflective exercise revealing to me a pattern to my life and relationship with God I had not yet seen.

Cover of “How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art” by Elizabeth Lev.

In How Catholic Art Saved the Faith Lev walks the reader through the symbolism and cultural role of religious art during the Post-Reformation period. The book is a delight the eyes, the full color illustrations fodder for the soul, and it answers the question of why so much religious art seems to come from this particular time period.

The Craft of Writing

Cover of “The Letters of Flannery O'Connor and Caroline Gordon” by Christine Flanagan

To improve my craft,I took great pleasure in reading The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon by Christine Flanagan. Gordon was an established writer as O’Connor started out and her advice to O’Connor as an author-mentor is absolute gold for the writer who takes the work of writing seriously.

In the self-help department

Cover of "It’s Good to Be Here” by Christina Chase.

one book stood out among the many I read for research for my next book project: It’s Good to Be Here by Christina Chase. Chase is a disabled woman with a degenerative muscular disorder. Having lived three times over what doctors predicted, her sharp and poetic mind brings into focus the things that really matter and helps right the perspective so easily lost when one is able-bodied. As a mother of a child with a chronic medical condition, this may be the best and most meaningful book I read all year.

and in 2020

While I do not adhere to reading lists with any form of discipline, my goals for reading in 2020 include another work by Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit; Henry James, The Golden Bowl; a foundation work in fiction, Beowolf and parts of The Canterbury Tales; and books on writing, The Art of Fiction by John Gardner; philosophy, Essays on Women by Edith Stein; and Catholic thought/spirituality, Literature Through the Eyes of Faith by R. R. Reno.

Do you have plans for what you will read in 2020? And yes, audiobooks most definitely count.

Previously published in “Here’s to the Good Life!” a weekly column in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

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