Marginalia from last year’s 63 books

Growing up, books were both my entry into magical new worlds and my escape from the pain of growing up in an alcoholic family. They fueled my desire to learn more – about the world, about history, about what made people tick. They let me enter into imaginary places and situations that helped me see I didn’t have to be limited by my family of origin. They fed my soul and my dreams.

Some books from 2017

They still feed them. I look to books to broaden my horizons, make me question what I know, teach me new things, deepen my understanding of others and keep me growing. And yes, they are also a great escape when life seems stressful. The only negative I’ve found is that we never seem to have enough shelves to hold them, despite my persistent use of the library and ebooks.

Every year I set a goal of reading 50 books. Most years I either meet that goal or exceed it. In 2017 I read 63, down 16 from the year before. It’s fun as the new year starts to review what I read the previous year and make some picks for what I hope to cover this year. About a quarter of the books I read last year were nonfiction. A large portion of those were in the areas of the two fields I’ve worked most in and had the most passion for: spirituality and psychology.

In the areas of psychology, lately I’ve been most fascinated about all we’re learning about trauma and abuse. My two favorites for the year in that category were Trauma and Memory by Peter Levine and The Trauma of Everyday Life by Mark Epstein. I had read both authors before and really appreciate their accessibility and their insights.

In the area of spirituality, what stood out the most for me was revisiting an old one: Teilhard de Chardin’s The Divine Milieu. Teilhard’s ideas connecting God and science intrigue me and make belief much more possible.

Nonfiction outside my field really impacted me. Most powerfully, Michael Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America took me much more deeply into the issue of white privilege and it’s impact in the world. I loved that he had concrete suggestions for things to do to address it.

Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus was a lens into a whole new world. How do we communicate with creatures categorically different than we are? Among other things, it made me question even more what I eat.

Three quarters of my reading was fiction. Some of it was just entertainment. I love mysteries and some thrillers (as long as they are not too bloody). I learn a lot from historical fiction. And some detective and fantasy writers are such astute observers of life that I get new insights into human behavior from them. Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books fall into that category. I particularly enjoyed Roland Merullo’s The Delight of Being Ordinary, a fantastic story of the Pope and the Dalai Lama going on a road trip together incognito.

Reading has always been a point of connection with family members. Granddaughter Maddie put me onto a great book by ex-prisoner and community organizer Susan Burton, Becoming Ms. Burton. My brother, Jim, introduced me to Terry Pratchett’s fantasies, which usually make my list.

The other way that reading connects me with family is through children’s books. All of my grandchildren have loved being read to. Their mothers and I share a delight in finding new and interesting books for preschoolers. Some old favorites: The Quilt Maker’s Gift and Annie and the Wild Animals. And some more recent ones we’ve enjoyed: Tap The Magic Tree and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (more for the children’s engagement in it than the book itself).

I’m starting the new year with a list of books I hope to get to. I have a biography of Denise Levertov, one of my favorite poets, that is calling to me. A good friend gave me a copy of Mary Oliver’s new book, Devotion, that I’m eager to get into. In the area of psychology, our son, Matt suggested The Highly Sensitive Person, which I’ve just started. I’m hoping to dip into Kathleen Dowling Singh. I’m not sure whether to start with The Grace in Living, The Grace in Aging or The Grace in Dying. 

As for fiction, I’ve seen lots of recommendations for The Gentleman From Moscow. I’m hoping there will be another in the Louise Penny series. I was sick for most of January and had  wonderful escape into some WWII novels by Susan Ella MacNeal featuring a young woman spy/detective. I also mined friend Julie Moos’s post about books she’s enjoyed. I really appreciated The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman.

What books have you enjoyed and/or been influenced by that you’d recommend?

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