I almost didn’t write this post. It’s one of my favorites every year, in which I list all the books I read the previous year. But last year I outdid myself—I read over 70 books (more like 700 if you count all the picture books)—and I was afraid I would sound boastful if I listed them all.
My husband said, “Imagine a world in which no one ever did anything awesome.”
I get his point. That would be a boring world. And even though I very much doubt that reading all those books is awesome, I do know that it’s unusual.
We live in a culture that moves so quickly and changes so rapidly and is hurrying so universally that books seem almost irrelevant (unless they’re self-help books or how-to books or 3-easy-steps books that promise something that is usually snake oil). Unlike blogs and social media, books don’t change rapidly.
In fact, they don’t change at all. That is one of the things I love most about them. They’re like a favorite cozy sweater or your most comfortable pair of slippers. Only better. Sweaters become threadbare and slippers wear down at the heel, but your favorite book never ever wears out.
No matter how sucky your life gets, Mr. Darcy will always propose to Elizabeth in the parlor at Hunsford Parsonage and she will always say no in the most scathing manner imaginable and they will both always get a second chance at love.
No matter how harried and hurried and self-absorbed the contemporary world gets, in Appleshaw it will always be 1963 and Mr. Baker will still be bodging and Mary Lindsay will be restoring her old cousin’s old house to its former glory and it will all unfold very quietly and gently and without fanfare.
No matter how ugly and violent the world gets or how loudly people shout about it on Twitter and Facebook, Gerard Manley Hopkins will always sing about skies of couple color and hung bells and windhovers in beautifully lyrical words that soar off the page like that windhover soaring into flight.
There is never anything new in a book.
And there is always something new in a book.
Because we bring new eyes, new experiences, new selves to the pages every time we read them, we see for the first time things that were always there or understand more deeply things that we’d always seen, and so we become more fully ourselves.
So I post this list partly as a plea—please, read more books!—and partly to show you what is possible. It is possible to read dozens of books in a year. It is possible to love words and stories and the music of poetry more than you did last year. It is possible to slow down and savor the same words over and over and over again. It’s possible to fall in love with new words and new stories every single year.
And it’s not just possible, friends. It’s good. It’s better than good. It’s wonderful.
That’s what books are. They are full of wonder and mystery and magic. They contain whole worlds that we get to inhabit for awhile. And the best of them help us to live more fully when we come back to this world.
My challenge to you is this: read 25 books in 2016. That’ll take about fifteen minutes a day (if you read every day).
But that’s only half the challenge. The other half of the challenge is to not be myopic in your reading. We’re chronological snobs in this country, and we need the voices of the past to remind us that things were just as delightful and as awful then as they are now. The delights and the awfulnesses change, but people don’t, the human condition doesn’t, and God doesn’t either. Old books help us see through the ever-changing haze of our news feeds to what is truly important, universal, and unchanging.
So the second half of my challenge to you is this: for every new book you read this year, read one that was written before you were born. (Unless you were born in 1995 or later. In that case read one that was written before your mother was born.)
And if you’re really up for a challenge: read more books than I do in 2016 and I’ll take you to dinner. (But you pay for the plane ticket to get here!) Ready? Set?
And here’s the list of Books I Read in 2015.
Just so you know: there are very few books on this list that weren’t good. Most of them deserve to be re-read. If I starred all the ones that are excellent, I’d be starring almost all of them. So I will simply say, pick one that strikes your fancy and read it. More than likely it will be good (though you may not love it as much as I did…)
(fra)=family read aloud
*The Book of Common Prayer.
*Lloyd-Jones, Sally. The Jesus Storybook Bible (fra)
Vos, Catherine. The Child’s Story Bible (fra)
Ferris, Helen, ed. Favorite Poems Old and New
Goudge, Elizabeth, ed. A Book of Peace
Guite, Malcolm, ed. Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany
*Guite, Malcolm. Sounding the Seasons
*Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Selected Poems
Peterson, A.S., ed. The Molehill, vol. 3 (includes fiction, essays, and art as well as poetry)
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets and Love Poems
Thomas, R.S. Everyman’s Poetry
*Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women (fra)
*Austen, Jane. Persuasion
*Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice
*Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks (fra)
Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks in Spring
Blackwood, Gary. The Shakespeare Stealer
*Cushman, Karen. The Midwife’s Apprentice
*Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol (fra)
Goudge, Elizabeth. The Scent of Water
Konigsburg, E.L. A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver
*Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia (FRA; all seven, in the original order, of course)
*Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy-Tacy
*Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy-Tacy and Tib
*Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
*Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
Lovelace, Maud Hart. Heaven to Betsy
Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy in Spite of Herself
Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy Was a Junior
McCaughrean, Geraldine. El Cid (fra)
Montgomery, L.M. Kilmeny of the Orchard
*Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Avonlea (fra)
*Montgomery, L.M. Anne of the Island (fra) < O’Dell, Scott. The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day
Paterson, Katherine. The Sign of the Chrysanthemum
Paterson, Katherine.The Master Puppeteer
Peterson, Andrew. North! Or Be Eaten… (fra)
Peterson, Andrew. Monster in the Hollows (fra)
Peterson, Andrew. The Warden and the Wolf King (fra)
*Robinson, Barbara. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (fra)
Rogers, Jonathan. Secret of the Swamp King
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
*Seredy, Kate. A Tree for Peter (fra)
Smith, S.D. The Green Ember (fra)
Sorensen, Helena. Shiloh
Spark, Muriel. The Girls of Slender Means
*Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Spires, Elizabeth. The Mouse of Amherst
Vernon, Louise A. The Bible Smuggler
Wodehouse, P.G. Joy in the Morning
Yonge, Charlotte. The Dove in the Eagle’s Nest
Brown, Marion Marsh and Ruth Crone. The Silent Storm: The Story of Annie Sullivan
Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy
Dana, William Henry. Two Years Before the Mast (fra)
Gilbreth, Frank Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Cheaper By the Dozen (fra)
Glass, Karen. Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition
Hicks, David. Norms and Nobility
Kondo, Marie. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
*Latham, Jean Lee. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
*Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory
Mackenzie, Sarah. Teaching from Rest
Mason, Charlotte. A Philosophy of Education
Rockness, Miriam Huffman. A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter
Smith, Hannah Whitall. A Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life
*Turak, August. Business Secrets of Trappist Monks
Wiker, Benjamin. The Mystery of the Periodic Table (fra)
*Wilkinson, Bruce. The Prayer of Jabez
Wilson, Douglas. Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education
Your turn: What were some good books you read last year?
Photo by Kate Farquharson, Creative Commons via Flickr.