The YEAR In Books – 2007 Edition

I am so glad I decided to do a weekly book review this year. I just finished looking back over all the books I read (I was adding labels, sorry if that messed up your Bloglines!), and I was surprised to see what a diverse lot they were! I read 116 books this year, not including children’s books or books I read out loud to Hannah, and counting the Bible as one book, not as 66 separate books. The books included a mix of fiction and non-fiction, with topics including history, public policy, economics, the environment, cooking, childrearing, childbirth, education, homeschooling, language, natural/organic living, farming, sewing, crafts, and fitness.

After looking over all the books I read, I pulled out my Top Fifteen. They are, in no particular order:

  • “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield
    • Excellently crafted fiction, surprising twists, and it’s indirectly about books. What’s not to love?
  • “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” by Michael Chabon
    • This was the best of all the Chabon books I read this year, although they are all good, and I hope you have tried at least one of them!
  • “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan
    • I think this is an important book, and the best one on the topic I read this year.
  • “Middlemarch” by George Eliot
    • I can’t believe I waited so long to read this fabulous book!
  • “Future Men” by Douglas Wilson
    • Hark! There is a baby in the bathwater! Don’t burn your Wilson collection before you read this one – it was really helpful and I promise it didn’t make me a heretic.
  • “The Accidental Tourist” by Anne Tyler
    • Don’t miss Tyler’s amazingly apt descriptions and fresh writing style.
  • “Supreme Conflict” by Jan Crawford Greenburg
    • Especially with the 2008 election season looming, you need to understand the Supreme Court and how it works. This volume is readable and engaging even if you’re not a lawyer or a wonk. If you ARE a lawyer and/or a wonk, you’ll enjoy it all the more!
  • “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    • Many books that touch on Islam andr terrorism are afflicted with hysterics and/or written by people who don’t know what they are talking about. Ali takes a calmer approach, which only serves to underscore the gravity of her account.
  • “Better Off” by Eric Brende
    • A newlywed couple just out of grad school in the big city decides to explore what would happen if they moved to an Amish-type community and decided to forgo electricity and modern conveniences for a year. The resulting account is funny and thought-provoking.
  • “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    • “The Black Swan,” as with Taleb’s first book “Fooled by Randomness,” is an out-of-the-box look at economics, financial markets, and probability. Taleb’s books are hilarious but also seriously informative. I don’t mind that he takes snarky pot-shots at economists, because I think most econ types take themselves wayyy too seriously anyway. Not that there is anything wrong with that, if that is who you are. And stuff.
  • “Dress Your House For Success” by Martha Webb
    • If you ever consider selling your house, you have to read this book first. It will save you time and money, and will probably spur you on to all kinds of organizing and decluttering feats of greatness that will astound your friends, family, and realtor.
  • “Animal Vegetable Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver
    • This account of one family’s decision to eat locally grown foods for a year was inspiring, entertaining, and informative. That probably makes it sound boring, but it’s not! It’s really awesome! You should read it!
  • “Don’t Make Me Count To Three!” by Ginger Plowman
    • Absolutely THE best parenting book I have read so far, and you know me, I have read a lot of them! Plowman takes the ideas and maxims you’ve probably already read about in abstract form and makes them practical. I’m probably not qualified to start recommending parenting books since I’ve only been at this for two years, but this one is my favorite.
  • “Going Gray” by Anne Kreamer
    • This book shifted my paradigm in a number of ways by challenging the way I think about beauty, aging, and identity. I’ve had many interesting conversations with other women about this book, probably because Kreamer doesn’t try to shove her conclusions down the reader’s throat. Instead, she simply invites the reader to consider their assumptions and underlying beliefs and really own their decisions. I think this is a good book to read even if you’re all about coloring your hair.
  • “A Guide To Elegance” by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux
    • I so enjoyed this charming book. The fact that it was written in the early 1960s but is still so applicable today (apart from the bit about wearing gloves perhaps) is a good recommendation for the suggestions contained in this book.

Next week: The Week In Books 2008! Thanks for reading about what I’m reading!

The Week In Books, No. 52

My mom loaned me her copy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and I really enjoyed it. Haddon, who used to work with autistic children, wrote the novel from the perspective of an autistic boy who is struggling to learn how to cope in the world. I thought the book showed an amazing level of understanding and sympathy for the boy as well as for his parents.

I’d recommend this book both because it’s well-written and a good story, but also because it will give you insight and empathy for families dealing with autism.

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The Week In Books, No. 51

After a long wait in the hold line (there were over 200 people ahead of me) I finally got to read Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food
, a cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld. Yes, she’s married to Jerry.

This cookbook is FABULOUS. I just cashed in some My Points earnings to get a gift card so I could buy my own copy. I love the idea of slipping mystery ingredients into my cooking to make it more nutritious. Beets in the pancakes! Spinach in the brownies! And if Josh looks askance at my ingredients, I can just smile and say, “But Honey, Jerry Seinfeld likes it.” See how great this is????

Best of all, the recipes were tested out so I don’t have to guess at how much I can get away with adding. And most of the secret ingredients are purees, which is convenient since I’m pureeing everything for Jack’s baby food anyway. I think we do fairly well with eating healthy foods, but there is always room for improvement, and I hope that using some of the recipes in this book will help me take it up a notch in the new year.

I was a little disappointed with Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure
by Michael Chabon, but only because Chabon’s other books are so excellent. This story is all right, but it was thin in spots and lacked Chabon’s characteristic stylistic depth. The best part of the book, in my opinion, is the afterword, wherein Chabon picks up his usual pace and writes an essay about the concept of adventure as something that happens when you’re away from home/the familiar and how it is often not all it’s cracked up to be. Furthermore, Chabon concludes, although he initially wanted to title this book “Jews With Swords” but didn’t because people laughed, really the Jewish people are uniquely suited for adventure stories, because of the dynamic of exile, search for identity, and so on. I would almost suggest that you might want to check this book out and read the afterword, skipping the story entirely. If your time is limited and you want to read some Chabon, go for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union or something instead.

Also Completed:
So I’m a little burnt out from trying to blaze through the entire Old Testament in two weeks. On one hand, it’s interesting to read the Bible the same way I read any other book, straight through and in large chunks and fast. On the other hand, the Bible is not just any other book, and I feel like I’m not getting much out of reading it just for the sake of getting it done. I don’t like leaving things unfinished on Dec. 31, but I think I need to get a grip on that OCD tendency and go back to my usual pace. That said, I think I will go ahead and start at all the beginning places on Jan. 1, going with my normal reading schedule. Not that anyone really cared enough to read through this whole explanation, but hey, as Lady Holiday says, “It’s plot exposition, it has to go somewhere.”

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The Week In Books, No. 50A

I’m working on several projects that I need to complete before we leave for Christmas, so I haven’t been doing much reading. I did, however, read Nefertiti
by Michelle Moran, and I thought it was fairly good. I thought the author did a good job of constructing a “what might have been” type novel from the historical evidence available about Nefertiti, and the result is a plausible and lively story. It was a quick light read, perfect for a busy week.

Also Completed:
Leviticus, Numbers, Luke, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (yes, I’m reading more trying to finish all my sections by the end of the year, I don’t like to be at loose ends on Jan 1 – I know, it’s stupid.)

Currently Reading:
Deuteronomy, Psalms, John, Hebrews
“Jane Eyre” (to Hannah)
“Teach Yourself New Testament Greek” by Ian MacNair

Disclaimer: If you purchase items from Amazon.com through the links in this post, I will receive a small affiliate payment, generally between 0 and 4% of the sale price, at no additional cost to you. I appreciate your support of this site, and am publishing this disclaimer in accordance with FTC guidelines for affiliate programs released 12/1/2009.

The Week In Books, No. 50B – We <3 Toot and Puddle

Many thanks to Heather L. for recommending the Toot and Puddle books! I got several out from the library and Hannah is loving them. They are cute and funny and have great illustrations. We have I’ll Be Home for Christmas
, Let It Snow
, Toot & Puddle
, and Puddle’s ABC
out right now, and more on hold.

I just found that National Geographic Kids has a Toot and Puddle page with games and printable coloring sheets and so forth. You can check it out here.

If you’re looking for some new books to rotate in your kiddo collection, I’d recommend Holly Hobbie’s Toot and Puddle series.

Note Unrelated To Toot and Puddle: Does anyone know of a CD that has short selections of instrument solos highlighting different instruments? Now that we’re reading “Zin Zin Zin A Violin” all the time, Hannah wants to know what the different instruments “say” and we only have examples of harp, violin, and trumpet in our current collection…any ideas?

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The Week In Books, No. 49A – Counterfactual History Overload

This week I read two books from the What If? series, edited by Robert Cowley. What If?
and What Ifs? Of American History
are both books of essays by eminent historians speculating on how history might have been different if tiny details had gone differently. What if the bullet had gone an inch to the left? What if the fog had lifted an hour earlier? What if he hadn’t skipped breakfast? What if the note hadn’t gotten lost? What if he hadn’t caught the flu? It was fascinating to learn how many pivotal moments in history really turned on such small dimes. Because the essays were written by scholars, the arguments are plausible, and the speculations on how things might have unfolded differently is reasonable based on the evidence. I especially enjoyed the section on the Cuban Missile Crisis in the American History volume, because I studied that episode closely in a college class and thought the essay in the What If book was especially well reasoned.
The historians and editor seem to conclude that because history could so easily have been different, we should appreciate how even one person can really make a difference. I agree, but I also concluded that God’s hand of Providence in history is really amazing.

If you enjoy history, you would likely enjoy these books, but I will warn you that many of the essays are pretty heavy on military history, and some of the battle analysis was a little more depth than I really needed. Then again, as Leon Trotsky said (and was quoted in the book), “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” I will leave you to ponder that deep thought from Trotsky, and will recommend these books.

Also Completed:
Genesis, Exodus, Luke, Philippians

Currently Reading:
Leviticus, Psalms, John, Colossians
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte (to Hannah, and I REALLY want to finish it by the end of the month!)
“Nefertiti” by Michelle Moran
“Teach Yourself New Testament Greek” by Ian MacNair (I am slowing down on this due to busyness, but will keep at it)

Disclaimer: If you purchase items from Amazon.com through the links in this post, I will receive a small affiliate payment, generally between 0 and 4% of the sale price, at no additional cost to you. I appreciate your support of this site, and am publishing this disclaimer in accordance with FTC guidelines for affiliate programs released 12/1/2009.

The Week In Books, No. 49B – Music and Art For Kids

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin
is a FANTASTIC book. Hannah asks for it several times a day, and I don’t mind reading it over and over. The book has a rhyme for 10 different instruments, with descriptions and pictures that really show the character of the instrument. As each instrument is added, you learn that the group is now a duo, trio, quartet, etc up to the chamber group. This would be a great book to get kids excited about going to a concert, or to familiarize them with different instruments you might not have at home. Hannah likes to listen to classical music, so it’s been fun lately to tell her it’s a piece for violins/trumpets/harp etc and she goes to get the Zin book and points out that instrument. It will be fun to see which instruments our children wind up playing. We’re going to have them take a few years of piano first, so they learn to read music, but then they can pick another if they don’t want to continue with piano. Josh is hoping they like the trumpet, or mandolin, or guitar, or drums since we have those already. I’m hoping they like the cello, violin, harp, and french horn.

My sister-in-law recommended Lucy Micklethwait’s art books for children as some of their family favorites, and we have enjoyed them too. The first, I Spy: An Alphabet in Art
, assigns a famous work of art to each letter of the alphabet, and the child can look in the painting for things that start with that letter. Hannah could play that game all day. She’s pretty sharp, and has found several items that I didn’t see on the first go-round. I like that she’s getting exposed to great art, and getting reinforcement on learning the alphabet, and she enjoys the “pretty pishers” and the game of it. Her favorite seems to be Picasso’s “Woman Wearing a Fish Hat.” I’m tempted to be impressed by her sophisticated tastes, but I think the allure is really in the silliness of wearing a fish and a fork on your head. 🙂

We checked out two other books also by Micklethwait, A Child’s Book of Art: Great Pictures – First Words
and A Child’s Book of Art: Discover Great Paintings
. These are fun too, with great big prints of famous paintings surrounded by smaller vignettes explaining the different pieces of the paintings. For example, in one spread on Winslow Homer’s “The Fog Warning” you see the full picture, with little notes about how the artist used colors to tell us about the weather and water conditions, why the boat’s stern is low (weighed down with the halibut he caught, plus a wave under the bow), and so forth. Then there are close-ups of some of the parts of the painting, with questions about why the fisherman is rowing so hard, what is he looking at, and other things. You can spend a lot of time on each painting, or just read the big print and skip the little details. I kind of let Hannah decide how much she wants to know – there are some paintings she wants to linger over and others she doesn’t like as much. It’s interesting to see what catches her attention.

There are several other books in the library by this author, which we will probably check out when/if we get bored of these.

Do you have any favorite children’s books that deal with music and art?

Disclaimer: If you purchase items from Amazon.com through the links in this post, I will receive a small affiliate payment, generally between 0 and 4% of the sale price, at no additional cost to you. I appreciate your support of this site, and am publishing this disclaimer in accordance with FTC guidelines for affiliate programs released 12/1/2009.

The Week In Books, No. 48A

I enjoyed Gladys Hunt’s Honey for a Child’s Heart
this week, and now have a really long list of books to check out for Hannah and Jack. Hunt lays out some of her philosophy on reading, most of which I agreed with. She emphasizes how important it is to be a family of readers, and how books and words can impact a child’s life and development. Hunt also makes the point that it is important to read originals and not watered-down Disney-fied versions of books. I could not agree with that more. I think even little children can appreciate good literature, and there are plenty of books out there geared toward little children that are excellent. I’m excited to check out some old favorites I was reminded of, and some books that I hadn’t heard of but that sound great. I would love to own this book, to have as a reference. Hunt has chapters of recommendations broken down into different age groups, which is helpful, but I found that some of Hannah’s favorite books are in the 4-8 year old picture book chapter not the 0-3 chapter, like “Corduroy” and “Madeline” and the Frances books.

I heard Paula Rinehart on the “Midday Connection” radio show one day when I was out running errands, and so I checked out her book Better Than My Dreams: Finding What You Long For Where You Might Not Think to Look
. Although I didn’t find the book totally life-changing or anything, I did think that Rinehart had some good points and I was challenged in my thinking in several ways. For example, she talks about how we tend to develop a sense of entitlement about our dreams of what a good life looks like, and then we are bitter when it doesn’t pan out. The book explores how to have a God-centered focus and avoid the traps of entitlement or resignation.

Rinehart quotes Jim Elliott,

“What is, is actual – what might be simply is not, and I must not therefore query God as though He robbed me – of things that are not…the things that are belong to us, and they are good, God-given, and enriched.”

And then goes on to write,

“There is a quiet release in my spirit (though it can be slow in coming) when I realize that often, my dreams really are not God’s dreams. What does not happen was not meant to take place. My failure – or someone else’s failure – didn’t catch God by surprise, like it slipped under the wire when He wasn’t looking. In the words of Job as he spoke to God, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) More than anything else, a grasp of the merciful sovereignty of God allows you to live as a woman who smiles at the future and who accepts her past. There is a bigger drama taking place than you can see through the keyhole now.”

I needed to hear that message this week, so I’m glad I happened to hear the radio program when I did. I’d recommend the book.

Unlike Alison Weir’s excellent book on Jane Grey (that I reviewed here), The Princes in the Tower
is a pure history. Weir examines the body of evidence surrounding what Richard III of England did with his two nephews, Edward V and Edward’s younger brother. After discussing how events may have transpired based on contemporary sources, physical evidence, and medical examinations of exhumed bones, Weir concludes that Richard III did order the murder of his nephews, and shows how that despicable deed helped the cause of Henry Tudor, whose ascension to the throne established the House of Tudor for three short generations until Elizabeth I died. Throughout the book, Weir maintains a readable and engaging style, and succeeds in bringing the history of a complex and shadowy era to light.

I’m officially giving up on Katherine Graham’s Personal History
. I have only made it through about 100 pages and it’s been slow going. So far the book is fairly repetitive and I find myself begging her to get to the point! I’ve heard some good reviews of the book, so maybe I’m just approaching it at the wrong time. Perhaps I’ll take it up again later.

Also Completed:
Ephesians

Currently Reading:
Genesis, Psalms, Luke, Philippians
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte (to Hannah)
“Teach Yourself New Testament Greek” by Ian Macnair

Disclaimer: If you purchase items from Amazon.com through the links in this post, I will receive a small affiliate payment, generally between 0 and 4% of the sale price, at no additional cost to you. I appreciate your support of this site, and am publishing this disclaimer in accordance with FTC guidelines for affiliate programs released 12/1/2009.

The Week In Books, No. 48B – Hannah’s Edition

Hannah is a big fan of One Was Johnny: A Counting Book
by Maurice Sendak. Johnny lives by himself (and likes it like that) but his little tiny home is invaded by a series of intruders like a monkey mailman, a robber, and a tiger out selling old clothes. After Johnny has counted ten too many visitors, he has enough and lays down the law. Then one by one he counts as they leave. This is a great counting book, with good illustrations, and it’s clever.

I got out some of the Christmas/winter books in our collection, and discovered Josh’s childhood copy of The Snowy Day
. The illustrations have a cool 60s feel, and according to “Honey For a Child’s Heart” this is one of the first books with an African-American hero. Interesting. It’s a good book for winter.

If anyone has any recommendations for good Christmas and/or winter books for kids, please let me know. The hold lines are beginning to pile up.

Disclaimer: If you purchase items from Amazon.com through the links in this post, I will receive a small affiliate payment, generally between 0 and 4% of the sale price, at no additional cost to you. I appreciate your support of this site, and am publishing this disclaimer in accordance with FTC guidelines for affiliate programs released 12/1/2009.

The Week In Books, No. 47A

Albion’s Seed
is a well written and, in my opinion, important new cultural history of early America. David Hackett Fischer explores how the four main migrations of settlers to the United States from Britain differed and created distinct regional identities in the new world. Hackett takes up each group in turn, describing which part of England each came from, their religious beliefs, and the territory they wound up in, and examines how these factors influenced every aspect of social life in that region. The four groups were comprised of Calvinist Puritans who settled in New England, Anglican Cavaliers who settled in Virginia and the coastal Carolinas, Quakers who settled in the mid-Atlantic, and Scots-Irish Presbyterians who settled inland.

The main strength of the book was Hackett’s ability to grasp how religious and moral ideas were held at the time and how those ideas had consequences that affected every aspect of life. Most modern historians seem almost unable to grasp the concept of a truly held religious belief, and thus tend to gloss over pertinent facts and explanations. Hackett’s extensive research (this volume is over 900 pages long) and footnoting really brought to life how differences in religious and moral convictions affected colonial society, views of equality, education, politics, government, economics, speech patterns, and even how the different groups played sports and named their children!

I found this book fascinating and engrossing, in spite of its prodigious length, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in early American history or American culture in general. The author apparently intends to continue the series with three other books, and I look forward to reading those as well.

Honey for a Woman’s Heart: Growing Your World through Reading Great Books
is one long book review by an author who loves to read. I enjoyed her recommendations, and made note of 35 books and 8 poetry anthologies to check out. The author writes about how to discern good books from bad, why Christians should be readers, and then has sections for fiction, non-fiction, memoir/biography, Scripture, spiritual helps, poetry, and so forth. If you’re feeling in a bit of a slump about reading, or have run to the end of your book list, I’d recommend Gladys Hunt’s book.

I have read Jordan Rubin’s other books, and found The Maker’s Diet
to be basically the same thing. In each of his books, he adds a bit more, and this latest work is probably the most explicitly Christian and spells out the most detail about how Rubin thinks you should eat. As it turns out Rubin comes from a family of Messianic Jews, and he thinks that we should get back to eating the way that God laid out for the Israelites. While I think that idea has some merit, in that God is unchanging and had good reason for the diet He gave His people in the Old Testament, Rubin overlooks the fact that in the New Testament Peter was told in a vision that all foods were clean. So…hm. Also, bear in mind that Rubin owns Garden of Life, and so he does have a bit of a vested interest in convincing you to use his line of supplements. That said, many of the principles in the book are in line with other research I’ve done on healthy eating, and on the whole it’s a balanced program.

Also Completed:
Galatians

Currently Reading:
Genesis, Psalms, Luke, Ephesians
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte (to Hannah)
“Teach Yourself New Testament Greek” by Ian Macnair
“Personal History” by Katharine Graham
“Honey For A Child’s Heart” by Gladys Hunt
“The Princes In The Tower” by Alison Weir

Disclaimer: If you purchase items from Amazon.com through the links in this post, I will receive a small affiliate payment, generally between 0 and 4% of the sale price, at no additional cost to you. I appreciate your support of this site, and am publishing this disclaimer in accordance with FTC guidelines for affiliate programs released 12/1/2009.