My Favorite Books of 2020!

I had the best of intentions to get this up on the blog within a few days of New Year’s, and then was promptly overwhelmed with some important deadlines. Well, better late than never, I suppose. Most of 2020 was spent at home, and reading was a welcome escape. As Richard Peck quipped, “When I read a good book, it’s like traveling the world without ever leaving my chair.” I was thrilled to discover many new favorite books this year, among them some that will certainly merit multiple rereads. So without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2020, in chronological order.

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

This was the first book I finished in 2020. It’s the story of a family living in Wales during the Industrial Revolution, and it addresses a lot of heavy topics, like the different ways in which people adapt to a changing society, the strikes and unionization of Welsh miners, the idealogical divides between generations, and even the environmental impacts of industrialization. Despite all this, it’s still a book filled with poignant beauty, made more precious because Llewellyn helps the reader understand its fragility.

Who Does He Say You Are? by Colleen C. Mitchell

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I chose this book as my Lenten devotional this year, and it was fantastic. Each chapter spotlights a different woman from the Gospels whose life was impacted by an encounter with Christ. The reflections are beautifully written and the book is well-organized and easy to use. This is the kind of devotional that keeps on giving, and I think I’m going to be revisiting it often over the years!

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I started this book at the beginning of quarantine–the perfect time! I found the fortitude and cheerfulness of the Dashwood sisters comforting and inspiring. Like so many of us this year, they had to deal with unexpected and difficult circumstances, and they did so with grace. Austen’s personification was masterfully done, and I appreciated her insight into the very different ways in which we face suffering: in Elinor’s case, by stuffing down her feelings and putting on a brave face, and in Marianne’s, by wallowing in self-pity. By the end of the novel, we come to realize that the best way of dealing with life’s trials is some combination of the two: like Marianne, we need to allow ourselves to process our feelings, and like Elinor, we must then move forward.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

This is the first of Montgomery’s standalone novels I’ve read, and it took me a bit to get into it, but by the end she had–of course–won me over. The plot is driven by the question, “What would you do if you only had a few months to live?” It was an enjoyable read. I really liked the unexpected romance and as always, Montgomery’s descriptions of the landscape and changing seasons were on point. I think this is a great, fun option for grown-up Montgomery fans who have already finished the Anne and Emily books.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

This classic needs no introduction, and I think everything that can be said about it has been said already. It’s an epistolary novel, composed of letters between two demons sharing advice and anecdotes about their line of work. Lewis skillfully illustrates the various strategies employed by the devil to tempt us, and also makes it painfully clear that Satan (along with all the rest of the demons) is a weak, pitiable creature who is unable to understand the concept of love. It’s absolutely phenomenal. If you’ve yet to read it, what are you waiting for?

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

You know you’ve found a true gem of an author when they appear not once, but twice, back-to-back on your list of favorites! This is the first book in Lewis’s science-fiction trilogy. I actually started reading it a few years ago but just couldn’t get into it. This year, I decided to give it a second chance, and I couldn’t put it down! It’s a fantastic story that grapples with the theological and ethical consequences of discovering extraterrestrial life. Lewis paints a vivid picture of a world without a Fall, where all things are rightly ordered. I was blown away; I would never have expected so much spiritual insight from science-fiction. I can’t wait to read the other books in the trilogy!

Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson

For me, this book was pretty much an instant favorite–it’s an ode to the adventure of reading and the power of story, and it would be perfect for hardcore bookworms and wannabe readers alike. I have since added a copy to my own personal library and am finding Sarah’s booklists invaluable. It’s an all-around lovely read that I can’t recommend highly enough. You can find my full review here.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

I’ve always had a fondness for mysteries, but they don’t usually qualify as favorites. This one took me completely by surprise: I was definitely not expecting to like it as much as I did. It’s incredibly well-written and most of the story takes place in Oxford–a winning combination which makes it almost a guaranteed success! There’s no murder, but there’s plenty of mystery, not to mention philosophical insights, intriguing characters, playful banter, and a proposal involving Latin. What more could you possibly want?

Reveling in the Reading Life: A Book Review

Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a  Reading Life: Clarkson, Sarah, Clarkson, Sally: 9781496425805: Amazon.com:  Books

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Sarah Clarkson’s Book Girl, an exploration of what it means to be, as Sarah terms it, “a woman who reads,” to delight in the world of books. This was one of those books that you force yourself to read slowly so that you can savor every word, and it became an instant favorite. Sarah somehow articulated so much of what I feel as a reader and wove a narrative that was at once personal and universal. It’s safe to say she’s a kindred spirit–and as Anne Shirley says, “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Aside from the beautiful writing (which alone would be reason enough to read this book), the booklists that Sarah has compiled are fantastic. They include some of my personal favorites as well as books that I hope to read one day, and many more. It’s a literary treasure trove! Even if you’re not a huge reader, I would still recommend checking out this book. It’s not preachy, and you just might find yourself inspired to delve into the magical world of books.

More than anything else, this book made me incredibly proud and grateful to be part of the sisterhood of women who have found solace and inspiration in the written word. Like Sarah, my life has been shaped by stories, and my identity has been largely formed by the characters in my favorite books, who demonstrate the virtues to which I aspire and help me to better understand myself, my place in the world, and the struggles I face.

I’m talking about books like L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, whose heroine taught me to be fully alive to the wonder and beauty of the world and to put the best of myself into whatever I do.

Books like Jane Austen’s literary masterpieces, enthralling and yet completely human, filled with rich insights into the workings of society and the vicissitudes of love.

Books like, well, everything by C.S. Lewis, which help me to know and love God better and artfully reveal the relationship between the Divine and the ordinary.

Books like Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, which I am still reading, slowly but surely, and in which I can already begin to see taking shape a story about how grace works over the course of a lifetime.

Books like George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic, which made me fall in love with this beautiful, universal Church and inspired me to delve deeper into the treasures of my faith.

These are just some of the books whose sharp, poignant beauty has made me catch my breath, whose truth has thrilled my heart, who have made me laugh or cry (and often both). Without them, I would not be the person I am. Book Girl is a book for both book lovers and would-be book lovers. Although Sarah wrote primarily about her own life, so much of what she had to say resonated deeply with me. If you are a bibliophile or even if you wish you liked reading more, this book is for you.

What I’ve Been Reading

It’s been quite some time since I posted a good old-fashioned book review. Our public library shut down back in March and is only just beginning to reopen, so a shortage of new reading material has been a bit of a problem. I mean, I know it’s insignificant compared to the hardships that so many others are facing right now, but I can’t deny that it’s annoying. Especially since we’re spending a lot of time cooped up inside at the moment. All I can say is, thank goodness for free ebooks, fast Amazon shipping, and our amazing local indie bookstore. I think I would have gone crazy without them.

Who Does He Say You Are?

This was one of my Lenten reads and it did not disappoint. I highly, highly recommend this one for every woman (teen and up) who desires to enrich her faith life. This book contains so many beautiful insights and will give you so much food for prayer. It’s challenging in the very best way, and as comforting as a hug from your best friend. I can see myself coming back to it again and again when I just want a good Scriptural reflection to direct my prayer.

Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

From My Commonplace: The Voice of Love

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Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt van Rijn

I’m reading Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son this Lent (following along with the Abiding Together Podcast’s book study) and it is SO BEAUTIFUL. The book describes Nouwen’s deeply spiritual encounter with Rembrandt’s depiction of the homecoming scene from the parable. This experience taught him not only to see God in a new way, but also served as a window into his own soul. I really appreciate Nouwen’s insights into the workings of the human heart and his willingness to be incredibly vulnerable and honest about the struggles and sufferings he experienced on his own spiritual journey. Because in the end, we’re all really prodigal sons and daughters trying to find our way back to our true home.

A voice, weak as it seemed, whispered that no human being would ever be able to give me the love I craved, that no friendship, no intimate relationship, no community would ever be able to satisfy the deepest needs of my wayward heart. That soft but persistent voice spoke to me about my vocation, my early commitments, the many gifts I had received in my father’s house. That voice called me “son.”

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

Monday Miscellany: What I’m Reading

For this week’s Monday Miscellany, I thought it would be fun to share what I’ve been reading recently, and what I’m planning on reading in the near future. School (and life in general) have been super busy these past few months, so pleasure reading has kind of been pushed to the back burner, but a looming library due date forced me to get back on track. I finished my first book of the year (woot woot!!) and just picked up a few new ones from the library, plus a few Lenten reads (because I’m nothing if not ambitious when it comes to reading). But I know you’re really just interested in the books, and not my overly-optimistic reading list, so here you go!

How Green Was My Valley

I just finished this one, and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s something magical about diving into a historical work and being transported to a different time and place, to experience life vicariously through the protagonist. This one is a coming of age story that vividly illustrates the effects of the Industrial Revolution on a small Welsh mining town. Llewellyn’s simple prose, written in dialect, not only accurately depicts the way in which the characters would have spoken but also evokes the lyricism of the Welsh language. It was a beautiful book and one I can see myself rereading.

Continue reading “Monday Miscellany: What I’m Reading”

My Favorite Books of 2019!

It’s been quite the year on the reading front. I read twenty-four books in total, which means I met my goal of two books a month. (Yay!) Some of the books I read this year were fantastic, some were just good, and some were less than stellar. Instead of listing them all, which would make for a VERY long blog post, I decided to feature the standouts. Listed below, in no particular order, are my top six books of the year.

Continue reading “My Favorite Books of 2019!”