What do Mumbai, baseball, a selectively utilized pool, and biblical womanhood have in common?

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Last week I alluded to the fact that I am planning to read 35 books this year, and in the comments, Shari asked if I had any specific books in mind.

And honestly, I don’t. My to-read list has at least a couple hundred entries, so I generally prefer to just read whatever wanders into my life.

But I will not leave you empty-handed. Instead, I offer an alternative in the form of last year’s reading list (now broken into 3 parts).

I first gave myself a yearly book quota last January: 30 books in 2012.

I only made it to 28 (and I cheated a little), but I went ahead and upped the ante to 35 anyway. As they say, “If at first you don’t succeed…just aim for a higher level of achievement, regardless of success or failure.” Apparently my approach to goal-setting is a little bit like the life philosophy of Newt Gingrich.

Anyway, we start with YA Fiction and Literary Fiction.

YA Fiction

1. The Fault in Our Stars: John Green – This book was Time Magazine’s Best Book of the Year. And it is beautiful. It is the story of Hazel, a teenager living with cancer, who is still funny and flawed and smart. It is also the story of Augustus, the young cancer survivor that she meets at a hilariously-rendered church support group for cancer kids. I laughed almost as much as I cried, and that, in my opinion, makes a great book.

“I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”

2. Paper Towns: John Green –  In between hilarious pranks and the world’s most frantic road trip, it explores the importance of seeing people as people, not just the objects of your imaginings. Also, it partially inspired mine and Kaitlyn’s fantastic pranking of Dr. Reeves.

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

“Maybe its like you said before, all of us being cracked open. Like each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And then things happen – these people leave us, or don’t love us, or don’t get us, or we don’t get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another… And its only that time that we see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs… Before that we were just looking at ideas of each other.

3. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Ransom Riggs – This. Book. Riggs collects old Polaroids, the ones that get piled into boxes and sold at estate sales or flee markets. So he took some of them, and built a story around them. It’s the best. It has mystery, love, monsters, WWII. I mean, seriously. If you have a young adult in your life you doesn’t love to read, buy them this book. 

“I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.”

“I didn’t know what to call it, what was happening between us, but I liked it. It felt silly and fragile and good.”

4. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight: Jennifer E. Smith – I liked this book okay. My sister said she really liked it though (and John Green really liked it), so maybe it’s just me. But I found the father/daughter relationship to be much more interesting than the romantic one.

“He was a professor, a lover of stories, and he was building her a library in the same way other men might build their daughters houses.”

5. The Astonishing Life of Octavia Nothing: M.T. Anderson – This book is brilliant. It is a fascinating story set against the backdrop of the American Revolution and the African slave trade.

“The times, the seasons, the signs may have been mythical; but the sufferings were not… I knew in dark houses, there was torture, arms held down, firebrands approaching the soft skin of the belly or arm; and still – there is screaming in the night; there is flight; mothers sob for children they shall not see again; girls feel the weight of men atop them; men cry for their wives; boys dangle dead in the barn; and we smoke their sorrow contentedly; and we eat their sorrow; and we wear their sorrow; and wonder how it came so cheap.

6. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane: Kate DiCamillo – This is maybe the 12th time I’ve read this book. My high school theatre teacher read it to our class, and it has become the threadbare sweatshirt that I pull out when I just need familiar words.

“Edward knew what it was like to say over and over again the names of those you had left behind. He knew what it was like to miss someone. And so he listened. And in his listening, his heart opened wide and then wider still.

“Perhaps,” said the man, “you would like to be lost with us. I have found it much more agreeable to be lost in the company of others.”

Literary Fiction 

7. The Art of Fielding: Chad Harbach – I say by way of disclaimer that this book is for Adults. And it is magnificent. The novel rotates around a college baseball star, his gay roommate/teammate, his mentor/friend, the university’s president, and the president’s only daughter who has just returned home after the failure of her marriage.

“Life was long, unless you died, and he didn’t intend to spend the next sixty years talking about the last twenty-two.”

“She hated the namelessness of women in stories, as if they lived and died so that men could have metaphysical insights.”

“…a soul isn’t something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love.”

8. The Marriage Plot: Jeffrey Eugenides – This novel begins on the day of a college graduation and follows the story of three newly-minted graduates. I read it right after I graduated. They felt like me and my friends, if our lives were written by a brilliant novelist.

“He remained heartbroken, which meant one of two things: either his love was pure and true and earthshakingly significant; or he was addicted to feeling forlorn, he liked being heartbroken.”

“College wasn’t like the real world. In the real world people dropped names based on their renown. In college, people dropped names based on their obscurity.”

“If Mitchell was ever going to become a good Christian, he would have to stop disliking people so intensely.”

9. The Virgin Suicides: Jeffrey Eugenides – Eugenides’ first novel. The story of five sisters and their suicides, as told by the boys who watched them from across the street. He’s just a great novelist. Though I wish I had read his books in book form, not e-reader form. Literary novels do not make good e-books.

“In the end, the tortures tearing the Lisbon girls pointed to a simple reasoned refusal to accept the world as it was handed down to them, so full of flaws.”

Chucking her under the chin, he said, “What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.” And it was then Cecelia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: “Obviously, Doctor,” she said, “you’ve never been a 13 year old girl.”

10. Farenheit 451: Ray Bradbury – In honor of the passing of Ray Bradbury this year, I decided it was high time that I read this book – the one I always saw on the required reading table, but was never required to read. I read this at the height of the 50 Shades of Grey pandemic, and what he says about our cultural preference for constant noise and the discussion of nothing, well it feels that Bradbury can just go ahead and take his seat among the prophets.

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

11. The Great Gatsby: F.Scott Fitzgerald – Easily one of my favorite novels of all time. I don’t know how I didn’t fall in love with it in high school (probably because I didn’t read it). What a fool I was.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

12. The Catcher in the Rye: J. D. Salinger – Another classic that just never got assigned in high school. I love this book. If you don’t love it, watch Crash Course’s two part series about it. John Green will make you love it. Also, learning that Salinger saw some of the worst fighting of WWII makes this book’s obsession with innocence that much more desperate.

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”

Well that got really long. So we’ll just take a break here and make this into a series! You’ll get the rest – I promise.



* You should know, by way of disclaimer, that I rarely read a book I don’t like, unless it’s Christian Non-Fiction (subcategory: self-help with Jesus sprinkles).

This is partly because I have a good idea of what books I will like, partly because I can appreciate many different things about a book (a captivating story or beautiful language or compelling ideas), and partly because I have no qualms about quitting a book if I no longer feel like reading it. So, if it seems like I speak highly of most books, it’s not that I never dislike a book, it’s just that I rarely finish “bad” ones.


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