2020 Reading Notes

New Author

Let’s begin with a happy accident. A new to me author I came across along the way.

I always listen to Audible on long road trips, and I was about to embark on a five hour drive, with my mother as passenger, for a visit to my sister’s home. On our last trip we listened to Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and the trip before that, one of the Green Ember books. I was searching for an endearing classic book she might enjoy with me and somehow, by technological magic, the Audible app presented me with book options labeled Included! Wow! Really? Who knew. I quickly browse… the cover art of the Elizabeth von Armin books caught my attention I immediately downloaded, I had no idea how long the Included! magic would last. I listened to Enchanted April before the trip, and to Elizabeth and Her German Garden with my mother, and then Love after the trip. And I can’t choose a favorite of the three! They are deep feeling, yet somewhat lighthearted, and have well developed-likable-believable characters. Beautiful settings, and interesting plots. I am enchanted by these stories and will visit them again.

When I got to the library I came to a standstill, – ah, the dear room, what happy times I have spent in it rummaging amongst the books, making plans for my garden, building castles in the air, writing, dreaming, doing nothing.

Elizabeth von Arnim — Elizabeth and Her German Garden

Modern Books

I try to make stretch myself read modern books each year. A while back I took a chance on Leif Enger that I don’t regret. This year I read my second. I enjoyed Peace Like a River more than Virgil Wander, but I liked them both! I wanted to know more about this author, now that I had gotten to know a little of his work. I found and listened to a podcast he was on. I do like to hear how authors create, writing novels is a true art form. Listening to them talk about their thought process behind their craft is mesmerizing to me, like watching Bob Ross paint happy little trees. In the podcast he told about books and movies he enjoys. He also shared about books by his brother, Lin, one which has made its way into my Amazon cart waiting for the impulsive click of a button. I will share my favorite quote from that podcast:

I think it’s important not to read crap.

Lief Enger

Literary Life Reading Challenge Books

  • Mrs. Appleyard and I by Louise Andrews Kent — Biography
  • The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (audible) — Satire
  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome — Children’s Book
  • Trojan Women translated by Edith Hamilton — Greek Play
  • Things Fall Apart by China Achebe — Foreign Novel
  • Virgil Wander by Leif Enger — Contemporary Novel
  • Wolf by the Ears by Rinaldi — Historical Fiction
  • The Book of the Dun Cow by Wangerin — Minor Author
  • Miss Marple Meets Murder by Agatha Christie — Detective Novel
  • A Light So Lovely by Sarah Arthur — Book about Books (in a stretch!)
  • The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry — Essays
  • The Little Book Room by Eleanor Farjaeon — Short Stories
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — Re-read from High School
  • Hallelujah: Cultivating Advent Traditions with Handel’s Messiah by Cindy Rollins — Devotional
  • The Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare — Shakespeare Play
  • Til We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis — Intimidating Book

Several of the books on my list only because of The Literary Life 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge. I would not have read a Greek Play otherwise, for sure! Mrs. Appleyard was a sheer delight. I want to read all of the Swallows and Amazons stories and am sad I missed sharing these with my children. Honestly, I conquered The Idiot because it was one I had been wanting to read for years to to be able to say ‘I have read The Idiot.’ It is more fun than saying ‘I have read War and Peace.’ Trust me. I was told Things Fall Apart was a bit better than Cry, The Beloved Country and had to read for myself. Wolf by the Ears is only my second Rinaldi, from a living historian’s perspective I was very critical when reading The Last Silk Dress but found very little to critique! The Book of the Dun Cow was strangely captivating, and I will have to re-read that for further understanding. Miss Marple was as delightful as Mrs. Appleyard, and only my second Agatha Christie read. I didn’t really read A Book About Books so I am fudging a bit and counting A Light So Lovely for that category. It took me over a year to finish The Art of the Commonplace and my own commonplace journal is bulging with quotes. This book changed my worldview for the better. I chose a delightful children’s book for the Short Stories category, anything but Eleanor Farjeon is a treasure. I read The Great Gatsby mostly on Christmas Day, as a gift to myself. I will share more later on my experience with Hallelujah. Til We Have Faces was incredible and my reading experience was greatly enhanced by the conversations on The Literary Life podcast.

…stories will save the world!

Literary Life Podcast

Most Memorable Book

Let’s talk about the one book that impacted me the most this year, Dead Wake by Erik Lawson. Historically I much prefer fiction of any kind over non-fiction, except maybe a very well written biography. When my children were small, my for pleasure reading was almost exclusively fiction. That started to change when my children were older and instead of only reading books aloud to them, I was reading books alongside them. I would read a book or two with each child, separately in our own time, and then we would narrate to each other. I think the first non-fiction, not a biography, book that excited me personally– and not just as a homeschool mom appreciating and enjoying living non-fiction books for the benefit of her children– was The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin. I was astounded that my interest was held by a book about a boat. Maybe I have a soft spot in my heart for books about boats now? I do not know.

Dead Wake is all about the Lusitania. ALL ABOUT the Lusitania! When my son Daniel finished reading the book Of Dikes and Windmills by Peter Spier he said to me “Mom, now I know ALL there is to know about windmills! This was a great book!”. That is exactly how I now feel about the Lusitania after reading Dead Wake. And guess what? It was not one bit boring! Not one page felt like reading a list of facts, and each page was full of details. However, the reason this book will always be the highlight of my 2020 reading, and keep a very special place in my heart is because it was the last book I shared with a dear loved one. As mentioned in my last post, THIS is the book I read for hours by a sickbed. I would mark in the margins selections to read aloud to him when he was awake. We looked at the hospital ceiling tiles in his room to estimate how many would be needed to represent the size of the torpedo that hit the Lusitania. We talked about everything in that book as the seconds slowly ticked, it was a welcome distraction from the devastating reality we faced and the quickly fading hope of wellness. On the few hours I was not at his side, he would tell other family members about our book. Over the years I randomly narrated many books to him, but this one, the book I had no idea was to be the very last, will always be special to me.

Man plans, God laughs.

Erik Larson, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Closing Thoughts

This is a small portion of the thoughts conjured up by my reading this year. While composing this today I decided to save chats about children’s books for my next post. Most of the links are for GoodReads. It took considerable more time to attach the links in this post, but it was important for me to do that little bit for you in case you wanted to find out more about any of the books I am sharing about. This blog is in its infancy, still in the stage of needing constant care. I don’t quite know its personality yet.

5 thoughts on “2020 Reading Notes

  1. I am happy that you started a blog! I will be following along.

    Peace Like A River is in my top 5 all-time books. I, however, haven’t ventured to read Virgil Wander yet. Sometimes I get cold feet about reading another book by the same author as my favorite because I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed. I may check out that podcast you posted though.

    Cry the Beloved Country and Things Fall Apart were so very different, in my opinion, I don’t think you can compare them well. Next on my ever-growing list is The Education of a British-Protected Child.

    Wendell Berry is someone who I greatly respect and admire. I am always convicted and inspired anew after finishing his work. I have read a lot of his writing–novels, poetry, & essays. But I haven’t read Art of the Commonplace! The essays in What Are People For? have recently kept me up at night. My husband and I have been making changes because of it.

    How comforting to read a book aloud to a suffering person. Such a solace.


    • Hi there, Alana! Fair warning, if you listen to that podcast you will probably want to read at least one of his brother’s books. I know I do! The art of the Commonplace has very many essays. I think the next to the last one was my favorite. I’m still copying passages into my commonplace from that book! The person who told me about Things Fall Apart .. I don’t remember his exact words, but after our conversation I left with the impression that it would leave a more powerful impression on the reader than Cry the Beloved Country. (Which I am about to re-read!) Not that is was a ‘far superior book’ just ‘a bit better because of this and that’. I just started a GoodReads page, too. I have no idea what I’m doing there but it may prove to be a useful tool at least for keeping up with my own massive TBR stack.


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