Well, I don't suppose I really needed to purpose any such thing: college pretty much took care of the problem. Oh, I toddled along well enough up until July - but after that the newness of the first semester at college swooped down on me and my fun-reading suffered accordingly. However, I read what I read and that is better than nothing.
Goodreads says I've read thirty-seven books this year, but that doesn't count a few I was dragged through for the sake of a good grade. Don't get me started on Writing Women's Worlds, for instance, which begins with terrible alliteration and goes on down from there. However, I did find The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down a tolerable venture into the world of biomedical culture. It is, in essence, the story of a Hmong refugee family, their epileptic daughter, and the clash between their culture and that of the California medical community - not a light bouncy sort of read, but somewhat like a medical thriller all the same. (I sold it back to the bookstore all the same.)
History, as I mentioned in an earlier post, has had me racing between eras and nations and topics and not properly finishing much of anything. Four chapters in Nicole Howard's The Book, a brief overview of book-making technology; five or so in The Ottoman Age of Exploration, an interesting look at the Ottomans' Indian Ocean venture of the 16th Century (if somewhat burdened by the author's propensity for qualifying all his remarks); bits and pieces of The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, a collection of primary sources; and C.V. Wedgwood's A Coffin for King Charles/A King Condemned/The Trial and Execution of King Charles I - the only one I have actually been able to FINISH, and a pretty fair sketch of events (for a Royalist). Possibly something else, too, but my head is so full of studying-for-the-exam that I can no longer think straight enough to be sure.
I have been able to relax with a few histories not directly related to the early modern period. My first book of the year was Ben Macintyre's Operation Mincemeat, the fuller, more accurate history of the espionage venture from the film "The Man Who Never Was" - which is splendid because of its creepiness and because it has Stephen Boyd as an Irish agent. Barbara Tuchman's The First Salute was another far-flung, not very well reasoned foray on my part; I remember little of its main point, and looking at my review, I find I wasn't actually sure of its main point when I finished reading it. Oh well, Tuchman and all...
After that I confess I indulged my interest in Richard III for a while, picking up The Wars of the Roses, The Last Plantagenets, Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III (fun stuff, that), and, less historically, The Daughter of Time. The latter was a kind of history lesson wrapped up in a pseudo-mystery, very influential in both genres and, I thought, not very enjoyable as a book. The writing style was too insistent, the author too bent on bludgeoning. I like Richard as much as the next sentimental gal, but goodness! no need to tie yourself in knots over it!
I was more successful with a few other mysteries. I finally sat down and read The Woman in White: rather melodramatic, but oddly enjoyable in its melodrama. I especially liked the rotation of narrators and the way it is set up like a court case, with each witness delivering his or her testimony in turn. And then, similar only in being a classic mystery and full of Gothic flavor, there was Rebecca. Disturbing, emotional, dark and incomplete - and fantastic. Oh, I guessed the Big Plot Twist, but I don't mind that - it wasn't the point. Rebecca was brilliant in its breathless, intimate, closed stream-of-consciousness style (and in having a completely nameless protagonist). It turns mystery tropes on their heads and made me lose sleep. I cannot for the life of me understand why writers are attempting to reinvent it or "pay homage" to it, for it isn't the sort of book that can very well be improved.
Death Comes to Pemberley was somewhat less rewarding, but that's partially my fault: I should have known better than to relax my strict views on classic adaptations. However, I knew that P.D. James is an acknowledged mystery writer with a great deal of experience - not some young twerp with an over-inflated ego. So I gave it a shot. And, well, it was nothing to write to Longbourn about. The thing about books that borrow characters is that no one will ever write those characters as well as the original author.
Over in the realm of classics, I feel I made some worthwhile progress. I ventured into the world of Mr. Bertram Wooster and his man Jeeves, finally read To Kill a Mockingbird (and liked it), finished off the Bounty trilogy with Pitcairn's Island, and crawled through The Arabian Nights. I don't think that was meant to be read in one chunk. I did a little more work with Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew (!), The Comedy of Errors, and Henry VIII Which Was Long And Tedious. I read The Black Arrow, which, alas, is not my favorite Stevenson, and which could really be classed with my Richard III binge. Also, I finally read David Copperfield! Hurrah hurrah! Steerforth is no Carton, but I'll admit to getting a little sniffily over that part.
Encouraged in no uncertain terms by Mirriam, Jenny and I picked up The Grand Sophy over the summer and were soon in stitches. I recently read Heyer's Why Shoot a Butler?, too, but I suspect I'm going to be fonder of her romances than of her mysteries. We'll see after They Found Him Dead. I'd like to get one of Heyer's historical novels and give it a whirl - sample some of each, as it were.
I didn't find many five-star books this year, but one I did "discover" was J.I. Packer's Knowing God. Yes, I know, I should have read it before, and I intend to read it again. Packer combines a no-nonsense air - typical, I think, of British practical theologians - with compassion for those struggling with realities of sin and justification and assurance. His emphasis on the role of adoption in the life of the believer helped give me a new perspective on it, and renewed appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit. Rather harder to read but even more provocative was Lesslie Newbigin's Signs Amid the Rubble, a collection of lectures on the Kingdom of God and God's purposes playing out in human history. What was it I said? "I said something rather brilliant this morning before tea."
Sometimes I wondered if he wasn't pushing the edges of orthodoxy, and certainly I wouldn't recommend this book for a new believer; but taken as a whole, and not in fragments, I found him thoroughly solid. Besides, it is good to read writers who jar you and push at your foundations and pull you outside of your box and comfort zone. Newbigin was such a man, and his "Signs Amid the Rubble" is a book worth returning to.
what made it into your "read" pile this year?