Updated: May 9
Some of my favorite books pulled from years of book journals
Now is the time to stay home and catch up on all those books you’ve wanted to read in the past, but didn’t have time. Sheltering in place does have its advantages.
Since I keep a record of much of my reading in “book journals,” I can go back through the years and pull out my notes on my favorites, thinking that maybe you’d like them, too.
We all need distraction and delight right now!
Listed in the order I read them:
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of Mary Dodd by Jim Fergus If you like historical fiction or stories of the American West, you’ll love this.
The basic idea is that in order to ring about peace and understanding between the Indians and the whites, an Indiana chief proposes that the government give 1000 white women to Indians to teach them about their culture and to raise and breed children common to both nations. A highly secretive mission, the US complies, but no respectable women would do this horrible thing, so the government allows women released from asylums and prisons, creating a fascinating, though motley, cast of characters.
These women are the only “shipment” in yet another broken treaty, and after marrying into the tribes, learning their ways, and giving birth, the inevitable clash between the two cultures comes.
“It’s a fascinating, fun book — different enough from anything I’ve read to be truly intriguing.” (Read in August of 1999).
Ahab’s Wife, or The Star Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund Chalk it up to my love of literature and my admiration for Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick, but this one got a 5 star + rating in my book journal!
A compelling read about the fictional Ahab’s wife, a female protagonist who was so real to me I kept thinking it was strange for HER to be meeting fiction people. (It’s the kind of book I’d love to write.) Una Spenser grows up independent, isolated, and happy on the island where her aunt keeps a lighthouse until two young men come to measure the lighthouse for a new “Fresnel” lens. What follows is a journey that encounters madness, pain, suffering, and marriage to Captain Ahab.
“It’s a book about an independent woman who uses her mind, her heart, her resources. A woman who loves the sea, the clouds, the stars. (Read in July 2000).
Some Wildflower in My Heart by Jamie Langston Turner You may not have heard of this book, but I thought it was wonderful.
Admittedly, it started out a little slow and heavy due to the narrator’s thick prose and continual allusions to literary works, but the more I got into it, the more I enjoyed it.
The story focuses on Margaret Tuttle, a regimented, “hard” woman, totally impersonal, a school lunchroom supervisor whose life — through the attentions and love of a little woman hired on to work at the cafeteria named Birdie Freeman- is forever changed.
It sounds so simple, but it was a lovely work which appealed to me because of how it interwove faith with literature. Through the course of the book — which Margaret is telling in retrospect — we begin to see why she is so difficult and impersonal. A back-story that explains her behavior.
Buck-toothed, smiling Birdie Freeman brings joy to those around her by simple acts of kindness. She, too, has a tragic backstory, but the difference in the two women is how they reacted to their traumatic youths.
When I finished reading the book, I was sobbing — literally sobbing, wishing that I could write something that would change lives as Birdie changed those around her. (Read in 2001).
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger Labeled as my great “Summer Read” of 2002.
This is a beautifully written, evocative book about faith, family, miracles and the unthinkable tragedies that sometimes follow the best of families.
Jeremiah Land is a janitor with a strong faith, so much so that he talks — out loud — to God daily. The lives of his family and his three boys, Davey, Rueben, and Swede are drastically changed when two roughnecks break into their house, and Davey shoots them.
“Filled with beautiful language, metaphors, and similes, as well as a gorgeous chapter describing the road to heaven in the after-life.” — Read in 2002
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak I have read this book three times over the last ten years. It usurped To Kill a Mockingbird as my all-time favorite book.
Masterfully written. Such beautiful language. Meaningful characters. True history. The good and bad of human nature.
The Book Thief is narrated by Death, who has met the Leisel Memminger, the young female protagonist three times during her lifetime. The setting. The language. The structure. The colors. I loved everything about this book, although the first time I read it, I had the heretical thought, “I’m going to hate this stream-of-consciousness-thing.” But after a chapter or two, I was entranced.
It starts out with Death saying,
“It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors — an expert in being left behind.It’s a small story, really, about, among other things:
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery. “
This book is filled with interesting ideas like Death is “haunted by humans.” That “within us is the power for vast evil and great good,” and that “good souls die sitting up…”
If you haven’t read this, DO. Don’t miss this beautiful, haunting, memorable work of literature that contains one of my favorite lines about Rudy, a boy with “hair the color of lemons forever.” You’ll be moved. (Read for the first time in 2010).
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese A truly great story that takes place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Sister Mary Joseph Praise embarks on a journey but changes her destination when she meets Dr. Thomas Stone and decides to go to Dr. Stone’s clinic in Addis Abbaba.
Dr. Stone is a medical genius who suffers from mental breakdowns, but he’s always nursed back to health by Sister Mary. Their relationship is a complex one, and during one of his episodes, he impregnates her. She gives birth to twins and then dies.
Of course, there’s so much more to the story. The book weaves together the political upheavals of Ethiopia, but its beauty is in the story line that creates meaningful, interesting characters with real depth. Cutting for Stone shows how one person’s actions changes someone else’s life.
From Ethiopia to America, the story looks at the emotional and clinical side of medicine, a little insight into the first live liver transplants, and the ultimate love of two brothers.
“Mother-son, girl-boy, person-God, brother-brother, are all relationships explored in this beautiful, interesting book.” (Read November 2011).
Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg Few books have demonstrated to me so clearly the POWER of language.
Ava’s Man tells the story of Rick Bragg’s grandfather, Charlie Bundrum, “a hard-working, whiskey-making, drinking, singing, hammer-slinging man living in the backwoods of Alabama and Georgia.”
Bragg, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, is masterful. The language is real and powerful, so true I could taste it. The book depicts a real man, very flawed but wonderful and strong.
“It’s a love-song to common men and the strength that carried them through. It’s a look at poverty and hardship and joy and contentment during the Great Depression.” (Read in 2017)
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krause Rosenthal Would I have loved it as much if I hadn’t known that Rosenthal had died at the age of 51 from ovarian cancer after writing the editorial in the New York Times entitled “You May Want to Marry My Husband” 10 days before she died? Probably.
The book is quirky and doesn’t fit into any of the traditional formats I knew, and I LOVED the out-of-the-box format. It consists of lists and tidbit-observances of life, corralled into some kind of alphabet entry into her Encyclopedia.
I totally get Rosenthal when she says,
“I like to write things down — moments, memories, lists, quotes, thoughts, compulsively sometimes. I need to gather all the thoughts that are locked in my head and put them on paper.”
Amy Krause Rosenthal was so much like me. She is not a group person, loves mailing letters and reading books, and she’s still in love with her husband. She writes about the unsuccessful ideas, the man who invented Lucky Charms, and how she cannot NOT buy something when going into an office supply store.
“So honest. So real. So poignant.” — (Read in March of 2017).
Be distracted with a good story.
Feel delight with each book.
Survive self-quarantine and social distancing with a good read.