Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best Books of 2013

     For the last few years I've compiled a best of list which included movies and music, but nothing really stood out in either of those categories for me this year. However I did read 68 books in 2013 and I gave 5 stars to 7 of them. I also gave 4 stars to 27 books so exactly half of the books I read this year were very good or excellent - I guess I'm getting better at picking good reads. I track my reading at goodreads.com and it helps at year end to look back at what I've read. The lowest rated book from 2013 was "Turing's Cathedral" which was about the beginnings of the modern computer. It apparently was a bestseller but all it did for me was make me feel stupid.
     So here are the top 7 books I read this year, along with the comments I put into my database after I read them:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio 
      I loved this YA novel about a boy who goes to school for the first time (grade 5). Because of gross facial deformities he had been homeschooled. Wonderful use of voice - different sections written by a variety of characters. I read it 3 times - once for myself, then once to prep for using it in class, then as a read aloud. A very 'rich text' as we say in the teaching biz - used most of the music referenced, Auggie Doggie cartoon and movie clips, study of voice. Very endearing character, in the end quietly heroic - really a story about acceptance. 

In the Absence of God by Richard L. Cleary  
     This is a pretty heavy book in a few ways but I really liked it. The author has an amazing vocabulary (I looked lots of words up - so convenient on the ipad) and the depth of thinking about belief is something I’ve never read before. It sometimes seemed like I was in a course on philosophy. My only complaint would be that sometimes these dialogues became too pervasive and then the story dragged somewhat. However, overall I think this quite an amazing book and I found it very encouraging to my own beliefs (did quite a bit of highlighting).

Canadian History for Dummies by Will Ferguson  
     I really enjoyed this look at our country’s history. It’s filled with lots of interesting information about our past and is told with a wry wit. It also balances some of the social history (women’s, native rights) that are important to our development. Some overarching themes emerge as well, like the continual federal-provincial tensions, French-English problems, unity-multicultural issues. It is an overview though so he can’t give lots of details (but this encourages me to read more about some people or events). I’ve recommended this great book to several people and plan on buying my own hard copy to share and reread.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs  
     This was a great read - the author decided to try to follow the Bible for one year, even though he was agnostic. OT for 8 months, NT for 4. Had some nominal Jewish background (with more religious relatives). I was mostly impressed with his honesty and respect for believers, even those he found pretty ‘out there’. Lots of humour comes through as well. He would admit by the end, to have been changed, valuing some aspects of faith-filled living, but not to the point where he would say he believes in God. Very interesting to get an outsiders perspective on some of the things in the Bible.

In Search of Deep Faith by Jim Belcher   
     I really loved this story about a pastor and his family who take a year off to travel around Europe exploring spots where important people of faith have made an impact on the author. They start in Oxford and then hit some important places on the continent - southern France where Huegenots sheltered Jews in the mountains during WW2, the Netherlands to see the house where Corrie ten Boom’s family also rescued Jewish people, Germany for Bonhoeffer sites, Austria and the real Von Trapp family. Along the way he shares honestly about family dynamics and encourages the reader to think more deeply about faith. 

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd   
     Loved this book! I think the trick to reading Rutherfurd is having extended time to give to the long, intricate story, so reading this on holidays at the cottage was perfect. Plus I think this is the best story of his I’ve read so far. However I would say it is skewed towards the more modern era, giving more time to the 20th century than most of his work. Still, I was able to really enjoy the storylines and many characters, plus I learned a lot of French history along the way. I think he really captures the heart of the French people, and many of the things that make them unique. It helped too that we had visited Paris back in 2006, though now I wish we had seen a bit more of the city.

     The Gospel of Mark by Michael Card  
     I find these studies very helpful (he's written 4). Card has so many insights that really help the stories come alive. Two interesting themes that keep being reaffirmed with this gospel is that it was written during the persecution of Nero and it was also based on the reminisinces of the apostle Peter. Over and over again there are clues in the text that set it apart from the other gospels and support these 2 proposals. Good preparation for our Friday night study of this gospel.

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