Earlier this year I wrote about how getting my car, Tux, changed the way I read—primarily because now I listen to audiobooks. All. The. Time! Since having a full-time job and being active and being in a relationship takes up quite a bit of time, t’s enabled me to listen to so many more books. Once again I feel like I am constantly learning something new and exploring a new space I’ve never been before. That’s the best part of reading.
I started the year in a business book phase, because I had started an MBA program. Some of those books were very good and interesting. But I soon realized that stories will always have my heart. I’ve started listening to nonfiction narrative via audiobook: things like biographies and histories. I’ve kept fiction primarily in paperback form—although you’ll see in the list below that I did enjoy hearing some classics in a new format!
I read 41 books (so far—I’ll probably finish a few more in the next two weeks!) this year, and of those, here are my top 10 favorites:
New in Historical Fiction
Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker [paperback]
I’ve read several Jane Eyre spinoffs, and this is the best one. Essentially, it’s the story of JE told from Mr. Rochester’s point of view. Similar to the structure of JE, it begins with Mr. Rochester’s childhood, his training as a second son, his time in Jamaica and unfortunate marriage to Bertha, and his unexpected inheritance of Thornfield Hall. I appreciated how true Shoemaker stayed to the book—not only to the details, but also to the spirit of it. Even small details were consistent, and Shoemaker took appropriate creative license to add new meanings to things you might have taken for granted in JE.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin [paperback]
You can read my full review here. This is the story of Capote’s meteoric rise to fame, and his fall of shame. Benjamin is a gripping storyteller, and this book is full of all the celebrity drama of New York’s elite that you could ask for!
Les Miserables is my all-time favorite play. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. And I work in publishing. So when I saw this book about how Victor Hugo wrote and published this classic, I had to have it!
While I’ve had the story of Les Mis memorized since I was a kid, this book helped me to see it within the context of a much broader political and social movement, and in the context of Hugo’s own life. My favorite part of Les Mis has always been the tension between grace and justice—but this book also helped me see the other issues Hugo cared about: the plight of the poor, to name the most important one.
Josh and I listened to this book on a trip to Las Vegas, and we couldn’t stop listening!! The radium girls were employed in dial factories during World War I, making glow-in-the-dark watches and other tools for soldiers. The paint they used to make them glow had radium in it. To use the paint most efficiently and get the finest point on their paint brush, they would put the brush in their mouths and shape it, then dip it in the paint, paint the dial, and then return it to their mouths again—without rinsing it off. They were told over and over again that the radium in the paint was harmless; some doctors even said it was good for them!
Obviously, that wasn’t true. These girls suffered terrible diseases and injuries because of the toxic paint in their bodies. This is the story of what happened and how they fought for their rights and their health, at a very great cost.
Return of the Classics
I’m always wanting to catch up on a lot of the classics I’ve never read, so this year I read several! Along with these favorites, I also read 1984 and Catch-22.
True Grit by Charles Porter [paperback]
Growing up, I used to love watching John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn and daring little Maddie. The book did not disappoint! You can get through this short book in about a day, and it will be one of the best ways you can spend your time. Maddie is a hero, and I can’t wait to read this one with my kids!
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle [paperback]
In honor of the new movie coming out, I decided to finally give this a try. I was thrilled to find a charming good vs. evil story, in which love ultimately wins the day. Please do yourself a favor and read this—preferably with kids, if you have them. This is sure to be a favorite, up there with The Chronicles of Narnia.
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery [audiobook]
I read Anne of Green Gables when I was a kid, and I loved the series (obviously—hellooo, Gilbert Blythe!!). When I saw that the audiobook was read by Rachel McAdams, one of my favorite actresses, I decided to re-enter the world of Anne Shirley. McAdams totally does Anne justice, capturing all of her gumption and tenderheartedness all at once.
On a side note, I do NOT recommend the new Netflix series Anne With an “E”. They’ve completely butchered the story.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote [audiobook]
Since I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote’s life, I’ve been wanting to read the book that made him famous; the book that invented the true crime genre. Capote followed the trial of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, who brutally murdered a well-known family of four in their house. This book explores the question: What would motivate people to do such terrible things? If you liked Making a Murderer, you will devour this story!
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy [audiobook]
My husband is deployed right now, so one of the ways we stay close is reading audiobooks together. He’s a WWII buff, so I got this book because I knew Bonhoeffer was one of the principal conspirators in the plot to kill Hitler. I also knew that he was a theologian, but I had no idea how much his theology would challenge and inspire me.
The whole book is fascinating, but I was mostly intrigued to discover why Bonhoeffer decides to plot to kill Hitler. As a Christian, how do you justify murder? How do you justify outright disobedience of authority (which goes against Romans 13)? I won’t give it away, but Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on this made me also think long and hard about the excuses I make for not taking action against evil—and when I should be taking a stronger stand. It’s a particularly meaningful question in light of the many evils we face today.
Suffice it to say that Bonhoeffer is a new theological hero. I’ve ordered a few of his books and I can’t wait to dive in!
Elon Musk is one of the most fascinating figures in modern society today. He’s one of the brightest inventors, having invented Paypal and a fully-electric vehicle that is unlike any other, and pioneering the use of reusable rockets in the space industry.
But what distinguishes Musk the most isn’t just his academic smarts. It’s the questions that he asks and the relentlessly high standard to which he holds himself. Why can’t you make a car that runs better than any other car and is more attractive and is affordable for everyone? Why can’t we go to Mars in this lifetime and pioneer a new world? Musk doesn’t cut corners; he constantly seeks perfection, which is why you hear of Tesla cars being delayed—sometimes for years. If something isn’t right, it won’t be released until it’s perfect. I was so impressed with his dogged determinism and out-of-the-box thinking.
A great article is “How Elon Musk Learns Faster and Better Than Everyone Else” by Michael Simmons. I highly recommend it!