I was inspired by Stefanie’s post about 5 life-changing books she’s read lately. To Stefanie, I say:
So for my quick takes this week, I’m listing 7 of my favorite of the books I’ve read in the past year. I can’t say these are all life-changing in a big way, but every good book changes your life for the better in at least some small way. So here goes:
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden:
This extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life centers on Philippa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedictine community.
It’s hard to write a review of this book that doesn’t make it sound like a cute little story about some cute little nuns and their cute little quirks. Like the first few scenes of The Sound of Music. Please just believe me that it isn’t. But neither is it some heavy tome about an other-wordly monastery.
This book is just rich with character development. The author describes the ways in which the characters’ individual faults and strengths–and their effects on others–are laid bare in the revealing light of communal life. I especially enjoyed the way the protagonist, Philippa, leaves behind a painful past, knowledge of the world, power, and authority to become a nun, but comes back to them again in unexpected ways. She gives up her life to God only to have him give it back to her, transformed. Beautiful.
(For those who have read it, tell me: do you think Sister Cecily chose the right vocation? The author apparently did, but I think she was wrong. It didn’t make me enjoy the book any less. In fact, it just goes to show how brightly drawn the characters are.)
The House at Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne, read by Peter Dennis.
My mother sent us this book on CD, and it is just a delight. It’s very important to get the version narrated by Peter Dennis. His narration earned the approval of Christopher Robin Milne (the author’s son, for whom the stories were written), himself:
‘Peter Dennis has made himself Pooh’s Ambassador Extraordinary and no bear has ever had a more devoted friend. So if you want to meet the real Pooh, the bear I knew, the bear my father wrote about, listen to Peter.’
We all enjoy listening to this when we’re in the car. Pat and I enjoy quoting it to each other, as we find more and more lessons learned in the 100 Acre Wood to be amusingly relevant to real life.
Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
In a world of modern, involved, caring parents, why are so many kids aggressive and cruel? Where is intelligence hidden in the brain, and why does that matter? Why do cross-racial friendships decrease in schools that are more integrated? If 98% of kids think lying is morally wrong, then why do 98% of kids lie? What’s the single most important thing that helps infants learn language? . . . With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, [the authors] demonstrate that many of modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring–because key twists in the science have been overlooked.
Most parenting books are long on anecdotes and unverified opinion. This book instead focuses on a variety of sociological and psychological studies about childhood and parenting, and their often surprising results. Despite the emphasis on studies and data, it’s an enjoyable read.
Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. I wrote a post about it here. Honorable mentions go to The Three-Martini Playdate, by Christie Mellor (review here) and The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, by Meg Meeker (review here). I just didn’t want this list to be completely dominated by parenting books.
Color Me Beautiful’s Guide to Looking Your Best, by Mary Spillane. Okay, so it’s a little embarrassing to include this book but it was such an eye-opener for me. We all wear clothes every day. Clothes are all one color or another. Some colors look a lot better on you than others. And most of us look better in some color than in black or white. It makes a huge difference to how you look and feel. Why not figure out what colors look good on you and pick those? Simple idea, but it took me 30 years to stumble upon it.
The photos and illustrations in this book are hilariously outdated. The advice is timeless, though. I think there’s a more modern version but I haven’t read it.
Nothing captures the charm of Edinburgh like the bestselling Isabel Dalhousie series of novels featuring the insatiably curious philosopher and woman detective. Whether investigating a case or a problem of philosophy, the indefatigable Isabel Dalhousie, one of fiction’s most richly developed amateur detectives, is always ready to pursue the answers to all of life’s questions, large and small.
Discovering this series was such a delight. Lively, likable characters. Mystery, romance, culture, some philosophy (but not too much). This series gives a peek into life in modern-day Scotland, which is a place I never would have thought much about otherwise. A great choice if you’re looking for fiction that’s light yet intelligent.
Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden.
North Korea is isolated and hungry, bankrupt and belligerent. . . . Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in its political prison camps, which have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. Very few born and raised in these camps have escaped. But Shin Donghyuk did.
In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and through the lens of Shin’s life unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence-he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his own family. Through Harden’s harrowing narrative of Shin’s life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival.
I hesitated to list this as a “favorite” book, because it is not exactly enjoyable to read. It’s horrific, fascinating, a page-turner. It’s important, I think, to read things that jolt me out of comfortable apathy about the outside world. Like Jennifer, I’d prefer to stay in my own little bubble.
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If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you’ve read any life-changing books recently, I’d love to hear about that too!
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!