I managed to hit 50 books on my read/listened to list this year – helped by listening to the entire oeuvre of Father Brown books by GK Chesterton, and by lots of lovely crafting and jigsaw afternoons in lockdown, listening to audiobooks. I only read 31, which is a bit low for me, but then I am studying for an MA, so have read countless articles, essays and chapters, not to mention dozens of legal rulings for the Medical Law part of the course.
Here are some of the year’s highlights, more or less in order of reading them:
Mrs Miniver, by Jan Struther (fiction). I picked this up in Waterstones early in January, when I went in to spend my Christmas book tokens. It was a total impulse-buy – I saw it on a display table, read the first line, and decided to buy it! I’d heard of the film, but didn’t know it was based on a book. It must be very loosely based on the book, because apparently the film was credited with hastening America’s entry into WWII, and the book ends as the war opens, with very little mention of it other than the family being issued with their gas masks. It is a delightful little snapshot of upper-middle class England in the 1930s, and made a lovely start to the year’s reading.
War Doctor, by David Nott (memoir). This was what I actually went into Waterstones for, and it was fantastic – but not for the faint-hearted! I’d heard David on Desert Island Discs, telling tales of performing surgery in war zones, sometimes with bombs dropping on the hospital while he worked. His book, of course, tells the stories in much greater detail. Much of it is heartbreaking, and David doesn’t hold back from describing every gory detail of his operations, but the overall sense is of a bold adventurer who loves the adrenaline rush of helping people who need it most.
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame (classic). I’ve often picked this book up, read the first line, thought, ‘Ooh, this sounds lovely,’ and put it down again. So when Alastair Roberts began reading it chapter by chapter on his podcast over Easter, I listened in. What a delightful book. All the adaptations concentrate on the antics of the annoying Mr Toad, but these take up a very small proportion of the book – it’s mostly a really lovely tale of the friendship of Rat and Mole. We could all learn a lot from the way they care about one another and work through the bumps in their road.
Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande (non-fiction). This is one of the books recommended on my MA course, and it’s fabulous. Gawande is a doctor in the US and through some personal connections began to get interested in how we in the West approach old age. Basically, we tend to value safety over anything else, and in the interests of safety, effectively lock the elderly away and take away their independence and everything that made life worth living. He visits lots of residential care facilities and shares some of the bright ideas they have had – and their brilliant results.
Born Again This Way, by Rachel Gilson (Christian living), Purposeful Sexuality, by Ed Shaw (Christian living, forthcoming). I seem to have been reading a lot of books about sex, sexuality and relationships in the last few years, and these two are two of the very best. In my review of the first, earlier this year, I said, “I loved [Gilson’s] careful searching of the scriptures – and not just the ones that explicitly mention romantic relationship, but the full sweep of the scriptures – to put sex, romance and other earthly desires in their rightful place, and to put God in his – seated on the throne, high and lifted up, worthy of all our praise.” Then I had the privilege of reading an early copy of Purposeful Sexuality and being invited to write an endorsement for it. Here’s part of what I said: “In this excellent little book Ed reveals a deep understanding both of the questions surrounding sexuality and of the Bible’s glorious, hopeful, life-giving answers. How is God’s gift of sexuality good news for all of us, whatever our circumstances? Read this book to find out.” It’s out on 21st January and you can preorder it now from the link above.
And one to look out for: A Brief Theology of Periods (Yes, really), by Rachel Jones. Had you ever thought about what the theology of periods might be? Neither had until I was invited to write an endorsement for this book on the subject by my editor, Rachel Jones. Here’s what I said: “Embarrassing. Messy. Uncomfortable. Gross. Periods can be all of these things and more, but this book is none of them. A witty, insightful introduction to the marvels of menstruation and how our periods can point us to God. Yes, really.” I’m not sure when it’s coming out, but I’ll try and remember to write a proper review when it’s on its way.
And here are the rest of my top reads from the year:
How to be a Kosovan Bride, Naomi Hamill
Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan
Letter from New York, Helene Hanff
Overture to Death, Ngaio Marsh
Sensible Shoes, Sharon Garlough Brown
Real, Catherine Parks
Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren
Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin
You Are Special, Max Lucado
Elders, PJ Smyth
A Call to Act, Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams