Archive for January 4th, 2009

2008 in Books

January 4, 2009 @ 6:11 pm | Filed under:

I didn’t read as many books last year as I usually do, because the lion’s share of my reading time was devoured by matters related to the presidential election. 2009 is already off to a better start: am halfway through my third novel already. (One of them, The Uncommon Reader—a delightful read, by the way—was very short, a novella really. Also, my mother has arrived to help with the baby, whenever the baby decides to make an appearance, and so as far as my children are concerned, I am chopped liver. It is lovely, sometimes, to be chopped liver.)

Anyway: 2008’s reading list. Several of the books I enjoyed most were the handcrafty sort.

I count these as “books read” because I really did read them, cover to cover, eagerly slurping down every single syllable of text and caption. Maybe this year—in the latter half, because I expect my arms to be happily full for a while—I can put some of this reading into practice.

As for fiction, most of the novels I read were children’s books: some old favorites, read aloud to the kids, and some first-time reads for me, so I could discuss them with Jane. Of the latter, I most enjoyed Beth Hilgartner’s A Murder for Her Majesty, a middle-grade suspense tale set in Elizabethan times, about a young girl forced to hide in a boys’ choir after her father is murdered by court rivals, and Scott O’Dell’s The King’s Fifth, another fine piece of historical fiction, this one about a young Spanish mapmaker whose quest for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola leads him into a hornet’s nest of intrigue and danger.

I read some excellent nonfiction this year. I’ve already raved about Alice Gunther’s inspiring Haystack Full of Needles and the transformative Outside Lies Magic by John Stilgoe. Another standout was Neil Perrin’s collection of essays about lesser-known literary gems, A Reader’s Delight. A sweet friend sent me a copy for my birthday last year, and I savored the essays one by one throughout the year. (I wrote about Perrin’s A Child’s Delight here.) Both the Perrin books have added a column full of enticing titles to my TBR list. One of my reading plans for 2009 is to treat myself to some of those books.

Another interesting nonfiction book I read in ’08 was Elizabeth Warnock Fernea’s A Street in Marrakesh. I met the author at a neighborhood Christmas party a year ago; she was the mother of the host, Laura Fernea, who appears in the book as a thirteen-year-old girl. In the late 70s, the Fernea family lived in Marrakesh for a year. It was Elizabeth’s husband’s work that brought them there, but the book focuses on the domestic scene and Elizabeth’s struggles to get to know her Muslim neighbors. Gradually, awkwardly, connections are formed and Elizabeth is invited into other women’s homes, and her yearning to see the real lives of her neighbors—not just the blank faces presented to tourists—is fulfilled. The book is a fascinating look at a culture so tremendously different from America’s, but it is more than a travel book: it’s a moving, honest account of Elizabeth’s vulnerability and determination. Her efforts to cross the ‘stranger in a strange land’ barrier are sometimes rebuffed, sometimes embarrassing, but she presses on nonetheless. I was hoping for another opportunity to chat with Elizabeth, but the annual Christmas caroling party didn’t happen this year. Maybe next year. (As I write, I’m struck by the irony of my own shyness—here I am waiting for the big neighborhood party rather than making the kind of personal overture Elizabeth herself would never have shrunk from!)

There were other good books on my list in 2008, but I can smell my mother’s good cornbread just about ready to come out of the oven. I’d like to say I’ll write about the rest later, but we all know how unlikely that is. Unless this baby tarries another week, in which case maybe I’ll have all too much time to blog!