At the beginning of this year I posted about a reading plan/challenge I was planning on doing. The idea was to read 9 books in 9 different categories. I wasn’t successful in doing that, but I doubted I would be when I started. 81 books is a lot, even for a fast reader like me. However, even if I didn’t technically complete the challenge I was glad I did it. What I was looking to do at the beginning of the year was to be more intentional in my reading and also to expand my horizons a bit beyond the kinds of books I usually reach for. And in that sense it was successful.
Here are some of the highlights from the year. If you’re interested in seeing the whole list, you can look here.
Books I Read Aloud with John
The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney: The first book in this 5 book series about the adventures of a classroom hamster was given to us by my sister-in-law. I liked them all, John LOVED them. We spent a fun summer reading through them together.
Homer Price by Robert McCloskey and Centerburg Tales by Robert McCloskey: Homer was one of my favorite books as a child and I was happy to share it with John this year. He really loved both these books and would beg for more every day, always the sign of a great read-aloud.
Novels from The Well Educated Mind list
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: I only got through 4 books on this list but one of them was Moby Dick so I think that should count for extra points or something. Moby Dick was decidedly not a favorite of mine. I really enjoyed Uncle Tom’s Cabin and thought it was a shame this was my first time reading it. I also very much enjoyed Crime and Punishment although I got tired of people telling me how depressing it was when I had it out in public. Yes, it’s not exactly a feel-good book but still very worth the time spent.
History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer: An excellent read that really made history come alive for me. It worked well to read it before doing ancients with John this year.
Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics by Liping Ma: This little book was surprisingly one of the best reads of the year. It challenged my ideas of how to teach math and my own understanding of mathematics. I would highly recommend it to anyone.
Science and Medicine
Autism’s False Prophets by Paul Offit: At the end of last year (2008) I felt like I needed to read many of the anti-vaccine books out there, so that I could talk to parents that were reading them and using them as the basis of their decisions to vaccinate or not. Then I read this book by Offit. He is decidedly on the pro-vaccine side of the debate, as you would expect from a pediatric infectious disease expert and vaccine researcher (he helped develop the current vaccine against rotaviurs). He is an amazing writer and manages to write about this potentially dry topic like a thriller. It helped solidify my own opinions about the “vaccine controversy” and was also truly a joy to read.
Calvin’s Institutes (read daily): I read through Calvin’s Institutes as part of an online project by Princeton Theological Seminary in celebration of Calvin’s 500th birthday this year. I can’t say it was always fun, but I did feel a huge sense of accomplishment at having done it and many times found myself challenged by his thinking. I was also glad to have a better understanding of the Reformed Faith.
Overall, this was the category that surprised me the most. I don’t typically read a lot biography, and found I really enjoyed what I read.
Look Me In The Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison: A fascinating book that led me to read several other memoirs by adults with Asperger’s or other forms of autism.
Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks: Love Oliver Sacks. Loved this book.
Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases by Paul Offit: Another great book by Offit. This is the story of Maurice Hilleman, a man who I am ashamed as a pediatrician to admit I did not know. He is the researcher behind most of the vaccines we use today. The science is fascinating but the book is also beautifully written as a story.
Potpourri Fiction (Doesn’t fit elsewhere. )
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: As I mentioned on this blog before, I was hesitant to read this book because it was so popular. I thought it would just be fluff. I was so wrong. Turned out it’s so popular for a reason: it’s a great book.
Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir and The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory: Don’t really want to know how historically accurate these are. They were both great reads. They did make me interested in the Tudors and potentially reading more history or historical fiction.
Starbucked by Taylor Clark: Whether you love Starbucks or love to hate Starbucks this is a fascinating read about the history of the gourmet coffee business in the US and in particular about the history behind the phenomenal success of Starbucks.
Shelves (Things on my shelves I’ve been “meaning” to read for years. )
The Living by Annie Dillard: I really liked this book about the early settlers in the Pacific Northwest when I read it. But an even better test of what a good book it is is that I’ve continued to think about the characters over the year. It’s one that I think will stick with me for a long time.
So, overall, I was glad I tried this. One thing I realized mid-way in the year is that I did want more flexibility. I wanted to leave room for going to the library and picking up books that just looked interesting. I wanted to leave room to follow rabbit trails when I got interested in a subject. So this year I’m going to do another challenge, but one that leaves more room for those things. I’ll post more about that in the next few days.