a room without books is like a body without a soul
So without further ado, here are the five (fiction) books which have most inspired and intrigued me this year:
A Place In Time (Wendell Berry)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)
Lilith (George MacDonald)
Wonder (R.J. Palacios)
The Mill on the Floss (George Eliot)
I loved all of these books, but the Wendell Berry short story collection at the top is my run-away first choice. I find it hard to put into words why his fiction impacts me so deeply. He has been writing about the same fictional small town of Port William for several decades, and in this collection he revisits characters we have met in other stories and novels, over several generations of life in this unremarkable place. I have no idea how these stories would impact someone who hasn’t read any other Port William fiction. I would recommend starting with the novels Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter and Andy Catlett.
But coming to these stories after being steeped in those others, I found them profoundly powerful and beautiful. Simple. Funny. Heart-breaking. There is almost no other fiction I’ve read that even comes close to the same impact (maybe only Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and a couple of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels). I’m guessing it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those with ears to hear, this is something special.
Other books I enjoyed this year which didn’t make the final list? Transatlantic and Let The Great World Spin (Colum McCann), Silas Marner (George Eliot), And The Mountains Echoed (Khaled Hosseini), Canada (Richard Ford), The Secret Scripture (Sebastian Barry), John (Niall Williams), Harvest (Jim Crace) and The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton).
And if I was includinf a few non-fiction books, the most significant have been Darrell Johnson’s Discipleship on the Edge (studies in Revelation), No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin (on the life of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt), and an astonishing little book called The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart (a reflection on God, evil and suffering in the shadow of the Asian Tsunami).
Sooooooo what about you? Which books have opened up new worlds, new pespectives, new hope for you this year?