It would probably be faster to just start a Goodreads account to keep track of all my reads, but I enjoy taking some time at the end of each year to look back over my BPL borrowing history to see what I’ve read. This year in particular I feel a huge distance from my reading at the beginning of the year, much like a lot of our lives feel divided into before and after March. At the bottom of the post you’ll find a few things I wrote or published this year; as always feel free to leave more recommendations in the comments.
What I read
Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman
A little slip of a book about how to endure crisis (a topic near to my heart), I finished it and wished I’d written it.
Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano
This mystery, part of a series about a spirited older widow living in Sicily, was an absolute delight. Think Inspector Montalbano with more charm and less misogyny. Viva Poldi!
A Better Man by Louise Penny
After binging all of the Chief Inspector Gamache novels a few summers ago I now have to wait in the “holds” line to read the new ones. Louise Penny never disappoints.
Write Better by Andrew Le Peau
Write Better: A lifelong writer on craft, art, and spirituality manages to be both practical and entertaining. Six months after reading it I already feel like I should go back and review it again.
Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
The family life depicted in this memoir is so dysfunctional it strains belief, but Brodeur approaches her subjects with such honesty and care that she makes everyone perfectly true and, paradoxically, almost normal.
I checked these out with a few other books on March 13, just before the world shut down. Since they closed the libraries and suspended all due dates I was able to keep them through the summer. They helped me grow a lush pandemic garden which included, among other things, seven tomato plants!
Emma Anderson’s contribution to this collection, “Blood, fire, and ‘Baptism’:Three Perspectives on the Death of Jean De Brébeuf, Seventeenth-century Jesuit ‘Martyr'” was the piece I spent the most time with as I was reconsidering a unit on missionaries that I teach. I was really fascinated by her thorough and well-researched imagining of how three different parties involved in the killing of Jean De Brébeuf would have interpreted the event.
Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen
A friend and I organized a book swap before the libraries reopened and this was one she lent me. Somehow I missed it over all these years, but had vague recollections of it being controversial. While I suppose I can understand why the sexual energy that the title character displayed struck some as a little “off”, I didn’t find it terribly shocking. This beautiful and intense short novel can strike a familiar chord in those familiar with the reality that prayer can be weird.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Another book about religion and prayer that I couldn’t believe I had never read. I mean, Jesuits in Space! How did I miss this? Russell writes beautifully about her characters inner lives, and the intergalactic plot sweeps you away – even if I found the last act of the book a little rushed.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone
I was overdue on reading this seminal piece of Black Christian theology. The chapter that has stuck with me was “The Recrucified Christ in the Black Literary Imagination” which introduced me to a number of poets and other writers who explored this same topic.
How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
The marketing team behind this book did a good job of hiding the fact that it’s a memoir, and I can’t blame them: the title, though slightly deceptive, is captivating. Kendi avoids a lot of the pitfalls of memoir writing – issues with structure, connection, and relevance – and draws the reader in to a personal narrative we all can learn from.
A Pilgrimage to Eternity by Timothy Egan
Timothy Egan uses a pilgrimage on the Via Francigena to share his own spiritual story plus some fascinating lesser-known nuggets of church history. He’s not quite an exceptional spiritual writer, but there’s something to be said for reading spiritual writing from an exceptional general writer.
Code Name Madeleine by Arthur Magida
Noor Inayat Khan was a British spy in World War II. This page turner of a biography will leave you feeling more educated than you were before.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
This young adult novel was our “all-school read”. It tells the story of a teen developing mental illness with compassion and creativity.
Flash Count Diary by Darcey Steinke
It’s a little early for me to be reading books about menopause but I like to get a head-start on my crises. After hearing a number of podcast interviews with the author I was prepared to like this book a lot more, but in the end it didn’t really do it for me. Sorry to all the people I recommended it to before I actually read it.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Stamped is the young adult version of Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. I tired a bit of some of the conversational teen-speak, but hey, the book wasn’t written for me. (Sometimes I accidentally get the teen versions of books when I request them – it often makes for lighter reading!) Really important history in whatever form you choose to read it.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Another entry in the “books I couldn’t get at the library when they first came out”. It’s gorgeous and wrenching. There’s little else I can add to the many other words of praise showered on this book.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Nothing says “end of 2020” like a novel about the violent decline of society! In truth, the dystopia is only the backdrop for the journey of the extraordinary protagonist. I can’t wait to read the sequel.
What I wrote
Hey I had two books come out this year! Spirit Show Me the Way and Hearts on Fire are resources on Catholic Spirituality for Teens. Of the smaller pieces I wrote, the one I am most proud of is Deep Breaths, a reflection on the difficult realization this spring that singing was going to be unsafe for a long time.
Bonus! What I sang
With performances on hold since March, I spent a lot of time in my practice room getting familiar with self-taping and iMovie this summer. I prepared the following 30-minute set for the Assisi Performing Arts virtual summer festival. Enjoy!
We’re all looking forward to a better 2021! If you have any reading recommendations for me please share them below – happy new year!