A not-for-everyone list of some books I have read and enjoyed, read and loved and even read and disliked. I do not, for one minute, suggest my list to anyone because it is tailored to ME, by me and for me in a completely self-serving way and since you are not me, we just might not agree about what to read, what it means or if it is worth reading at all, let alone more than once as is my habit with books I enjoy.
This introduction was written in the breathless, comma-after-comma-style of Nathaniel Hawthorne and writers of his time whose single paragraphs often took up a whole page.
THIS BOOK LIST WILL GET LONGER.
I WILL ADD BOOKS TO IT AS TIME PASSES.
MOST RECENT READS
Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer. Historical Memoir. I didn’t see the movie which was made from this book and I didn’t know much about Tibetan History until I read it from cover to cover. I knew a great deal about Mao and the horror he was to China and how hard he worked to bring Tibet under his thumb but I didn’t know how all his efforts had worked out. This memoir whet my appetite for an understanding of the explosive events of the early 1950s. I found the explanation of “incarnations” to be far-fetched for my beliefs but feel grateful to understand Buddhism much better than I did and the significance of the Dali Lama in the lives of his followers. It fascinates me how one story or one book so often overlaps another and one event of significance in the world precipitates so many more. Heinrich Harrer was a German prisoner- of- war in India during WWII. When he and his friends finally successfully escaped, their goal was to get to Tibet which proved to be almost impossible. Tibet was at the time a closed country within a larger country and you didn’t just walk into it. Eventually, through a series of coincidences and perhaps miracles, he came to know the Dali Lama who was a child who lived in the Forbidden City of Lhasa. Harrar’s dream came true and he lived in Tibet for seven years. It is a look in the microscope at Buddhism, WWII, China, Mao and many other connected places, people and ideas. It was a highly educational book for someone like me and has encouraged me to read more about the exile of the Dali Lama and his activities of charity since that time. I do remember seeing flags now and then in recent years which say “Free Tibet”. I will need to read a little more to understand what has happened to Tibet and the Dali Lama.
The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Lianl Moriarty. Fiction. This book was as entertaining as a second book by the same author titled What Alice Forgot. As with most girly fiction, it was far-fetched and lightly believable but full of fun and entertaining. It was the kind of book you can read in a couple of hours and I did catch myself smiling several times at some absurdity or another. Great get-away book for a mind looking for a rest.
The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg. History. I stumbled across this book at Savers without knowing anything about it or the author. It was originally written in Swedish and recently translated into English and other languages including German. I read the book very soberly. It chronicled three years of the nightmare that was the Jewish Lodz Ghetto in Poland which in the beginning and soon after the Nazi occupation of the country housed at times one half of one million Jews. Using journals and the remarkable archives which the Jews of the ghetto kept as best they could, it was a microscopic look at the creation, management and decimation of a text-book Ghetto. The book provided many examples of how behavior changes under occupation by a foreign country, especially a country as ruthless and cruel as Germany. Many questions were posed which have been asked since that time by people like me about how it was possible that Jew could turn against Jew and how otherwise normal people could become depraved and commit horrifying deeds. The book emphasized resilience in many of the characters and asked again and again why some people have it and some people don’t. It terrifyingly displayed the horrors of epidemic disease as it spread in close quarters and never failed to share incidents of great and unexpected courage with the reader. My theological beliefs cause me to pray and believe that my prayers are heard. Because they are heard, I hope unfailingly that they will be answered. I was reminded how the Jews have be persecuted through antiquity and into recent history and how their faith must have been and still is tested by the continued harassments. While reading the book and following the lives of the families who played a significant role in Ghetto life, I wondered grimly how I might have reacted and/or survived such unimaginable, inhumane ordeals. Many of the Jews of the Lodz Ghetto developed a deep gratitude for small blessings and expressed it often in their letters to each other and in their journals. I was glad to be reminded how important gratitude is to the maintenance of a healthy spirit in difficult times. Many conversations and documents were in German or Polish without translation. Context usually made it possible for me to understand the intent of the words but I truly wished that I had retained more of the German I learned in school. There were many words in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and German. Only at the end of the book did I find a dictionary of foreign words. Oh, well.
All But My Life: A Memoir by Gerda Weissmann Klein. Historical Memoir.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Fiction. Hilarious novel about a women who falls at the gym and loses the most recent ten years of her memory. She can’t remember who she is, or that she has a husband and three children. She wonders whose purse she has and whose clothes she is wearing. She wonders who cut her hair and colored it. So much had happened in ten years that it was a very clever look at what is important and what is not. I needed a break from more serious reading, which I love the very most and this turned out to be just that. It is the second book I have read by this author and I now trust that I will love a third sometime in the future. (See The Hypnotist’s Love Story above)
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. Young Adult Historical Fiction. This is the second book I have read by this author. I will tell you right now that when I got to the end, I was spellbound but found that it was a story to be continued in a second book. I did want resolution to the story. Isabella is a slave who is badly treated by her Tory owners in New York during the American Revolution. It is told from her point of view. I imagine that young people who know little about American slavery are horrified at what they read and wonder if it could really be true. It is written from the viewpoint of a young girl and her interactions with both the Loyalists (Tories) and the Rebels, as they are called. The Rebels were our founding fathers and they were minor to the story. Isabella’s fine points of character were highlighted against the negative behavior of the woman who owned and mistreated her. The previous book I read by this author was called FEVER and was about the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793. It’s heroine was also a young girl. Very, very good reading.
Resolute: The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin and the Discovery of the Queen’s Ghost Ship by Martin W. Sandler. History. Love, love true stories about exploration in the seas of the planet. It is beyond my understanding how men found joy in the deprivation they knew they would suffer as they explored the earth. All voyages were dangerous and so many explorers did not return. Nevertheless, it appeared from this true account that some people were attracted to the danger, the deprivation and the unknown. Thankfully, the world was not depending on me to find the North Pole or the Northwest Passage. This book was just one of many I have read that was thrilling and worth every quickly-drawn breath of surprise. It was a wonderful, enlightening, educational book. Of great interest is the fact that eventually, the ship Resolute was dismantled and a desk was made by Queen Victoria as a gift to the United States. Most U.S. Presidents since that time have worked at that very desk in the Oval Office.
Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back From the Brink, by Anthony McCarten. History. This book was made into an exciting movie very recently. The small, paperback book was the script, so to speak, for the movie. It was a moment in time in WWII and also in the life of Winston Churchill whom I admire. Easy, pleasant and quick read without having to reach for a dictionary.
How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, by Thomas Cahill, History. Somewhat misleading Title since what is being proposed is that the Irish saved documents and books that preserved literacy and history during many centuries of European conflict. While I found many details interesting, I felt a bias from the author that made me question the conclusions he drew. It didn’t matter to me who did what, but I felt like he was straining to make Ireland more of a heroine than was necessary. I quit reading about three fourths of the way through the book because he became tedious and repetitive. I sent it back to the thrift store from whence it came.
Killing Custer: The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians, by James Welch and Paul Stekler. History. One of many books I have read about the West and the plight of the Native populations. I haven’t read anything so far that has caused me to admire General Custer or other early soldiers or administrations. It is very difficult for authors who have researched the American West at this time in our history to have anything but sympathy for the Native Peoples.
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis, Fiction. I simply can’t enjoy books like this one, even though I love many of the writings of C. S. Lewis because I don’t have a grounding in Greek Mythology. This book required it and so I was at a loss to know how Mr. Lewis had retold the myth because I didn’t know the original myth. I read and read and felt like I was blindfolded. I can’t recommend it because I didn’t understand the points he was trying to make.
Eloquent Woman compiled by Sidney Smith. Poetry. I love to read poetry but I don’t always include compilations like this one in the lists of books I have read. What was interesting about this book was that although I was quite familiar with several of the poets, the compiler had included several poems that I had never read before. Those poems I am talking about are absolutely wonderful and I don’t want to forget them. Most are quite short and written in the author’s familiar style. Here is an example:
WORTH by Christina Georgina Rossetti
An emerald is as green as grass; A ruby red as blood; A sapphire shines as blue as heaven; A flint lies in the mud.
A diamond is a brilliant stone, To catch the world’s desire; An opal holds a fiery spark; But a flint holds fire.
I have marked my favorites and there are oh so many more. It is a wonderful compilation and I was surprised to find that Sidney Smith is a man.
Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, History. I am not sure why I picked up this book at the thrift store. I already knew the story and knew I would be squeamish about the details. Nevertheless, I decided I would do my best and feel better informed about the event and the conflict in general. The ins and outs of battles with Islamic Extremists has been discussed for years now. I have trouble keeping the players straight but have learned that all cultures have different views about what is fair in war. I was amazed to learn how young the Rangers were who went down with the Blackhawk on the streets of Mogadishu. Their average age was 19 but their training up until that time had been rigorous. In all, there were ninety-nine elite American soldiers trapped in the city. I was sickened but the injuries the young men suffered and the abuse they took from the people in the town. Their role was defined by the United Nations and they were sent to take captive two Islamic leaders who had been spotted by an informant. I imagine that someone who has served in the modern military would find the story captivating because they would understand the strategies and the weapons. It is made more so by the fact that it is true. I learned that two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down in the same neighborhood that day by rocket-propelled grenades and that the people of the town blocked every street and set up snipers so that the Army vehicles could not get to the crash sites with medics to help the wounded or rescue the survivors. This event occurred during the presidency of Bill Clinton. It was made into a movie which I did not see and don’t plan to see.
Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne. History. Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Quanah Parker and the ride and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American History. I read all history of the Native Americans with a look toward the account of the Lamanites in The Book of Mormon. Not that all Native Americans are descended from the Lamanites but many are. I am filled with sadness as I see what both the Natives and the settlers went through as the population of the country pushed westward. I have always been horrified by the children who were captured by the Indians, who never made it home to their white parents and amazed at how many, when given the chance, did not want to return. Quanah was the last Comanche chief and an interesting, intelligent man. His mother was a well-known white woman who was captured as a nine-year-old and later became the wife of a prominent chief. When her oldest son, Quanah was twelve, the soldiers killed her husband and forcibly took her back to her Texas relatives. By this time she was in her thirties and did not want to go. She was forced further and further from her two boys, who had fled and hidden when she was captured. She took with her a small daughter, Prairie Flower, who died shortly after they were forced back to their white relatives, followed by Cynthia Ann herself. After her daughter’s death she pined for her sons and chose to starve herself to death. Quanah never saw his mother again in life. It was a fascinating book to read and I would highly recommend it. I plan to read it again one day.
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, Edited by Christopher Tolkien from his father’s papers, Fiction. What a strange and difficult book to read. When I realized that this book was the one that set all things Tolkien into motion such as those stories we came to know as The Lord of the Rings, I couldn’t wait to read it. Tolkien made a study of languages his life’s work and invented his own languages from the time he was a small child. The book is incredibly difficult to read, requires reference to the various Keys to pronounce words and names and to keep the genealogies of the characters in mind. Half-way through, I became discouraged but Tom cheered me on. Soon, I began to love what I could understand and leave behind what I could not for understanding on another day. In this first book, Tolkien introduces us to the Silmarils which are man-made jewels of great worth and prepares us for the concept of the evil rings. He speculates about creation including the origins of the Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Men. In this work we meet the King of Dragons and are exposed to many other concepts that he repeats in other known Tolkien works. It helped me to highlight all of the names and places that I came across in my first reading and then to spend some time simply studying the Key. I am ready to re-read the book after a break of a couple of weeks, with a pen in hand. I would not want to have lived with a mind like Mr. Tolkien’s. It seemed to be so crowded and active and so distant from reality. I don’t know how he ever thought of everything that he did or kept track of it or made sense of it. As with most of what he writes, however, I am always carried away by the prose and his command of beautiful and expressive language. Here I go again. Let’s see if I can do better this time.
Mayflower: Voyage, Community, War by Nathaniel Philbrick, Historical Fiction. This is the most recent of several books I have read by this author. I have loved other books and so I bought this one when it was released in 2020. I was educated and fascinated by the first two thirds of the book but found that Mr. Philbrick didn’t have enough verifiable historical information to extend the title of the book for the length of entire novel. I began to grow restless and to skim the pages. I was disappointed by what began to feel like the inclusion of trivial information in order to stretch the story of the original Mayflower company into a respectable number of pages. I have always believed that the hand of God was in the travels of all of the original settlers of this blessed country, and the documentation of the many ways that the original Pilgrims were driven and preserved supports what I have learned from my study of both secular and religious sources. One of Tom’s ancestral lines extends to two Mayflower travelers who married early upon their arrival in the new world. They were John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. How hard the Natives fought to keep their land and their way of life. What a lawless place the early wilderness was for our ancestors. I did enjoy the information about Puritan beliefs. The original settlers were unwilling to extend tolerance to those who followed them and made no correlation to the persecutions they had received in England and then Holland to the way they treated others who believed differently.
Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography by Barry and Judith Rubin, Biography. This was a detailed and enlightening biography of one of the world’s most ineffective and disliked so-called leaders. Arafat was in love with Revolution and spent his life pretending that he was fighting for the establishment of a Palestinian State within the borders of what is the State of Israel, but nothing anyone offered was enough for him. In fact, he didn’t really want a resolution. He was deeply a terrorist and responsible for most of the bloodshed in Israel. As head of the PLO, Palestine Liberation Organization, he exported terror and robbed his people of the hope and the reality of having a safe and stable homeland. I was amazed that someone so limited could drag things on for so many decades without being killed by his own people or could be invited back the bargaining table once his policies, lying nature and murders were known and understood. He was a person who never changed a position nor learned a lesson. It became clear to those who were trying to negotiate with him, including U. S. Presidents that he did not really want a Palestinian State but rather would settle for the destruction of Israel only. He had so many things in common with other dictator-types and as I read about various situations, I was reminded of the personalities and tactics of Stalin and Hitler. This book ended in 2003 and Arafat died in 2004 so I am off to see what happened after that time until now, 2020. There is still no Palestinian State so I at least know that he used the same time-worn, useless tactics until his death. Very worthwhile reading.
The March of Folly from Troy to Vietnam by Barbara W. Tuchman, History. This is the third book I have read by this author and it was very worthwhile. In the case of each war in the world’s history Ms. Tuchman studied the events and leaders which and who shaped the conflict and then analyzed the “folly” that had been present in each conflict which can be blamed for each failed effort. I had never thought of things in quite that way before and I was very interested in her observations and conclusions. I would recommend all of Ms. Tuchman’s books to anyone who likes to read history and books like dictionaries. I circled a million here-to-fore unfamiliar-to-me words. A Distant Mirror, about the Middle Ages, was the first book I read by this author, followed by The Guns of August which details a part of World War I. I have a fourth book on my nightstand which I will highlight before too long.
A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, Volume I & II, Edited by Anthony Boucher. I thrifted volumes one and two very recently and loved both. Tom has just finished them as well. Both volumes were compiled in 1954 and so they reflect the views of science fiction writers from a time that comes across as quite primitive to me today. However, found among the developing ideas of outer space, space travel and aliens are kernels of genius which have proven to be prophetic. Many of the authors have become well-known to those who read Science Fiction such as Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury and Dick. I liked the shorter stories best and especially loved the discovery of the story titled “The Father Thing” which was clearly the inspiration for The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which appeared in two different versions which I loved. The first was in the 1950s in black and white and made for television. The second starred Donald Sutherland and was in the 1990s. The story actually has a bit of The Stepford Wives in it as well but only for a moment. Very fun to compare the Science Fiction of yesterday with that of today. Low tech versus high tech and a lot of profound differences in between.
The Faber Book of Children’s Verse, compiled by Janet Adam Smith. Poetry. I have collected many books of poetry. I include this one because it is such an example of how education has changed and how children today are often not prepared to read and understand things their counterparts did not too many years ago. This book contains most of the familiar authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, T. S. Elliott, Rudyard Kipling, Longfellow, Sir Walter Scott and many more very familiar names. As I read and re-read each poem, I continued to ask myself and sometimes Tom if children today, of any age, could read and understand these poems? We both felt that they could not. For one thing, the vocabulary was challenging. Many words are no longer used frequently in our daily conversation or in the literature of today. I found the poems to require concentration, even when they were familiar. My high school education introduced me to many of them along with a study of the probable intentions of the author. As an example, The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron is in a simple rhyming scheme and is not long. However, since it’s subject is from the Old Testament, it requires a touchpoint for many of the references in the Poem using words like Assyrian, cohorts, “wolf on the world”, Galilee, “host with their banners”, “widows of Ashur”, Baal and Gentile. Poets like William Blake and A.E. Houseman are not included in today’s study of poetry by children. I like to leave a book like this one lying around where I can pick it up and read a poem or two without taking a lot of time. Better still, if I read one poem two or three times in a row, I can think about its meaning while I sweep the floor.
The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick. History. This is the third book I have anxiously read by Mr. Philbrick. As with the previous two, In The Heart of the Sea and Sea of Glory, I was drawn into the story and kept there. This book is fully documented from the journals and eye-witness accounts of those who were part of Custer’s expedition and those, including the Native Americans who witnessed the battles. I have always been horrified by the behavior of the white men as they ignored treaties and killed at will. I was especially interested in this account because of my love for the accounts found in The Book of Mormon which share with the reader what awaits the Lamanite nation as the Natives on this continent if they do not change their godless ways. Everything I read in the Book of Mormon came to pass and today, throughout the United States, many Native Americans live on reservations and in poverty. I found the documentation so compelling and the first-hand accounts of the mistakes Custer made by dividing his forces and not coming to the aid of those who were attacked first. Therefore, when he was attacked, the rest of his soldiers were not near. There was much discussion about how driven Custer was by his pride. Once again, it was easy to see how his behaviors and attitudes paved the way for his demise. Many books compete to tell this story but this is my favorite because it is the best documented and Mr. Philbrick is a terrific writer.
Collision Course: The Classic Story of the Collision of the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm by Alvin Moscow. History, Non Fiction. I couldn’t put this book down. The names of the ships were familiar to me when I picked up the book but I couldn’t tell you any more than that. It was the reconstructed collision of two enormous luxury liners off of the coast of the United States in 1954. I was fascinated by the craft of the author in building tension as he told the story and of using journal entries and ship logs to help the reader understand that something was happening but not exactly What was happening. It was a lesson about Rules of the Sea and how differently the same moment can be viewed by different people. It included the collision of the two ships, the rescue and the hearing to determine liability. Each phase of the process of telling the story was enlightening and riveting. I handed it to Tom because I am willing to bet that he will like it as much as I did. Well, maybe not as much but enough.
Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories compiled by Roald Dahl, Fiction. I am a fan of all things Mr. Dahl and so I bought the paperback version of this book, knowing nothing about it. It turns out to be a compilation of stories he collected for production as TV shows many, many years ago. I read every one and didn’t care for some but LOVED others. I have to say that it is hard to read “ghost stories”. They are not as dramatic or shocking as Science Fiction stories and at first I was disappointed. In fact, ghost stories can seem downright silly to me because I don’t believe in malevolent ghosts but I can be driven under the covers but a good science fiction story. But, that is because I hadn’t read far enough yet. I was sad to turn the last page of the book. My favorites were: Playmates by A. M. Burrage, Ringing the Changes by Robert Aickman, The Telephone by Mary Treadgold, The Sweeper by A.M. Burrage, Afterward by Edith Wharton and Harry by Rosemary Timperley. I enjoyed reading several more but those I have noted were exceptional.
Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery. The U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842 ( known as the Ex. Ex.) by Nathaniel Philbrick. Non-Fiction. I just finished this book and couldn’t put it down. It is the second book by this author which I have read about exploratory adventures in the oceans. The first was about the adventures of The Whale Ship Essex. It is titled In The Heart of the Sea. I knew nothing about this particular exploration before I read this book. It was a gripping tale, extracted from journals of those present, of the circumnavigation of the globe for the purpose of mapping the shores of land masses and the shoals and reefs of all of the major ports and islands around the world and more. It was focused on the Lieutenant who was in charge and the horror of serving under him. The contingent included 5 Navy vessels and crews of several hundred. The Lieutenant’s name was Charles Wilkes and he is credited with the discovery of Antarctica. I can’t do justice to the fascinating experiences the crew recorded of their voyage which became a 4-year journey in this paragraph but it was breathtaking. I would highly recommend it and I will likely read it again when the details have faded with time. Mr. Philbrick’s book about the Whale Ship Essex is as captivating as this one if you are fascinated by the exploration of the world via the water and about daring and resourceful people. How could all of these men, scientists and doctors, leave home for four, long years of uncertainty and exploration? Fascinating. Their findings and their collections later became the foundation for The Smithsonian.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. Fiction. Until I began compiling this list, I had not noticed the difference between the tales of the Brothers Grimm and the tales of Hans Christian Anderson. They are fundamentally different. The Brothers Grimm we primarily interested in old folk tales and poetry. They searched for the tales by traveling through their country and then set about to summarize what they had found by way of little tales. Hans Christian Anderson, on the other hand, may have been influenced by things he had heard but took pride in his own imagination and originality. I had not paid attention in the past to which tales came from which authors but now I have. It was a wonderful and comfortable re-reading of many tales I had known all of my life and an introduction to others I had never come across.
The Epic of Gilgamesh: An English Version introduced by N.K. Sanders. Fiction. This is a small book. The Introduction is more important than the text of the epic poem because it explains the poem entirely. It is as much a book about archeology as anything else. I have heard the name of Gilgamesh during my lifetime but never pursued any more information. He was thought to be a King and the epic is very religious and symbolic. Half of the book is introduction and half is the epic itself. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is thought to have originated in the 3rd Millennium B.C..
The Wish House and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Fiction. I learned something from my effort to read this book of short stories. I learned that unless a person has an underlying knowledge of the country, customs and language of such a book it almost impossible to follow along. Mr. Kipling, whose given name is Joseph, with the middle name of Rudyard, was born in India when it was a colony of Great Britain. These stories are heavy with reference to Indian life, lore, customs, phrases and history. I felt hopelessly lost in many of them and gave up finishing the book. I imagine that a person who lives in India would love the stories. For some reason, I was able to overcome that problem when I read The Jungle Book and a few other small novels by Mr. Kipling but I couldn’t do it with these short stories.
The Forgotten Man: A New History of The Great Depression by Amity Shlaes. Non-Fiction. This book is powerful. It is a detailed and painstakingly well-researched look at the causes of The Great Depression including the many mistakes which Presidents Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt made which caused many of the economic problems and sustained them. It was an insightful look at the personalities, egos and philosophies of each man and the economic reasons why the application of those policies invited, prolonged and worsened the economic health of the country. Each had blind spots and even when confronted with the facts and the trends and the wisdom of people who had spent their lives in the world of finance, they were unable or unwilling to correct course for a number of reasons. This was a time when less was known about economics than is known today. Since The Great Depression, we have learned how to make course corrections at the first sign of trouble and what to do along the way to maintain a healthy financial country. I highly recommend this book and have read it twice, picking up new information each reading.
Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis. Autobiography. Mr. Lewis’ account of how he became an atheist early in his life and later a convert to Christianity. It was very interesting and revealing. I love the writings and novels of Mr. Lewis and loved this one as well. However, I wanted him to keep going in his quest until he left the Protestant view of the Godhead behind and found the Heavenly Father I love and understood his resurrected body. Perhaps that came for him after his mortal death. He is detailed and wordy and he has a fine mind which left me in the dust as I tried to follow his thoughts. Of interest to me was that his conversion to what he calls Theism, a belief in one God, came as he read a book called Phantastes by George MacDonald. I have read several books about and by Mr. MacDonald and they are wonderful. ( I have since bought the book and read it. I will add it to the list next.) The Princess and the Goblin was just one. But, why not the Bible? It played no part in his conversion which eventually became a conversion to Christianity and included the Bible. I think that Tom might like it. I have learned that two people can read the same book and sound like they read different books when they talk about it. Tom is good at finding the jewels in a book. I’d like to know what he thinks.
Phantastes by George MacDonald. Fiction. Yes. That is the correct spelling. I read this book because of C.S. Lewis as I said in the previous review of Surprised by Joy. I could not put it down. It was full of beauty and symbolism. It explored our lives in the realms of heaven via Fairy Land and I was captivated. I imagine the world beyond the veil to be glorious and magical and almost beyond description so Mr. MacDonald was preaching to the choir as far as that goes. I expect to feel much like the hero of the story whose past actions have filled him with regret. There are references to Baptism and Atonement and Christ. The stories are told in such a way that it is impossible to wish to be anywhere but in Fairy Land. I marked it with a highlighter the first time through, but will start today on a second reading, with a pen. So much to think about. It was wonderful. ( I have thought about it more and have to say that although I loved it, sometimes Mr. MacDonald lost me.)
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith. Biography. This is a contemporary biography of Elizabeth II. It starts with her birth and ends before the marriage of Prince Harry. It is a very positive look at monarchy today and their challenges in light of the fact that they are often figureheads rather than rulers. Very interesting and worthwhile. I already knew most of what I read but found the rest very enlightening. I would not want to be her or a member of her family. Not for one minute.
Mozart: A Life by Maynard Solomon. Biography. I gave up on finishing this particular book. It is beautifully written and painstakingly researched but tedious in its detail. There were many, many pages dedicated to the finer points of Mozart’s compositions with the kind of precise description that only a rabid musician would understand. Nevertheless, I persevered to almost the middle of the book. (It is a very fat book.) I was greatly troubled by the portrayal of Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang’s father though I know the portrayal to be true. Other books I have read about Mozart contained the same events and behaviors that were to shape young Mozart and affect him for the rest of his young life. Perhaps I will return to the book some rainy day when I have nothing else to read.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Fiction. The first of several contemporary books written for adolescents which have received wide acclaim. It is the story of a young boy who is trying to adjust to the truth which is that his mother is going to die from the ravages of cancer. He is adjusting badly. It is a powerful story and the author has given it a title with a double meaning. Cancer is a Monster. I read the book in one sitting as it is quite small with large print and illustrations. I shed tears for both the mother and the boy and thought about people I know who have gone through similar trials. Very worthwhile reading.
Grendel by John Gardner. Fiction. I love Beowulf, the old poem from the fifth or sixth century about a monster who terrorizes people and the hero who saved them from him. I was perfectly content with the original story but couldn’t resist this small book when I saw it. The author makes the effort to explain who the monster Grendel is and why he acts the way he does. While I never did quite understand Grendel and his mother and the dragon in the first place, I have not been enlightened by this book. In fact, I found it to be a gibberish of half-thoughts and attempts at being clever to the point that I had no idea what the author was suggesting. I found myself constantly saying “what?” as I tried to understand what I had just read and what it could possibly have to do with anything. It is written in a “stream of consciousness” narrative style from Grendel’s point-of-view. I would not recommend it.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper. Now, here is a wonderful book. It was written for the adolescent reader and is written from the point-of-view of a young girl who has cerebral palsy and cannot talk. It is a poignant look into the mind of people with this particular disability and has made me more aware of their plight. As I read the book, I thought of a little girl in our ward who is the same age as the heroine in the book. Unable to help herself at all, except to use both thumbs, she appears to have nothing going on in her mind. I will never look at a disabled person the same way after reading this book. It was wonderful and heartwarming and a strong indictment of the lack of empathy and understanding that many have for the disabled. I would highly recommend it for young people, who are often mean and cruel to others without understanding the pain they cause.
RUSH: Benjamin Rush. Revolution, Madness and the Visionary Doctor Who Became A Founding Father by Stephen Fried. History, Biography. I have always been curious about Benjamin Rush because he comes up in almost every book that talks about early medical ideas and especially the horrible yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia. In his time he believed in “bleeding, blistering and purging” but he was not alone. His time was before an understanding of contagion including viruses and bacteria. There are many Rush biographies available but this one is quite recent. His interest was primarily in the treatment of the mentally ill and in diseases of the mind. He is known for his compassionate care of people who had previously been chained to cement floors in basements, as this was the only way that people of that time knew how to manage mental illness. His interest increased as his oldest son became mentally ill which resulted in him spending the rest of his life institutionalized. Very worthwhile reading.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. Historical Fiction. This is an adolescent novel about the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 as told through the eyes of a young girl. It was a quick read and very good. The author fills the book with facts about the epidemic although they come through the experiences of the heroine. Many times, Dr. Benjamin Rush is mentioned, along with his belief in various treatments such as bleeding. I mention this since his book review precedes this one. Excellent look at resourcefulness and courage and is very educational.
The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials: A Personal Memoir by Telford Taylor. History, Autobiography. This is a topic that has long interested me but this was a tedious, difficult book to read. The author was a committed note-taker and journal-writer during his time as an attorney for the United States during the trials which began in 1946. He painstakingly takes the reader through the preparation for the trial, the establishment of legal structures for the trial and the interactions between the players. I am glad that I read the book but found it to be more detail than I needed to understand what had occurred. I found my mind wandering and I thought that Mr. Taylor must have been a terrible person to be stuck in a room with when he got older. If he started over with his stories every time a new potential listener entered the room, a person would have no hope of ever getting out.
Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend. History and Autobiography. I bought this book and the preceding book together. This was a close look at the behavior of the 20 former Nazis who were considered to be the greatest criminals in the regime which included Goering, Hess and Speer. Their trial was considered the “main” trial since their responsibility for crimes of all kinds was considered great. Since, through the years I have read much about World War II and these particular people, I felt that I knew quite a bit about them and was very interested in the subject. Mr. Townsend’s role during the trials was to provide whatever emotional and spiritual support the defendants wanted from him which he provided up to the moment when they were hung for their crimes. His observations of these men included their expressions of guilt or innocence and their delusions of “having done nothing” which for some continued until the lever was pulled. It is a very interesting book and about half the size as the book by Mr. Taylor.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Non Fiction. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize and made into a Ken Burns PBS Mini-Series. Breathlessly full of scientific and medical jargon including explanations of experiments, breakthroughs and disappointments related to the search for a cure for cancer. Must read with a pen in hand and try not to become overwhelmed by the technical information that is provided. As I am watching a sweet cousin go through the horrors of cancer I have thought quite a bit about what I read in this book. So many people have devoted their lives to solving this riddle. Granted, much has been done to hold cancer at bay in some cases but rarely can it be wiped out once it has begun to spread throughout a body. Today, many treatments do buy time but at a cost. I am afraid that I would be asking myself which was worse, the disease or the treatment.
The Last Day of a Condemned Man by Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables. Fiction. Short story written from the viewpoint of a condemned man whose death is minutes away and presented in a “stream-of-consciousness” narrative. I love the writings of Victor Hugo and this small book is “big” in its message and portrayal of the way one might think before your life is taken from you.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, followed by The Princess and Curdie by the same author. Fiction. Popular with children and adults for over 200 years and frequently illustrated by such artists as Arthur Rackham and Jesse Wilcox Smith. I have given the first book as a gift more than once. It is a delightful, old-fashioned book and a quick read. I especially love the portrayal of “Great Grandmother” and her relationship with the Princess. I thought of my own maternal grandmother when I read this little book. I also loved the idea of goblins which have been in most superstitious literature written in the past. While I can laugh at them and their descriptions, I must remember that many of my ancestors believed in them.
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Fiction. Written in the 1600s and one of the first books to be printed for general public distribution. It is a Christian book about conversion, trials, set-backs, opposition and triumphs. Often cited as a favorite book by people like Abraham Lincoln and John Adams. It is a translation from Old English and some translations are better than others. Read at least two different translations to find the one you like. It has been abridged and illustrated for children many times. I have several versions of the book. I especially loved the sound of the phrase “the slough of despond”. Read it to understand what that was.
The Idiot by Fydor Dostoevsky, author of Crime and Punishment. Fiction. My favorite of the Dostoevsky books. Symbolism and beautiful language. As with all of Dostoevsky’s books. you have to hang on while he introduces all of his characters so that you can keep track of them and their exploits. Once you get the characters straight, it is very enjoyable and an unusual book to read. It kept me guessing.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. Fiction. The book and the movies made from it are worlds- apart. Delightful. I had not read the book since I was a child and enjoyed it very much. The movies introduce us to three children but in the book there are four. How many times do we hear the term “why don’t you grow up?” I know some people who haven’t grown up, mentally or emotionally but it was odd to consider Peter as old but still a boy in stature and language. I did enjoy one of the movies I watched where the mother finally had to admit that she had experienced the same things her children were experiencing when she was a child. Peter had been around even then.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Fiction. I am selective about reading fiction. I have come to know that it is a carry over from being young and told over and over not to waste time. Fiction is often considered to be a waste of time by some people because you don’t learn anything from it. I am getting better and better at reading fiction and overcoming that silly idea. This is a book I read unexpectedly and kept for a second reading. Tom read it also and was touched by it. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize. Emotionally moving and thought-provoking. Fiction provides a look at the way others view living, its structure and value.
Beowulf. Author Unknown. Original in poetic form. I prefer the translation by Seamus Heaney. ( Since I wrote this I have read the translation by J.R.R. Tolkien and that is my favorite.) Animated movies have been made but they stray far from the original text and ideas. Symbolism. Didn’t read it until I was an adult. Not sure how I missed it in high school. Tom remembers teaching it and thinks the Olde English was provided in the reader that he used. I was able to conjure up wonderful images from the language of the poem. How horrible the monster turned out to be but not as horrible as his mother ! Demonstrates the superstitious thinking of past centuries.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. My favorite Dickens’ book. I enjoyed the book more upon the second reading because I knew which clues to watch for about each character. The first time through I was simply trying to keep everyone and everything straight. My second reading was the most enjoyable.
A Journal of the Plague Years by Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe. Incredible description of life in London during the Bubonic Plague, also known as The Black Death which was a pandemic primarily in the year of 1666. Especially timely reading right now to compare actions of that time with actions of today relative to the spread and management of COVID 19. How much have we really learned about contagion? True and horrifying.
Winston Churchill by Martin Gilbert. Biography. The third such book I have read about Mr. Churchill, each by a different author. This is my favorite. It is a large book and required more than one reading for me to begin to digest its contents. I have always been interested in him, including his odd behaviors and traits. He was certainly the man for his times, as they often say. Another of the Churchill books which I have enjoyed is titled The Last Lion.
Washington by Ron Chernow, author of Alexander Hamilton and U.S. Grant. Biography. Wonderful biography of George Washington. Chernow is one of my favorite authors of books of this type. David McCullough is another. Many of the biographies I have read have overlapped others. Hamilton was George Washington’s secretary and so these two books along with those about other people often discuss the same people. It is wonderful to be so familiar with these people that they seem like friends.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Read twice. Marked it up pretty well. Gave my copy to my granddaughter, Lydia Watrous, who began reading it while listening to The Musical Hamilton through her ear phones while swinging in a hammock by the river in American Fork Canyon. Getting to know Hamilton through this book put joy into the reading of those Federalist Papers that Alexander Hamilton authored. Shame he died so young in a dual with Aaron Burr, the sitting Vice President of the United States. Loved this book. It was an education. It will stay in my book case and I will read it again when what I have learned has faded. Some people truly seem to have been born for their times as though they had been placed on earth like a chess piece on a board with instructions. That is how the Founding Fathers appear to me. Of course, the Doctrine and Covenants verifies that fact.
U.S. Grant by Ron Chernow. Really big book. Equally split between his time as a Military Leader during the Civil War and his time as a two-term President of the United States. The book paints an ugly but true picture of the spoils system as it existed before, during and after his presidency and his difficulty in dealing with all of the cheating and deception. It was called The Gilded Age. Grant is considered by most who have written about him to have been a man without guile, the best war strategist ever known and a truly honest man. His lack of guile and his innocence made him easy pray for dishonest people during all of his life.
The Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci , edited by Edward MacCurdy. One of several books I have read about Mr. DaVinci over the years. This was my favorite and the one that I have kept in my library. What incredible gifts of the mind he was given. He invented on paper and in small models many of the most important inventions of our day. He also suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church as did many intelligent and forward-thinking men of his and earlier times. He is blessed to have escaped torture and execution for heresy. Since most of his ideas and inventions were forward thinking and futuristic, they met the heresy criteria easily.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. I have always been interested in the forces which shaped the world and made a perfect fit for certain people for the Second World War. This is the must-read book at the beginning of any self-education about Hitler and World War II. I marked it up pretty well the first time I read it and followed up with a second reading to cement in my mind the information I had found worthy of marking. I also made an attempt to read Mein Kompf (My Story) which was written by Hitler as an autobiography. I didn’t finish it.
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore. This is one of two books written about Stalin by this author. The first is about Stalin’s early life and how he came to be a Leninist, then Bolshevik and finally a communist and a ruler and the second book, listed here, is about the horror of how he ruled. I had previously read other books by this author including Jerusalem and The Romanovs and knew his writing style and had found it to be one that I liked and could enjoy. Books like these become part of an overlapping library of books which include overlapping people. This author is one I enjoy and trust to write well and to document his research.
Jersusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore. A biography of Jerusalem as if it was a living person. Very educational and very worthwhile. A gift to me from Daniel. It took two readings to finish my marking and to begin to hope that I could retain some of the chronology. It still remains a difficult topic to keep in place in my mind since it educates about documents from Jerusalem’s long history to the present day. A contemporary book for anyone confused about the Middle East.
Sir Isaac Newton by James Glick. Not a long book but full of much worthwhile information, presented in an easy- to- understand way. What a funny, eccentric person Mr. Newton was. A wonderful reminder of the gifts we are given from above for our use in mortality. Also a reminder of how gifts are developed by hard work and persistence otherwise they may never be known. It reminded me that many gifts are given but some remain unopened.
The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. Historically, an interesting and necessary record of the many horrors people endured during the rule of Josef Stalin. An important book as part of an education in totalitarian ideas and their brutal fruits and a reminder that people have survived terrible things in this life. I did not find his writing style appealing but the information he provided which was often first-hand was worth its weight in gold. I was horrified by what I read and grateful for my life, blessings and country.
Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History. Excellent depiction of the harrowing transportation of troops across the Delaware River and how essential the success of the endeavor was to our ability to win the Revolutionary War and establish our Republic. A true example of the hand of the Lord in the founding of this country.
Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Extremely entertaining short stories. Easy book to pick up and read quickly. I have some favorites in this book by the author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables. (The Scarlet Letter I love for its symbolism. The House of the Seven Gables I did not like, primarily because of his writing style. In the House he writes whole pages and lengthy paragraphs using comma after comma and by the time I reach the end and find the period I can’t remember what he started out to tell me.)
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. This is a contemporary book which won a Pulitzer Prize. It is about the migration of black people primarily from the South but also from the North to other parts of the country including the reasons why the migrations took place. I knew almost nothing about the information the book presented and especially enjoyed the discussion of economics in Black America and the proof of a continuation of actual racist treatment but primarily a perception of wide-spread mistreatment of blacks and views today. Views about racial issues always depend on how the questions were asked and who asked them. Since I live in a predominantly white State, I am often ignorant about Black issues and assume that mistreatment of Blacks is a thing of the past or is exaggerated. Statistics have no reliability neither do polls.
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. I have read this book several times. I love the way Hugo writes. I love the development of his characters and I especially love the character of the hero. I have not seen the musical which was so popular a few years ago nor did I see movies made about the book until after I had read the book a couple of times. This book can also be better understood by reading 93, also by Mr. Hugo which covers in detail the French Revolution of 1783 which had repercussions for our country as well. Hugo has created a hero with so many attributes to admire. I actually grudgingly gave respect to Javert at the end.
The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough. This book is one of three about natural disasters in the United States which were exacerbated by the ignorance of the people in charge of warning about them or preventing them in the first place.. I have read this book three times. It is well researched and written and will go down in American History as a situation where the tremendous loss of life and property might have been preventable if communication had been modern.
Isaac’ Storm by Erik Mataxas takes place in the year 1900 when a hurricane washed away the city of Galveston before warning systems had been developed and before the existing National Weather Service functioned as it does today. It is told through the actions of Isaac Cline, who was the Service’s director in Galveston, Texas, who made mistakes in his predictions which cost many people their lives. The winds emptied Galveston Bay of water by pushing it into the city and taking most of the homes off of their foundations. It is an incredible story, made more so by the fact that it is true. I have ridden in a boat in Galveston Bay and find it inconceivable to think of that bay emptied of its water and of that water fully inundating the populated city.
Path of Destruction by McQuaid and Shiefstein is the story of hurricane Katrina and it’s landfall in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is one of three books about death and destruction from hurricanes in the United States after the year 1899 that I have read. Even though Katrina was predicted, local and national authorities proved to be unprepared and incompetent when it came to taking care of the enormous number of displaced people and the number of recuses that became necessary because of a failure to evacuate. In terms of the results of a warning/prediction system in 1900 and one over one hundred years later, the outcomes were not very different.
A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a book I have read more than once. It won a Pulitzer Prize many years ago. Ms. Ulrich is a historian who researched the journals of a Maine midwif and took us on a journey through the hardship of her life and gave us a glimpse into how very successful midwives were at their craft. Martha Ballard is the midwife and the stories that surround her are as interesting as she is. I love historical fiction and this is so richly supported by facts and diaries that it hardly feels like Ms. Ulrich has taken any license at all in telling her tale. I first read the book 25 years ago and have read it several times since. I think that I love it because I can easily put myself in her shoes and wonder how in the world she did what she did as a midwife and how she functioned so well in her everyday life. It is another example of a book that encourages me by showing me the positive attributes possessed by other people.
The Diaries of Patty Bartlett Sessions. Pioneer of 1847 and midwife. Her reconstructed diaries are Church History as well as personal and period history. I have read this book 10 or 15 times over many years. Why? Because it always inspires me. I am astounded by her faith, her physical energy, her resourcefulness and other gifts and qualities which she possessed. When I read the book, my life seems perfect and I feel humbled and content. My copy of the book has been read so many times and in so many places that it is a mess. The pages are wrinkled because I even dropped it it the bath but saved it in time. I imagine that I will yet read it again.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Movies can make us forget about the power of reading from the source. I love the writings of Mr. Lewis and thoroughly enjoyed reading the seven-book set of the Chronicles. I assume that little girls still read them today and I imagine that every Lucy, Peter and Edward know where their names came from ! I prefer the large edition with all in one volume. It is easier to hold on my lap, with larger print and easier to mark up than the small paper back versions. One day I saw a beautiful, large cabinet, with beautiful carving at the thrift store. Oh, I wanted to buy it. It looked exactly like the one in the movie version and I thought how much fun my grandchildren might have with it. Even as I opened the doors to take a look, I expected to see the snow falling and the path ahead of me. I gained my senses in time to leave it in the store for the next person who thought like I did for after all, it was only $20. Of course, there was the problem of getting it home and into the playroom but I still think about it and wonder why anyone would have given it away and who has it now.
Pulitzer by James McGrath Morris. This biography of Joseph Pulitzer was astounding to read. I realized very quickly that I knew nothing about him and that what I thought I knew was incorrect. Yes, he was a wealthy, self-made man and he did buy up and run newspapers which was where his fortune came from, but, as a person, I didn’t like him at all. He was mean, thoughtless and self-centered as evidenced by the fact that whenever his wife was due to deliver a child, he would take an extended trip so that he didn’t have to be around. When, later in life, he lost his sight to retinal detachments, he was not humbled by his plight but continued as demanding and cold-hearted as he had always been. Even when he endowed Columbia University with what would become the Pulitzer Prize, he was frank in saying that he did it primarily so that his name would be remembered rather than for any philanthropic reasons. I have read the book twice, just to make certain that I have the story right and keep it in my bookcase as an excellent good “bad” example of a self-made man who possessed few attributes to aspire to develop.
The Romanovs 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore. This is another of several books I have read and enjoyed by this author. It is the chronicle of the Romanov Dynasty in Russia until its end in 1918 at the hands of the Bolcheviks. It was this group, led by Lenin which murdered Czar Nicholas ll, his wife and children, ending the monarchy in Russia after 400 years and paving the way for leaders like Stalin. It is unusually generous in its inclusion of blood, horror and torture. Nevertheless, it provide a fascinating look at the ways of monarchies and the sufferings of every day people subject to them. This is an important book to read before the works of this author about the life of Josef Stalin. It is one of five books I have read and re-read by Mr. Montefiore. I don’t think there was a moral bone in the bodies of the Romanov rulers from the first to the last.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Moby Dick can be a tedious book to read but the education it provides relative to whaling and a period of time in our country’s history is of great value. It is a book about obsession and vengence and how irrational thinking can hurt so many people along with the obsessed. I read the book because I felt I should and while I don’t regret it at all, I found parts tedious and the style difficult to enjoy. Melville had obviously spent time on a whaling ship because in the next book I am listing, that author refers to all of the ways that Melville gathered his material and expertise for the writing of Moby Dick from the book Two Years Before the Mast by William Henry Dana.
Two Years Before the Mast by William Henry Dana is a whaling tale from which Herman Melville took the liberty of borrowing odds and ends for his writing of Moby Dick. It is the story of the author and his two-year obligation to sail as a ship’s hand and the adventures he experienced. It is written in a smooth and easy-to-read way and contains none of the difficulty that I found in the reading of Moby Dick. The Starbuck Family is introduced in this book and if you recall, captain Ahab’s first mate was named Starbuck. He was everything his captain was not. I stumbled upon a very old copy of this book while thrifting. Unlike Moby Dick, it does not appear readily in print and has probably fallen out of favor for general reading or been eclipsed.
Don’t Look Now: Short Stories of Daphne Du Maurier. This author is best known for her novel Rebecca. I both read the novel and saw the movie made from it when I was a young girl. It was a murder mystery/ love story and it kept a person guessing until the last page. So. When I saw a book of Ms. Du Maurier’s short stories I picked it up, not knowing what to expect. What I got was a short story titled The Birds, which was the inspiration for the Alfred Hitchcock movie by the same name. But as with many books-to-movies, the movie took on a silliness over the years while the novel was breathtaking in its suspense and craft. I have read it every few years with the same feelings of horror and dread. It is a perfect example of how Hollywood ruins books by dumbing them down. There was no silliness in the short story and it is not “dated”. The movie ties everything up with a bow at the end but the short story does not. I still wonder what happened “down the road” whenever I can suspend reality long enough to pretend that it was more than just a story. Highly recommend this story to anyone who has seen the Hitchcock movie The Birds. I have just re-read most of the stories in her book. They were as compelling this time as they were when first read. . . especially The Birds.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, Fiction. One of my favorite mysteries. I read it first as a teenager and have read it a few times since. There are twists and turns throughout and of greatest interest to me was the fact that we are never told the name of the heroine, although she is the main character and the narrator. It takes place in a time when women were not as assertive as they are today and I was as frustrated as I could be with the heroine’s hesitancy and shyness. Nevertheless, each character is well developed and each little twist is unexpected. I love this book and even though I know all about it, I might read it again for the enjoyment of the writing craft possessed by Ms. Du Maurier.
The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny . I read about this book when I was completely immersed in doing Family History research. My heart was entirely turned to people like those introduced in this heartbreaking book. It is a true story about the discovery of the suitcases of inmates of a New York Insane Asylum. Such a name would not be given to a mental hospital today but in the past it was common. Some places were called Lunatic Asylums as well. The people who discovered the suitcases, full of individual belongings . . . long forgotten and often never revisited during the institutionalized person’s time at the asylum, were disturbed at the findings. They felt driven to find out who the people were and how they came to be locked away for most of their adult lives. The book and the research that followed the discovery, looks at the lives of 14 individuals through the contents of their suitcases. I have read it several times with tears in my eyes and a sense of horror over how people were diagnosed and held captive without good reason. It touched my heart and encouraged me to look more carefully and diligently for my ancestors and their stories and to live life with a sense of fairness about what is not readily available to the eye.
Lord of the Rings: The Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Long before the movies were made, I started to read these books. It was when I was quite young and I put the first one aside and didn’t pick it up again until I had seen the movies. Nothing can compare to the magnificence of the movies but I felt compelled to read the trilogy for myself in order to put what I had seen on the screen into a permanent place in my mind. I had also come to be very curious about Mr. Tolkien and his use of symbolism and languages. These books were mesmerizing. I loved Tolkien’s style and complicated mind. I barely kept up with him as he told the story of incredible lands and battles and special people. I felt terrible that I had waited so long to read them and it is time for me to read them again. Lord of the Rings has lead me to study Wales and the Welsh language. Tom has a Welsh ancestral line and Welsh sounds like it might just be very close to the Adamic language of our first parents. It is beautiful, beautiful, dreamy and beguiling. The Elves spoke it as did others. You remember. Now I know that a double “d” is pronounced as “th” and I am determined to learn a few words, primarily the most beautiful.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I should have read this first but I read it last. Do better than I. Meet Bilbo Baggins right away.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Number one on my list of books. Can’t count how many times I have read it nor can I remember how many times I have seen the wonderful black and white movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Anything I say will not do justice to the power of the story so I will just say that from the first word I was taken in and stayed put until the last word released me. My love of the story has been enhanced by the comments Tom has made from his days as a teacher of the book. Without him I would have missed some very important symbolism.
The Complete Stories of Eudora Welty. Oh, I love her short stories. She is a southern writer with a wonderful sense of humor and great insight into human nature. I can’t even choose a favorite because I love so many. She was competitive and a contemporary of Carson McCullers and Katharine Anne Porter. I have read books by both of these women and none compare in my mind to the craft of Eudora Welty. She writes about the south and I am captivated by her descriptions. I am sure she appeals primarily to women but maybe southern men enjoy her writings, too ? ( see The Collected Stories of Katharine Anne Porter )
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. One of the best books I have ever read. A historical account of the Spanish Flu of 1918 which attacked the world during World War I. It is especially interesting to compare the actions of medical and political people then and now, as we go through the COVID 19 pandemic. The politics of the war and the neglect by political leaders eventually led to about 100 million deaths from the disease before it ran out of hosts and died away in early 1920. Most of the deaths occurred in 1918 because of overcrowding of military personnel in transport and in barracks. Spread in other countries was likely greater than recorded. I followed this book by reading A Journal of the Plague Years by Daniel Defoe.
Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean H. Baker. Mary Lincoln was truly a difficult women. Everything I had previously read about her was interwoven into to the various autobiographies of her husband, President Abraham Lincoln. She appears to have truly been the annoying, ambitious, mentally unstable person that other writers have portrayed her to be but in this case, all of the research was centered around her with her husband as the afterthought. From birth, childhood, early marriage and four years in the White House and through the many years after her husband’s death Mary Lincoln’s life was documented in many ways and in many written documents including her short confinement to a mental hospital by her only living son, Robert and his confiscation of her personal property. There is no question that she was an annoying, ambitious and mentally unstable person who made life difficult for those around her but she was also a women of intellect with no where to direct it acceptably during the times in which she lived. Unlike her husband, she was a unusually well-educated women with a flair for the subtleties of politics. It was a fascinating, captivating look at the country during the Civil War and how one woman dealt with her losses and disappointments. I read the book straight through and couldn’t put it down.
Truman by David McCullough. A complete life story of Harry Truman, former President of the United States and Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Truman appeared to be in the background, almost forgotten until Roosevelt’s death thrust him into the spotlight. He was responsible for tying up the loose-ends of World War II and it was he who had to make the terrible decision about how to end the war with Japan. He made the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which finally caused Japan to surrender. I don’t like politics yet I am drawn to the stories of people who did. This book is a fascinating look at politics and corrupt dealings (Roosevelt) and a worthwhile part of my education about past presidents and the impact of Presidential decisions on my life today. I find it interesting that Mr. McCullough found enough in the life and personality of Truman to write such a novel.
John Adams by David McCullough. John Adams is my favorite non-fiction book and my favorite founding father. I have read this book several times and have marked it up quite well. I loved looking at the Revolution through his eyes, as Mr. McCullough presented it and learned that there was so much correspondence between people in his day that it is easy to reconstruct what a public person thought and did. When I think of attributes I admire in people, I think of John Adams and his long list of personal traits that made him the pivotal and influential person he was during the era of the Revolutionary War and the subsequent creation of Founding Documents. I have to admit that I do not have the same respect and love for Thomas Jefferson and Mr. McCullough did not pull any punches when he described the many ways Jefferson betrayed Adams over many years. It was worth reading to be reminded that Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, as old men, which just happened to be July 4. I cannot believe that it was a coincidence. It was beautiful symbolism from above.
The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough. Many of the McCullough books were appealing to me because I love the style and thorough research of the author. This book is about the building of the Panama Canal. There are many other small topics that are pursued in the book such as the scourge of yellow fever and the battles between countries over land and improvements that are worth whole economies if they are managed well. The primitive circumstances under which the canal was built is horrifying by today’s standards but so are most things of this magnitude that were undertaken in the past. It is an educational and well written book.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. The fascinating story of Wilbur and Orville Wright and their contributions to air travel. There is a great deal of information about their personal lives. They were fearless in testing their own airplanes and inspired in the changes they made that moved the inventions along. Written in McCullough’s well-researched and easy-to-remember style.
The Almost-Complete Works of Roald Dahl by the author. I collected many of the works of Mr. Dahl at the thrift store. One by one, I worked from a list until I had a respectable collection of his small novels. Then I read them. Oh, the joy ! Roald Dahl was British. He wrote his stories for his own children and said that he like to always make the children triumph over the grown-ups. Many of his stories are scary but in the end the child prevails and is the hero or heroine. These are the books I have read but there are still about 20 that I have not. I am still looking.
James and the Giant Peach. Wonderful story, also made into a beautiful movie. Had all of the elements of a Raold Dahl story, complete with the overbearing grown-ups and the ingenuity of the children.
The BFG ( Big Friendly Giant). My favorite ! Love the book and REALLY love the beautiful movie which follows the book perfectly and is a delight to the senses. We chose this movie for our Family Movie Night in our backyard during our annual family gathering. We waited for the sun to go down and set up at the bottom of the hill on the east side of the house. The slope made a perfect place for watching a movie. We had a popcorn bar.
Matilda. Read the book and watched the movie made from it. The movie is too crude for little ears.
The Witches. Wonderful, wonderful and so like a little boy to turn into a mouse and want to stay that way.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Better known today as Willy Wonka). Characters are different in the book than they are in the various movie versions. The first Willie Wonka starring Gene Wilder is closer to the book than subsequent re-makes. The character development of the children and their parents is right on.
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Magic Finger
Roald Dahl’s Cookbook
Geordie’s Marvelous Medicine
Danny: The Champion of the World
The Enormous Crocodile
The Giraffe, Pelly and Me.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Alice and her friends make my head spin. I read a biography of Lewis Carroll which was as interesting as his books.
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Two movies made from this book. One in the late 1950s and one quite recently. Close reading of the book added significance to various scenes from both movies. I saw the first one as a child and had nightmares for months after. The second movie starring Tom Cruise was visually stunning but too violent and gory to enjoy the underlying story. I wish I could have heard the radio version of this book as presented by the author himself in the 1930s. Many thought it was an actual landing of Martians.
Treasures of Britain and Ireland, published for AA, the Automobile Association of London. While this book might seem like reading the dictionary to some, it was a delight to me. That is because my ancestry comes from this part of the world in direct proportion to the part of my ancestry that is Scandinavian. I thrifted the book and went through with a highlighter to note all of the towns that I remembered from my Family History work. I had not known how very old the British Isles were. When I read about the remains of castles and houses in town after town and found that they had been standing for centuries, I was amazed. In order to greatly benefit from the information about each town or village it is helpful to have an understanding of history. Things are described by the time in which they were built: “of Norman design” means after the arrival of William the Conqueror which was in the late 11th century. Roman remains date from about 25 A. D. and continue for about 400 years. Various types of architectural styles will be called Victorian, Jacobean etc. These terms refer to the monarch at the time the building was constructed. I wonder what it would feel like to live in a village that still had a usable Roman road or a standing Norman church ?
Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson. This book is also old and was thrifted. I consider it to be part of several old books about Great Britain that I have used to form an education of sorts about this part of the world. Along with a knowledge of the villages and towns of the United Kingdom, what I have gained from this book is a better understanding of the who, what and where of this part of the world. As with so many other books I have read, one book leads to another and one royal life overlaps another. Marriage to a foreign queen makes it necessary to read more about that particular King but also about her family because the marriage always had a political foundation. I am constantly surprised and disturbed by what I once knew and what I have forgotten.
A World Lit By Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance by William Manchester. There are two books about Winston Churchill starting with the title The Last Lion that I have read and enjoyed in times past which introduced me to Mr. Manchester’s writing. This book fits well into my study of the United Kingdom from its pre-roman times until today. Each book has a niche but taken together, I feel that I am getting a full view of the Dark Ages and the Renaissance. It is a rather short book and can be read in a day with breaks for food. I found many things to note and mark.
The Collected Stories of Katharine Anne Porter. I bought this book because I LOVE the writings of Eudora Welty. Eudora and Katharine were contemporaries although Katharine was quite a bit older and Eudora freely admits her admiration for Katharine’s writings. I knew only one thing about Katharine and that was that during the first World War, she became ill with the Spanish Flu which was pandemic. Her fiance, an army officer, nursed her but came down with the disease himself and died. She recovered. Because I loved the writing of Eudora, I thought I would like Ms. Porters writing but I did not. I read a few of the short stories in her book and skimmed over a couple more. I marked a few quotes but didn’t read the rest of the stories.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. This book was one of my rare incursions into fiction without recommendation. I saw the book at the thrift store and was taken in by the introduction. The book spent an inordinate amount of time on best seller lists. I didn’t know what it was about when I thrifted it and it took me some time to settle into the narration, which it turns out was being made by The Angel of Death, The Grim Reaper or by whatever name you want to call it, him or her. Death narrated his/her experiences observing one person and the books in her possession. The story includes all of the ways the heroine acquired her books and why Death was fascinated enough with her to interfere. I am not sure that I am recommending it, because I don’t think that I am, but I did find it to be interesting as told from this point of view and as a tale.
The Essential C. S. Lewis, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett. No need to talk about the contents of this book. I have read many books by Mr. Lewis and much about him. I have read essays and books wherein other people talked about his writings and ways of thinking. I have great admiration for him and love his writings. Some are very close to my own theological thinking and I think he was very inspired in some of his thinking and writing. Once, years ago, we had a friend who was a militant anti-Mormon. She was angry and offended when she found that people in our church loved the writings of Mr. Lewis. She actually said that “he is ours and you have no right to quote him”. Enough said. His writings are thoughtful, insightful, inspired and available to all.
The Complete Poems of Robert Frost. When I was in high school and began to work, I bought my first book. It was as listed above. Over my life I have read and re-read his poetry with the same love that I felt when I was 15. I have favorites but I truly love all of his work. Of course he is best known for certain poems but I love Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening and Swinging Birches the best. I do love The Road Not Taken. I remember that he was the Poet Laureate when John F. Kennedy was inaugurated and he presented a poem at that time.
The Novels of Charlotte and Emily Bronte. Their novels were Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Shirley, Villette and The Professor. A Bronte education is not complete without knowledge of the rest of the family and so I also read a large volume about the Bronte’ Family which talked about where the family lived, about the father who was a pastor, the sister Anne who was also a writer and brother Branwell. I wish that I had read the book about the entire family before I read the novels by the sisters. I would have understood the novels better.
The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family by Juliet Barker. This book was wonderful. It was comprehensive and full of insights into the characters. Of course, it was written long after the Bronte’s were known for their literary talents, but by reading it I was able to make some assumptions about the writing of at least two of the books: Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The interactions of the siblings was so very interesting.
Tolstoy by A.N. Wilson. I often find the biography of a well-known author more interesting that the books that author has written. That is how I feel about Tolstoy. While others have decided that his writings are classics, my dislike of the man because of the way he lived his life, gets in the way of enjoying his books. Like many Russians and/or people who became famous for one reason or another, he mistreated his family, deserted wives and children and lived a immoral life. I am not sure why so many writers of what the world considers outstanding literature, prove to be defective people in their personal lives. Nevertheless, I have read two of his books but not War and Peace.
Book of British Villages: A guide to 700 of the most interesting and attractive villages in Britain. Compiled by AA Automobile Association of London. I thrifted this old and heavy book and have loved going through it. It has provided a detailed education in English history, primarily about the building materials of the realm for homes, churches and public buildings, the styles and their descriptions, the reasons for the placement of buildings and the people who owned and often lived in the castles and for whom the villages were named. I do know that I must be an exception to most readers because I do not know the names of all of the parts of a church of antiquity such as the “nave” and ” chancel”. These parts are not the same in the churches I am used to attending. After reading this book I know the period of time that produced “timber-framed- building, both medieval and Tudor and the various kinds of stone that was used in the building of almshouses and regular houses. I know that the color of the stone was critical in deciding where it came from and when it was built. I learned that most often, if the church was built in Norman times ( 1100 forward ) a “font” will survive and be incorporated into the present church which may have parts that are Norman and Medieval. I assume that the fonts were for the “sprinkling baptism” of babies rather than baptism by immersion which was discontinued shortly after the deaths of the first apostles.
Quilts and Women of the Mormon Migration by Mary Bywater Cross. This is a book I have read many times. It is a catalog of quilts made by Mormon women during and after their migration to Utah. The pictures are beautiful and the stories that go with each quilt and each woman who made it are inspiring even without a picture of her quilt. These types of books are always good for me. They help me to be grateful for my life and circumstances and to appreciate the skills and talents of others. I am awed by the precision of the quilting and the mathematical skill involved in many of the designs. I pull this from my bookcase now and then as refreshment.
1776 by David McCullough. This book was vintage McCullough and I loved it. I have read it more than once because it is pleasant to read and is a history lesson. It covers only one year in history and only those founding fathers and others who were players on the stage in 1776. It’s focus is The Declaration of Independence and the great risk taken by all of signed it, knowing if their cause failed, they would all be hung. There is such an education in reading the books of David McCullough.
The Autobiography of Parley Pratt. Written from the journals he kept and left with his son, Parley Pratt Junior, this book is very interesting and inspirational. It is a typical early-church-history book with all of the persecution and hardship that accompanied the early saints. It is full of Parley’s faith, close calls with death, deprivation and triumph. I am often interested in reading it again and love to read it before a re-reading of the book listed next.
The Writings of Orson Pratt. This book is a collection of the addresses Orson Pratt gave throughout the church and in the Tabernacle while he was an apostle. It also includes many lectures about the universe, mathematics and astronomy which he taught at the University level. His many gifts are on display in his writings and I am blessed to able to hear his words and marvel at the minds that some people develop through the help of the Spirit. He was baptized by his brother Parley as was their brother William Pratt.
Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore. This is the first book of two written about Stalin by this author. It tried to explain his childhood and adolescence and how his attitudes and ideology might have developed. It gives a glimpse into the cold heart that millions came to know as he joined the revolution and later became the dictator we know. Reading this book should be followed by reading the companion book titled Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.
The Welsh Kings, Warriors, Warlords and Princes by Kari Maund. I have developed an interest in the country of Wales from stories I have read about Tom’s ancestors. His great grandfather John Jenkins came from Wales with his family and settled in Pleasant Green, Utah which later became Magna. Family notes say that he spoke only Welsh and went about town singing in that language. His father, James Jenkins must have had the same language limitations and what we wouldn’t give to hear that language spoken. This book and the following two go together to give me an understanding of the country and the language.
The Welsh Language: A History by Janet Davies. A History of the language. The language used by the Elves in Lord of the Rings was Welsh and has a soft and magical sound to it. The Welsh alphabet has only 20 letters and although I am trying, I am finding it hard to learn a few words and pronunciation. Double consonants are very common in Welsh.
My First 1000 Words in Welsh by Sam Hutchinson and Elin Meek. A Search- and-Find book with illustrations. I decided to start at the beginning. This is a perfect book to use for someone like me who doesn’t have a clue. The pictures help !
The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional Lives of Farm Animals by Jeffrey Masson. Non-Fiction. There are too many stories of animals showing human-like qualities including emotion and courage to ignore. This is a book of many examples of the behaviors of ordinary animals and their interactions with humans. What I read was touching and often heartbreaking.
Undaunted Courage: The Expeditions of Lewis and Clark by Stephen Ambrose. History. I have long been in awe of the efforts, deprivations and successes of Lewis and Clark. So much of what they expected to find they did not including a water route from ocean to ocean but their journals and discoveries are priceless. Meriwether Lewis was the long-time secretary to Thomas Jefferson who was President at the time of the expedition. He financed it and supported them. Wonderful look at America before it was fully under the control of our government.
The Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe. We think of Mr. Poe as Mr. Dark. He was . . . but his writing is seductive and often beautiful and he, as a person, was very interesting. No question that he had a particular love of the macabre and is known for nothing else. I have seen many old movies made from his short stories, usually featuring Vincent Price. I especially enjoy The Mask of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher. It would not be Poe without mentioning The Pit and the Pendulum.
The Stories of Washington Irving by Washington Irving. Fiction. My favorite Irving short stories are Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I love the character Ichabod Crane who is usually presented in caricature form. I am always persuaded not to ride a horse through the deep, dark woods near Halloween, by the re-reading of The Legend.
Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. Fiction.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Authur Conan Doyle. Fiction.
A Few of My Favorite Young Adult and Children’s Books ( See Part Five)
Little Women by Louisa May Allcott. Fiction.
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott. Fiction.
Are You There God ? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume. Fiction.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. Fiction.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Fiction.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. Fiction.
Julie of the Wolves by Jean George. Fiction.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Fiction.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Fiction.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Fiction.
The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Carlson. Fiction.
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Gannet. Fiction.
The Wheel on the School by Meindert De Jong. Fiction.
The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmunds. Fiction.
“You have just read Part One of Five.