My Year in Books 2017

January 4, 2018

My goal in 2017 was to read 24 books, and I read 30. Gold star for me! I am including books I read to my older kids, as well as audiobooks, but every book on this list is one I read cover-to-cover (or listened to start to finish). Here they are, in the order I read them, with a rating and brief review for each. I hope you find some reading inspiration in this list!

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley — 4.5/5 I read this one because my dad recommended it, and I’m really glad I did. It was so different from what I expected (thanks a lot, Hollywood), and it was a super compelling look at the responsibility we bear towards the things we create and the consequences of attempting to play God.
  2. Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John — 5/5 One of my all-time favorites. Authentically set in a small village in the Swiss Alps (as in, it was written by someone who grew up in a small village in the Swiss Alps), it is a sweet, sincere, and sometimes painful story about the power of Jesus’s love to heal us and help us forgive. My parents read it to me when I was a child and now I’ve read it a couple of times to my boys. It was out of print for a long time but has apparently been reissued. Hooray!
  3. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen — 4/5 Done! I’ve finally read all of Jane Austen’s major works! Took long enough, sheesh. This one falls in the middle for me. Lots of great quotes, not as many memorable characters. What I loved about it was Austen’s fierce defense of the value of fiction all throughout.

    “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” 

    Preach it, Jane.

  4. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis — 4.5/5  I read this book because of some references I’d heard to the section on friendship, but the whole thing is wonderful and brain-stretching.

    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

  5. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult — 3.5/5 First time I’ve read a Jodi Picoult book. I liked it but I’m not chomping at the bit to read more. I do like books written from multiple p.o.v.’s and this one was especially interesting for being written from the perspective of different genders and races, which I think she pulled off rather well. (Except for the white supremacist dude who was driven and angry and also occasionally prone to elaborate acts of sappy romance. I just don’t believe that guy would have written out a corny marriage proposal with pieces of food. Seriously. If you’ve read it, try to picture that guy actually doing that, actually thinking I know! Grocery puns! and then shaping vegetables and meat into words. He wouldn’t have. {Members of my book club disagreed with me. You can disagree with me too.} BUT, when it mattered, I think most of the characters were portrayed well.)
  6. MotherStyles by Janet Penley and Diane Eble — 4.5/5 Maybe my favorite book on Myers Briggs that I’ve read. It’s directed towards moms but I think the content is much more widely applicable. However, if you’re not a mom, the fact that the book is presented the way it is may feel like too much of a barrier to entry.
  7. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs — 2/5 Fun idea. Loved the incorporation of all those strange old photos. But the story and characters fell really flat.
  8. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis — 5/5 I’ve read the Chronicles of Narnia many times, but this was my first time going through the books in chronological order (as opposed to publication order). It was also my first time listening through them, and Kenneth Branagh was far and away my favorite reader. I didn’t like The Magician’s Nephew as much when I was a child, but I love it now (and my boys loved this one too). It’s funnier than the others, and it’s one of those magical stories that makes our own world feel more magical too. When Aslan sings — sings! — Narnia into life, it gives me chills to imagine the actual moment of our world’s inception. (My ten-year-old, ever sensitive to swearing, didn’t like how many times Uncle Andrew said damn, so….keep that in mind if you have sensitive listeners.)
  9. The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis — 5/5 Always a favorite. I didn’t enjoy Michael York as a reader though–I thought he came across as patronizing.
  10. The Horse & His Boy by C.S. Lewis — 4/5 This has never been my favorite Narnia book, but I liked Alex Jennings as a reader.
  11. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis — 3.5/5 My least favorite Narnia book. But Lynn Redgrave (the only female to read in this series) was wonderful.
  12. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis — 4/5 As a kid this one was my favorite, but now it’s just sort of in the middle for me. It’s more adventure and less substance, except for the part where Eustace becomes a dragon and requires Aslan’s painful claws to remove his dragon skin and make him new. That’s one of my favorite allegories in the whole series.
  13. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis — 5/5 This one IS my favorite Narnia book, and as a piece of entertainment, the Audible version didn’t disappoint. Jeremy Northam did the best possible Puddleglum voice, and he didn’t make the girls sound prissy (several of the male readers did, and it was really annoying). But of course I like this one for more reasons than merely entertaining ones. I think The Silver Chair is the most spiritually rich of any in the series. I love Aslan’s interactions with Jill, and the way those interactions give us a picture of how God’s sovereignty doesn’t negate our responsibility. Also, the scene with the evil queen in the underlands, when she tries to convince Eustace and Jill and Puddleglum and Prince Rilian that they’ve only imagined the sun and the sky and Aslan…it’s brilliant and frightening and deep. I love it.
  14. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis — 5/5 This book awoke a longing for heaven in me when I read it as a child, and that longing has never gone away. This book is still one of my favorites in the series, and Patrick Stewart was fantastic to listen to.
  15. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance — 4.5/5 Fascinating autobiography and an important look at poverty in middle America. After fostering, I’m always curious to read stories of people who grew up in troubled circumstances and still made something of themselves, and Vance’s story was full of interesting insights.
  16. The Shining by Stephen King — 4/5 This was the first time I read Stephen King. I was going to read his book On Writing, but wanted to see if he’s all he’s cracked up to be first, and I do believe he is. In The Shining, he made me care about the characters, who were surprisingly believable, and he had a knack for moving the story around in strange and exciting ways. He could go from the present to flashbacks and back to the present again, or from Danny’s world to his imaginary friend Tony’s world and back again, sometimes in a single sentence, which I thought was brilliant. I’ve adding On Writing to my reading list for this year.
  17. The Road Back to You by Ian Cron & Suzanne Stabile — 4.5/5 Fun, quick read on the Enneagram, with lots of anecdotes that help give clarity to the categories.
  18. Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath — 3/5 I’m only ranking it lower because most of the good stuff is on the website, not in the book (you just have to have a book to gain access to the online content). I did love the introduction and Tom Rath’s perspective on the importance of operating within your strengths and why doing so is more beneficial than wasting too much time trying to bolster your weaknesses.
  19. Wives & Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell — 2/5 Why was this book so loooooong???? And Gaskell died before she finished it!! If it had been a quarter of the length I would have liked it much more. As it stands…I don’t know. If you love old long classics with unsatisfying endings, you may as well give this a go.
  20. The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck — 4/5 A beautiful, sad post-WWII story that benefits from being told from multiple points of view.
  21. The Drama of Scripture by Michael Goheen — 4/5 A very academic book but wonderful in terms of shaping how one views the biblical narrative. It emphasizes the importance of looking at Scripture, from start to finish, as one cohesive story and not as bits and pieces of unconnected literature.
  22. Faithful by Alice Hoffman — 1/5 This book was the absolute worst. THE WORST. Please don’t waste your time. I’ve never read anything by Alice Hoffman so I have no idea if this is her normal style, but this felt like she had an intern write it and then together they blackmailed the editor into publishing it without any edits or revisions. It did not feel like the work of an experienced writer, or even of an experienced human.
  23. The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse — 4/5 You may disagree with some of his conclusions (I did), you may feel skeptical that he actually lives his life the way he claims to (I felt that way–there just aren’t that many hours in the day), you might think we’re all screwed and what’s the point anyway (I thought that several times), but I still think this book is really important. It got under my skin and has been impacting how I think about raising our kids ever since I read (listened to) it. If you listen to it, listen on double speed to get through it faster!
  24. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson — 4.5/5 Oh, I love Andrew Peterson. This series seems to be gaining in popularity and I’m glad because it’s a beautiful bit of fantasy. My only complaint about this book (which I read to my kids) is that the main characters find themselves on the verge of death (or on the verge of watching a loved one’s death) just too many times. Near-death experiences are all well and good but they lose their impact when they happen too often. But that’s literally my only complaint. Otherwise, the world Peterson created is whimsical and exciting and I absolutely love his characters and the various kinds of strength they’re called upon to demonstrate.
  25. One of a Kind: Making the Most of Your Child’s Uniqueness by Lavonne Neff — 4.5/5 More personality-related parenting! And another great one. Keep your highlighter handy when you read this.
  26. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess — 4.5/5 I made the mistake of watching the Stanley Kubrick film when I was a young adult and after that I had no desire to read the book. (By “mistake” I mean that either the movie is not actually as marvelous and important as it is reputed to be, or I was too immature to appreciate it. Either way, it left me feeling nothing short of icky.) But a friend recommended the book this year and I actually loved it. It’s a fascinating exploration of whether or not a person can be good if they have no free will.

    “I know I shall have many sleepless nights about this. What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? Deep and hard questions, little 6655321.”

  27. The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde — 4/5 One of the quirkiest books by far that I have ever read. An alternate history set in a 1980s England where time travel and book travel are possible and everyone is absolutely mad about literature.
  28. Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt — 5/5 This was one of my favorites this year. The whole thing was an exercise in applying gospel truth to every situation, whether in conversation with other believers or in seeking to encourage those who don’t know the Lord. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? All of life is all for Jesus, and this book speaks practically to what that actually looks like.
  29. How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson — 4/5 This was a really interesting look at the simple but important innovations throughout human history that have brought us to where we are today, and the surprising ways in which one invention led to another. (Like how the printing press led to the spectacles industry.) Also, I had no idea that the city of Chicago had been raised building-by-building from its foundation back in the mid-1800s. Intrigued? Read more! (Or listen, like I did, at 1.5 speed.)
  30. Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson — 5/5 A surprise favorite this year. My friend sent it to me, suspecting that I would love it, and I very much did. Wilson is writing to writers in this book, especially to Christian writers, although there’s no reason anyone else couldn’t benefit from this book. It’s packed with solid advice that’s funny, insightful, challenging, and very down-to-earth. Keep a dictionary handy when you read it. He stresses the importance of a vibrant vocabulary and then drives the point home by actually using a vibrant vocabulary.

***

So there they are! The hodge-podge collection of books that filled my time, my brain, and my heart this year. My list for 2018 is already quite long but I am always happy for recommendations, so send them my way!!

  1. Erin Sees

    January 4th, 2018 at 2:19 am

    As a newfound lover of reading, this blog post is fantastic! It has urged me on to read more and extremely helpful in choosing my next book. “If Elisa recommends it (a book) it must be good.” is a phrase that has come up quite frequently in our household.

  2. Crystal

    January 4th, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    Love it! And Frankenstein is one of the best surprises I’ve ever read.

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Elisa Joyful 

Hi friends! You have landed at elisajoyful.com, and if you are looking for some warm and witty words to read, you’ve come to the right place, so get comfy and settle in. If you’re looking for the SiNes of Life podcast, you’re almost in the right place - just click on the “Listen to Podcast” link below. And if you’ve come here because you’re interested in having me speak at your event, you can contact me below!

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