In 2013 I did something I had never done before — I kept of list of each book I read throughout the year. With 2014 drawing close, I took a look back at what I had read. Altogether, I read 70 books during 2013. Eighteen of these books were adult fiction, 22 were adult non-fiction, and 30 were young adult or children’s non-fiction. I guess I’m still a kid at heart!
I read a lot of great books this year, but there are a few that stand out that I’d love to recommend to others.
1. Isaac’s Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland by Matthew Brzezinski
Non-fiction has a reputation for being dry, uninteresting, and hard to read. Nothing could be further from the truth concerning Isaac’s Army by Matthew Brzezinski. Brzezinski’s well-researched narrative account of the Jewish resistance in Nazi-occupied Poland is many things: sobering, fascinating, heart-wrenching, but never dry or uninteresting, and if it’s hard to read, that’s only due to the difficulty of facing the atrocities that human beings can commit against one another. Isaac’s Army explores how and why the Jewish resistance against the Nazis in Poland developed. Brzezinski explores the motivation behind resistance and who the movement’s leaders were. He explains how the resistance movement was often hindered by fiercely opposing political views within the movement, and dramatically different plans as to what form resistance should take. He explains who the enemies of the resistance were, not just the Nazis themselves, but many Gentile Poles and even fellow Jews who collaborated with the Nazis in exchange for better treatment. Brzezinski walks the reader through the story of what those within the resistance were able to accomplish, the areas where they failed, and ultimately what happened to those managed to survive the war. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this book to me was Brzezinski’s exploration into the psychology of why so many Jews chose not to resist, even when faced with imminent death.
2. Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller
Caroline Miller’s Lamb in His Bosom is often referred to as a poor man’s Gone with the Wind. Both novels won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1930s. Like Gone with the Wind, Lamb in His Bosom tells the story of a woman from rural Georgia in the mid-19th century. However, Miller’s protagonist, Cean, has a far different life than the wealthy and privileged Scarlett O’Hara. Cean is the daughter of a small, backwoods farmer, who marries a neighbor boy who is also the son of a small, backwoods farmer. She will spend her life working side-by-side with her husband in the fields, coaxing a living out of a few acres in order to feed her many children. For Cean there are no balls, no fancy dresses, no dramatic love triangles, and she can only dream of the wealth that would allow her to purchase a single slave. Lamb in His Bosom is the story of common folks. It’s the story of a poor farm wife and the everyday events that shape her life: the birth of children, the death of parents, the ordinary scandals of neighbors and family, the defense of her family against wildlife, and the economic successes and failures of her family’s farm. What makes this novel so beautiful is the author’s lyrical pose and use of authentic dialect to create an atmosphere that transports the reader to a time and place largely lost to history.
3. And the Mountains Echoed (and other books) by Khaled Hosseini
In 2003 an Afghan-American medical doctor named Khaled Hosseini published his debut novel, a book called The Kite Runner. The Kite Runner was wildly popular, spending two years on the New York Times bestseller list, and was made into a successful movie. In 2007 Hosseini’s second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was published, and this year we were presented with And the Mountains Echoed. The reason I mention all three titles is because I read all three of his books for the first time this year and was equally captivated by them. I picked up The Kite Runner on a whim last summer, having heard so many good things about it over the last decade. I stayed up all night reading; I couldn’t put it down. As soon as I finished The Kite Runner, I immediately delved into Hosseini’s other two books. All of Hosseini’s works are set mainly in Afghanistan and feature lyrical descriptions, captivating characters, and engaging storylines. In many ways these books were a learning opportunity, opening my eyes to many aspects of 20th century Afghan history, culture, and politics. However, Hosseini’s books are not for the faint of heart; they deal with difficult topics, including war, poverty, human trafficking, domestic violence, the oppression of women, and rape. Ultimately, however, these things are not what Hosseini’s books are about. All of his books are essentially about family, a universal theme that resonates across countries and cultures. If you’ve not taken the opportunity to read Hosseini’s work yet, I highly recommend all three books.
What about you? How many books did you read this year? What were your favorites?