Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Favourite Books Read in 2017

To date, I’ve finished reading 22 books in the past year. Before the year is over, I will most likely complete The Secret Garden, which I started earlier this month, but I most definitely will not make it through 8 additional books and reach the goal I set last January of reading 30 books during the year.

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Favourite Books Read in 2017 | kathleenhelen

When I started to fall behind on my reading goal (Goodreads has a handy counter that lets you know by exactly how many books you are currently failing at your goal), I felt kind of disappointed in myself. I consider myself a reader and really enjoy the experience of reading. I mean, I have a degree in English Literature for goodness sakes. This was also the first year I was mostly out of school as I was in my work placement term from January through April, and then I graduated. So reading 30 books in a year, when I would suddenly have actual free time, should have been easy.

But I’m actually a relatively slow reader. I like to take my time with books and savour them. I also mostly read just before bed as a way of decompressing in the evening. This means that if I’ve had a long, exhausting day, I only get through a couple pages before I can no longer keep my eyes open. Reading a couple of pages a day isn’t really that much, but it is still reading.

Realizing 22 Books in a Year Wasn't Actually That Bad...

Looking at my Goodreads account, I initially felt disappointed by the fact I have only read 22 books this year. But 22 books in a year is about 1.8 books per month. It’s also 22 books I hadn’t read before January 1, 2017. I was able to experience 22 different stories, almost all for the first time, and many of which affected me greatly and changed my outlook on various events and ways of living.

One of the reasons I love using Goodreads to track what I’ve been reading is because it gives me the opportunity to look back at all the books I’ve read. I can see the titles I’ve read, which often triggers memories of the emotional response that they elicited while reading. With that in mind, I thought it would be nice to reflect back on all of the books I read this past year and share the ones that particularly stuck with me.

1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This was a novel that had repeatedly been recommended to me over the years. After taking an elective course titled Reading for Recreation, during which the professor again suggested I read The Kite Runner, thanks to a review of a WWII era historical fiction I wrote, I finally decided to pick up the novel.

The Kite Runner shares the tale of two almost brothers growing up in Afghanistan before its invasion by the Soviet Union. One is the son of a merchant, the other the son of the merchant’s manservant. The story of their friendship is set against the backdrop of a divisive caste system and then the invasion of Afghanistan. The novel is beautifully written, utterly compelling, and terribly heartbreaking. It was an eye-opening peek into a world I knew nothing about and instilled a lot of gratitude for having had the fortune of growing up in the country I did.

I also felt very similarly towards The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson which I also read this year, and reviewed here.

2. The Day the World Came to Town by Jim Defede

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland tells the story of what happened in a tiny community in Newfoundland in the days following September 11, 2001.

When the World Trade Centres were attacked on September 11, the US airspace closed for the first time, causing US-bound flights worldwide to divert to the nearest possible airport. For Gander, Newfoundland, that meant 38 planes landed within only a few hours, bringing with them around 7,000 people and nearly doubling the population of the town. When faced with the problem of having to house and feed so many people in such a small community, the town banded together and ploughed through all doubt or worry they might have had to get the job done. They took care of each and every person who arrived in town that day and even formed a few lifelong friendships along the way.

Defede’s book tells the story of those in Gander during this time, including residents of the small town as well as the stories of passengers from the flights. It’s a short, quick read, but one that is absolutely inspiring and a great reminder of the goodness that does still exist in the world.

3. The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

The Women in the Castle follows the lives of three widowed women living in Germany during and after the Second World War, moving back and forth throughout the timeline. The three women come from entirely different backgrounds, and each has a very different experience of the war. Circumstances throw them together, and they each learn that the world isn’t as clear or straightforward as they’d like.

The novel takes a unique perspective on WWII historical fiction and is a compelling and thought-provoking story of German civilians during the war. It is definitely an emotional read, but one that gave a different angle than other books I’ve read and it’s fascinating to see how dramatically slight differences can affect our worldviews.

4. Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

While in school I gravitated towards novels and other works of fiction because they felt more like relaxed breaks from pouring over research papers and textbooks. When I finished up my last semester in April, with no return to school visible in the near future, I decided that I needed to expand my reading list to include more personal development and non-fiction books. One of the first personal development books I picked up was The Morning Miracle by Hal Elrod, and it was immensely inspiring and helpful in creating a productive morning routine.

I’ve always enjoyed a relaxed morning routine, but, as I wrote about here, this book helped me to create a routine that includes getting up at 5:30am, meditating, reading, journaling, and exercising. I’ve admittedly fallen out of the habit a little bit lately, as the holiday busyness has crept in. In the New Year, however, I’m definitely going to jump back in and will probably be pulling this book back off the shelf to help me do so. I know from recent months that when I follow the morning routine I created with the help of The Morning Miracle, I feel so incredibly motivated and energized throughout the day!

On to 2018

I may not have reached my goal of reading 30 books in 2017, but I did read a diverse selection of books, and even read 3 novels in French, my second language. I enjoyed the time I spent reading and never forced myself to read because of an arbitrary timeline. I learned a substantial amount from both non-fiction and fiction works this past year. In the new year, I plan to continue reading at whatever pace feels right in the moment and to choose books that will help inspire and motivate me for whatever comes next. 

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