Q4 Books in Review (October-December 2018)

Louisa May Alcott home in Massachussetts

Does it feel weird to you to still be writing about things that happened in 2018? I wanted to blog about some of the things I learned last year, but I kind of feel like there’s a 3-day grace period where you can talk about the previous year and then it’s like, “Move on.”

But I’m still going to post about the books I read in the last quarter of 2018 because I can.

Beautiful Book

I just wanted this one to have its own category.

Little Women

By: Louisa May Alcott

Little Women has long been one of my favorite books. But I haven’t read it for so, so, so many years. 2018 celebrated the 150th year since its publication and to me it is as beautiful and life-changing now as I believe it was then. I love Louisa’s writing. I loved visiting her home in Massachusetts a year and a half or so ago (see picture above) and learning more of the life that was the genesis for this book. And the book is beautiful. The writing, the characters, the resolutions. I have always identified as Jo because I love writing and also because I’m a little brash and foolish at times, but fiercely loyal. When I took a “Which Little Women character are you?” online quiz this year (because we all know how accurate those are), I got Beth, which is probably just because I want to be good like Beth. Which is pretty much what Jo wished her whole life. So it works for me to be Jo.

This time around, though, my heart was struck so much with Marmee. She is a beautiful, beautiful character with so much wisdom and grace. I cried through most of this reading for many reasons. 1) It’s beautiful 2) It reminds me of everything I want in life–a family full of children, no matter the difficulties 3) It is full of so many unexpected and even expected sorrows, but they make it all the more beautiful.

There are far, far too many of my favorite quotes for me to include them all here; I’d be copying the whole book. But I did feel a strength in my desire to improve my writing and to write and create things that people love and that lift them up, as Jo (aka Louisa) learned to do. And I felt the strongest desire to mother others as Marmee does.

After all, when Jo loses her temper, Marmee’s kind words and advice are so real. “Jo, dear, we all have our temptations, some far greater than yours, and it often takes us all our lives to conquer them. You think your temper is the worst in the world; but mine used to be just like it….I’ve been trying to cure it for forty years, and have only succeeded in controlling it. I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo; but I have learned not to show it; and I still hope to learn not to feel it…Yes, I’ve learned to check the hasty words that rise to my lips; and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will, I just go away a minute, and give myself a little shake…”

And I understood Louisa a little better, too, as you do come to understand a writer through her writing (especially in a semi-autobiographical book).

“Don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragical romances are hidden away in the hearts that lie so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God’s sight. Even the sad, sour sisters should be kindly dealt with…remember that rosy cheeks don’t last forever, that silver threads will come in the bonnie brown hair, and that, by and by, kindness and respect will be as sweet as love and admiration now.”

P.S. The new PBS video series is wonderful and I cried through most of it. And I re-watched the 1994 version as well. Also cried. Haven’t seen the new “modern” version.

Brandon Sanderson

As mentioned last time, it’s just easier to put him in his own category

Mistborn: The Well of Ascencion

By: Brandon Sanderson (Graphic Audio novel: great)

This is the second in the first trilogy of the Mistborn series. My favorite thing about this is that I’ve listened to the whole trilogy on audiobook. When you listen to fantasy, there are all sorts of made up words, lands, names, ideas, and so forth. So when I went to look up spelling for writing this, I was WAY off. I had imagined a certain spelling in my mind for some of the words, but no…

Anyway, it is hard to post about series on a blog because it’s hard to give an overview without giving away the book. Suffice it to say that this book continues with wars and sieges in the land of Luthadel as many powers seek the allomantic metal Atium. And Vin seeks to find the Well of Ascension where she believes that there is power or a force that needs to be either taken up or released.

Some good quotes:

“Those who take lightly promises they make to those they love are people who find little lasting satisfaction in life. This is not an easy time in which to live. That does not mean that it has to be a difficult time to love, but it does mean that you will find unusual stresses upon your lives and your relationship.”

“Do not deride someone’s faith simply because you do not share it, Lord Cladent,” Sazed said quietly.

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages

By: Brandon Sanderson (Graphic Audio Novel: great)

The actual Mistborn series is much longer, but this ends the first trilogy. And what an ending. There was so much war and fighting and uncertainty through all these books, that I think I need a little break from the intensity. But there is also beauty in the characters. Sanderson has a way of making people feel real and so very human. Readers don’t just understand them by their actions, but by their faults and mistakes. And there is a lot of redemption in imperfect people still continuing to fight for what is right.

A few good nuggets:

“Faith means that it doesn’t matter what happens. You can trust that somebody is watching. Trust that somebody will make it all right.”

“Somehow, we’ll find it. The balance between whom we wish to be and whom we need to be. But for now, we simply have to be satisfied with who we are.”

Biography

Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

By: Siddhartha Mukherjee

This book is exactly as the title says it is: a biography of cancer. It outlines the history as far back as we presume to know of cancer through the ages. And it chronicles what we have discovered about various types of cancer as well as the many ways it has been treated over the years and why and how and what happened. It is simply fascinating as well as…sad. Much of the story pulls from real people’s experiences. It also pulls from the research and failures and successes of many doctors. I cried with joy at the successes in research and treatment and sadness at the failures. Definitely a recommended read.

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art

By: Carl Hoffman

In 1961, Michael Rockefeller disappeared in the area of New Guinea. He had spent time with the indigenous people of the area islands, seeking to get primitive art for his father’s museum. Many of these people still lived apart from any society and had their own cultural practices–including cannibalism. So his disappearance caused a stir. As a part of the Rockefeller family, no expense was spared to discover what had happened to him. Many stories surfaced about what had happened, but the disappearance remained a mystery. This journalist, Carl Hoffman, follows the path of where Rockefeller must have gone and gathers information about the disappearance, leading to information never before found about what happened to Rockefeller. Fascinating read, if a little slow.

I also loved learning about the culture of the Asmat people. This book provided some interesting thinking about indigenous populations, our view of them, and what is “right” in the world of acculturation.

Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics

By: Daniel James Brown

These gloriously long titles are so great because they basically tell you the story in the title. This book took me a long time to read. I got bogged down in details for a while, but when I picked it back up again in the past few months, I zoomed through to the end of the book. Don’t get discouraged if it feels a little slow. It’s an amazing book. I feel like I came to know those boys on that boat and that I got a slice of what life was like in the 1930s in Washington. Recommended.

Novel

A Thousand Splendid Suns

By: Khaled Hosseini

I recently became friends with a family from Afghanistan who moved to our neighborhood. The mother of the family had studied Farsi literature before she came to the United States. She and I talked about “The Kite Runner” written by an Afghan-American–Khaled Hosseini. And she said I ought to continue reading his works. Around the same time, my mom recommended another of Hosseini’s books, so I’ll get to that one next.

It is a tough read because it is a heartbreaking tale. The story is an intersecting of the lives of two women, Mariam and Laila, in Afghanistan. That is all I will share on it. I can’t say I liked it, but I was moved and educated by it. Note: It is rather violent as there is a significant amount of abuse in this book.

Educational

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

By: Angela Duckworth

This book contains the research and ideas of psychologist Angela Duckworth as she explores how people become, well, amazing. It’s not just talent or hard work. She explains that success, in large part, comes from people who have grit. People who stick things out and work through what is hard.

There’s quite a bit in here about parenting and how important it is for parents to help their children stick out hard things. Not that they have to endure something they hate forever, but not allowing them to give up at the first difficulty. (you know, hard things like piano lessons, dance, sports, schoolwork, and the like). I will need to read this again when I’m a parent as there are a few interesting and helpful ideas. And as for myself right now, I think I need to develop a little more grit.

Christmas

Scrooge’s Night Before Christmas

By: Julie Petersen

I stumbled on this delightful book at a book sale and gave it to many people this year. It is the story of A Christmas Carol told in the cadence of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. I will always love the original A Christmas Carol and am loathe for any attempted replacements. However, this was creative, fun, and delightful.

Church

History of Joseph Smith by His Mother

By: Lucy Mack Smith

Technically, this fits in biographies, but I’m putting it in the Church category. 🙂 I have read lots about the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the prophet Joseph Smith. I’ve long heard this book referenced and finally decided to pick it up. Lucy Mack Smith was an incredible woman of faith and I like her a lot. Of course, a biography of anyone by the mother is going to be biased and favorable. But this does give great accounts of the life and legacy of the Prophet Joseph Smith and I enjoyed the read.

Saints

This is the Church’s first part in the series of a new history of the Church. It is written simply, but still includes many details and stories. I have many prominent ancestors in the beginnings of the Church and it was fascinating to see their names appear and learn more about them. I hope to be more diligent in seeking out information about them myself.

I loved reading of the stories in our history that I hold dear. And I loved learning new experiences and “meeting” more people of faith. As always in the history of the Church, it saddened me to read of so much heartache and persecution. Many of us seem to ask if we would have endured such trials and challenges. I hope that I would have, but I don’t know. I am grateful that many of my ancestors did hold true and moved forward with faith.

I also loved the experiences of strong and faithful women in this book. Their stories gave me a broader perspective of our legacy of faith.

One of my co-workers pointed out a passage at the end by Sister Louisa Pratt. As the saints were being forced to leave Nauvoo, Illinois, she was alone with her children and felt unprepared. Her husband had been gone for years on a mission and she didn’t know when he would return. She expected others to help her until one day a friend said, “Sister Pratt, they expect you to be smart enough to go yourself without help, and even to assist others.”

How did Louisa reply? “Well…I will show them what I can do.”

I hope to make that my reply as well in hard times.

Because of the Messiah in a Manger

By: Brad Wilcox

I was given this book for Christmas and it’s a very quick read. Brad Wilcox fans will likely love it. I have to say I didn’t have the best attitude as I read it (not sure why…I love Christmas). So there’s not much I have to say about it except there are some nice little stories and analogies of keeping Christ in Christmas. Maybe I’ll need to read it again next year.

The Book of Mormon

I accepted President Russell M. Nelson’s challenge in October to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. And I am glad I did. It is true. I gained so much from it that I will detail my thoughts in a future blog. (I know I say that all the time, but I really am going to write this one).

And that is that.

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