best books of 2006

My list of favorite books is long this year, but I guess that comes from reading more books than I did in previous years. I read 37 in 2006. Yes, I keep track… in an Excel document, complete with authors, genres, dates I hope to finish, and dates I actually finished. The really good ones get an asterisk in the final column, and those are the books that make this honorable best of… list.

Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller
Hmm… Should my failure to remember anything about his book automatically strike it from my list? Oops. Not exactly a compelling way to start. I do remember that this book flows as a whole work more than Blue Like Jazz did with its stand-alone essays, and if I know Donald Miller, it was chock-full of bold spiritual truths that I needed to hear. This is an embarrassing review; let’s move on.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss
A panda walks into a bar (or something like that; I’m trying to remember from the back cover.) He eats, shoots and leaves. Hold it. A punctuational error just made him a criminal! Yeah, serious misunderstandings can result from you failing to put punctuation where it belongs. Lynne Truss is my hero.

The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
Like virtually all of Lewis’s work, a classic. This one is an entertaining yet sobering series of letters from a senior demon to his nephew. The reader gets an inside peek into conversations of how to effectively tempt a human to sin. It’ll wake you up to Satan’s subtlety!

The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E.B. White
Every literate, English-speaking person should read this at least once in his life, even if it’s painful. Better yet, read it once a year. This is an irreplaceable handbook on the ins and outs of grammar and style — the best in its class.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
I’m ashamed I’ve never read this before now. It’s such a warm story about family values, respect for all people, and standing up for what’s right. You’ll fall in love with the characters. That’s a generic comment, I know, but I read it before I had a baby, and now half my brains are gone. Oh, I did discover that Harper is a woman.

Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor
Dear me, another book on writing. I think I may be addicted to them. At any rate, here’s one of my favorite quotes from O’Connor’s take on how to write well: “I think that if there is any value in hearing writers talk, it will be in hearing what they can witness to and not what they can theorize about.” Here’s another one: “There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored.” Oh, yeah, and this one: “The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that doesn’t require his attention.” That one might be my favorite. Okay, I’ll stop. Flannery O’Connor just really knows her stuff.

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
I decided to read this after I listened to “Word by Word,” a lecture Lamott gave at a writers’ conference. As in all her books, Anne Lamott is honest and unsparing in this book about writing. My favorite piece of advice is to seek enjoyment — not publication — in writing because publication doesn’t bring fulfillment.

Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott
I ought to be writing this book right about now. This is a collection of journal entries Lamott wrote during the first year of her son’s life. Sappy tears, frustration, sheer amazement at this little dependent human being — they’re all there hanging out. (sigh) I ought to read this book again.

Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris
Sometimes I disagree with Norris’s theology, but as with Anne Lamott, there’s enough truth and candor in her writing that it makes me step back and rethink why I believe what I believe. One of the things I love most about this book is its seemingly exhaustive list of topics. Norris writes about everything from apostacy to grace to the Holy Ghost, giving each its short, manageable chapter. She tackles the “vocabulary of faith” with her own spin and her own experiences, maybe for people who don’t have a handle on all that Christian terminology, or maybe just for herself. I think it’d be fun to rewrite my own version of this book.

Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse
When I first opened this book, I thought, “Ugh. Poetry.” Isn’t that horrible, coming from one who tries to write the stuff? Using my better judgment, though, I decided to check out the book anyway. I figured there had to be a good reason it was a Newbery award-winner. Not only was the poetry readable, the story was compelling, gritty, beautiful. It’s an Oklahoma tomboy’s account of her family’s survival during the depression and dustbowl of the 1930s. Check it out; you can finish it in less than a day.

An American Childhood, Annie Dillard
I loved this autobiography. Beginning with age five or maybe even younger, Dillard tells with amazing detail of her life growing up in Pittsburg. One of my favorite chapters is about the physical ugliness of adults. With hiliarious and believable charm, she describes studying and playing with the veins in her mother’s hands. I forgot how important things like that are!

I think I was more discriminatory in my book choices in 2006, and as a result, I’m coming away with a genuine respect for writers who can really write. In reading quality work, I expanded my repertoire of authors I enjoy, but at the same time, doing my own writing seems all the more intimidating. But why? As Anne Lamott says, I just need to enjoy it. Who’s keeping score?
But aside from writing, the more I read, the more I know I have to keep reading. There’s too much good stuff out there to waste any time! Now it’s time to snuggle up with Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer…

    • Rachel
    • January 7th, 2007

    Yay! You’re back! And this is almost my favorite kind of thing to read. I totally agree: “The more I read the more I know I have to keep reading. There’s too much good stuff out there to waste any time!”

    My book list was the shortest it’s been in several years. 34. But on the other hand, I read weightier stuff this year. And my brains are down to 1/4, since I had my second child. Just trying to make myself feel better.

    • M
    • February 12th, 2007

    Out of the Dust is one of my favorite books. It’s quite possibly one of greatest inspirations behind my creation and understanding of poetry…not that I write much anymore. 😛

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