You may have noticed some radio silence from me in the past month or so. Truth is, my family and I went on our first family vacation in at least four years. We spent a month with my in-laws in Northern Ireland, including Christmas in Lisburn (outside Belfast) and New Year’s week with my husband’s cousins in Manchester, UK.
We ate sweets, we drank not too much, we walked in the hills a lot, and visited and visited and visited. We climbed Cave Hill outside Belfast, and walked the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge on a windy day, 60 metres above the violent seas (this was on my daughter’s to do list). We walked in the Peak District in the UK over sun-drenched hills and through knee-deep mud in farmer’s fields. We visited my penpal, Ailish, who lives in Co. Wexford and with whom I’ve been corresponding for 39 years. We visited the world’s oldest still-functioning lighthouse at Hook Point. We shopped, we toured Belfast City Hall, we climbed Slieve Donard mountain (and I dramatically did a somersault part of the way down, thanks to slipping on loose gravel . . .).
Most importantly, we caught up with our family, whom we see so rarely, and who change dramatically in between visits.
I scheduled some social media posts before I left, but admittedly, I didn’t plan very well. All the “best of” lists are well past now, and it’s redundant to say “happy new year!” Nonetheless, I start out every January with the goal of reading 20 books. I have not yet achieved it. Either I read slowly, or I’m just too busy to get beyond 17. I envy people who read dozens or even 100+ books in a year. I’m not that person.
So, for what it’s worth, I decided to post my list of books anyways. For what it’s worth.
1. Beirut Hellfire Society by Rawi Hage – Violent and odd. A Bohemian rhapsody to death and war.
2. Your Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor – A non-fiction book that identifies all the ways women sabotage themselves and are sabotaged by media, marketing and men.
3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – A touching book, with a self-depracating young protagonist who is dying, and yet still finds out that love thrives through illness, and that dreams can come true.
4. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg – Honestly, just what I needed to read as I struggle to get back in touch with my inner writer.
5. What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim by Jane Christmas – Some of you know I plan on walking the Camino this year. This was a hilarious introduction to what it might be like to walk this path as a middle-aged writerly woman.
6. The Way is Made by Walking by Arthur Paul Boers – Another book about the Camino, but this one focuses on the spiritual aspect of the journey. More of a sermon on feet.
7. Climate Church, Climate World by Jim Antal – A call to climate action for people of faith. So good that members of my faith community are reading it again.
8. A Fear of Being Lost by Asante Rugambwa – I bought this book from the author at his stall at the Kitchener Market. This book is a thriller that puts the theory of the round earth to the test.
9. The Story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Michael van Dyke – A simply written biography of the German pastor who actively worked against Hitler’s regime, and died because of it.
10. Brick Lane by Monica Ali – A gutsy story of a Bengali woman who comes into her own in a racially and politically charged part of London.
11. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I loved this book! Set in the Second World War, its narrator offers a point of view that is not what you expect.
12. The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Raif – A book written for pre-teens, this tells the story of a band of friends who do their best to make a classmate feel at home.
13. The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue – Written in the style of the time the novel is set in, this book reads like Bronte; a feminist backhand to the Victorian era and all its hang-ups.
14. Out of the Shadows by Timea Nagy and Shannon Moroney – The biography of Canada’s foremost advocate for survivors of human sex trafficking. Timea’s story is difficult to read, and also triumphant.
15. The Difference by Marina Endicott – After seeing the author at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, I bought her book. And loved it. Set mostly on ships at the dying end of the shipping age, the protagonist grows in self-awareness of the impact of colonialism on other parts of the world. And comes into her own in the process.
16. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – Dogs, cars, illness and custody battles. Told from the perspective of the dog. Meh.
17. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Another strong female protagonist, a person of colour. In this case, the only witness to a police shooting of her friend. Really loved this book, too, for its insight into Black culture in America, set against a backdrop institutional racism and violence.
Well, there you have it. My books from 2019. What is on your reading list for 2020? I'm using a photo from the North Coast of Northern Ireland, a view from the Carrick-a-Rede National Trust site. Pretty spectacular, isn't it?