- The Complete Works of Jane Austen. I was pretty sure I'd read them all over the years, but it was possible that I'd just gotten tangled up in movie adaptations (hello, Colin Firth!). So this year I decided to revisit all of her work. I found a great audio book of Mansfield Park read by Juliet Stevenson (herself having acted in some of those movie adaptations) and to my delight she had read all the others as well. Having the right reader makes all the difference to a good audio book! Feeling the need to take a break from the constant news this year, I turned to audio books to save my sanity and that made life so much more enjoyable. As I have found when I read all of a series again in one go, reading all of Austen's work in succession allowed me to pick up on little subtleties and similarities I missed the first time (all those men with "W" names for instance). It also allowed me to see the growth of Austen as a writer. I still can't pick a favorite, but Persuasion has moved up the list and Emma has moved down. I know a lot of people didn't love Lady Susan (the film version is called Love and Friendship), finding it too mean-spirited, but I thought it was hilarious. I'd like to think this was a more accurate depiction of Jane's inner monologues as she observed the world around her.
- The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I found this book when there was a lot of press about it being one of the books that entire communities were reading together. It's the story of the 1936 U.S. Olympic Rowing Team and how they won gold against all odds. But it goes into the history of rowing, the very difficult lives of the boys who grew up in the Depression and fought for everything they got and how rowing helped shape them. Honestly, this is not the kind of book I normally read, preferring fiction. But I ADORED this book. It kept me on the edge of my seat and I'll admit I read the last chapters more than twice. I also found the old newsreel footage on Youtube to see how it really happened. It gave me some insight, too, to the era that my parents grew up in. While they would always tell us stories about making do and hardships, for some reason this book really brought all that home and showed how their generation got their resiliency and their can-do attitude that as time passed served the world well in WWII. I also got D. to read it and he loved it as well.
- The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker. The story opens with Julia, arriving in Burma to search for her missing father. The only clue she has is a love letter he wrote many years ago to a woman neither she nor her mother have ever heard of. What she finds is yes, a love story and a mystery solved, but also a story of resilience, dedication and miracles. The language in this book is so lyrical, so unbearably beautiful, I dare you not to be drawn in
- Beartown by Frederik Backman. I've been a big fan of Backman's work ever since A Man Called Ove made the list last year. This book isn't as quirky as his others, though there are some quirky characters. It takes on much more serious themes that ended up being very timely for what is going on in the world right now. It's about communities, how they're formed or not formed, how they stand together or not, and how they heal or not when tragedy strikes. It's about the dangers of putting all your hopes and dreams into one thing and one thing only. Faced with choices, both big and small, each character in this book slowly reveals who they are and what they stand for. It's also just as much about place as it is people, the location is just as important a character as the others. I also think he's quite good in depicting relationships, all those little nuances and actions that started out as nothing but added up over the years become important to a couple, a group of friends, a mentor and protegee. In typical Backman style, the direction you think the book is going in isn't necessarily where you end up, which is one of the reasons why I love his work.
Happy reading! If you read any of these, let me know what you think and, as always, I'd love to hear what made your list of favorites this year.