The Candle in the Wind – T.H. White : I avoided this book because I knew the ending, but still it is a bittersweet, slightly sad cap on the end of the Merlin tale: a king’s ideals are torn apart, friendships are torn asunder, and ignorance–real or pretended–no longer saves the kingdom.
I Was Told There’d Be Cake – Sloane Crosley : Crosley captured me with her first essay–about holding onto toy ponies–and I realized I was finally reading about someone in the same stage of life that I’m in, albeit with a different faith and regional background, and though she lost me later on with some longer essays, I’m still grateful.
The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment – A.J. Jacobs : I’m a fan of Jacobs since his Biblical living days, and this collection of short essays was amusing and perfect for a commute, though I was especially taken in by his prologue, wherein he discusses the lasting impacts of his life experiments and why he does them.
Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith – Anne Lamott : This was the book I needed to be reading as the world fell apart, and once again I am so thankful for neurotic, truthful, Bush-bashing, Aunties-loving Annie, who I feel is a kindred spirit.
**The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien : I loved this book (and the movie, so lay off), a playful and serious perspective on adventure, treasure, and battle lessons: how to save your friends, sometimes you have to switch sides; how to save yourself, sometimes you have to do things out of character.
The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British – Sarah Lyall : An American looks into some of the quirks and foibles of British culture including the government, the pub culture, the class system, and gender relations, often reported with a humorous and sarcastic tone.
**Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling : The last of my Potter audiobooks, the final chapters are always hard as the reader says good-bye, once again, to much-beloved characters.
The Sword in the Stone – T.H. White : The first book of The Once and Future King, White’s retelling of the King Arthur tale with Arthur as a young boy and Merlin as his teacher who favors hands-on lessons is a childlike tale, enjoyable and humorous with a modern perspective.
The Queen of Air and Darkness – T.H. White : The second book relaying King Arthur’s first years of being king and his opponents highlights Arthur’s new way of thinking about politics and the role of the king, but it also notes the elements put into place that led to Arthur’s downfall.
The Ill-Made Knight – T.H. White : The third book of King Arthur’s story focuses on Lancelot, the oft-mentioned best knight of Camelot and lover of the queen, but also speaks to the difficulties of government based on might and what happens when that changes to a religious quest.
Love Does – Bob Goff : This book inspires me to a life of whimsy and reckless love, as Goff’s love for Christ and the people around him spur him on to radical adventures and saying “why not” when the world may say “why.”
The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession – David Grann : Not as much about Sherlock Holmes as I’d hoped, this book was instead about the crazy criminals and unsolved cases of the real world, written about in an engaging way.
The Journal of Best Practices – David Finch : A diagnosis changes a couple’s marriage for the better, as a husband learns how to manage his autism and engage with the world in a more healthy way, as this book hilariously and poignantly tells.
**Wild – Cheryl Strayed : A beautiful book about a young woman who looses herself after the death of her mother and finds herself on the Pacific Crest Trail, told in a fascinating lyrical and descriptive voice that pulls in even the least-hikey reader.
Why Friends are Friends – Jack Willcuts : My continued foray into the world of the Society of Friends (Quakers), this book gave me a glimpse into the theology and background of the denomination, both challenging and encouraging me.
A Monstrous Regiment of Women – Laurie R. King : The second book in the Mary Russell series, and I both loved and hated it every word I read, as it sets up a strong female protagonist with a brilliant mind and (unrelated to the strong female) undermines the Holmes I’ve come to know and love.
**Mink River – Brian Doyle : Doyle’s book become more exquisite the more I think on it, and while at the time, the writing style bogged me down, the beautiful characters, the interesting cultures, and the magical elements of this book keep it at the forefront of my mind.
The Other West Moore: One Name, Two Fates – Wes Moore : This fascinating and heartbreaking tale of two Wes Moores from Baltimore and the different paths their lives take brings up many questions about what molds a life: people, events, expectations, maybe chance?
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King : The final non-canon Sherlock Holmes novel in my quest, it was the one I was most uncertain about, due to the liberties I found out it would take due to some accidental Wikipedia knowledge, but the novel turned out to be a truly delightful beach read, engaging and intriguing, though it did at times make me cringe.
Some Assembly Required – Anne Lamott : I hadn’t read a Lamott book in a while, though I do have a very warm place in my heart for her, and so this book was a delightful chance to see and support crazy Annie in all of her self-destructive, anxiety-ridden, madly-in-love-with-a-grandbaby tendencies.
**Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job & Your Dream Job – Jon Acuff : Written by someone who has lived it, this excellent book discusses how to reclaim your dream without being foolish, which often requires learning to like your day job and hustling to become better at your dream before taking the plunge and quitting your day job.
Operating Instructions – Anne Lamott : This was Lamott’s first memoir, and it is a surprising, lovely, and honest account of a single mom falling in (and sometimes out of) love with her infant son and her strong and ever-present community.
The House of Silk – Anthony Horowitz : The first official Sherlock Holmes story since Doyle’s, this novel is written in very much the same vein as the originals, yet with darker twist and subjects, some social commentary (very non-Doyle), and more of a retrospective tone, as Watson is writing the tale many years after the fact.
The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes – Denis O. Smith : Another non-canon Holmes novel, these retain even more of the tone of the original stories, with three short tales marked by twists and turns, some that even get the better of the great detective himself.
**Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner : All I can say is this: what lovely prose; what complicated story structure, complicated characters; what exquisite descriptions of places as crucial to the plot as the characters themselves; what symbols and depth this Pulitzer Prize winner contains.
The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) – Chris Hardwick : A self-help book for the nerds among us, nerd god Hardwick urges and challenges his people to rise up and take control of their minds, bodies, and time by thinking of life and goals as one would in an RPG (role playing game for the uninitiated).
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven– Sherman Alexie : I’m a big fan of novels composed of short stories that tie together, either with characters, setting, or events, and this novel did that style well, lovely in its heart-wrenching brokenness about life on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
**Listening is an Act of Love – ed. Dave Isay : This might be one of those books that changes your life, that makes you believe in the power of story, makes you cry and laugh, makes you love the beautiful people in this beautiful country with their beautiful stories.
Heft – Liz Moore : This book both feels like YA Fiction and doesn’t, as it follows two Arthurs who are connected, one a morbidly obese hermit who used to be a professor and the other a high school senior who, despite being poor in a rich kids’ school, has a chance at sports stardom.
Nerd Do Well – Simon Pegg : Being a fan of Pegg’s work, I was predisposed to like his book about his nerdy upbringing and tendencies, but I found it scattered and uneven, in that at times it was good and quite intelligent, and other times it was neither of the two.
Same Kind of Different as Me – Ron Hall & Denver Moore : At its core, this book is a love story: how God loves the poor in spirit and in possessions; how men can learn to love God against all odds; how two men came to love a woman who showed them God; and how two men began loving each other, due to God’s and a woman’s fierce prompting, despite their differences.
Coraline – Neil Gaiman : Gaiman’s book for children is sweetly and simply told, with creepy and chilling parts that can make even this grown-up shiver.
The Final Solution – Michael Chabon : This brilliant novella concerns World War II, an unnamed elderly British detective (who seems awfully like Sherlock Holmes), a mute Jewish boy, his stolen parrot who sings and recites numbers in German, and how one grows old and lets go of the world after a lifetime of brilliance and activity.
The Penderwicks – Jeanne Birdsall : This book was recommended to me by a precocious fifth grader, and I see why she likes it, as it has all elements important to fifth-grade girls: sisters, a giant garden, adventures, confusing boys, and near-misses.
Small Steps – Louis Sachar : This follow-up to the smash hit Holes doesn’t have the same pizzazz of the first book, even while maintaining that Sachar-sian ability to create well-rounded characters with flaws who you care about.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J. K. Rowling : Oh the angst, the silent treatments, the love triangles that mark the penultimate book of the Harry Potter saga, and while it isn’t necessarily Rowling’s best, it gives a picture of a world at war and a teenager caught between the world of childhood and that of adulthood.
**The Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson : Jun Do has been an orphan master’s son, kidnapper, translator, decoder, inmate, ambassador, and fraud, among many other things, and his story is intense and sad as it reflects the poverty and cruelty of living in North Korea.
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card : Seriously intense, immensely strategic, and edge-of-my-seat brilliant, this book (for kids?) is clever, brutal, and frighteningly accurate in some assumptions about the future, in all the ways a good science fiction novel should be.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J. K. Rowling : Making it through the longest book in the Harry Potter saga is no small feat, especially wading through the teenage angst (which Rowling captures realistically) and romance, but underneath that is a captivating tale about responsibility, growing up, saying good-bye, fighting unjust establishments, and learning to accept and use your skills and talents.
A Technique for Producing Ideas – James Webb Young : Young’s speech to a business class has been turned into an interesting booklet on the creation of ideas from the perspective of marketing, with clear ties to anyone who searches for new artistic ideas.
Maine – J. Courtney Sullivan : This novel was slow to get going, but once I did, I couldn’t put down this tale that centers around a beach house in Maine, and the women of the family that inhabits it, dealing with deep pains of life in seemingly perfect lives.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs : While I admired the creative (and delightfully creepy) way of including found photos within the story, I couldn’t engage with the material: children with special powers, trapped inside a time loop to escape the monsters.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carré : Not being a spy novel connoisseur, this book took me twice as long to read, but I loved the anti-James Bonds, the views of spies as normal-looking blokes dealing with mid-life crises while working through national security breaches and double-crossings.
**The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho : What a beautiful book embedded with so much wisdom about the pursuit of one’s heart’s desire, both the pains and the joys.
Twenty-Five Books that Shaped America – Thomas C. Foster : One of those books that reminds you how much you haven’t read, it is written in a quirky, witty way with careful thought to its thesis: how these books changed or molded the way Americans view themselves, each other, and our land.
Franny and Zooey – J.D. Salinger : This book covers a lot of problems – overintelligence, family dynamics, religion, general malaise – that plague the main characters (who are basically pre-hipsters) but the last two pages will haunt me forever – in a very good way.
The Good Good Pig – Sy Montgomery : I’m not an animal person, really, but it doesn’t really matter, because Christopher Hogwood was more than a pig — just like this book is about more than animals, as Montgomery reflects on what Christopher taught her about community, maturation, home, simplicity, enjoyment, and love.
**All is Grace – Brennan Manning : It’s likely that this is the 76-year-old Ragamuffin priest’s last book, but what a book to end on, and what a brave and vulnerable soul he is, writing with a beautiful honesty of which I’ve never read the like.
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me – Ian Morgan Cron : A poignant story about redemption, addiction, secrets, pain, the desire to be loved, and the pursuit of God.
The Valley of Fear – Arthur Conan Doyle : A short story in two parts, Doyle misleads you and reroutes you every step of the way, then tells you a full other story before bringing the two together.
His Last Bow – Arthur Conan Doyle : I was less familiar with most of the stories in this collection, including the dying detective (quite arresting in a sensational sort of way) and the one about the missing spinster, not to mention the oddly political tone of “The Last Bow,” in which the propaganda is more developed than the mystery, making it rather disappointing comparatively.
**The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle : This is Doyle’s last collection of Holmes stories, and I love it, for the stories are not well-known, and Doyle plays with letting Holmes narrate some and putting others in third person, a delightful change and excellent writing exercise.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams : I keep giving this book chances, and I still don’t care much for it to be honest, but the tone is witty and off-beat, and it’s a nice romp, though I think I need to stop giving it chances.
Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie : Oh, Peter Pan, you naughty, selfish, self-centered, egotistical boy, but what else would you expect from a boy without a mother who never wants to grow up?
The Hero with a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell : This is a bit of a cheat, because I can’t say I’ve read every word of this book, but I have read a good number of words three to four times, and I need some sort of reward, because it is hard to get through, so this is it: my reward.