My Year in Books: 2015

Just thought I’d take a moment to summarise last year’s reading. I set myself an informal goal to add real diversity to my reading – mixing both fiction and non-fiction from a range of authors and settings. See if you think I achieved that goal . . .

Fiction

Of the 33 books I read, 13 were fiction with geographical settings as diverse as Afghanistan, Africa and America with plenty of locations in-between! In fact, only three of these novels were set in my home country – and one of those dealt with growing up in a family with immigrant parents and grandparents! The historical settings included the Biafran war, WW2, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Taliban years in Afghanistan, 19th century Canada, the civil rights era in the US southern states and early 20th century Ireland. Most were stories of family life – some based on real-life and others more fictional – and, to single just one of them out, Elizabeth is Missing was a fascinating exploration of living with dementia and its progression.

Here’s the list of fiction titles: Half of a Yellow Sun, Perfect, Stone Diaries, Almost English, A History of Loneliness, Kabul Beauty School, All the Light we Cannot See, Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, The Sunrise, Elizabeth is Missing, Gone Girl, The Secret Life of Bees, Ghana must Go

Non-fiction

So, 20 of my books of 2015 were non-fiction. Of these, 11 were real ‘vicar’s books’ – books I read either to help me grow in my Christian faith and personal discipleship or to help me become a better vicar. The other 9 included 3 personal memoirs/autobiographies, 1 language, 4 were about life/culture/history of other countries, and 1 taught me how to doodle creatively and productively.

So this is the non-fiction list: Outcry, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Ishmael’s Oranges; Lingo; Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, The Year of Living Danishly, 1989 The Berlin Wall, The Warmth of Other Suns; The Doodle Revolution; Leaping the Vicarage Wall, The Contemplative Pastor, Storytelling, Ignatian Lent, The Journey, Supervising a Curate, Forming a Missional Church, We Make the Road by Walking, Re-ignite, Soul-Keeping, The Meaning is in the Waiting

Thoughts on this list . . . 

As I’ve typed up this summary, I’m struck by several things:

  • Unsurprisingly, non-fiction wins out over fiction
  • Other countries, cultures and languages figure prominently
  • A third of my reading was faith-related
  • Just four of these books belong to my favourite narrative non-fiction genre about lives in other times and places
  • Almost all of my favourite reads of 2015 are on the non-fiction list
  • I only read 33 books and my to-be-read shelves continue to groan under the weight of all that remains unread – and the new gifts and purchases!

Book of the Year

imageI usually struggle to whittle the list down to just one – but I so loved Isabel Wilkerson’s Pulitzer-prizewinning The Warmth of Other Suns, that I’m making an exception for this year.

So, time to get on with reading through 2016 then . . .

January Thoughts

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A quiet month but a thoughtful one.  From a wonderful quote to start the New Year and a quick review of a great book about the many quirks and anecdotes of the different languages of Europe, More Thoughts, Vicar looked back at the blog’s evolution since that 2014 New Year’s Resolution.  There was a pause to hear God’s Word the day after the horrendous killings in Paris, a day when the call to love was a call to the whole of humanity.  And then another blogger prompted a trip down memory lane to a time back in the USSR, a theme picked up in reviewing a delicious book mixing Russian food, history and family life.  And then a final thought towards the end of the month on asylum – there is so much to say on this theme, but so little that can be said on a public forum when vulnerable lives are at risk.

Blogging New Year’s Resolution

I’m not one for making new year’s resolutions but last year I did. I started January 2014 with a promise to myself that it was to be the year to start a blog.  I found WordPress and discovered this brand-new challenge called  ‘Zerotohero’ aimed at people like me just starting to blog.  So I hastily threw together a blog title, tagline and theme, completed the first three tasks, and then ground to a halt!

I ground to a halt because I didn’t even know what the blog was for.  The days and weeks rumbled by and then we came to the season of Lent.  So I resolved to blog daily through the 40 days of Lent by way of a new blogging beginning.  But that effort also lasted a mere three days.  And after another similarly feeble attempt in about June, I began to conclude that blogging just wasn’t for me after all.

imageAnd then September came around – the first anniversary of my new job, a natural time for reviewing and reflecting, making new starts and plans for the future.  And so the blog got a bit more attention.  But most importantly, the blog got a new name, inspired in a moment of glimpsing my ‘More tea, vicar?’ teapot in the kitchen cabinet.

And so the re-christened blog entered Blogging 101 with an author intent on completing all the challenges this time around.  And it worked! OK, one or two challenges never got done, but most did.  And most of all, I found myself loving the opportunity to write, I had fun connecting with the Blogging 101 community and I wanted to carry on blogging by the end of it – and so I did!

And here we are, January 2015.  The blog that has kept going was four months old yesterday and is still alive with something new posted every few days. WordPress statistics tell me I have written 64 posts since September (not counting the drafts not yet published), which have had 1,118 views in 37 countries and 88 amazing people have chosen to follow the blog.  Thanks for all the comments, the follows and the big encouragement to a blogger who tried to fool herself into believing she was doing this just for herself!

Exactly what the blog is and who it’s for remain a mystery I’m still trying to fathom out.  I keep thinking I need to be more focussed – Christian ministry and/or theology, books, life, or responding to blogging prompts and challenges, but not all of these all mixed up together.  But I enjoy having a place to put a picture, or a Youtube clip I like, and sometimes it’s fun to respond to a daily prompt – in fact some of my favourite posts have come from prompts I’ve responded to.  Nevertheless, there’s a voice constantly rumbling away in my head saying, ‘just blog occasionally with more “heavyweight” opinion pieces responding theologically to the issues of the day’, but then another voice pipes up to object: ‘And where would the pictures, videos and short, quick comments or Words from the Word go?’

And so More thoughts, Vicar? moves into the new year as the eclectic mix it has become and is, for now, intent on continuing to be – until such time as the thoughts swirling in this vicar’s head streamline themselves into a few key areas for blogging.  I don’t see that happening anytime soon, so my webspace will continue to reflect the mixed bag of thoughts that pass through my head each and every day. Welcome to my world!

It’s been a good bloginning – long may it continue!

My year in books: 2014

Since I started blogging back in September, I’ve loved discovering a whole world of book blogs and reading challenges out there in the blogosphere.  It’s meant I’ve come across books I hadn’t heard of before – or might not have thought about reading – so my TBR list is now longer than it ever was (not that I knew I had a TBR list – or even what one was – before I entered the book blogging world!). I even began to wonder if my own blog should be just for books – but this vicar has way more thoughts than just those about books so it will go on being a place of random musings for the foreseeable future.

But perhaps the best outcome of starting to blog is that I’ve read far more books in the months since I started blogging than I’d been reading in the months before I did.  And having the blog has given me a space to keep a record of my reading – something that never quite worked before.

I’ve tried to put a list of my 2014 reading together – both fiction and nonfiction.  It’s not been easy with no written records before September, but I think I’ve remembered most of what I’ve read this year.  All the books listed with an asterisk* are books read on the Kindle I got as a Christmas present a year ago.  Given what I’ve said before about struggling with e-reading, I’m amazed just how many I did read on a screen rather than on paper.

  • The Casual Vacancy* J K Rowling
  • Bridget Jones – Mad about the Boy* Helen Fielding
  • One Night in Winter Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • The Sweetest Hallelujah* Elaine Hussey
  • The Lie Helen Dunmore
  • A Possible Life Sebastian Faulks
  • Chestnut Street* Maeve Binchy
  • The Last Runaway Tracy Chevalier
  • Purple Hibiscus* Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Americanah* Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry* Rachel Joyce
  • The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy* Rachel Joyce
  • Your Church in the News* Robbie Lane
  • Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom for MinistryStephen Cherry
  • Pilgrim: A Course for the Christian Journey Stephen Cottrell (et al)
  • How to Write Great Blog Posts that Engage Readers* Steve Scott
  • Productivity Ninja* Graham Allcott
  • One Summer: America 1927 Bill Bryson
  • Red Love: The Story of an East German Family Maxim Leo
  • Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall Hester Vaizey
  • Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo Tim Parks
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran Azar Nafisi
  • I am Malala Malala Yousafzai
  • Travellers of the Heart: Exploring New Pathways on our Spiritual Journey Michael Mitton
  • Making Disciples in Messy Church: Growing faith in an all-age community Paul Moore
  • The Challenge of Change: A Guide to Shaping Change and Changing the Shape of the Church Phil Potter
  • The Book of Boaz Dave Smith
  • Walking Backwards to Christmas Stephen Cottrell
  • Lingo: A Language Spotters Guide to Europe  Gaston Dorren

Well, those are the ones I can remember. There are a few more that I started but haven’t finished, so I’ve left them off the list. I love the final list and can see it’s very ‘me’. There’s a good mix of fiction and nonfiction and coverage of a fair few countries along the way as well as some ‘how-to’ type books and those that connect with my Christian life and ministry.

I’ve just skimmed the list to pick out some favourites, but I just can’t single any out as there were good things about most of them. Looking forward to getting down to some more reading in 2015.

Happy New Year!

October thoughts

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October began with a Song after Suicide – my first ever video post. The group Twelve 24 wrote their song: Turn the Page in response to the death by suicide of our friends’ daughter (which I blogged about back in September).

From thoughts of loss and grief, to thoughts of thankfulness. In my job, it’s impossible to avoid harvest at this time of year – and, anyway, who would want to avoid it? This wonderful annual festival led to some harvest thoughts  about those things we might each be thankful for and whether we have any surplus to share with those in need.

Having had the blog up and running for a month I posted on the bloginning experience so far before moving swiftly on from blog to bog with a brief thought about the lack of basic latrine facilities faced by so many people in our world today. This far from bog-standard post provided the perfect opportunity to include a shout out for one of my favourite new charities this year: Tearfund’s Toilet Twinning.

A review of a fairly typical Sunday in this urban vicar’s life made it possible to showcase the true messiness that is Messy Church. October’s messiest activity award went to the extremely popular grape-crushing activity – carried out much as it might have been done in Jesus’ time. And the churchwarden drank the juice to prove just how delicious it was. Yes, really!

There was a Blog Action Day around the middle of the month with a focus on inequality, which provided a real opportunity to highlight some of the inequalities in the lives of the youngest people in our world with a call to remember, in the face of such poverty and inequality of opportunity, that Every Child Matters.

I was delighted to accept a nomination for the One Lovely Blog Award – not bad going for a newbie blogger whose stated aim at the outset was simply to journal a few thoughts on the journey through life.

Anyway, buoyed up by this recognition, I took up the Daily Post writing challenge to produce a Genre Blender which resulted in an attempt to combine something that might very loosely be called the genre of historical fiction with the form of an open letter. And so I found myself writing to Paul, aka Saul of Tarsus, and asking him a few questions I think many Christians today would love to know the answers to.

On the book front, I continued with my two long reads – one fiction, and one non-fiction – actually begun back in September.  But there was also time to fit in a couple of shorter reads, including the Book of Boaz which really impressed me.

A few days’ family holiday created a bit of a gap in my posting, and so here we are now at the end of the month. The blog bloginning may be over but the blogging journey has only just begun. I’m already excited to see what thoughts November will  bring?

And how was October wherever you are? I’d love to hear a few thoughts about it.