Tuesday, January 27, 2015


I wish that I didn’t have to write this. I wish I could just sit at home on this peaceful Tuesday evening in January, and watch Parks and Recreation and laugh at Amy Poehler’s brilliance. But 70 years ago today the Red Army liberated a place called Auschwitz, and so I have to write.

I’ve spent the past two months reading William Shirer’s 1500 page definitive history of Nazi Germany: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It’s eerie to me that today I reached the chapter entitled The New Order, in which life in the Third Reich, life for the POW’s, the conquered peoples, and most of all the Jews is described in words that are too utterly horrific to bear. I have read a lot and I have never read anything so awful and evil and perverse in my life.

 History books are important, necessary, informative, and often wildly interesting. But there is something troubling about all their numbers. On page after page I read numbers that are overwhelming and incomprehensible to me:

“In Lithuania, alone, the map showed, 136,421 Jews had been slain.” (Shirer, 1254)

“Some 55,000 more Jews were exterminated in White Russia by July 1…” (Shirer, 1254)

“Mauthausen listed 35,318 deaths from January 1939 to April 1945…” (Shirer, 1259)

“Hoess himself in his affidavit gave an estimate of 2,500,000 victims executed and exterminated by gassing and burning…” (Shirer, 1267)

I don’t know what to do with numbers like this. They are too big. Too unfathomable. Too broad. What does it mean for six million people to be exterminated? What does it mean to massacre 30,000 people in a day, or gas 6,000 in an afternoon? How can I let the weight of these numbers into my heart? How can these numbers mean something to me?

Throughout the course of reading this book, I have had Elie Wiesel’s Night beside my bed, to remind me that the numbers are real—to remind me what the numbers mean. The numbers I read aren’t statistics or facts or information—they’re people. And to kill one person is a great evil. To lose one loved one brings almost unbearable pain.

Wiesel keeps me from getting lost in the numbers—because when my eyes begin to glaze over, I come back to his story:

“Men to the left! Women to the right!”
Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight simple, short words. Yet that was the moment when I left my mother. There was no time to think, and I already felt my father’s hand press against mine: we were alone. In a fraction of a second I could see my mother, my sisters, move to the right. Tzipora was holding Mother’s hand. I saw them walking farther and farther away; Mother was stroking my sister’s blond hair, as if to protect her.” (Wiesel, 29)

These words make me cry. I cannot imagine six million, but I can imagine a family of six. I can feel that, and I can weep for them, and weep for what, God forgive me, I cannot comprehend.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2014: A Year in Books

Every year my youngest sister Camie and I have a competition over who can read the most books. She always seems to beat me, and though I half-heartedly try to console myself with the fact that I work full time and read longer books, I’m mostly just an adoring big sister who is fiercely proud of her voracious reading and inquisitive mind.

At the end of the year, we have a recap—we reveal how many books and pages we read, and answer some questions that Camie created back in 2011 when we first started this. Since this a blog mostly devoted to reading, I thought I would post my 2014 recap on here.

Total books read in 2014: 51
Printed books: 21
Audiobooks: 30
Total pages read: 6,634*
Total discs listened to: 319*

*I only counted books that I finished in 2014, so there are some books that I was reading in 2014, but won’t finish until 2015.

Now, for the questions:

1. What was the longest book you read?

The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser; 785 pages and Bleak House by Charles Dickens; 29 discs

2. What was the shortest book you read?

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck; 164 pages

3. What was the most well-written book?

I told Camie that it was Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. I can’t find my copy of the book right now, or I would treat you to some examples of his magnificent sentences. I knew practically from the minute I cracked the cover of the book that I was in the presence of an author who knew how to create sentences that are works of art.

Honorable Mentions:

Unbroken and Seabiscuit, both by Laura Hillenbrand. The depth and thoroughness of her research and her ability to craft it into a compelling narrative are, in my opinion, currently unmatched. I don’t really give a fig about horse racing, yet somehow she had me sitting on the edge of my seat, fists clenched, tears in my eyes, needing to know if Seabiscuit would win his next race!

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: I didn’t know people could write like this. If I ever write a book, it will be in large part because I read this book.

4. What was the dullest book you read?

The Book of Common Prayer: a Biography by Alan Jacobs. It saddens me that this was the dullest book I read because I adore The Book of Common Prayer and can think of few books that have been as influential to me spiritually, but I just wasn’t a big fan of the style of this book. It might’ve been too short, and not detailed enough for me. It could also be that my lack of knowledge regarding English history made it a bit confusing.

5. What was the most informational book you read?

To End All Wars: a Story of Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild. First of all I’ve never been very familiar with World War I—I’ve always sort of avoided it, having a vague sense that it was quite a depressing affair. Well, I was indeed correct and reading this book confirmed that the way to be hopelessly depressed for days is to study World War I. However, this book was still incredibly interesting (though I had to watch copious amounts of cheerful sitcoms in order to counterbalance the bleakness) as it explored the war through the lens of Great Britain and both the military and government leaders who pursued the war as well the anti-war movement that fought staunchly for their beliefs and suffered in many ways. I learned quite a lot, but perhaps the biggest lesson was that I don’t like learning about World War I—it’s so sad and unnecessary and was in many ways such a waste.

6. What was the longest series you read?

Gregor the Overlander
Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane
Gregor and the Curse of the Warm-bloods
Gregor and the Marks of Secret
Gregor and the Code of Claw

 Camie recommended this series to me by Suzanne Collins, of Hunger Games fame. I was quite impressed by the depth and quality of this series. As with The Hunger Games, the books are pretty heavy and serious, and quite literally dark as they take place underground of New York City. I found the books honest and grave, dealing with subjects like death, war, racism, friendship, and sacrifice in a realistic but compassionate way. 

7. What was the best series you read?

All the books by James Herriot, which I wrote about here. These books brought me an immeasurable amount of joy, warmth, and laughter this year, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

8. What was the saddest book you read?

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell was really hard for me to read. I think part of it had to do with my misguided expectations going into the book. I read the back of the book and thought it was going to be a light-hearted love story of two high school sweethearts. It was a love story, but quite heavy as it explored the less than stellar home life of the teenagers involved, and it made me want to adopt as many hurting kids as I can and give them a home in which they are loved and treated properly. As sad as the book was, I do think it is well-written and the author does a pretty excellent job of describing what it feels like to fall in love in high school. 

9. What book inspired you the most?

Hands down it was definitely Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you haven’t read the book yet, make that a resolution for 2015!

10. What book had the best illustrations?

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green. The author is one of my favorite illustrators and this is her first graphic novel which explains her struggle with and eventual healing from an eating disorder. While I don’t personally battle an eating disorder, I do know what it’s like to be plagued with perfectionism, self-loathing, and guilt, and the way Katie actually illustrated the feelings of perfectionism and guilt was, in my opinion, quite profound and helpful for beginning to work through them.

11. What was your least favorite book?

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card. I know I’ll probably get a lot of pushback for this, and I’m sure the fault rests entirely with me. While I enjoyed getting a larger view of Ender’s world and learning more backstory in this sequel to Ender's Game, the darkness of this book--from the orphan gangs on the streets of Rotterdam to a child serial killer--was kind of hard for me to take. I know it’s very well-written, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it. I mostly just wanted to adopt orphans.

12.  What was your favorite book?

JUST ONE?!?!?! Here’s my top 5:

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
1776 by David McCullough
Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo