Sunday, January 14, 2007

2003 - Best Books of the Year

I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother, Allison Pearson
A novel I almost never read because it looked too predictably PC. Surprisingly sweet tale of being a mother and a woman, set in modern London. 352 pages.

The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars, Stephen O’Shea
Medieval history. A gripping story of a believing people in Southern France who were destroyed by the pope’s crusade against them. One of the villains, Simon de Montfort, was one of our ancestors - always such a delight to discover that you carry in your veins the DNA of someone who had all the men of a village blinded, leaving only one man with one eye, as well as ordering his soldiers to chop an arm off their prisoners - both arms from the one-eyed man - leaving them just enough physical equipment that they could walk bleedingly back through the mountains to their home village, arm on the shoulder of the one ahead of them, led by the man with one eye? Does it make it better or worse to know that Simon and his wife were uncommonly devoted to one another? - he was famously monogamous. 224 pages.

Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities and Meaning of Table Manners, Margaret Visser.
The title says it all. Pleasantly readable writing. 448 pages.

Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories from a Decade Gone Mad, Virginia Holman (reissued in 2004 as Rescuing Patty Hearst: Growing Up Sane in a Decade Gone Mad)
Autobiography of a daughter growing up with a schizophrenic mother. But that makes it sound sensationalist and voyeuristic and it’s not. What is a family? This book calls forth some revelatory answers. 256 pages.

Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
Beautifully human novel of the effects of war on a Greek island. Courage, love, tragedy, death and disappointment. But life and joy have a way of outlasting everything else. 448 pages.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, Jessie Wise & Susan Wise Bauer
Homeschool guide. Beautifully and ambitiously thorough. A great help. 800 pages.

The Wanderings of Odysseus, Rosemary Sutcliff.
We loved this illustrated retelling which stays very close to Homer’s Odyssey. Black Sails before Troy, a retelling of the Iliad, was also enjoyable, though bloody. Gorgeous pictures. 120 pages.

Warrior Scarlet and Mark of the Horse Lord, Rosemary Sutcliff.
Ancient British historical novels, gripping and sometimes heartbreaking stories of courage. Best for older children, great read-alouds. 207 & 289 pages.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon.
In this tenderly wry novel, an autistic 15-year-old boy who cannot understand lies, solves more mysteries than the one he sets out to investigate about his neighbor’s dead dog. 240 pages.

John Adams, David McCullough
A great biography of a good man. Gave me hope for this nation to see the squabbles from which it arose. We just need a few more good people. 736 pages.

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