This morning, I remembered the time in my reading life when I frequently read words I had never heard spoken. This led to a lot of early mispronunciations, like the years I insisted on calling my gut my “in-test-EYE-nes.” Even after admitting (to myself) that I was mispronouncing it, I still put off saying it correctly, because the shame! Oh, the shame of being caught saying it right and thereby admitting I was previously wrong.
I miss the days before I had heard the majority of the words in my vocabulary spoken out loud. That first time I heard “apropos” spoken, my jaw dropped in excitement. And the sad thing is I can never have that same experience with that same word again. And the more I talk to people, the less unheard words there are, even if I try to keep reading at a breakneck pace to find new ones.
But that sounds depressing and talking about words and books should be exciting! So let’s end on an upper: My top 5 best books I’ve read so far this year.
5. A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel This book is flat-out funny. As in, break out laughing so hard your spouse wonders what the heck you are reading. As in, try to read portions out loud to explain your hilarity and not be able to get through them without choking on giggles. As in, read those same parts out loud to yourself when no one is listening just for the delight of hearing such funny thoughts spoken. If you’ve ever been a child and thought like a child, you have to read this memoir of Haven’s childhood told in her young voice.
4. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel I mentioned this book while I was reading it and now that I’m done, I have to say I agree with myself–the character details in this novel were so good. I sincerely believe Thomas Cromwell and his cadre are alive and breathing in just the way she wrote them—they were that lifelike. If I had to choose one category of fiction to read for the rest of my life it would be fiction about British history, especially when it involves the Royals. Thankfully, there’s a lot of it. (I tried to get away with writing this post without saying how much I loathe The Other Boleyn Girl, but I just can’t. I loathe The Other Boleyn Girl, both in print and on film. EW.)
3. Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood If I had to choose another category of fiction to read exclusively for the rest of my life, it would be stories of people whose lives and faith slam into one another and need to be reconciled. How’s that for a catchy category? If I ever own a bookstore, I’m going to set up a section named that. This novel answered a lot of burning questions I had about Catholic priests. Do they ever miss having a wife and children? How do they wrestle with the doubts those emotions must bring? Since this is none of my business in real life, I was happy to find them at the center of this novel. In it, a young Catholic priest has to face up to loving his adopted child and the woman next door. And not in the tawdry way (I loathe tawdry, also known as The Other Boleyn Girl), but in a very human way. It also answered my “What if a Catholic priest loves a woman who is married to the worst person on the planet and he’s watching it all go down?” question, which I know we all share. No? Ok, moving on.
2. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose Get thee to a bookstore and purchase this immediately. I have never learned so much by reading a book, except maybe the Bible. Reading this book will make reading all other books infinitely more enjoyable.
1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens Word to fellow Dickensian virgins: Do not start with Bleak House. I tried to read that massive tome while laid up in bed for three days with a killer (no, seriously. I thought I had died) rotavirus and it still couldn’t keep my attention. Good thing my mother mustered all her English teacherhood and told me to read this book or else. It is the most emotional book I’ve read in years. It was moving in the most unearthly way. It helps to be completely naive of the story, as I was, but even now, I’d go back and re-read it in a second and relish every detail.