Another Year in Books

Two years ago today I was boarding a plane to Vienna. Mixed emotions — excitement, curiosity, expectation, anxiety, the Unknown. Today, the unknown has been peopled with new friends; familiarity has taken root but has not banished novelty. A sense of being at home wars with sometimes loneliness and home-sickness. At the start of my third year here, I find I have the same mixed emotions as two years ago, and the unknowns have just taken on new guises — what will it be like taking university classes here? How will my piano audition go? Will I find a job in the next couple of weeks that actually enables me to stay?

Of course, the One great constant over the course of this Vienna adventure has been the faithful God who guides and holds fast even “if I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea.” I state this as a fact — poetically concrete in the words of the Psalmist and witnessed in the circumstances of God’s providence — even if often painfully absent from what I feel.

Other constants — God’s most tangible gifts — have been the family and friends near and far. And, that other great staple of life — a good book — has also been close at hand. For much of this year, I’ve taken to reading daily Bible readings auf Deutsch and have also enjoyed delving into familiar and new books in a second language. …If two years makes a tradition, here’s the “traditional” blog post summarizing a year in books!

Orthodoxy (G. K. Chesterton) {Nook}

The book title might seem a bit weighty for an afternoon’s pleasure reading, but Chesterton somehow manages to combine argument and humor, the wonder of salvation, poking fun at himself, and a refreshing (and mostly easy-to-follow) look at the foundations of Christian faith. In the book he describes himself as having slogged through philosophical and religious ideologies only to find that the wonderful Truth he had freshly discovered was already encapsulated in the core of Christianity.

The Innocence of Father Brown and The Wisdom of Father Brown

(G. K. Chesterton) {Nook}

Two collections of charming detective tales starring the unlikely Father Brown. Recommended for travel by bus in Croatia.


Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)

As with the second of the Hunger Games books, I read book three at a teacher’s request, since her class was reading it and she wanted me to lead a discussion. I have to admit that the author does do a good job drawing the reader into the story. However, she pretty well ruins the series in the last chapters. I was left annoyed with the main character, not thoroughly convinced she ended up with the right guy, and disappointed that one of the main characters basically just disappears from the narrative.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Mark Haddon)

An autistic boy tells the story of his seriously dysfunctional family. One gets the feeling that the author succeeds very well in capturing the unique perspective of the narrator, who loves math and dogs and hates hugs and the color red.


The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) {Nook}

This is a strange book. The main character is an orphan girl taken in by an older couple in WWII Germany. Eventually a Jewish man takes hiding in their home, and one can guess that it’s not a completely happy ending. The narrator, as the reader shortly discovers, is Death. Like I said, a bit strange.


Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton) {Nook}

Depressing. Do not read this (short) book unless you particularly desire a tale of misplaced affections and life-long regret.


The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)

Not necessarily an easy read, but the sort of book that sucks you in. The main character, haunted by guilt, seeks to find redemption from his childhood cowardice. However realistic the entire plot is or is not, the narrator’s voice resonates with the authenticity of his battle to redeem the past. An interesting book, exploring a biblical theme but without the Cross of grace.


Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)

An elderly father chronicles the family history and his own personal journey of faith and forgiveness for the son born to him in his old age. While watching the boy happy and heedless in his childish play, he hopes to leave a legacy of letters to be read and treasured when his son reaches adulthood and he himself is long gone.



The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis)

My tutoring student Moritz and I read the first of the Narnia books aloud over the course of a number of weeks. While it was a definite challenge for him as far as new vocabulary, I was delighted to discover he’d be interested in carrying on in the series. Maybe we’ll try The Magician’s Nephew for our fall reading.



Flavia de Luce 1 – Mord im Gurkenbeet (Alan Bradley)

[Death in the Beet Pickle; English title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie]

The main character, Flavia de Luce, is one independent kid, determined to solve a murder mystery that transpires in her own back yard.



Geschichten aus der Löwengrube (Luise Rinser)

[Stories from the Lion’s Den]

Short stories by a German writer from the mid-20th-century.  I gave up on one story, which was just “too much”; but all the selections were captivating and all either dark or disturbing.



Hilfe, ich mache Urlaub (Erma Bombeck)

[Help, I’m on Vacation!; English title: When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home]

A witty, sarcastic book that brings travel stereotypes to life and hilariously exaggerates the woes of the would-be adventurer. I found this (like most books) great for the train. Some fellow passengers probably wondered what that crazy girl reading a book thought was so funny!


Der Herrn der Ringe [The Lord of the Rings] (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Splendid, as always! I was afraid that a) it would be too hard to read in German, or b) that the story would seem somehow flat without my knowing lots of words. On the contrary – perhaps because I had to read much slower than in English – the characters were wonderfully alive and the read very rewarding. I found it amusing how some names were translated, others not. Frodo Underhill became “Unterberg” (a direct translation – “Unterhügel” – would have sounded funny, I guess), Strider became “Streicher,” Treebeard “Baumbart,” etc.


Per Anhalter durch die Galaxis (Douglas Adams)

[The Hitchhiker’s to the Galaxy]

This is one weird book…. Sci-Fi is hardly my favorite style, but there was enough humor to keep me going through the outlandish plot and the maze of indecipherable German words (some of which most certainly were made up by the translators). Just for those of you who were longing to know, “the meaning to life, the universe and everything” is zweiundvierzig.

Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (Chris Wright)

To balance out Douglas Adams, I’m just starting  a book that couldn’t be more different. But, since I’m only on page 20, you’ll have to wait for a description till next year — or read it yourself!

Well, that brings me to the last lines for today. I remember that last’s year’s book post brought more feedback that almost any other. Comments and suggestions welcome, once again!

And, from the sublime to the ridiculous, two quotes to close:

“Of making books there is no end!” (Solomon, Ecclesiastes 12:12)

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

(Groucho Marx)



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9 Responses to Another Year in Books

  1. bryhoyt says:

    Super interesting book list! Doesn’t seem like it’s been a year since your last book list. You must be cheating somehow.

    • evaholder says:

      Ha, that’s funny Bryan! It doesn’t feel like a year to me either! Are you reading anything you’re particularly enjoying these days? …Don’t know when, but I keep dreaming of another trip to NZ…one of these days. : )

      • bryhoyt says:

        Hmm, nothing majorly interesting this year. I’ve gone through a lot of escapist sci-fi, but much of it not particularly re-readable. Most of Arthur C. Clarke’s novels being the exception — although you have to be careful to avoid “his” entirely missable later works that were co-written with other authors.

        I also read The Book Thief this year, and that was well worthwhile. I really loved how Death was the narrator.

  2. Franci says:

    It is hard to believe that you are starting your third year in Vienna! And I can certainly identify with the feelings of familiarity mixed with homesickness. It can be an odd combination.

    I love how you read a real variety of genres. Out of interest, where do you find your book recommendations? I wish I had more time to read where I didn’t feel that I was about to fall asleep after page 2. 🙂

    • evaholder says:

      Thanks for the comment, Franci. Where do I find my recommendations? Well, let’s see. …What Hannah put on my Nook e-reader, what teachers at school asked me to read for a lesson, what I happened to borrow from a friend, a favorite I just wanted to re-read…. That’s about it!

  3. hannahholder says:

    Great post, E! Loved your descriptions, the book jacket images, and the humor you inserted several times. I’ve got the Bombeck one waiting for me at the library and am looking forward to the laughs. And the first of my Luci Shaw purchases, Breath for the Bones, arrived in the mail today.

    • evaholder says:

      Do report on the Luci Shaw. I should read more poetry. (I’m saying that without any great motivation to do so.) Do hope you think the Bombeck is any funny as I did. I can just see you and Mom rolling with laughter. Glad you got my humor sprinkled here and there; one of the best things about having a sister. : ) Let’s talk Sunday!

  4. Ben says:

    Thanks, Eva. Very interested to see German editions of both LoTR and (crazy!) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Have you read the English version of Hitchhicker’s Guide?

  5. Laurel says:

    Yes, I think I’d enjoy the Bombeck too for a holiday read. I’ll see if I can get hold of the English if not the German version from the Christchurch library (though I’m sure it would be good to brush up my German…)

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