January’s Books

January’s Books

After I put Lucia down in her bassinet, I realized I’d parked my book there. She didn’t seem to mind.

In 2011 I kept a monthly record of the books I read. I let that slide in 2012 and rather regret it. One of my goals for 2013 is to keep a monthly record again.

Other book-related goals for the year include reading Les Miserables. All the recent furor over the movie has made me acutely aware that I’ve never read it—except for a few abridged scenes we read in one of my French classes. (This was the great article about a man who was so inspired by the character of the bishop that he became a priest that really makes me want to dive in.) Last year’s big classic that I tackled was Middlemarch. The year before was The Brothers Karamazov. I think this is definitely the year of Les Miserables.

So without further ado, here’s January’s reading list:

1. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson The first volume in The Baroque Cycle. Began Volume 1 at the end of 2012 and finished in the hospital after Lucia’s birth.

This is series of historical novels is a departure for science fiction writer Stephenson. Or is it?  On the classification of the genre, Stephenson is delightfully playful, suggesting that there is something science-fiction-ish about them. Certainly there is a great deal of science, but there is also mystery and intrigue and alchemy. Sir Isaac Newton and Baron Gottfried von Liebnitz are both characters and there is a great deal about 18th century natural philosophy/science. It’s an interesting time when scientists straddled the line between alchemy and chemistry, sometimes what they did involved a lot of magical thinking even while they were trying to find rational answers. Also, they aren’t strictly historical as Stephenson has also created a fictional Celtic island nation, Qwghlm, off the coast of England that is something like Ireland and something like Wales.

The Baroque Cycle is a sort of prequel to Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, which I read last year.  There is one character who appears in both, a mysterious minor character who is apparently very long lived. (I’m not done with the series, but there has been no explanation so far for why he is. That’s kind of bugging me. I want answers.) Several other characters in The Baroque Cycle are direct ancestors of characters in Cryptonomicon.

Now that I’ve got quite a few Stephenson novels under my belt I’m starting to get a sense of some of his preoccupations that he revisits time and again. One of the is economics, particularly the question: what is money. This probing into how and why money works is a major theme of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle but also appears in The Diamond Age and even to some extent in Anathem. Stephenson explores how political systems, technology, theories of knowledge, and the exchange of information all come together and shape the economic system.

The Baroque Cycle has a huge cast of characters and literally ranges all across the world as one group of characters circumnavigate the globe in Book 2. The major trio are Daniel Waterhouse, a natural philosopher; Jack Shaftoe, a vagabond adventurer; and Eliza, who is hard to pigeonhole with a title as she has her fingers in political intrigues, economics, natural philosophy and just about everything else.


2. The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2). really this has been a perfect novel for recuperating from surgery. If I have to spend days idling around not doing much, then at least I have a good book to see me through it. 

3. The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3)—not yet finished. I’m about two thirds of the way through this almost 900 page novel.


Also in progress, several non-fiction books which are getting slight attention as I push to finish the Stephenson, which are borrowed from the library and due back next week:

4. Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots by Scott Hahn

This is the kind of book you can pick up and put down as each chapter is a stand alone piece about a different Catholic custom.

5. Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherri Wedell

I am definitely going to have to write a separate blog entry about this book when I finally finish it. I keep thinking back to this conversation from the end of last year, summed up in this post: Motherhood Isolation and the Mystery of Christian Brotherhood. This book addresses many of the questions and concerns that conversation raised and then pushes me to a whole new level of thinking about them.

6. My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir  by Colleen Carroll Campbell

I saw Elizabeth Duffy’s review and it made me want to read this book. The first couple of chapters have really grabbed me. I put it down but will definitely pick it up again when I’m done with my library books.

7. French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon

Melissa Wiley recommended this one. So far the first couple of chapters have convinced me that the only way to get my kids to eat like French kids would be to move to a small village in France and enroll them in the local school. So much of what Le Billon describes is so particular to French culture, I’m not sure that I can pull many lessons from the book to apply to our situation. Still, I’m going to read the whole book and think on it for a while. Probably the period when I’m recovering from major surgery and adding a new baby to the family is not the best time to read a book that makes me want to overhaul the way I approach food with my kids. I am rather helpless right now to do more than just get everyone fed and frankly if the kids are eating mostly grains and meats right now and are not being super adventuresome… well, this isn’t the best season to address it anyway. We always do much better on the fruit and vegetable front in the summer and fall when we’re going to the farmer’s market every week. Winter in new England isn’t the best time to inculcate adventuresome eating. And yeah, I should maybe have waited on this one until a different season.


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  • I thought your Pope Benedict quote was interesting. I’ve never had a lot of angst about social networking and how it fits into my life; it just IS. You talk to people, you Facebook them, you email, you Skype…it’s all part of one thing, not two separate worlds. I figured maybe it was a generational thing, but since Pope Benedict seems to get my perspective, obviously not. smile

    It’s also possible that I prefer fake communication. Just so nobody who does struggle with integrating social media thinks I’m setting myself up as superior…

  • I had seen Jen’s post and Simcha’s post and missed the pope’s message. I know, shame on me. :/

    But I really enjoyed this post. I completely understand why some people feel the need to back away from things like Facebook, but for me it has been a great blessing. It is true I can spend too much time on it, but it is also true that, without it, I would be much more isolated than I am. And I think, in this day and age, for women in certain seasons of life, social networking can be of an inestimable value.

  • I think the internet and social media have their advantages and disadvantages for communication.  It is great for meeting and developing relationships with people you might otherwise never meet.  This is delightful, and has always been my favorite part of the Internet.
    But, if it increases the range of our communication, it also has the ability to flatten our communication.  It’s easy to send one message out to many recipients, instead of maintaining a more individual correspondence.  Worse, is the temptation to ‘brand’ oneself.  And at the same time you have to put yourself out there, so friendship can grow.
    Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is that some people seem to take other’s being genuinely themselves as a personal slight.  I don’t understand this at all, and it’s something guaranteed to infuriate me.  This kind of behavior is the enemy of all communication, in person or over the internet.  I think it’s more prevalent online because it’s easier to criticize another without ever having to look them in the face and see the hurt.  But it’s ultimately just rejecting someone.

  • Thank you, Melanie! I thoroughly enjoy your blog and also read other Catholic bloggers. I am guilty of envy and joy that young mothers today have this electronic resource that I never had. I was a stay at home mom who filled pages and pages of journals, but had no one to share them with. My youngest child is 34 and I am now a grandmother of 10. Blogs are such a great resource to strengthen our faith, to know we are not alone, and to learn more about the faith. I thank you for all that you do! God bless!