Author: Leo Tolstoy
Genre: Fiction, Romance
Date Read: January-March 2023
Quote: "But the law of loving others could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable."
Summary: Anna Karenina is about an adulterous affair between Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky, as well as a few other relationships. In the story, readers observe Anna devolve from society's pinnacle of femininity into paranoia due to her affair, and her devolution runs parallel to the love stories of other characters in order to reveal the many of faces of love. As Tolstoy states, there are as many loves as there are people. Tolstoy's work is considered a must-read by many universities and literary critics as it embodies many ideals of Russian philosophy.
**Discretionary Note: As the plot centers around an adulterous relationship, this book is not suitable for young audiences. There are also themes of depression and suicide.
Themes to consider: What is love? Obsession? The danger of allowing your happiness to depend solely on the love of the other; the horrible power of lying to oneself; the risk of a spirit of superiority; what is true fulfillment.
**Tolstoy's writing focuses on the application of internal battles. Instead of discussing the psyche of each character, their thought processes, Tolstoy shows you what happens based on their philosophies.
Further Reading (note, I have read these!): Sense and Sensibility or Emma by Jane Austen
Other Reading (note, I have not read these): War & Peace by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Great Divorce
Author: C.S. Lewis
Genre: Christian, Fiction
Date Read: March 2023
Quote: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
This quote summarizes the Christian belief of free will. God has granted us the gift that our love for Him might be freely chosen. Only the one who intentionally rejects God's love and does not desire grace will not be able to enter into heaven. The greatest sin in the Bible is the sin of not accepting forgiveness, hard-heartedness, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:30-32). All who seek the joy of God's face will find it.
Summary: The Great Divorce is an allegory of heaven and hell. It explores these concepts through different scenarios; people are offered the option to enter into heaven and have to decide whether to accept the offer. The book provides an easy and readable self-analysis and reminds readers that we have to face the truth of our own flaws and take accountability for them in order to accept forgiveness and move on.
Themes to Consider: Forgiveness, self-accountability, selfishness, vanity, ignorance, the conscience, redemption, purgatory, Heaven, and Hell.
Further Reading/Listening: (note, I have read these and can recommend!) The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis; The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis; anything by Peter Kreeft.
A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
Genre: Historical Fiction, biographical
Date Read: September 2023
Quote: “After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”
Summary: Set during the Bolshevik revolution of Russia, A Gentleman in Moscow follows Count Alexander Rostov as he clashes with the constancy of a lifelong house arrest in the Hotel Metropol in central Moscow. Rostov's perspectives develop and mature as he spends year after year locked away and must learn how to make the most of it. He goes from suicidal to teaching a young girl the rules of etiquette to managing a restaurant. His thoughts are a gold-mine of traditional respect for humanity and Russian philosophy.
Themes to Consider: How long can you be alone with yourself? How much does one interaction matter? What is the importance of forming a first impression? How do we find value in day-to-day life? What is respect? How does one develop self discipline? And SO many more. Do yourself a favor and just Google quotes from this book - I was compelled to annotate almost every page!
Further Reading/Listening (note, I have read these and can recommend!): Anything by Ruta Sepetys, especially Between Shades of Grey; The Librarian of Aushwitz by Antonio Iturbe; anything by Peter Kreeft; Morality, Lord of the Rings, and Awkward Jokes with Peter Kreeft a Pints with Aquinas episode.
Other reading (note, I have not read these): The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles; Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
The Pelican Brief
Author: John Grisham
Genre: Mystery, Legal Thriller, Fiction
Date Read: November 2023
Summary: The Pelican Brief is for readers who want something engaging, fast-paced, and mysterious. It is a legal thriller that is an absolute page turner; I read it cover to cover on a flight from Charleston to Little Rock!
Darby Shaw is a young law student who writes up a brief after the suspicious deaths of two Supreme Court justices, creating a perfect opportunity for stacking the court. It all lines up too well, and she traces the assassinations back to a wealthy benefactor. Her brief finds its way into the hands of the FBI, and after her professor and lover is killed in an attempt on her life, she goes into hiding. The novel follows her as she evades assassination and builds enough evidence to prosecute with the help of a reporter and hindrance of the US government.
**Discretionary note: There are some sex scenes and the book uses very strong language. Not advisable for young audiences.
Further reading (I have read, and can recommend!): Camino Winds by John Grisham; Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys.
The Book of Lost Names
Author: Kristen Harmel
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII), Romance
Date Read: December 2023
Quote: “But we aren't defined by the names we carry or the religion we practice, or the nation whose flag flies over our heads. I know that now. We're defined by who we are in our hearts, who we choose to be on this earth. Remember that God's plan for you might be different than the plan you have for yourself."
Summary: During World War II, Evan, a Jewish refugee in France, discovers a use for her artistic skills as a forger helping create false identities for her fellow refugees. In modern day, a much older Eva seeks out The Book of Lost Names where she hid the real names of the Jewish children to help them remember who they are. Readers will follow avidly as she becomes more ingrained in the underground resistance, finds love, and struggles to stay true to her Jewish roots.
Themes to Consider: Family values and loyalty, the power of war and propaganda, developing personal confidence.
Further Reading (note, I have read these and can recommend!): The Librarian of Aushwitz by Antonio Iturbe; All the Light We Cannot See by Kristen Hannah; The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah; Salt of the Sea by Ruta Sepetys; Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza.