Book Oscars: Volume VI

It’s award season! For the books I read, that is. Here are my 2022 Book Oscar picks gleaned from my personal reading log. Out of many contenders, these eight books won awards for their protagonists, settings, dialogue, and more.

Flat lay of classic books: The Country of the Pointed Firs, Till We Have Faces, Nada, and The Wind Off the Small Isles

It’s my habit to look back over the books I logged during the year and select the ones that stood out to me for various reasons. In the tradition of film Oscars, I make up award categories for these, although the specific categories vary somewhat from year to year depending on my reading habits.

Here are my other Book Oscar posts on Tea and Ink:

Ready to see what award-worthy books I read in 2021? Read on, and perhaps get some inspiration for your own reading list this year!

Best Heroine: Julie Wallace from Julie by Catherine Marshall

I fell in love with Christy–Catherine Marshall’s better-known heroine–a long time ago, but I’d always been curious about Julie. Last year I finally checked out the novel and I quickly became a Julie fan, too! Julie’s story takes place in a flood-prone Pennsylvania town during the Great Depression. Julie faces so many changes at once: her family’s relocation from Alabama, her father’s career change, and her own budding romances. She has a keen mind and a kind heart; she’s not afraid to stand up for herself, or for others whose voices are drowned by the town’s rich and powerful.

Julie was the only other novel Catherine Marshall wrote besides Christy, and it’s likewise characterized by meticulous research. It reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South with the workers’ unions, the father stepping down from a church leadership role, and the move from the south of the country to an industrialized northern town. No wonder I liked the book so much!

Best Hero: Márton Nagy from The Good Master by Kate Seredy

This 1935 children’s classic set on the Hungarian plains features two cousins–Jancsi and Kate–as the main characters. But the book’s title refers to Jancsi’s father, who proves to be firm and fair and kind during the ups and downs on the ranch, the misadventures of the cousins, and dealings with local Gypsy tribes. He reminded me a bit of Pa Ingalls except more grounded, if that makes sense. And the whole book is delightful! I loved being transported to this setting, which was very different than I’m used to.

Best Villain: Román from Nada by Carmen Lafloret

There are many dark and broken characters in this Franco regime-era novel, but Román is truly villainous. He sits in his rooms at the top of the moldering house like a spider in its web, waiting for his prey. Those who know him find him both repulsive and fascinating, drawn to his lair as he weaves transcendent music on his violin; pushed away when they encounter his cynicism and ruthlessness.

Best Dialogue: Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare

Well, I read a Shakespeare play last year and it would be hard for anything to beat that in terms of dialogue! The best dialogue shows you the characters through their words, reveals their personalities and motivations. And what they choose to say changes depending on who they’re speaking to. Through dialogue, Antony and Cleopatra shows you whether or not Cleopatra truly loves Mark Antony, as well as the kind of man Mark Antony has become since his appearance in Julius Caesar.

Best Setting and Descriptions: The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

Set in a coastal Maine village at the end of the 1800s, Jewett’s vignette-style novel is a deeply satisfying read. It engages your senses so authentically that reading it makes you feel like you’re walking into an actual memory. One of the things I cherish most about L. M. Montgomery’s novels are her descriptions of the places her characters inhabit. Very few authors are able to stir my soul with their descriptions the way she does, but in Sarah Orne Jewett I found another. Those of you who received last summer’s Seasonal Reading Box know how much I loved it!

Best Romantic Storyline: The Wind Off the Small Isles by Mary Stewart

This is a novella by my beloved Mary Stewart, and although short, it’s a perfect gem. The setting is vivid–as it always is in Stewart’s books. This time it’s Lanzarote, a volcanic landscape in the Canary Islands of Spain. Actually there are two love stories in the book. One happens long ago but sets the stage for the modern-day love story that begins when a young man and woman meet “by chance” on the island. There’s instant chemistry between them, but it grows into something much deeper when a near tragedy occurs. The book’s resolution brings everything full circle, creating a beautiful symmetry between the two storylines.

Best Nonfiction: Clean: The New Science of Skin by James Hamblin

This book was so fascinating to me! Reading it, I was impressed by how amazing the human body is–particularly the skin, in this case. Our bodies are designed to do naturally the things that we spend so many thousands of dollars trying to replicate, like exfoliating, moisturizing, and cell growth. Because of the narratives and marketing we have around physical appearance, hygiene, and beauty, globally we spend obscene amounts of money on skincare and inundate our bodies with products. And this usually ends up doing a lot more harm than good.

You see, we have skin microbiomes that are every bit as complex as our gut microbiomes, although the latter gets a lot more press. If you want to save money in 2022 I definitely recommend reading Clean, because you’ll be convinced to stop buying about 50% of your personal care products!

Open pages of Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

Best Re-Read: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

The past few years I’ve increasingly become a re-reader. Since C. S. Lewis was such a proponent of rereading books I found it fitting that his novel was my winner pick for this category! I read Till We Have Faces when I was in the ninth or tenth grade. In our family reading log, I put five stars next to the title with a little note: “So good! But need to reread someday.”

It’s an unusual novel, and there’s a lot to unpack. It’s not hard to get in to, though. Both when I read it back in high school and again recently, I found it gripping and haunting. The book is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth (an ancient “Beauty and the Beast” story), set in a pre-Christian kingdom somewhere between Europe and Asia. It’s told in the first person, from the perspective of Psyche’s possessive older sister.

I picked up on so much more in this read-through than I did on the first, but it’s a book I’m still going to need to come back to many times. Lewis scholar Brenton Dickieson from A Pilgrim in Narnia has some good insights on the book which I’ve been combing through (if you search through this tag, you’ll find more).

What “Book Oscars” would you award to your 2021 reading list? Share books from the categories I listed above, or make up your own based on the types of books you read (best sci-fi, best new release, best biography–whatever it is for you)!

Book Oscars: Volume VI

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12 Comments

  1. So excited that I found your website! It’s really rare for me to love a site and keep subscribed to it for awhile- and I keep coming back to read all your old posts and suggestions! Lol. Thanks so much! This book-loving girl LOVES hearing all about these fun new ones for me to dig into! Especially by authors I already know and love.

    Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much, Ashley! That makes me so pleased to hear(: I also love discovering other, lesser-known books by authors I already know. It’s like a secret encore; another facet of that author. I’m glad you’re here!

  2. I loooovveeee Til We Have Faces! I read it for the first time last year, and it is by far one of my favorite books to read. I enjoyed the development of Orual’s character throughout the story. I have not gotten the chance to reread the book yet, but I definitely will. I began to understand somethings about myself in a way that only literature can show. I grew up with Narnia but it was amazing to read a darker novel written by the same author that still ends with hope.

    1. Isn’t it an interesting book?? In so many ways. I loved how it takes us through Orual’s whole life, basically. Knowing C. S. Lewis’s background as a Christian, it’s fascinating to see how he has these “pagan” characters experience divinity. There’s a lot of symbolism in the book that’s hard for me to understand, but on this re-read I did notice what I think is a symbolic baptism…when Orual and Psyche are standing at the pool, their heads reflected in the water. That whole “undoing” of Orual with the gods reminded me of Eustace’s rebirth losing his dragon scales. When reading Til We Have Faces, I think it can be helpful to look at some of Lewis’s other works for clues to similar themes and points he’s making.

  3. I just found Till We Have Faces while browsing through my grandparents shelves. Now I definitely plan to read it! Thank you for your thoughtful comments and book suggestions!

    1. You’re welcome! Lewis was quite the world-builder, with Narnia, the planets in the Space Trilogy, and Glome in this novel! I hope you enjoy it!

  4. I love this idea!

    My best friend in elementary school (and further–we were even college roommates) was named after Christy. I live about an hour away from where Marshall’s mom did her work. I see the sign to the “Christy mission” as we drive that way but I’ve never detoured to actually check it out. I liked Christy when I read it but I’ve never read Julie.

    I love Country of the Pointed Firs so I’m always excited when I see it mentioned on blogs. I agree that she and Montgomery are masters of description.

    I’ll look for Nada. My husband lived with his family in Madrid at the end of Franco’s reign (my husband was too young to remember it) so I’m always curious about that era.

    I haven’t read any of Mary Stewart’s books in ages. My favorite as a teen was Thornyhold. I’ll look for the one you mention too.

    Great idea for a post! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Oh, that’s neat that you live near the Christy mission! My mother was named after her as well!

      I’ve never met anyone who’s read Country of the Pointed Firs, so I too am going to be very excited from now on when I see it mentioned!! I read that since Montgomery was a fan of Jewett, she may have liked the “kindred spirits” term that Jewett uses during the family reunion scene…and then made it so memorable in her Anne novels!

      How interesting that your husband has that background! Have you seen the movie Pan’s Labyrinth? It’s very R-rated, but still a stunning film. Nada actually reminds me a little bit of it, even though Nada isn’t a fantasy. I guess something about being dark and beautiful at the same time?

  5. My American lit professor did her thesis on Jewett so she’s the one who made us read it–not that I minded. I re-read it when we went to Maine on vacation.

    We did see Pan’s Labyrinth and “darkly beautiful” is the perfect description.

    Have you read Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys? It’s also set in the Franco era. I loved it. My mother-in-law, as a privileged American expat, speaks fondly of their time in Spain and the lack of crime in Franco’s rule. I knew a lot of Spaniards would disagree with her. It was nice to read that side of the history.

  6. I just found your blog, and am looking forward to digging through your previous posts. I’m such a booklist geek.

    I love the book Till We Have Faces, and have read it many times. I have found it different in the different stages of my life. One thing that is helpful to me in reading anything from Lewis is the knowledge that often what he writes in his non-fiction also shows up in his fiction. For example, the ideas from The Abolition of Man are fleshed out in That Hideous Strength. He wrote an essay in which he explores this idea by talking about a beam of light, and how one can look at what the light illuminates, or can look at the beam of light itself. Both show us different things. I wish I could point you to what non-fiction work illuminates Till We Have Faces, but I haven’t discovered it yet. Maybe you already know, and can tell me.

    Wendy

    1. Welcome, Wendy! The timing of this is so interesting, because my local book club is going to read exclusively C.S. Lewis this year, and we selected works based on this idea of pairing his fiction and nonfiction books according to common themes. I wonder if The Four Loves would be a good match for Till We Have Faces? I know Lewis explores the virtue of love in multiple works (obviously Perelandra comes to mind), but it does seem to be a major theme of Till We Have Faces. Hopefully after our year of studying Lewis I’ll know better how he uses this technique!

  7. I read Till We Have Faces on the recommendation of the minister that performed me younger sister’s funeral. She died from cancer and I had been intimately involved with her fight for her life. I also read Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy and recognized The Problem of Pain by Lewis in its pages – it’s a very sound and valuable intellectual treatment of the question “if there is a good god, why is there suffering?” question and it is very influential across the centuries. I found TWHF to be more of a gut or heart level wrestling with that same question, with the rage praying and wailing that one experiences when the head knowledge is insufficient to address the pain one is experiencing. In A Grief Observed, Lewis again talks about that more gut-level pain he is experiencing after the death of his wife (with who he wrote TWHF). I think all of these books have been, in unique ways, valuable to me during my grief and in seeing the facets and process of it from someone else’s perspective (it is easy to get lost in your own personal valley of the shadow of death). I am currently re-reading it while auditing a class on it by Corey Olsen online.

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