In The Four Loves, Lewis theorizes that the origins of male friendship lie in the common purposes of tribal life, particularly hunting.

Long before history began we men have got together apart from the women and done things. We had to…We not only had to do the things, we had to talk about them. We had to plan the hunt and the battle. When they were over we had to hold a post mortem and draw conclusions for future use. We liked this even better. We ridiculed or punished the cowards and bunglers, we praised the star-perfomers. We revelled in technicalitites.

Lewis’s speculations got me thinking about women’s friendship and a potential unwritten history. Perhaps women’s friendship (at it’s best) is more warm, more encouraging, less competitive, less jovially critical because our “tribal” relationship is based on collectively enduring great pain. What is more irreducibly feminine than suffering greatly in the inevitable pain of reproduction? We don’t need and cannot bear critique of technicalities in childbirth. No woman would suffer a critic in the room as she labors. Even afterwards analysis must be limited. We tell our stories – much like war stories – to be heard and to bear witness and not to ridicule or punish. Failure is already unbearable – we will not endure “ribbing.”


Perhaps all you need are the titles and

Forty thousand pages could fall away.

Culture Care and

Humble Roots and

Educating for Shalom and

The Hermeneutics of Love.

Abuse of Language Abuse of Power and

Disarming Beauty and

Absence of Mind.

This shelf delights with books yet closed.


But then, Poets on the Psalms was so much better

Than Poets on the Psalms and

Better Living Through Criticism

Was not.

A Prayer Journal

Flannery O’Connor’s personal prayer journal was published in 2013. I do tend to feel uncomfortable with the exposure of personal writings but then I also feel ravenous for new words from favorite authors, so I nearly always read them.

A Prayer Journal is a prolonged plea for closeness to God, humble acceptance of her gifts (even if they must be mediocre), and for the literary excellence O’Connor craves. She is impatient with her own weakness and wary of pretense and ego. Often her prayers simply ask for the ability to want what she knows she should but the overriding theme is the twin desires to become both a saint and a genius.

It is a devotional work and the wrenching honesty and grief in it are steep and nearly tragic.

The books two weaknesses are it’s brevity and it’s clearly private nature. Her creative spelling and casual punctuation could be a distraction but only if you lose sight of the intelligence and clarity of her thought.

A few compelling quotations:

“Dear God, I don’t want to have invented my faith to satisfy my weakness. I don’t want to have created God to my own image as they’re so fond of saying. Please give me the necessary grace, oh Lord, and please don’t let it be as hard to get as Kafka made it.”

“no one can be an atheist who does not know all things. Only God is an atheist. The devil is the greatest believer and he has his reasons.”

“When something is finished, it cannot be possessed. Nothing can be possessed but the struggle.”

“Virtue must be the only vigorous thing in our lives. Sin is large and stale. You can never finish easting it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited.”

A Year’s Worth

Every year since 2006 I have kept a list of the books I read each year. An interview I did in 2006, in which I claimed to read over 100 books a year (much to my interviewer’s disbelief), prompted me to start keeping track. In 2008 I engaged in a 200 book challenge (and read 201 books), but otherwise I have merely kept track of my “natural” reading progress. I write titles and authors into a journal in the order I read them and “star” new-to-me books (ratings are out of a possible five). Books without stars are re-reads and obviously rate high if I am returning to them. Amazon Affiliate Links for recommended books.

The List of 2016 (with notes):

The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkein

Furies of Calderon  – Jim Butcher **

Gilead – Marilynne Robinson ****

Gourmet Rhapsody – Muriel Barberry **

The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis

The Theory of Everything – Stephen Hawking *** (A Brief History of Time is more readable)

Juvenescence – Robert Pogue Harrison ***** (A fantastically engaging history of intellectual development)

Louder and Funnier – P.G. Wodehouse ***

Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman ***

Mansfield Park – Jane Austen (A yearly re-read. Deeply moral in a quiet way.)

The Republic – Plato (One I teach each year. )

Realms of Gold – Leland Ryken ***

The Poetics – Aristotle (Another work I teach.)

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (Another annual re-read. A demonstration of the necessity of mutual respect and friendship in marriage.)

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen (There is a pattern here… This one is light and funny, especially if you’ve enjoyed any Gothic romances.)

The Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle (Still teaching.)

C.S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid – A.T. Reyes *** (Worthwhile only for the student of The Aeneid or the Lewis scholar.)

Emma – Jane Austen

The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. LeGuin ***

American Nations – Colin Woodard **** (A fascinating alternate view of American history that privileges understanding the differences in American culture rather than the commonalities. I found it enlightening.)

Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis ** (Amusing but light.)

Scipio Africanus – B.H. Liddel Hart **** (A history of the greatest general the world has ever seen – according to Liddel Hart who is a noted expert.)

Livy’s Early History of Rome (Another work I teach.)

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

Gratitude – Oliver Sacks ***

The Zombie Survival Guide – Max Brooks ** (Greatly inferior to World War Z – also by Max Brooks.)

Persuasion – Jane Austen

The Aeneid – Virgil (One of the greatest of the greats of Western Civilization and a book I’m privileged to teach.)

The Enchiridion – Epictetus (We could all use more Stoic Philosophy.)

On the Shoulders of Hobbits – Louis Markos ** (Fine, but pretty basic for any devotee of Tolkien.)

When I Was a Child I Read Books – Marilynne Robinson ***

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson ** (I’ve enjoyed other Bryson much more.)

A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller Jr.

Gumption – Nick Offerman*

Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – Jack Weatherford ***

African American Religion (Very Short Introductions) – Eddie S. Glude Jr. **** (This was the first Very Short Introduction that I read. This series from Oxford is absolutely fantastic and includes over 500 volumes. The six I’ve read were each intriguing in their own way. Those about things with which I am unfamiliar have stimulated my interest. Those about things with with I am familiar have shown themselves to be original and reliable.)

Better Living Through Criticism – A.O. Scott ** (It did not live up to its title.)

Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves – Roy Maynard **** (This is a nicely annotated edition of the first book of Spencer’s Faerie Queene. Occasionally the annotator is a little to full of his own cleverness.)

Innumeracy – John Allen Paulos **** (Ought to be required reading for Elementary Educators for its urgent call for teaching mathematic literacy to young people.)

Storm Front – Jim Butcher ***

The Life of Elves – Muriel Barberry ***

Ben-Hur – Lew Wallace (I’ve been reading this one over and over for 25 years.)

The Roman Empire (Very Short Introductions) – Christopher Kelly ***

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Another favorite from childhood.)

The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis

The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu *** (Worth reading if you like your science fiction to be physics-y and odd.)

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius (The Philosopher-Emperor’s reminders to himself. Again, Stoic Philosophy is a helpful antidote to the modern world.)

The Riddle Master of Hed – Patricia McKillip **

The Last Battle – C.S. Lewis

The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis

Infectious Disease (Very Short Introduction) – Wayne & Bolker **** (Another great Intro.)

Xenocide – Orson Scott Card ***

Fool Moon – Jim Butcher **

The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

Letters to Malcolm – C.S. Lewis

Villette – Charlotte Bronte ** (Disappointing for one who loves Jane Eyre.)

The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis

Half a King – Joe Abercrombie ***

The Place of the Lion – Charles Williams ***

Kullervo – J.R.R. Tolkien **** (A charming, but short, retelling of a Finnish legend.)

Silence – Shusako Endo (Well worth frequent re-reading.)

You Are What You Love – James K.A. Smith ***** (Fantastic examination of how our unspoken, unconsidered habits shape us.)

How to Grow Old – Cicero **** (Thoughtful, meditative, and challenging.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy – James B. South **** (An enjoyable combo of pop-culture and philosophy.)

Making All Things New – Henri Nouwen *****

Are Women Human – Dorothy Sayers (A witty and thoughtful examination of how women had been regarded and how they might be better understood.)

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Fault in our Stars – John Green (Ugh.)

Tehanu – Ursula K. LeGuin **** (Original and provocative in wonderful ways.)

The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie ***

The Way of the Heart – Henri Nouwen *****

Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis

The Last Unicorn (Graphic Novel) – Peter S. Beagle **** (I couldn’t find the graphic novel to link, so this just goes to the paperback novel.)

Gifts – Ursula K. LeGuin ***

The Mongols (Very Short Introduction) – Morris Rossabi ***

Surprised by Hope – N.T. Wright ****

The Telling – Ursula K. LeGuin ***

Till We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis (A longtime favorite that I now get to teach!)

Earth Abides – George R. Stewart **** (A unique post-apocalyptic novel that realistically examines the fate of a minority of humans surviving.)

Grave Peril – Jim Butcher **

The Epic of Gilgamesh (Another book I teach.)

The Book of the Dun Cow – Walter Wangerin ***** (The great modern beast fable.)

The Geek Feminist Revolution – Kameron Hurley **

The Metamorphoses – Ovid (Look at all these cool books I get to teach!)

The Real American Dream – Andrew Delbanco ***

Silence and Beauty – Makota Fujimura ***** (An artist’s appreciation of Shusaku Endo’s Silence. Absolutely exquisite.)

Seveneves – Neal Stephenson **** (The president read it this year too!)

The Shadow of the Torturer – Gene Wolfe  (Re-reading The Book of the New Sun tetralogy for book club. Very challenging but very good.)

Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson

White Trash – Nancy Isenberg ****

Antigone – Sophocles (Teaching again.)

Oedipus Tyrranus – Sophocles (Yup. Teaching.)

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

Ancient Philosophy (Very Short Introduction) – Julia Annas **** (Annas makes excellent use of her limited space and gives a very engaging intro to the major schools of ancient philosophical thought.)

The Claw of the Conciliator – Gene Wolfe (More Book of the New Sun.)

The Wave in the Mind – Ursula K. LeGuin *** (An uneven collection with some excellent essays in it.)

The Physics of Superheroes – James Kakalios *** (What else do you read when you’re staying with your friend and her husband: the experimental physicist?)

On Friendship – Alexander Nehamas ***

Lexicon Urthus – Michael Andre-Driussi (A companion to The Book of the New Sun.)

The Art of Loving – Erich Fromm ***

The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (Yes. Again. I can’t help it. Austen is perfection, especially on cold winter nights.)

Total: 102 books read, 63 new and 39 re-read. Of course, my to be read pile is still happily extensive.

Go Read Mansfield Park

Here are ample reasons.


“If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.”

“I should have thought,’ said Fanny after a pause of recollection and exertion, ‘that every woman must have felt the possibility of a man’s not being approved, not being loved by someone of her sex, at least, let him be ever so generally agreeable. Let him have all the perfections in the world, I think it ought not to be set down as certain, that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself.”

“Human nature needs more lessons than a weekly sermon can convey.”


Fanny Price is often accused of insipidity, and I do prefer a femininity less retiring, yet the power of seeing the truth so very clearly is perhaps most safely granted to a quiet character; Elizabeth Bennett benefits from being wrong on occasion.