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.

How Should We Then Live

Francis Schaeffer

I finally read the Francis Schaeffer classic. It has been on the “to-read” list for quite some time. Schaeffer is very highly regarded in some of the circles I travel in and I’d never read anything of his. Sadly, I’m a bit disappointed.

How Should We Then Live? is a whirlwind tour through Western History featuring frequent generalizations, authoritative pronouncements on the goodness or badness of things, and appeals to authority. While I agree with at least half of Dr. Schaeffer’s assessment, I can’t appreciate his book. Where I was looking for reasoned arguments and thoughtful insights I got appeals to authority, unargued conclusions, and simplistic summaries. I wouldn’t pass much of this writing in a freshman composition class because of the failure to properly support assertions.

Again, I do agree with many of his conclusion. However, I fear that much of his popularity comes from readers hearing what they already believe or hearing what they want to be true. He argues that Christianity is good for the world and Christians are likely to already think that or to want it to be true. In such a short book, how could an author give a fair description, much less a fair analysis, of all of Western art, philosophy, and science? Without questioning or even acknowledging his own presuppositions how could Dr. Schaeffer hope to give his readers a reasonable basis for further study? I fear that reading this kind of work would tend to leave the Christian reader complacent rather than challenged: complacent in the essential goodness of the Evangelical worldview and without any answer to the title question other than living with the assumption that Evangelicals have it right and the Secularists have it wrong and with no clear understanding of why or how and, thus, no way forward.

 

Recommendations

 

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Fellow readers, I am often asked for book recommendations. It can be difficult to make specific recommendations to another reader without long standing reading intimacy. Other than the great books everyone should read, I have a few I recommend often.

I first read The Elegance of the Hedgehog a few years ago. Its alternating stories of the rich inner lives of a 50-something concierge in an elegant Parisian apartment building and a 12-year-old resident of the same are delicate and inspiring. Renee’s story of her autodidactic education alongside young Paloma’s existential despair make for an elegant philosophical and emotional exploration.