April 5, 2011

Books I Enjoyed Most in 2010

Category: Literature :: Permalink

Every year, I intend to post this list in January.  Every year, I fail.  This year, I prepared the list early in 2011 … and then didn’t get around to publishing it.  Well, here it is: A list of the books I enjoyed most in 2010, listed alphabetically by author’s last name:

* Robert Benson, Digging In: Tending to Life in Your Own Backyard. Very brief but enjoyable thoughts on gardening.

* Jedediah Berry, The Manual of Detection. Quite well done. Reminded me strongly of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday … mixed with Borges and Calvino, as told by Raymond Chandler.

* Cleanth Brookes, The Language of the American South. Interesting lectures. The first argues strongly that southern coastal English is not a corruption but rather a preservation of the way English was spoken in the southern counties of England from which the southern American settlers came. I blogged about it here.

* Walter R. Brooks, Freddy the Detective. I read this one to Theia; we love Freddy the Pig.

* John Buchan, Midwinter: Certain Travellers in Old England. Great stuff.

* John Dickson Carr, Hag’s Nook. This mystery novel was a lot of fun. It’s the first one by Carr, the golden-age master of the locked room mystery, that I’ve read and the first that stars Dr. Gideon Fell, whom Carr modeled after G. K. Chesterton.

* Billy Collins, Picnic, Lightning. Good poems.

* Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself. Quite helpful.

* Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. Somewhat overwritten, too academic, but extremely challenging and thought-provoking. Any book that makes me wish I had mastered a trade deserves five stars, but I would drop one for the academic-speak.

* David Daniell, The Bible in English: Its History and Influence. Quite good, though marred by a few flaws (e.g., the chapters on Handel’s Messiah or the poetry or Blake don’t really fit with the theme of the book; Daniell doesn’t discuss some important translations and paraphrases of the Bible such as the New American Standard Version and the Living Bible).

* Leif Enger, Peace Like a River. I loved the book, though I’m not yet sure that the ending worked for me.

* Leon Garfield, Jack Holborn. Very fun adventure novel, suitable for young boys … or men of my age, too.

* Tim Gautreaux, Same Place, Same Things. Great southern Louisiana storyteller.

* George Grant, Bringing in the Sheaves: Transforming Poverty into Productivity and The Dispossessed: Homelessness in America. Some stuff very good, some stuff a bit weak, but the best I’ve read on mercy ministries so far.

* Mark Helprin, Swan Lake, A City in Winter, and The Veil of Snows. Beautiful and lots of fun.

* James B. Jordan, Liturgical Nestorianism and the Regulative Principle: A Critical Review of Worship in the Presence of God; The Liturgy Trap: The Bible versus Mere Tradition in Worship; and Theses on Worship: Notes Toward the Reformation of Worship. I read or reread these in preparation for a series of afternoon services in which I talked about liturgy. Excellent.

* Mary Karr, Lit: A Memoir. Years ago, I read the first two volumes of her memoir, The Liar’s Club andCherry. This is the latest volume, in which Karr talks adult life, her struggle with alcohol, and her conversion — something you might never have seen coming from the earlier memoirs. Little did I know when I first read Karr that I would be moving close to the area where she grew up in southeast Texas.

* Frank O. King, Walt and Skeezix: 1921 and 1922. This is a collection of the old Gasoline Alley comic strip. Skeezix, as a little boy, looks a lot like my son, and Moriah and I especially loved the strips about him.

* Ursula LeGuin, City of Illusions. LeGuin does a masterful job of creating a fantasy world.

* Peter J. Leithart, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture. A mind-stretching must-read on hermeneutics, including chapters on how later events change earlier ones, how reading Scripture is like listening to a joke, and so on. In every chapter, Leithart applies what he’s talking about to the exegesis of John 9, and just when you think there could be little more to say about John 9, he brings out some new facet you hadn’t considered.

* C. S. Lewis, Essays Presented to Charles Williams. A diverse collection of essays, but each one was worthwhile.

* C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I read these to Theia. I’ve heard people say that they loved the Narnia books when they were young but when they read them as adults they didn’t care for them as much. That hasn’t been the case with me.

* C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce and That Hideous Strength. Wonderful. I wanted to make notes on almost every page of each of these books.

* Rose Macaulay, Personal Pleasures. Fun essays from a virtually forgotten writer.

* Patrick O’Brian, Post Captain; H. M. S. Surprise; The Mauritius Command; Desolation Island ; and The Fortune of War. Books 2-6 of O’Brian’s series about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. I’ve enjoyed every minute of these books.

* Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome. I always want to enjoy a Percy novel more than I actually end up enjoying it. Perhaps that’s because the ideas in the book sometimes swamp the story. But there’s a lot of good stuff here.

* Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Excellent stuff on reading the Bible, prayer, and spiritual direction.

* Tim Powers, Last Call. Very strange and very good.

* Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events (13 vols.); Lemony Snicket: An Unauthorized Autobiography; and The Beatrice Letters. I laughed a lot as I gradually was drawn into the conspiratorial mysteries of some Very Fun Detecting.

* Noel Streatfeild, Ballet Shoes and Theatre Shoes. I had seen recommendations of these books, but wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading the first one to Theia. They’re books about young girls preparing for work in the theatre, and Streatfeild seems to be thoroughly familiar with such training and especially with the principle that the key to great acting is humility.

At the same time, I learned something from Ballet Shoes that I hadn’t realized before about humility: The girl Posy is a great dancer, even though she’s very young. She loves to dance and dances all the time, unself-consciously, to such an extent that other people, including her sisters, think she is showing off. But is this pride? Not really. She’s not thinking of how others think of her; she’s thinking about dancing, rather like the man who is so unself-centered that he bores people by talking at length about something that interests him — unself-centered because he isn’t thinking of himself but only of his subject.

* J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit. We loved it. I’m looking forward to reading The Lord of the Rings … but wondering what age Theia should be before we start.

* Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington. Very good: something of a romance novel in which the clumsy, boyish hero doesn’t suddenly turn into a charming young man and sweep the heroine off her feet.

* Megan Whalen Turner, The King of Attolia and A Conspiracy of Kings . These books are the sequels to Turner’s The Thief and The Queen of Attolia. They keep getting better.

* David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. Many insightful passages.

* Jill Paton Walsh, A School for Lovers. This novel is a reworking of and interaction with a theme that appears in Mozart and Shakespeare. The ending didn’t satisfy me, but it was quite thought-provoking throughout.  Anyone else read this?

* Laura Ingalls Wilder, By the Shores of Silver Lake. Read to Theia with great enjoyment.

* N. D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. Any book that simultaneously boggles my brain and makes me want to serve the Lord better and love my wife and kids more can’t be bad. I’ll be rereading this one and hoping for more.

* P. G. Wodehouse, Sam the Sudden. Lots of fun.

* Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus. This was one of Wolfe’s first books, a collection of three related novellas. The first time I read this, I doubt I got very much of what was really going on, though the story was interesting. This time through, so many more things clicked for me. Excellent, and very insightful with regard to cloning and other attempts to freeze history.

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Posted by John Barach @ 3:41 pm | Discuss (0)