January 19, 2005

Best Books In 2005

Category: Literature :: Permalink

January is the month of lists, isn’t it? Usually at the end of December and the beginning of January, you are bombarded with lists of the best whatnot of 2005.

So far I’ve given you a reprieve: It’s already the middle of the month and there have been no lists to date. But at last here is a list (alphabetical) of the books I enjoyed the most this past year:

* Elisa Bartone, Peppe the Lamplighter. Perhaps it’s a surprise to see this on my list. It’s a children’s book, after all. But that shouldn’t be too surprising. I am a father, after all, and I’m looking forward to reading to my children. It was C. S. Lewis who said the mark of a good children’s book is that adults can enjoy it, too. This particular book is very brief but it’s gorgeously illustrated and well written: a gem.

* John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps. One of my favourites. I’ve read this one several times and I still enjoy it, as much for the quality of Buchan’s writing as for the narrow escapes and rapid adventures.

* William Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ. Quite possibly the book I enjoyed most this past year. A fascinating study of what happened in Chile and how the church learned to respond. Cavanaugh provides a very helpful analysis of torture as an attempt to break down all allegiances and turn people into isolated individuals in order to get them to play a role in the torturer’s script.

The Chilean churches, influenced by Jacques Maritain, believed that the church should deal with “religion” and “the soul” and ended up leaving “politics” and the body in the control of the state and its “experts.” Gradually, however, the church began to develop solidarity, centred on the Eucharist, which binds all of us together as one body. The church, united by the Lord’s Supper, is able to stand against torture and the machinations of a hostile state. Moreover, the church in Chile had to learn, as the church throughout the world has to learn, to ignore the Enlightenment separation of “church” and “politics” and to police its own borders by disciplining and excommunicating those whose policies are not in accord with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A challenging read. I didn’t agree with everything Cavanaugh said, but this book made me think more (and, I hope, more fruitfully) than any other book I read this year. Highly recommended.

* Avram Davidson, The Avram Davidson Treasury. A great collection of short stories by one of the undeservedly lesser known writers of the past century. Davidson wrote science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries, as well as some stories that aren’t so easily classified. He had a unique style and he’s well worth reading.

* Austin Farrer, A Study in St Mark. A fascinating study of Mark’s Gospel. Farrer pays close attention to the symbolism and the literary structure of the Gospel long before such things were popular among 20th century biblical scholars. I don’t buy all of his conclusions but I do find his observations extremely stimulating.

* Seamus Heaney. Poems 1965-1975. Heaney is one of my favourite poets. These are his first volumes of poetry, but even there Heaney already demonstrates his mastery.

* Peter Leithart, From Silence to Song. Did you know that during David’s reign, there were two tabernacles and that, while the offerings continued to be presented to God in silence at the Mosaic tabernacle, the Davidic tabernacle, where the ark was, was full of music? I didn’t until I heard Leithart lecture on the tabernacle of David a few years back. In this book, Leithart provides some very helpful exegesis, but he does more than that: he also shows the relevance of David’s tabernacle for the church’s worship today.

* Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander. Wonderful. If you’ve only seen the movie (which is loosely based on this and several other O’Brian novels), you really ought to read the books. I love O’Brian’s writing.

* Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins. I’ve read this one a couple times before, but I got far more out of it this time. Great stuff!

* N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God. Superb. I said that Cavanaugh was the book I appreciated most, but this one is a very close second. I can’t imagine preaching the Gospels without reading Wright. He makes me want to preach and his insights have fueled several of my sermons on Mark.

And here are some runners-up:

* Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease. This was Achebe’s second novel and the second one of his I’ve read. (Yes, I’m working my way through in chronological order; it’s a habit I have.) Achebe does a masterful job of showing us Nigerian culture after the coming of the Europeans. This novel, in particular, focuses on the clash between traditional marriage rules and the more “liberated” thinking of the main character.

* Borges, Jorge Luis. The Aleph and Other Stories. This was the first time I’d read Borges and I’m looking forward to reading more. Borges often has a different style, but he’s almost always intriguing. While I was reading this volume, and for days afterwards, I found myself thinking of Borgesian sorts of stories.

* Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. A moving collection of short stories, some better than others.

* Colin Dexter, Death Is Now My Neighbour. Dexter’s mysteries, starring Inspector Morse, are among my favourites. This one was particularly good.

* David James Duncan, The Brothers K. I’d heard this one recommended before and so, when I found in cheap, I picked up a copy. At first, it was just okay, but toward the end I began to enjoy it more and more.

* Karon, Jan. A Common Life. Are the Mitford novels “women’s books”? I received that comment the last time I mentioned one on this blog, but I still don’t agree. (And, after all, I read them first on George Grant‘s recommendation!). I’ve enjoyed all of Karon’s novels, even though they are sometimes overly sentimental. This one, in which Father Tim finally gets married, I read shortly before my own wedding.

* C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love. I suppose the number of times I’ve quoted this book on my blog already indicates how much I enjoyed it. But perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that Lewis made me want to plunge back into reading medieval literature.

* Robert Morgan, Gap Creek. Told from the perspective of a tough and determined backwoods woman in nineteenth century America, this novel is the story of the first year of a marriage. Our first year (so far) has turned out to be easier than theirs was.

* Chaim Potok, The Book of Lights. I’ve enjoyed every Potok novel I’ve read and this one was no exception.

* Tim Powers, On Stranger Tides. A lot of fun. And pirates, too!

* Ruth Rendell, Make Death Love Me. Gripping as Rendell’s books often are.

* J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Hard to put down. Who cares what the anti-Potter crowd says? This book was a lot of fun.

* Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology. A valuable discussion of liturgics, especially helpful for his analysis of “mysteriological piety,” which characterized the mystery religions and infected the church (and which I see exemplified in many things in Reformed circles, such as the concern that weekly communion would mean that communion wouldn’t be “special”).

* John Updike, Verse: The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures & Telephone Poles and Other Poems. Many of these poems were light, most of them are fun, and some of them are deep and beautiful.

* Charles Williams, The Place of the Lion. I know, I know: I still owe you a blog entry on this one and on the role of animals in general. I’m planning to write that … someday. All I’ll say right now is: Why did God create animals? He didn’t have to, but He did. Why? Obviously, some of them are yummy, but not all of them were created for food. Nor are all of them good companions. So what are they for? What were they intended to teach us? That isn’t what Williams’ novel is about, but it is something Williams makes you (or me, at least) wonder about.

* Douglas Wilson, My Life for Yours. A lot of good stuff about self-sacrifice and life together in the home.

* L. Woiwode, What I’m Going to Do, I Think. I’ve read this novel before and I still like it. Some of the passages in this novel are magnificent.

* Gene Wolfe, Castleview. King Arthur mixed with modern-day Illinois. Confusing? Yes, at times. Too much going on? Yeah. Fun? You bet. I didn’t understand it all, but I liked it!

* Gnee Wolfe, Storeys from the Old Hotel. A lot of really great stuff (especially “Westwind”).

* N. T. Wright, For All the Saints?. Very good and very well written book. Wright maintains (against Rome and some versions of AngloCatholicism) that all God’s people are saints and that all of them enjoy God’s presence after death, apart from any “purgatory.”

* N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer. Very helpful. I’ve used this one often in writing sermons on the Lord’s Prayer.

I also read through and enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels. Definitely not for everyone, but worthwhile for mature readers. I often found these books deeply moving. I hadn’t read any graphic novels before I picked these ones up and I was struck by their ability to do things that no other medium can.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:28 pm | Discuss (0)

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