December 31, 2005

Best Reads in 2005

Category: Literature :: Permalink

As is my on-again-off-again custom (though a little earlier than some years), here is my list of the books I enjoyed most this year, in alphabetical order:

* Michael Bond, A Bear Called Paddington and More About Paddington. I read these several times when I was younger and read them again this spring to Aletheia (still in her mother’s womb) and to Moriah, who had never read them when she was a child. The Paddington books are great fun. More recently, we also enjoyed Walter Brooks’s Freddy Goes to Florida and Freddy at the North Pole.

* Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas. I loved U2 in the ’80s, stopped listening to them in the ’90s, and recently began listening to them again. Bono reveals himself in this book as a serious and mature man and, as I read the interviews, my respect for him grew.

* Anita Brookner, Visitors. Moriah brought this one home from the library because it caught her eye. Neither of us had read anything by Brookner before, but we both enjoyed this slow-paced, thoughtful story. (See my blog entry from Feb. 17.)

* John Buchan, Greenmantle. Buchan is one of my favourite writers. I’ve been working my way chronologically through his works. This sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps was particularly good.

* G. K. Chesterton, The Club of Queer Trades. Fun short “mystery” stories.

* Colin Dexter, The Remorseful Day. Sadly, the last of Dexter’s novels about Inspector Morse, which I’ve enjoyed for years.

* Mark Driscoll, The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out. As you can tell by my blog entries earlier this month, I found this book provoked me to think (and to act) on almost every page.

* Susan Howatch, Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes, and Scandalous Risks. The first four in a series set in and around the cathedral town of Starbridge. It’s somewhat surprising that these novels were bestsellers, not because Howatch’s stories aren’t gripping but because so much of each of these stories (the first three in particular) has to do with spiritual direction and pastoral counselling. In fact, I think I learned a lot as a pastor from them, and I look forward to the rest of the series.

* James B. Jordan, ed., Christendom Essays. This collection of essays was probably the best non-fiction book I read this year (keeping in mind, of course, that much of the year I was struggling my way through John Milbank, which kept me from reading as much other stuff as I’d hoped). Essay after essay was outstanding: “Trinitarian Worship and Confession,” “Is the Church Year Biblical?” and “The First Sabbath Conversation: How Old Is the Earth, Dear?” by Jeff Meyers, “Against ‘Christianity’: For the Church” and “The Sociology of Infant Baptism” by Peter Leithart, “Persecution: The Manifestation of and the Prelude to God’s Victory” by Rich Bledsoe, “Bahnsen on Self-Deception” by Joel Garver, “Trinity in Covenant” by Ralph Smith, “The Full Moon and the Sun of Righteousness (Matthew 1:1-17)” and “Saul’s Nakedness Exposed (1 Samuel 24:1-7)” by Arthur Kay, about whom I’d love to know more, “The Fourth Book of the Psalter” by James Jordan, and a few more besides. You’ll recognize that some of the essays by Meyers, Leithart, and Smith have grown into or been incorporated in their books, but these original essays are somewhat different and still worth reading. Outstanding.

* Harvey Karp, The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer. This, of course, was the year my daughter was born, and so I read a lot of books on babies. This one had some evolutionary junk in it and it was a quick skim, really, but it had enough helpful stuff in it — stuff I wish I’d known earlier! — that I included it here. Think of it as a highish three star on a five star scale.

* C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet. The first of Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. Well-written and often beautiful.

* Patrick O’Brian, Post Captain. The second of O’Brian’s wonderful novels starring Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. I finished this tonight, and it’s one of the three best novels I read this year.

* Elizabeth Pantley, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. Another good book about babies. I like Pantley’s approach and her emphasis on gentleness in helping babies learn to sleep.

* Tim Powers, The Stress of Her Regard. A great, sometimes frightening, novel about the Romantic poets and the seductive attractiveness of evil.

* Ruth Rendell, Put On By Cunning. Rendell’s eleventh novel starring Inspector Wexford.

* J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I’m a fan. I read the first in the series last year and these ones this year and enjoyed every minute of them.

* William & Martha Sears, The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby. Moriah and I have been very impressed by the Sears books we’ve seen. This book, which introduces “attachment parenting,” was particularly helpful in orienting me as a father and reminding me of the importance of modeling self-sacrifice in raising my daughter.

* Rupert Sheldrake, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals. Okay, this may look strange. The book caught my eye at the library and for fun I picked it up. I don’t know how accurate it is, but the anecdotes he relates and the experiments he describes are interesting. The book reminded me, too, that, as Christians, we ought not to be bound by the standards of “Enlightenment” science. God’s world may be stranger (and more delightful) than we realize. I was also struck by Sheldrake’s comments about animal sciences are often taught: instead of examining pets, we examine rats and other non-pet animals; instead of talking to people who live and work with animals about their behaviour, we keep at a safe, “objective” distance from the animals we experiment with, and instead of focusing on the whole life of the animal, we tend to dissect dead ones to analyse them and figure out that way how they “work.”

* Jeff Smith, Bone. This long graphic novel saga is great fun.

* Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage. The fourth of Trollope’s Barchestershire series, this novel concerns a clergyman who, wanting to be accepted in “fast” society, becomes surety for a friend (Prov. 6:1-5; 11:15).

* Jack Vance, The Dying Earth. Beautifully written stories.

* Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. Very helpful study of the Gospel of Mark.

* Douglas Wilson, Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing. I’m not sure that “handbook” is the right word. This book certainly doesn’t cover all the bases. But what it does say is very helpful.

* Gene Wolfe, Castle of Days. A great collection of short stories, articles, and interviews.

* Gene Wolfe, Litany of the Long Sun and Epiphany of the Long Sun. The other two best novels I read this year, though you could consider them also as four novels (which is how they were first published) or, most accurately, as one long novel. One of my friends identifies these books as the best pastoral theology he’s read. I can see why. It’s also a very rich story, full of puzzles, beautifully told, and very rewarding. Probably the best book(s) I read this year.

* Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians. Moriah and I read from this volume after supper and found Wright’s comments on these books of the Bible solidly orthodox, very readable and often helpful.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:15 am | Discuss (0)

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