It was a full-circle year. Things happened to me; I happened to them. I read some books too. [*obligatory disclaimer about how I don’t necessarily recommend all these books so make your own life choices*]
Annual reading list 2015:
(forward asterisks denote intention to read again, while following asterisks denote previously read)
**Perelandra by C.S. Lewis*
**Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card*
*Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte*
The Essential Agrarian Reader (The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land) edited by Norman Wirzba
Many Winters (Prose and Poetry of the Pueblos) by Nancy Wood
Poems on the Underground – Anniversary Edition edited by Gerard Benson
*One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp*
Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Living the Sabbath by Norman Wirzba
Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card
Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’: a Reader’s Companion edited by S. Hawking and prepared by Gene Stone
*The Way of Ignorance by Wendell Berry
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
A Little Manual for Knowing by Esther Lightcap Meek
*The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Top 10 Distinctions Between Entrepreneurs and Employees by Keith Cameron Smith
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Physics for Future Presidents by Richard A. Muller
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Suburban Nation by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck
**The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Socrates by Paul Johnson
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
*Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card
Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John C. Maxwell
The White Cliffs by Alice Duer Miller
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
*Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card
It was not a year of quantity regarding books. But some of these stand out to me like boulders that made my path clear. As always, this is not a list of book endorsements. I do not necessarily recommend all of the following.
The Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton*
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling*
Magic by G.K. Chesterton
Defiant Joy (The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chesterton) by Kevin Belmonte
The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak (a boulder-book; a thing of beauty)
Tales from Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Song of Roland translated by Leonard Bacon
Master of the World by Jules Verne
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley*
What’s Wrong With the World by G.K. Chesterton
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul by Douglas Adams
The Poets Laureate Anthology compiled by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt (a boulder-book; a collection of fire and ash)
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (almost a boulder; this small story spoke to me of humanity and communication)
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Dune by Frank Herbert
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Julius Caesar by Shakespeare
Star Trek: Federation by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
King Lear by Shakespeare
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
A Window in Thrums by J.M. Barrie
Mathematics in Western Culture by Morris Kline
The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
A Continuous Harmony by Wendell Berry (a boulder-book; this was my first time reading Wendell Berry and it tied together some important loose ends of my life)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling*
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams
Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
The Catbird’s Song by Richard Wilbur
Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff
A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card
Songmaster by Orson Scott Card
Christianity for Modern Pagans (Pascal’s Pensees) by Peter Kreeft (a boulder-book; a work of apologetics infused with love and honesty)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Persuasion by Jane Austen*
Station Island by Seamus Heaney
*denotes previously read
I have lots of to-read lists. But this year I kept a list of all the books I actually read, which was strangely satisfying. You’ll notice an interesting combination of genres and that is my normal pattern of reading. If you’ve never read science fiction with Augustine’s theology swimming through your head, I highly recommend it. Speaking of which, this is not a list of book recommendations. I don’t necessarily endorse all the books below.
The Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand*
Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Wayfaring by Alan Jacobs*
Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer
The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
Life, The Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (begun in 2012)
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis*
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Son by Lois Lowry
The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
City of God by St. Augustine
So Long and Thanks For All the Fish by Douglas Adams
Star Trek: Crossover by Michael Jan Friedman
Doctor Who and Philosophy edited by Lewis and Smithka
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Things That Are by Andrew Clements
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Star Trek: Prime Directive by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stephens
Silver Chief by Jack O’Brien
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury*
The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
A Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
The Complete Poems of T.S. Eliot
Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling*
Star Trek: Here There Be Dragons by John Peel
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale, Jr.
Modern Times by Paul Johnson
Spock’s World by Diane Duane
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Three Philosophies of Life by Peter Kreeft
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card*
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance
Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien*
*denotes previously read
I finished reading Moby Dick today. Sometimes I pick up a book and several hours later I slide it back onto my shelf, completed. It wasn’t like that with this monstrosity of a novel. (If there’s someone alive who’s read Moby Dick in one day, you’re doing it wrong.) Last September I found a beautiful online project commemorating the 150th anniversary of the book, which featured the book itself read aloud and offered a new chapter a day from “Call me Ishmael” to the epilogue. Each chapter was read by someone different, and the readers ranged from famous (David Cameron), to talented (Benedict Cumberbatch), to so bad that I found myself reading aloud in my best British accent to drown out the horrid monotony.
For as long as I can remember, Moby Dick has been sitting on a shelf in the living room, gathering dust and the sting of being adamantly and thoroughly ignored. You know how it is. “Oh, there’s Moby Dick,” says the would-be reader. “One Hundred and Thirty-Five chapters about the anatomy of the whale. How enticing.” And they push it aside in favour of something less… salty. This seems to be the general opinion about Moby Dick. When I tell people I’m reading it their eyebrows go up like a whale’s twin flukes and on their face is clearly written their fear for my sanity. And as long as I continue to use cetological analogies, that fear will probably persist. I can’t blame them, because when I was younger I twice attempted to begin reading the monolithic book and was unable to get past the first page. “Five Hundred and Twenty-One pages of THIS??” thought I. “Not a chance.” But with the discovery of the afore-mentioned website, I decided to give it another go. And, despite a few droning readers, I’m incredibly glad.
Melville’s book is a labyrinth, a sunken shipwreck glistening in divers’ torches, a hedge grown carefully to form a maze. The problem with reading a labyrinth, a shipwreck, a hedge maze, is that it takes so long to reach the centre, the treasure, the way out. 135 chapters there are, and not until chapter 133 do we meet the whale who lends the book his name. On the way, Melville takes us on innumerable different tangents; we study the history of whaling, the boatmen of the Erie Canal, the meaning of life in abstract, differences between species of whales, the life story of the ship’s carpenter, what happens if you fall asleep at the tiller, and, yes, the anatomy of the sperm AND right whales. The book is a maze. Ah, but the book is AMAZING. You see, we’ve become so obsessed with Destinations and Results that we forgot the excitement of exploring along the way. We push and prod our stories to fit the Perfect Story Arc and we start to think it’s the only way to go. We don’t remember that there’s a Character Development Story Arc and a Let’s Confuse People For Fun Story Arc and an Epic World Creation Story Arc and more. Each serves a different purpose and each is valuable for a different reason.
A one-legged captain with a soul, he says, that is a centipede. A mate torn between two loyalties. A ship that tows its wake around the world in search of a white whale.
It’s so hard to choose between pointing out the masterful plot points and allowing you to read the book yourself and be surprised! It’s absurd how many people have not read this book and yet think they have a decent grasp of what it means. I would love to cast all mistaken opinions overboard, but there are two reasons why I am not going to do that. One, it is very difficult to claim to be “right” about this book. There are many possible interpretations and that’s the beauty of it. Two, because you should read it yourself! Spend a year at it if you have to. It’s a masterpiece full of fabulous ocean analogies and characters as multi-faceted as the waves. It is a book of ardent belief, much of it contradictory. (In fact, it really feels as though Melville just sat down and wrote the whole thing from start to finish without bothering about continuity of opinion. That’s not the case, though; he wrote multiple drafts of it before he was finally satisfied. So the contradictions are purposeful and rather spectacular in the way they tug at your mind and pull you into bouts of thinking.) It’s a work of art; a study of humanity and madness; a celebration and a condemnation of the sea.
This is one of my favourite chapters. It’s only a few minutes long and it’s read by Benedict Cumberbatch (who, for those of you who aren’t familiar with him, is a phenomenal actor with a rich voice). You should listen.
You know when you’re stopped at a red light and you’re singing along to This Is Home or drumming the piano part from something by Michael W. Smith and for some reason you glance at the person driving the car next to you? And she’s wearing a snappy cardigan and biting her lip trying to make sure the windows are rolled down evenly and you just think- hey. We would be friends.
Or maybe you’re in the 10-items-or-less line at Walmart and it’s 10-people-or-more longer than the lines at the other registers and the guy in front of you is waiting to buy two bananas and a composition notebook. And what a coincidence, because you’re holding vanilla wafers and a package of pens.
You probably have so many friends you’ve never met. I have. I see them everywhere, but mostly I see them at book stores Half-Price Books is my favourite (along with a musty little shop in Boston) because, well, it’s half-price, and because they sell the tried and true books (which sometimes have train tickets belonging to someone named Hanson stuck inside). I spend too much money there. And while I’m shuffling along, head aslant, looking through the works of Ray Bradbury, I see shoes to my right, shuffling like mine. I glance. A glance is usually all I need to tell. And he’s thumbing through the Tolkien section, brow knit, wearing argyle, looking thoughtful. I go back to my Bradbury, grinning. Found another one. That’s two today, because I’m also counting the girl who walked in earlier and exclaimed to her friend, “It smells so good in here!” Yes it does, new favourite person. And I want to buy everything they have.
There is so much, so much to read. So many words to make you think and feel and rejoice and hurt inside. I was wondering how I’ll find the time. I need a lifetime. But that’s what I have, if Jesus asks me to wait for Him. Maybe He’ll bring me home soon (and that would be the greatest joy of all). But if I stay, if I remain a sojourner, there are treasures for me to find and maps for me to follow and wisdom and peace and happiness for me to chase. So I buy the books. This time I found a gorgeous hardcover copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, “What’s Wrong With the World” by G.K. Chesterton, a biography of Margaret Thatcher, “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells, a book on the art of writing by Bradbury, and a Latin-English dictionary. I was looking for the Vulgate, but that quest has proved more difficult. Quests do that.
If my name was Wordsworth
could I be worthy of the words I clutch?
If I was called Caesar
would they render to me the worlds I touch?
If I was christened Crusoe
could I leave to explore those lands alone?
If my name was Churchill
could I use my words to make them bold?
Oh, life. Everything good in this world is merely a breath, but those are breaths of fresh air. Life is a vapour and there is not one happy thing in it that cannot also make you sad. But sad is happy for deep people. Sometimes. There’s the sadness of dusty antiques and memories long forgotten by everyone but you and empty diners and books well ended. There’s the sadness of the Doctor’s goodbyes which hurt so illogically you can’t even watch those episodes without sobbing, which is ridiculous because it’s not even real. But there’s also the sadness of letters returned and dreams that you killed and driving home crying because you know. And it hurts. It hurts because you’re alive. So I live the life and I smile the joy and cry the tears and I drink the tea strong. I say the hellos and I whisper the goodbyes and I pray the prayers and I set my spell-checker to UK English.
And I read and write the words.
There’s something you should know about me.
I like to draw whales. HOWEVER. When I draw whales, I always draw them…
with band-aids on their tails.
Yeah, I’m serious, and yeah, I know it’s peculiar. (and awesome)
And here’s why.
Burt Dow is a deep sea fisherman. One day he accidentally gets his hook stuck in a whale’s tail.
He pulls it out and puts a band-aid on the wound. But the other whales notice, and before long he’s surrounded.
Soon a surprised Burt discovers that they’re all eager to have band-aids stuck to their tales like the first whale! (Apparently that comrade of theirs was quite the war hero.) So Burt deals out band-aids to all the whales. I think I remember that some of the band-aids had stripes.
And they all lived happily ever after. Assuming the band-aids were waterproof.
So there you have it. A poignant history of art inspiration. Ask me to draw a whale for you sometime. 😉
The Quirks and Benefits of a Girl Who Reads… a paraphrase by Grace Einkauf based off of Rosemarie Urquico’s response to Charles Warnke’s ‘You Should Date an Illiterate Girl’ (confused yet?)
-She spends her money on books instead of clothes.
-She has problems with closet space because she has too many books.
-She has a list of books she wants to read, and has had a library card since she was twelve.
-She will always have an unread book in her bag.
-She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants.
-She can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.
-She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already; lost in a world of the author’s making.
-If you sit down beside her, she might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. (A few tips: Ask her if she likes the book. Buy her another cup of coffee. Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.)
-She’s easy to please: give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Let her know that you understand that words are love.
-A girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. She understands that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two. Why be frightened of everything that you are not?
-Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.
-She’ll be up at 2am clutching a book to her chest and weeping. (Make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you.)
-She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.
-She will write the story of her life, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes.
-She will introduce her children to The Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day.
-In the winters of her old age, she will recite Keats under her breath.
-She can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, find a girl who reads. Or better yet, find a girl who writes.