A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness.
— Madeleine L’Engle
The more interests I develop and obligations I take on, the harder it becomes to keep up with my ever-growing collection of books and find time to actually read all of those fascinating volumes that turn my head in the bookstore and induce me to plop the cash down on the counter. Unfortunately, when I neglect to maintain a varied reading list, the world becomes a narrower place and a less wonderful one with fewer things to ponder and fewer things that cry out sursum corda.
In no particular order, I’ve compiled a list of some of the books I’ve read over the past year, and a summer reading list of literature I’m enjoying right now. Hopefully you’ll find something here to send you on a trip to the library or the bookstore – or to your e-reader.
Peace Like A River (Leif Enger) – A – Novel dealing with an exceptional and quirky family plunged into tragedy and bewilderment by an unfortunate incident. “Fair is whatever God wants to do,” writes Enger. Peace Like a River shares the experiences of one remarkable man – as seen through the eyes of his children – who seeks to come to grips with that concept. This is one of those books that is pleasant to even think on long after it has been read and returned to the shelf.
Bleak House (Charles Dickens) – A – I’ve heard this book called Dickens’ most mature work. While I haven’t read everything written by the man, I have read a great deal, and, thus far, I’d have to concur. Although the title’s grim tone suggests a desolate storyline, I found Bleak House to be one of Dickens’ cheerier stories. This isn’t to say that the tale is not fraught with unpleasantness and even tragedy, but the strong and sweet character of the protagonist puts the grotesque aspects of the narrative into perspective.
Ernie Pyle’s War (James Tobin) – A – Wonderful biography of an exceptionally tenacious combat journalist in World War II. The book includes samples of Pyle’s most enduring columns covering the war. While the work is biographical, its most enduring integral theme is that of the conflict itself and of the spirit of humanity under the pressure of overwhelming disaster. Pyle himself had a troubled personal life and the cloud of his failed marriage does hang over the book at times.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Lynne Truss) – A – Witty, engaging and unforgettable, Truss’ delightful book serves as a refresher course for issues of punctuation in writing and a helpful tool for anyone concerned that the digital age is robbing our culture of some of its finer points (no pun intended).
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) – A – By far my favorite of Dickens’ books, Great Expectations has endured because it offers an answer to one of the most important questions that young people ask of the world: when I set about to orchestrate the best future I can manage for myself, what is it to be?
Talk To The Hand (Lynne Truss) – B – I picked this up because I found it on a clearance rack after thoroughly enjoying Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Truss is as witty and entertaining as ever in this little volume deploring our cultural rejection of etiquette, but she fails to end on a conclusive note or to provide any practical steps for action that would make this book more than an intelligent rant.
Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) – A – One can imagine Ray Bradbury throwing his hands up and saying hopelessly and little pitifully, “I wasn’t trying to predict the future. I was trying to prevent it.” This novel is a sinister and poetic warning about may come to pass. Lovers of literature and liberty everywhere will appreciate it.
Modern Fascism (Gene Veith) – A – With his usual brilliance and knack for cultural commentary, Veith examines aspects of the fascist theory that gave rise to Nazism and their alarming prevalence in western culture during the 21st century and throughout the latter half of the 20th century.
Reading Between The Lines (Gene Veith) – A – This is an excellent primer for Christians embarking on the adventure of exploring great literature. Veith illuminates the murky and confusing panorama of Western literary history in a concise and readable style. Chances are you’ll come away from this volume freshly inspired to read more and read better books.
The Men Behind Hitler (Bernhard Schrieber)– A – A fascinating and chilling look at the culture of eugenics and racial hygiene that led to the Nuremberg laws and Nazism. This book presents an engaging account of a much-neglected episode in 20th century history. What’s more, it’s available for free online.
How Green Was My Valley (Richard Llewellyn) – A – Novel starring a Welsh boy growing up amidst hardship in a village caught between the old and the new worlds. Llewellyn’s writing soars with poetry and captures the exquisite beauties of a gone-by way of life.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters To His Children – A – An easy read, and highly recommended. This collection of Roosevelt’s letters to his children shows the man’s broad and varied fields of interest and how his great appreciation for knowledge and endless pursuit of wisdom caused him to be able to enjoy the world widely.
Amusing Ourselves to Death (Neil Postman) – A – A must-read. Reveals the sinister nature of the visual entertainment culture and the demise of literacy and rational thought as a result of the pervading medium of television and television-based communications. I probably took more away from this book than from any other book I read this year and find myself sharing its concepts in discussion with others on a regular basis.
Economics in One Lesson (Henry Hazlitt) – A – Despite the dry and uninviting title, this is a splendid introduction to classical economics and debunks eloquently and with common sense a slew of Keynesian myths and fallacies, providing the reader with a more realistic picture of the economic scene than would be offered by most economic textbooks. Note that Hazlitt’s book is based on Frederic Bastiat’s essay, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen” and written in the tradition of The Law.
The Chosen (Chaim Potok) – B – Novel exploring Jewish-American culture during World War II, and examining the differences between the Hasidic sect and the Zionist movement. Informative and thought-provoking, but not indispensable. This book shouldn’t be attempted by someone who doesn’t have a general knowledge of Freud, and an understanding of his worldview, as Freud is a central theme.
Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh) – C – My low letter grade for this book does not fail to take into account the sheer poetry and flow which makes it an enjoyable read. There’s no doubt that Brideshead is charming and even irresistible at times. Overall, however, I didn’t feel like it offered a strong enough point to redeem all of its ugliness. The novel seeks to portray the crumbling of the British landowning aristocracy in the 1920s, and succeeds in making fun of both the older and the younger generations. This “fun,” however, is, for the most part, too grim to be laughable. The sexuality and alcoholism become redundant and are not used to a good purpose but drag the book into one long episode of depravity. While last scene of the story involves the protagonist making a right decision, it isn’t put into enough context to really be meaningful.
Pigs in Heaven (Barbara Kingsolver) – C – Although there were several objectionable aspects of this novel about an abandoned Cherokee child and her adoptive family, I felt like the most destructive of these was the book’s central message: children from non-white cultures usually can’t be integrated into American adoptive families in a healthy way and must retain ties with their own people groups. While it’s true that cultural sensitivity and awareness is a must for families who want to be involved in international adoption, the notion that an orphaned or socially orphaned child’s best option is always that of adoption by his or her own ethnic group is a concept that has crippled international adoptions all over the world and continues to hold many children in conditions of extreme poverty and abuse. This book served in large part to reinforce that notion which I consider to be a very harmful one, and its storyline was mediocre at best.
The Lord of the Flies (William Golding) – A – One of my all-time favorite books, the Lord of the Flies is a masterpiece of fiction, dealing memorably with issues of original sin and the warped condition of humanity. He exempts no one from the tragedy of human fallen-ness, bringing children and adults alike under its yoke. Golding writes with an adroitness and command of language that stuns and his depictions of ugly things are heartbreaking rather than grotesque. Note that the book was not intended as some form of biblical allegory and should not be taken as such. Rather, it reflects certain truths about humankind in a loose but effective way.
Summer Reading List
A Concise History of the 20th Century (Martin Gilbert)
The Road to Serfdom (Friedrich Hayek)
What’s Wrong With The World (G.K. Chesterton)
Your God Is Too Safe (Mark Buchanan)
So Brave, So Young, So Handsome (Leif Enger)
The Thirty-Nine Steps (John Buchan)
Flannery O’Connor Stories (with Jonathan Rogers’ summer reading club – join us, perhaps?)
What are you planning to read this summer?