Read Alouds (18)
- Ramon Quimby, Age 8, Beverly Cleary – A very dreary book, but Cleary still does what she does best: capturing life through a child’s eyes.
- Half-Magic, Edward Eager – A favorite. The plotline about magic transitions into the plotline about family so smoothly it feels natural. And it’s refreshing to read a book where the children need a grown-up to come in and sort everything out.
- Magic by the Lake, Edward Eager – Not as good as Half-Magic. Most of the adventures are based on other books, which feels like cheating, and they feel very disconnected.
- The Borrowers, Mary Norton – Surprisingly thick descriptions. Norton seems to have taken pains over her writing. The story is good, but the ending may be unsatisfying to younger readers.
- Flat Stanley, Jeff Brown – My father read this to us years ago and it stuck with me. My daughter seemed to enjoy it, too, though I hope not too much. I’d hate to find her on the floor under towering stacks of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
- The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald – A great old-fashioned tale.
- The Horse and His Boy, C. S. Lewis – The first half is edge-of-your-seat great. The second half plods a little.
- Hank the Cowdog: The Case of the Halloween Ghost, John R. Erickson – I was worried the whole “unreliable narrator” thing would go over my five-year-old’s head, but she enjoyed my Hank and Drover voices too much to care.
- Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo – One reviewer said each chapter is structured like a short story, which is true: beginning, middle, end. The overall book is a mixed bag. Too simple for adults, too slow for children.
- The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting – Charming, but loosely plotted. I started with the 1948 edition and realized partway through I was going to have to navigate some pretty on-the-nose racism. Thankfully, the publisher, assisted by the author’s son, revised it 1988. The worst scene, when the Doctor turns Prince Bumpo’s skin white so that he will let them out of jail, was rewritten so that Polynesia simply hypnotizes the Prince. It falls flat, but they did their best. I hear the second Dolittle book is better than the first.
- Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne – I enjoyed this more as an adult than I did as a child. The characters are petty and small-minded, for the most part, but Milne is usually able to portray them affectionately. At times, Pooh reminded me of Freddy the Pig. I wonder if there’s some connection there.
- The House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne – For the most part, the stories are more tightly plotted than in the original. Piglet’s selfless act at the end always gets me, especially because it is immediately followed by another selfless act by Pooh. The very end, with Christopher Robin and Pooh at the beautifully named Galleons Lap, just barely stays this side of saccharine. But it does.
- The Light Princess, George MacDonald – C. S. Lewis said that MacDonald was a modern-day mythmaker. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the bizarre scene of the snake drinking the lake dry by sucking on a stone teat. Bizarre.
- Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Richard and Florence Atwater – An old favorite.
- Treasures of the Snow, Patricia St. John – One of my favorites. Her portrayal of bitterness reminded me strongly of Lewis’s fiction.
- Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry – Some good scenes, but not great.
- Freddy Goes to the North Pole, Walter R. Brooks – You either love the Freddy the Pig books or you just don’t get them at all. My daughter, I’m happy to say, loved this one.
- The Courage of Sarah Noble, Alice Dalgliesh – Short and simple.
Children’s Fiction (13)
- Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool – Felt like the kind of novel that would get you an agent but not a publisher, if you know what I mean.
- Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl – A lot of Dahl’s books have a mean streak, especially against adults. This one, the story of a boy who learns his dad poaches pheasants from a nearby estate, is legitimately heartwarming.
- Across the Desert, Dusti Bowling – Forgettable.
- Scythe, Neal Shusterman – Craft-wise, better than Unwind, but the characters were less likeable and the plot more unbelievable.
- Word to Caesar, Geoffrey Trease – A zippy adventure with just enough historical detail to make it interesting. Henty-lite.
- The Iron Tsar, Geoffrey Trease – Very similar to Word to Caesar. The characters are flat, but the plot moves. This guy could easily have been a screenwriter.
- The Sinking City, Christine Cohen – Another good adventure from Canonball Books. The world-building in this one is first-rate.
- The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Jeanne Birdsall – I enjoyed this one much more than the first book.
- The Boy and the River, Henri Bosco – Short and sensual. The descriptions of the river and its flora and fauna are so luxuriant they border on suffocating. I couldn’t help wondering if the touch is lighter in French. Posted a quote here.
- The White Stag, Kate Seredy – Read like a fairy tale. I now know more about Huns and Magyars than I used to.
- Henry Reed, Inc., Keith Robertson – A thirteen-year-old boy spends his summer in a sleepy town in New Jersey. Most novels that start this way continue with the boy discovering magic, solving a mystery, or making friends with a crotchety neighbor. Henry Reed starts a business. (This is one of the only kids’ novels I know about free enterprise.) The book is written in the first person, in the form of journal (not diary) entries, which provides a lot of humor. Henry is interested in almost everything, is smart and inventive, and is almost completely ignorant of how he comes across. It’s very amusing. I’d enjoy a chapter written from Midge’s perspective.
- Hatchet, Gary Paulsen – When I was young, I somehow got the idea that this was a bad book. It does have divorce, heart attacks, starvation, diarrhea, moose attacks, and a dead body. But it’s not bad.
- The Golem’s Eye, Jonathan Stroud – I enjoyed The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy, but this one just didn’t do it for me.
- Assigned for class: Aeneid, Virgil (translated by Stanley Lombardo); Watership Down, Richard Adams (what a book); Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis; Gilgamesh the Hero, Geraldine McCaughrean; The Golden Fleece, Padraic Colum
- Responsive School Discipline, Chip Wood and Babs Freeman-Loftis – Practical.
- Norms and Nobility, David V. Hicks – People in my circles don’t talk about this book, but they need to.
Theology and the Christian Life (15)
- A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis – My third or fourth time through. Lewis was such a keen observer of humans, he’s insightful even at his most raw.
- Papa Don’t Pope, Douglas Wilson – Surprisingly good. This felt like his older books—more gracious and less joking. Almost every chapter starts with some variation of “So I was talking to a Catholic friend of mine…”
- Treasure in Clay Jars, edited by Lois Y. Barrett – An examination of the qualities that make a church “missional.” The authors (six of them) have a low standard of orthodoxy, but the qualities themselves are inarguable: Missional vocation; Biblical formation and discipleship; Taking risks as a contrast community; Practices that demonstrate God’s intent for the world; Worship as public witness; Dependence on the Holy Spirit; Pointing toward the reign of God; Missional authority.
- The Peacemaker, Ken Sande – A helpful book about how Christians ought to resolve conflict.
- Solomon Says, Mark Horne – Gives a helpful structure of Proverbs and draws out a few key insights.
- Finding God at Home, Ernest Boyer, Jr. – A mix of good and bad.
- Confessing the Faith, Chad VanDixhoorn – A helpful commentary on the Westminster Confession.
- Hints on Child-Training, H. Clay Trumbull – Very good.
- Mother Kirk, Douglas Wilson – A very solid handbook of church life and ministry. From my perspective, this is a sort of background text for a lot of what I did growing up.
- Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, C. S. Lewis – Josh Gibbs once said that C. S. Lewis was a better anthropologist than theologian, and this book is a perfect example. His descriptions of the experience of prayer are great, as are his descriptions of the personality of the One we pray to, but the more theological claims made me wince. For example, to Lewis, the bodily resurrection apparently means the sensory resurrection, despite what the disciples saw and heard and felt when Christ walked through the wall. I’m surprised so many of my friends like this book so much.
- Seven Days that Divide the World, John C. Lennox – An unusual book in some ways. The main point of the book is that Genesis isn’t specific enough to definitively prove the Young Earth position, so we should rely on scientific evidence, which supports the Old Earth position. Lennox’s argument relies on the historical debate between geo- and heliocentrism. Back then, he says, Christians eventually admitted, in the face of scientific evidence, that Earth was not fixed at the center of the solar system. The Bible passages that seem to support that concept were judged to be metaphorical. So it is with Young vs. Old Earth, and Christians need to stop being so stubborn about it. Lennox isn’t trying to rewrite Scripture, however. He takes the historic Christian position on the creation of Man (no ape ancestors here) and the death and resurrection of Christ. He wants to say no more and no less than the text. I appreciate that he takes this seriously and would love to see more books like this, but I have quibbles. For example, in arguing for scriptural agnosticism on this issue, Lennox is de facto taking an Old Earth position. There is no other reason to throw away centuries of Christian writing on the subject. I was reminded of a Sunday school class at a church I once attended which was meant to “explore the question of whether women should be elders.” Needless to say, the teacher had already decided that they should. He just needed to appear impartial in order to convince us.
- Help for the New Pastor, Charles Malcolm Wingard – The word that comes to mind reading this book is “humble.” A simple guide for young pastors on what the ministry entails.
- The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer – So trendy it was hard to stomach—”mindfulness,” “minimalism,” “follower of Jesus” (instead of “Christian”). I read it with a few friends, and when we met to discuss it, I was surprised to learn how much they both liked it. I guess it depends on where you’re coming from.
- Gashmu Saith It, Douglas Wilson – A few good bits, but man, what a terrible title.
- Decluttering Your Marriage, Douglas Wilson – I’d heard most of this before, in one form or another. I did like his point about correcting others. We prefer to ignore the sins of others when they aren’t getting on our nerves; it’s only when they start to annoy us that correcting them suddenly seems to be of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, that’s when we’re least qualified.
Adult Fiction (9)
- Scaramouche, Rafael Sabatini – Action-packed and fun, but a little too long.
- The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame – A beautiful book. It has its fans and its haters, and I understand both reactions. But the haters are wrong.
- The Alto Wore Tweed, Mark Schweizer – Some downright terrible writing. But ecclesiastical humor always gets me.
- Casino Royale, Ian Fleming – I was pleasantly surprised. Bond is disgusting, of course, but Fleming was able to make him human, too. The writing as a whole was not great, but occasionally Fleming caught me off guard with a particularly vivid sentence like this one: “He pushed the revs up and up, hurrying the car to eighty then to ninety, his huge Marchal headlights boring a safe white tunnel, nearly half a mile long, between the walls of the night.” Exactly the mix of poetry and pulp that you want in a spy thriller.
- The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler – I read these in reverse order. Marlowe is much more sour in TLG; in TBS he seems positively chipper by comparison.
- On Beauty, Zadie Smith – Smith is brilliant at creating characters and building scenes (funny, tender, awkward, tense, you name it). I’m not sure she’s very interested in plot, however.
- Going Postal, Terry Pratchett – This was my third or fourth Pratchett and I’m finally starting to see the appeal. It helped that this one is about a reformed con man doing his best to save the outdated Ankh-Morpork post office. I’m a sucker for stories of people doing the right thing when the right thing is all but impossible.
- Dune, Frank Herbert – Fine, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about.
- The Years with Ross, James Thurber – All the humor of the New Yorker’s early years with Harold Ross as editor-in-chief. Some of the jokes were a bit too inside-baseball, but Thurber can really do one-liners.
- An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis – Lots to chew on.
- The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande – A doctor I know told me that this is a controversial book in the medical community. I don’t know why. Gawande makes a strong case.
- In the House of Tom Bombadil, C. R. Wiley – Some very good insights. I need to read LOTR again.
- The Household and the War for the Cosmos, C. R. Wiley – Reading this felt like riding in the front seat of Wiley’s truck as he drove through a familiar town, making turns at random and occasionally doubling back on himself, pointing out various details, some of which were interesting, but most of which others had shown me a long time ago. In other words, my takeaway was a mix of “I’ve seen this before” and “Where did that come from?”
- It’s Good to Be a Man, Michael Foster and D. Bnonn Tennant – Real bad.
- Made to Stick, Chip Heath & Dan Heath – Very helpful for thinking about mission statements.
- The End of the World is Just the Beginning, Peter Zeihan – Others have praised and critiqued this book, so I’ll just give my impressions: 1) Zeihan views the world through geographic and demographic lenses, paying particular attention to economies and resources. I’m really glad he does because I don’t, and someone ought to. 2) Because of the above, he misses a lot of what makes people tick. Not everyone goes to war because he’s hungry.
- How to Think, Alan Jacobs – I’m familiar enough with Jacobs’s writing that not much in this book was new to me. I did think many times, however, of certain acquaintances of mine and how stubborn they can be in their thinking, especially online.
- How to Keep House While Drowning, K. C. Davis – This is the kind of book I’ll forget that I read in a few years.
- The Accidental Superpower, Peter Zeihan – Provides some necessary political background for The End of the World. Specifically, it helped me understand why Zeihan is so sure the US will withdraw from the global scene in the next few decades.
- The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis – Very good. I listened to the audiobook, so I didn’t take a lot of notes.
- Deep Work, Cal Newport – One of the most immediately useful books I’ve read in a while.
- Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull – Another audiobook, so I can’t remember a ton, but there were a lot of good ideas here.
- The Half-Acre Homestead, Lloyd Kahn and Lesley Creed – A photographic tour of the authors’ home, garden, and studio, with commentary in the margins. Read kind of like a blog, with 46 years of experience behind it.
- Hiroshima, John Hersey – Gut-wrenching.
Comic Books and Graphic Novels (1)
- Pearls Sells Out, Stephan Pastis
- Pride and Prejudice, Janet Munsil
- Pride and Prejudice, Helen Jerome
- Medea, Alcestis, and The Bacchae, Euripides – Three plays included in Adler’s Great Books. All odd in their own ways. Medea contains an extremely unpleasant, though understandable, protagonist. Alcestis has all the ingredients for a tragedy, but ends happily, thanks to Heracles. The Bacchae is nightmarishly violent, but also portrays a witty and charismatic Dionysus. More than most Greek playwrights, Euripides seems like he would have been at home in the 20th century world of theater.
- The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie
- Witness for the Prosecution, Agatha Christie
- Poetry I, ed. Richard Corbin