Some books are to be treated courteously, others graciously, and some few to be embraced and surrendered to.
A few years ago I was cataloguing the library of an eminent theologian, and I started to take pictures of the most interesting book covers. Here you are.
It wasn’t so much the cover of this one as the note inside.
Messing around with book titles.
One of the earliest and strictest lessons to the children of the house being how to turn the pages of their own literary possessions lightly and deliberately, with no chance of tearing or dog’s ears.Ruskin, preface to Sesames and Lilies
And my ambition now is (is it a vain one?) to be read by Children aged from Nought to Five. To be read? Nay, not so! Say rather to be thumbed, to be cooed over, to be dogs’-eared, to be rumpled, to be kissed, by the illiterate, ungrammatical, dimpled Darlings, that fill your Nursery with merry uproar, and your inmost heart of hearts with a restful gladness!Lewis Carroll, preface to The Nursery Alice
Child! do not throw this book about;Hilaire Belloc, dedication of A Bad Child’s Book of Beasts
Refrain from the unholy pleasure
of cutting all the pictures out!
Preserve it as your chiefest treasure.
The first two quotes are from this article. The last I found in my copy of Barlett’s Familiar Quotations.
Until recently, I’ve sided with Ruskin and Belloc, but I’m starting to see the wisdom of Carroll’s ambition.
Since I’m trying not to use Goodreads anymore, I downloaded my To-Read list as a CSV file and am going through the titles one by one, deleting anything I’ve already read (about one out of every ten). I’m amazed by how many of the books I remember putting on the list—who told me about them, in which footnote I tracked them down, where on a library shelf I stumbled across the title. It’s like a reading diary in itself.
Balliol College, Monday.—Read aloud my Essay on Equality to the Master. It began: “Treat all men as your equals, especially the rich.” The Master commented on this sentence. He said, “Very ribald, Prince Hamlet, very ribald.”
In training for the annual fencing match between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Doing my utmost to reduce my flesh which is far too solid.
The poet Maurice Baring wrote a collection of the “lost diaries” of historical and fictional characters, which is available on Project Gutenberg.
From the diary of Emperor Titus:
Rome, Monday.—The eruption at Vesuvius does not after all appear to have been greatly exaggerated, as I at first had thought on receiving Pliny’s graphic letter. One never can quite trust literary men when facts are in question. It is clear that I missed a very fine and interesting spectacle. In fact I have lost a day. Good phrase, that. Must try and bring it in some time or other.
From the diary of Sherlock Holmes:
January 12.—Found a carbuncle of unusual size in the plum-pudding. Suspected the makings of an interesting case. But luckily, before I had stated any hypothesis to Watson—who was greatly excited—Mrs Turner came in and noticed it and said her naughty nephew Bill had been at his tricks again, and that the red stone had come from a Christmas tree. Of course, I had not examined the stone with my lens.
From the diary of Oedipus Rex:
Wednesday.—Saw the Sphinx. Guessed the riddle first shot. It asked what was that which runs on two legs, has feathers and a beak, and barks like a dog. I said “pheasant,” and I added, “You put that in about the barking to make it more difficult.” The Sphinx was very angry and went off in a huff, for good.
Below is a list of the books I finished this year. Back in April, I posted a list of what I’d read up to that point, along with some comments. No comments today, alas.
I also keep a running list of what I’m reading, watching, and listening to in my Media Diary (which I haven’t updated in some time).
(Thanks to my wife, whose yearly run-downs inspired me to do this.)
Theology & Christianity
- The Reason for God, Tim Keller
- Partakers of Grace, Douglas Wilson
- From Silence to Song, Peter J. Leithart
- Defending Constantine, Peter J. Leithart
- Fruit of Lips, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
- Selections from the Table-Talk of Martin Luther, Henry Bell
- The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer
- Job Through New Eyes: A Son for Glory, Toby Sumpter
- Joy at the End of the Tether, Douglas Wilson
- A Short Essay Toward the Improvement of Psalmody, Isaac Watts
- Practical Christianity, A. W. Pink
- Studies in Deuteronomy, Donald F. Ackland
- The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis
- Miracles, C. S. Lewis
- Heretics, G. K. Chesterton
- Migrations of the Holy, William Cavanaugh
- Born Again, Charles W. Colson
- Bruchko, Bruce Olson
Parenting & Teaching
- Positive Discipline, Jane Nelsen
- Parenting, Paul David Tripp
- Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp
- Something They Will Not Forget, Joshua Gibbs
- The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco
- Empire of Bones, N. D. Wilson
- The Starbridge Series, Susan Howatch (Books 1-4)
- Descent Into Hell, Charles Williams
- Piranesi, Susanna Clarke
- Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
- Beau Geste, P. C. Wren
- The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope
- Earthfasts, William Mayne
- The Unique Miranda Trilogy, H. W. Taylor (Books 1-2)
- Kill Ship, H. W. Taylor
- Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank
- The River, Peter Heller
- East of Eden, John Steinbeck
- Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
- The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
- Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
- New Kid, Jerry Craft
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
- Afternoon of the Elves, Janet Taylor Lisle
- Blood Will Out, Walter Kirn
- H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
- Girl at the End of the World, Elizabeth Esther
- Motherland, Sally Thomas
- Deathtrap, Ira Levin
- Hamlet, William Shakespeare
- Ploductivity, Douglas Wilson
- The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
- Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon
- Show Your Work, Austin Kleon
- Keep Going, Austin Kleon
- Long Live Latin, Nicola Gardini
In this blog post, Alan Jacobs casually quotes Isaiah Berlin, Michael Oakeshott, Robert Conquest, W. B. Yeats, and Christopher Hitchens, and makes several references to George Orwell. I have benefited from Dr. Jacobs’s writing over the years primarily, I think, because of his incredible range of reading and the ease with which he can tie together disparate threads of thought. It’s a skill to aspire to.
Nate Wilson taught me writing and rhetoric back in the day. For a long time, he was the only published author of fiction I knew, so I’ve always followed his doings with interest. With an output that includes ten novels, two non-fiction books, a feature film, two nature documentaries, and a Netflix show, he’s a tough guy to keep up with.
His latest endeavor is The Silent Bells, a young adult fantasy novel published on a monthly basis. Each chapter is mailed to subscribers in newspaper form (complete with funnies page and fake adverts). I’ve read most of Nate’s books, and I think this may be my favorite way to read them. His novels have lots of action and lush description that can be exhausting when you try to read a hundred pages at a go. At this new pace, the story is like drinking a Red Bull every four weeks. Not only that, his pacing shines even more, since you can’t just move on to the next chapter when you hit a (literal) cliffhanger. Gotta wait an entire month to find out how (if??) Cyrus will survive…
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
I don’t know how I made it to thirty years old without reading this book. I saw the movie many years ago, so I’ve known the story. The book is almost perfect. Certain scenes, like Atticus shooting the dog, had me grafted to my seat. Who could wish for a better character than Atticus?
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
I went into this expecting six hundred pages on the depravity of man. Who would’ve imagined a 20th century writer so full of life! Anybody who could write a character like Sam Hamilton had at least part of his head on straight. (Part of his head…? Like the nose?) If the whole book had just been an extended conversation with Sam Hamilton and Lee, I would’ve still loved it. The story didn’t stick with me much, and Catherine/Cathy/Kate is just plain silly, but Steinbeck’s Bradbury-like verve won me over. I’ll read more.
New Kid, Jerry Craft
The first graphic novel to win the Newbery. Graphic novels are great at some things, bad at others. Sensations, impressions, and feelings are in the first category. This book was fun there. Subtlety is in the second category. But who cares? You’re reading a graphic novel!
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Because these aren’t real book reviews, I don’t have to talk about everything in this book. There’s a lot. One thing that stuck out to me is how often Raskolnikov gets tangled up with other people’s affairs despite his attempts to separate himself from humanity. But the scene that I will carry with me is the one in which Raskolnikov prays on the bridge. The minute he finishes praying, he realizes that he will carry out his gruesome plan. How often this happens! The very moment we ask for God’s help in fighting temptation is the moment in which we give ourselves over to it.
The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
For a book that was supposed to be silly and disposable, this one has remained with me. I can’t call my daughter without thinking of Hester the governess, who is strictly committed to her policy of never chasing down her charges. They will come to her eventually, she says. And they do.
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
My friends told me this book made them weep. That’s usually a guarantee that I will finish the last page with a clear countenance and dry eyes. Well, I cried. Tommy and Kathy bemoan the shortness of their time together, but how much longer do the rest of us really have? One of the great joys of the resurrection will be the reunion of soul and body, not only for each of us ourselves, but for those who love us. More than beating Death is the knowledge that Death will no more take away those whom we love.
Hamlet, William Shakespeare
I get something new out of this every time I read it. This time around, I was struck by Hamlet’s wit. He’s fairly lightning. “‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?” Also, thanks to the Ignatius Press edition I was teaching from, I recognized more Christian imagery than I have before. Specifically, I am convinced that the story takes place during Lent, and that Hamlet is a type of reluctant Christ.
Blood Will Out, Walter Kirn
Not sure what I was expecting. I picked it up because Kirn apparently spoke at a Wordsmithy a few years ago. It’s the story of Kirn’s friendship with a man who called himself Clark Rockefeller, but who turned out to be a psychopath named Christian Gerhartsreiter. The “reveal” was old news when Kirn wrote the book, so he doesn’t expend any effort setting it up or dramatically pulling back the curtain. It’s mostly about Kirn, actually, asking himself whether writers and shape-shifting con-artists really are so different after all. There’s a disconcerting thought.
H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
Began this ages ago on audio, finished it in print. Print helped me appreciate the writing more. It is, as Alan Jacobs said, “magnificent.” One oddity of MacDonald’s style is that her descriptions come in great blocks of prose. You’d expect more white space for such a dynamic subject as goshawks. But the formatting lends her words a weight and inevitability (dareisay, naturalness?) that really fits her story.
Girl at the End of the World, Elizabeth Esther
As my wife said, it’s amazing that this woman is still a Christian. A testament to the grace of God.
Miracles, C. S. Lewis
I had begun this book years ago and never made it past the first few chapters. For Lewis, it’s dense. Finally got through it this time, stumbling over a few complicated logical blocks. Definitely worth reading closely. May do a blog-through of it someday (ha, as if!).
Migrations of the Holy, William Cavanaugh
Another one that needs more in-depth analysis. Check the tag at the bottom of the post.
Heretics, G. K. Chesterton
Reading Chesterton is an ongoing habit for me, one I pray I never drop. Here’s a quote to tide you over: “Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.”
Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp
Read this again for an online book club I’m doing with David and Jon, a couple of high school friends who are also dads to young kids. Recommended.
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
Half whisky, half hogwash.
Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon
Austin’s book makes me want to be messier in my art. Which, I think, is a good thing.
Show Your Work, Austin Kleon
Long Live Latin, Nicola Gardini
I heard about this book through Prufrock News and thought, as a Latin teacher and a lifelong language votarient, I should give it a shot. It was effusive. My favorite thing about it was Gardini’s attention to detail. He exults in Latin’s very vowels.