What I Read in 2021

Plays (7)

  • The Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare – Feels like Shakespeare fan-fiction. A lot of his other stories woven into one, convoluted plot.
  • The Tempest, William Shakespeare – One of Will’s last plays. The self-assessment is on full display and surprisingly honest.
  • Antigone, Sophocles (trans. ?)
  • The Burial at Thebes, Sophocles (trans. Seamus Heaney)
  • High School Musical,
  • Pride and Prejudice, Helen Jerome
  • Pride and Prejudice, Janet Munsil

Children’s Fiction (15)

  • Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis
  • Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson – I told myself I wouldn’t cry. By now you know what a softie I am.
  • Dangerous Journey, László Hámori – One of my favorite books from childhood. It’s basically an Eastern European Hardy Boys story.
  • The Green Ember, S. D. Smith
  • Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Gary D. Schmidt – Disappointing.
  • A Month of Sundays, Ruth White – I enjoyed Belle Prater’s Boy, but this one was unremarkable.
  • Anna Hibiscus, Atinuke – Simple, delightful.
  • Circus Mirandus, Cassie Beasley – I loved the whole idea of the circus and the Man Who Bends Light is a great character.
  • Boys of Blur, N. D. Wilson – Liked it even more this time around.
  • Wise Words, Peter J. Leithart – C. S. Lewis described a myth as a story that is so solid and real that it doesn’t matter what form it takes. The story of Daedalus and Icarus, for example, can be told as a poem, a play, a movie, or a novel without losing its power. Several of the stories in Wise Words have that mythic status, I think — The Three Princes, The Magical Walnut. Besides that, I’ve been surprised, this time through the book, at the stories that really affect me — The Bleeding Tree, A Reluctant Rescue. The best stories, it seems, grow with us.
  • They Were Strong and Good, Robert Lawson
  • Frindle, Andrew Clements

Theology and the Christian Life (7)

  • The Crook in the Lot, Thomas Boston – Full of wisdom.
  • Christianity and the Constitution, John Eidsmoe – Very useful.
  • Good & Angry, David Powlison – Read for men’s group at church. Powlison makes his most valuable point a few pages in: not all anger is sinful.
  • Future Men, Douglas Wilson – Useful.
  • Worldly Saints, Leland Ryken – This book would probably be filed under history in a library, but it contains so many great Puritan quotes that reading it is almost like reading a devotional.
  • Vindicae Contra Tyrannos, Stephen Junius Brutus – Intensely practical in this day and age, which may not be a good thing.
  • Reforming Marriage, Douglas Wilson – Some useful advice. Many of the applications seem outdated—for example, in the last twenty-five years, and especially since COVID, men and women have both started to spend more time at home with their kids.

Non-Fiction (11)

  • Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford – I wrote a couple of newsletters about this book.
  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert T. Kiyosaki – As is the case with all “get rich!” books, you have to pick and choose what to follow and what to ignore.
  • Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America, Crawford Gribben – My main thought reading this book was, “So I’m not unique.” Growing up in Moscow, it was tempting to see our community as the last hope of Christian culture. Not only was that wrong-headed, it was also, apparently, a mindset that was shared by many other people in Idaho, most of whom were not connected with Christ Church at all. Weird. This book also showed me just how much my worldview has been shaped by R. J. Rushdoony, for better or for worse. That’s a topic worth exploring in another post.
  • The Read-Aloud Family, Sarah MacKenzie – Some good tips on reading together. The main one I’ll take away is be consistent. The kids should assume every family does this. Lots of book recommendations, too, though I don’t agree with all (Wonder, for example, is a terrible book).
  • The Decadent Society, Ross Douthat – Douthat starts an intriguing conversation, muddles his way through the middle of it, and ends with a call to repentance and… space travel? He’s simultaneously provoking his readers and playing it safe, exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from a newspaper columnist.
  • King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Robert L. Moore and Douglas Gillette
  • Walt Disney: An American Original, Bob Thomas
  • An Autobiography, Bill Peet – Continuing my Disney kick. Peet designed many of Disney’s most memorable characters. It really is a shame that so many great animators are completely unknown. They’re the real movie stars.
  • House, Tracy Kidder – A journalistic novel about building a house.
  • The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl R. Trueman – A worthwhile read, but also useful as a reference book in case you need a quick summary of modern literary figures. It would be interesting to explore how CS Lewis fits into all this. To say so may be heresy in my circles, but is it possible that Lewis’s emphasis on the purity of Nature falls into the same problem that Trueman describes in the section on the Romantics?
  • Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin – Some very good advice on leadership based on the authors’ experience as Navy SEALs. Though it’s written for business, the principles can just as easily be applied to parenting and education.

Adult Fiction (19)

  • Cannery Row, John Steinbeck – Very good in a Steinbeck-y way: sumptuous description, tenderness toward society’s outcasts, amusement at the oddities of life. He has a wonderful eye.
  • Starbridge: Absolute Truths, Mystical Paths, Susan Howatch – Recommended by my wife. From my newsletter: “These books are cheesy. If they had a soundtrack, it would be a cross between a 1940s Hollywood romance and the radio drama Suspense! They are scandalous. Sex is a major theme, especially the recurring question of how on earth an unmarried clergyman is supposed to remain celibate. They are also, at times, surprisingly insightful. I saw reflections of myself in more than one character, and I don’t just mean a passing characteristic. I mean the kind of characteristic that you’d need a bone-saw to remove. Oh, did I mention the books are theologically literate, at least in the Anglican tradition? Every chapter opens with a quote from a C of E luminary like Rowan Williams or Austin Farrer.”
  • The Siege of Troy, Theodor Kallifatides – Reviewed for Forma. Subscribe here to read it.
  • Evangellyfish, Douglas Wilson – A good start that meandered and finished too quickly. Mega-church satire is so familiar to me not many of the jokes were new.
  • Behind Closed Doors, B. A. Paris – A forgettable thriller about a woman who unwittingly marries a psychopath. One of the few books I’ve read in which a main character has Down’s Syndrome.
  • The Thing Itself, Adam Roberts – Alan Jacobs speaks highly of the book here. I jotted down some thoughts in my newsletter.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Maria Semple – Recommended by my wife.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke – An impressive book. After listening, I bought myself a copy so I can re-read it at my leisure.
  • We Run the Tides, Vendela Vida – Josh Gibbs mentioned this in passing. Not my favorite.
  • I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith – If I had gone in knowing this was not a children’s book, I would have enjoyed it more.
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh – Another one I got from Gibbs. I wasn’t impressed at first, but it’s grown on me since.
  • The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis – Fiction, I know, but Lewis perceives so much about human nature, it’s easy to imagine this is a realistic picture of what awaits our souls after death.
  • The Children of Men, P. D. James – Really good.
  • Favorite Father Brown Stories, G. K. Chesterton – Not my favorite Father Brown stories, but still good.
  • Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout – Interwoven tales about a tiny town in Maine. Perhaps the most impressive thing is how Olive, who is a pretty unpleasant person, becomes a lifeline for the reader amidst the turmoil of other people’s lives.
  • Very Good, Jeeves! P. G. Wodehouse – Great. Reading Wodehouse is kind of like watching good TV: you know exactly what you’re going to get and it’s always satisfying.
  • Leave it to Psmith, P. G. Wodehouse – Great.
  • Ride, Sally, Ride, Douglas Wilson – All over the place.

Teaching (5)

  • Teacher in America, Jacques Barzun – Once in a while, you pick up a random book that turns out to be a gem.
  • The Amazing Dr. Ransom’s Bestiary of Adorable Fallacies, Douglas Wilson and N. D. Wilson – More fun as a read-through than a textbook.
  • The Golden Fleece, Padraic Colum – A bunch of Ovidian myths woven into the story of Jason and the Argonauts. It’s a good way to introduce the kids to a bunch of stories all at once, and Colum captures the tone of the ancient stories.
  • Gilgamesh the Hero, Geraldine McCaughrean – If you’re looking for a children’s version of the Gilgamesh story, this is a good choice.
  • The Odyssey, translated by Stanley Lombardo – Not my favorite translation, but accessible to seventh-graders.

Poetry (4)

  • Death of a Naturalist, Seamus Heaney – Wonderful.
  • Adam, David Langstone Bolt – Thoughts here.
  • The Life of Merlin, Geoffrey of Monmouth (trans. by Basil Clarke) – Mysterious.
  • Piers Plowman, William Langland – Tough sledding.

Essay Collections (1)

  • Both Flesh and Not, David Foster Wallace

Graphic Novels (14)

  • Amulet (1-8), Kazu Kibuishi
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • The Odyssey, Tim Mucci, Ben Caldwell, Rick Lacy
  • Cardboard, Doug TenNapel
  • Nnewts (1-3), Doug TenNapel

DNF

Books I read a significant part of, but did not finish:

  • The Well at the World’s End, William Morris
  • Duet, Kitty Burns Florey
  • Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
  • The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Eothen, A. W. Kinglake
  • Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, Lardner Gibbon and William S. Herndon
  • The Eternal Pity, Richard John Neuhaus
  • Codependent No More, Melody Beattie
  • Birthing from Within, Pam England
  • The Fourth Turning, William Strauss and Neil Howe
  • Letters of C. S. Lewis

A Few Titles

That I’ve been reading lately.

  • Eothen by A. W. Kinglake – Once upon a time, travel narratives were all the rage, perhaps because, as someone (I forget who) guessed, tourism wasn’t viable for most people. Kinglake traveled to “the Orient,” by which he meant Turkey and Arabia. I came across this book in one of C. S. Lewis’s letters, where he speaks highly of Kinglake’s descriptions of the landscape. To my ear, the descriptions are fine enough, but nothing compared to, say, Mary Austin or John Muir. Maybe the comparison isn’t fair, though, since they were describing different landscapes. Lewis also praised Kinglake’s sense of humor, which I have enjoyed. Some sample quotes:
    • “…as grim as an army of giants with a thousand years’ pay in arrears.”
    • Describing Turkish: “The structure of the language, especially in its more lengthy sentences, is very like to the Latin: the subject matters are slowly and patiently enumerated, without disclosing the purpose of the speaker until he reaches the end of his sentence, and then at last there comes the clenching word, which gives a meaning and connection to all that has gone before. If you listen at all to speaking of this kind your attention, rather than be suffered to flag, must grow more and more lively as the phrase marches on.”
    • On the curmudgeonliness of the Greeks during their fasts: “The number of murders committed during Lent is greater, I am told, than at any other time of their year. A man under the influence of a bean dietary (for this is the principal food of the Greeks during their fasts) will be in an apt humor for enriching the shrine of his saint, and passing a knife through his next-door neighbor.”
  • Leave It to Psmith, P. G. Wodehouse – I realized partway through this book that I may have only ever seen the play. The book more than lived up to it. Psmith is the kind of character who should annoy you, but somehow does not, rather like Innocent Smith from Manalive. Incidentally, Wodehouse said that Psmith was his only character who was drawn from real life—apparently from Richard D’Oyly Carte, the man who brought Gilbert and Sullivan to the admiring masses. [Edit: Psmith was actually based on Richard’s son Rupert.]
  • House, Tracy Kidder – I bought this for my wife thinking a) it was by a woman and b) it was a collection of essays meditating on the significance of different rooms in a house. That would be a great book, but that’s not what this is. For one thing, it was written by a man. It is not a collection of essays. It is, however, about a house. It’s a non-fiction novel (think Capote’s In Cold Blood) chronicling the construction of a large home in New England. Though it’s not what I was expecting, it has been great so far.

Book Covers I Like

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.

How Children Ought to Treat Books

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;
Refrain from the unholy pleasure
of cutting all the pictures out!
Preserve it as your chiefest treasure.

Hilaire Belloc, dedication of A Bad Child’s Book of Beasts

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.

The Lost Diary of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

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.

What I Read in 2020

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

Adult Fiction

  • 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

Children’s Fiction

  • New Kid, Jerry Craft
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
  • Afternoon of the Elves, Janet Taylor Lisle

Creative Non-Fiction

  • Blood Will Out, Walter Kirn
  • H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
  • Girl at the End of the World, Elizabeth Esther

Poetry

  • Motherland, Sally Thomas

Plays

  • Deathtrap, Ira Levin
  • Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Writing

  • Ploductivity, Douglas Wilson
  • The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
  • Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon
  • Show Your Work, Austin Kleon
  • Keep Going, Austin Kleon

Other Non-Fiction

  • Long Live Latin, Nicola Gardini

Total: 58