Saturday, November 26, 2011

2011 Books

2011 marks the first year in which I have maintained or exceeded a reading pace of a-book-a-month. Without further fanfare, below is my list of 2011 books (in chronological order as read):

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson - One doesn't read a Marilynne Robinson novel so much as one steeps oneself in a subtly-crafted work of art, one page at a time. These two books read at the pace of summertime twilight on a comfortable back porch, sometimes without feeling like reading at all. Instead, one could refer to an encounter with Gilead as a time of getting to know her characters--and from a seat at their own tables or by walking their garden paths. Deep, full-orbed themes throughout. A pleasure to read.

- Marilynne Robinson - The remarkable feature about Home is that its story involves the same few characters from the same two families, is set in the same small town, and takes place at the exact same time as Gilead. Yet somehow, the reader will be drawn sweetly through Home without the slightest hint of repetitiveness or foreknowledge. Brilliant work by an incredibly gifted author.

Reforming Marriage - Douglas Wilson - My brother Joel did well when he identified this as his "Manager of the Year" in his Third Annual Book Awards. I have never before read someone who so [appropriately] identifies the husband's immense responsibility and does so without pulling any punches, so to speak. Reforming Marriage should rouse even the laxest husband into action with a sense of the high calling that is his in marriage.

The Secret History of New Jersey - Tony Gruenewald - I probably wouldn't have cared for this brief poetry collection had I not lived and worked in New Jersey my whole life. The poetry is free-form and not particularly nuanced, but Gruenewald is to be commended for charming in verse the least charming parts of our dear State. Recommended for true New Jerseyans alone.

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame - It would be impossible for me to overstate the magnificence of this "children's" book. Laying aside the endearing characters, and the simple beauty of the setting and the stories, it is the masterful language of this book that I found breathtaking like no other. It was a common occurrence for me to pause in a chapter in order to be able to re-read a particular sentence over and and over and over, so as to let its richness and complexity saturate my mind. I have never read a wordsmith equal to Kenneth Grahame, nor do I expect to.

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair - Pablo Neruda (re-read for perhaps the 12th time?) - If you don't know my thoughts on Neruda by now, we're obviously not Facebook friends.

Love, 10 Poems
- Pablo Neruda (re-read) - See above.

Future Men - Douglas Wilson - Becca and I laugh at some of the ultra-specific movie genres that Netflix features, and one of our favorites is "British Romantic Dramas with a Strong Female Lead." Future Men would fall neatly into the "Principles of Parenting Written by Somewhat Controversial Christian Authors With a Strong Male Lead" category if books were movies (let's all rejoice that they're still separate for now). When Wilson describes biblical Manhood, either here in Future Men or in Reforming Marriage (above), it is not a Manhood muzzled by undue domestication or effeminate undermining. The principles in Future Men are founded in solid biblical exposition, unlike the speculative unorthodoxy of Eldredge's Wild at Heart. I want to raise sons Doug Wilson would be proud to know.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith - The foreword of the edition I read this summer contains the caution, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is not the sort of book that can be reduced to its plot line." Quite true. In much the same way that To Kill a Mockingbird doesn't so much construct a plot as dissolve a reader into the very essence of a community and its time, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn wrapped me up in all the people, emotions, and dimensions of 1920's Brooklyn. So many aspects of these poor immigrants' lives create such a wide array of emotional responses: heartache, inspiration, admiration, joy. This immediately found a place on my list of all-time favorite novels.

Just Do Something - Kevin DeYoung - This was one of those rare books in the Theology/Christian Life genre that left me thinking, "I think I knew all that already." Perhaps it comes from growing up under preaching that not only acknowledges the Sovereignty of God, but holds fast to all the logical outworkings of that same doctrine. This book would have served me better in college, but was still worth the read as a 29-year-old husband and father of two.

Children of the Living God - Sinclair B. Ferguson - Far be it from me to speak poorly of a giant of the Church like Sinclair Ferguson, but I was rather indifferent to this, the first work of his I ever read. I love the doctrine of Adoption, and I had only ever heard great things about Rev. Ferguson. My expectations were not realized here.

Fighting the Good Fight - D.G. Hart and John Muether - I'm sure that I had never before rendered the amount of respect or appreciation due academic historians, but the re-read of this OPC history kindled such a pride and admiration for the OPC founders so as to prove the historians' worth. With disgust and shear disbelief I was reacquainted with the contents of the Auburn Affirmation of 1924. With great sorrow and remorse did I relive the mockery of a trial that put Machen and others out of Princeton and the PC (USA). Yet how great it is to be reminded that a sovereign God is ruling his Church, despite such bursts of wickedness that have tarnished her. Praise the Lord for the OPC.

Lest We Forget - Robert K. Churchill - A personal, pastoral account of the terrible events in 1920's/30's American Presbyterianism. Churchill's perspective is seemingly innocent as a child's yet buttressed with the conviction of truth and right doctrine that so characterized the founders of the OPC. A pleasure to re-read.

Winnie the Pooh - A. A. Milne (five reads in four months!) - This is the first chapter book I've read with Liam at bed time, and he has not let me read anything else since September! The illustrations are scant in number and basic in form, but the stories have kept Liam's attention every night. The language is as cute and British as the characters. I am not ashamed to state that I have posted some of my favorite quotes as Facebook stati. A must for the Gahagan and J.V. Pearce family shelves.

Other People's Love Letters - edited by Bill Shapiro - In the uber-fluff column. Although not affiliated with the Postsecret project, this is essentially the love letter version of those collections. Very few worthwhile reads amidst a sea of smut, poor spelling, and melodrama.

The Great Bridge - David McCullough - After starting in August, I only just finished in late December. I never would have imagined something in the history genre would have kept my attention through 562 pages, but I remain unalterably impressed with McCullough's storytelling abilities. I found the descriptions of old Manhattan and Brooklyn particularly fascinating, and delighted to read about streets I know fairly well through work projects. The chapters recounting the sinking of the caissons were unbelievable in the truest sense of the word. A Fantastic Book.

A Boy's Will - Robert Frost - The only regret I have about reading Robert Frost in 2011 is that I had not read him sooner. North of Boston will be an early read of 2012, no doubt.


arongahagan said...

Invaluable recommendations. I am better just for reading your summaries. Thank you.

George said...

Your summaries are excellent. I had to read your one for _Just Do Something_ to my family. We all enjoyed a hearty laugh.

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