Friday, December 28, 2012

Books of 2012

I first started to chronicle the books I read by year in 2006.  I wrote a blog post about that year's list (of nine books) in 2007.  An act of innocent historical preservation took a turn for the intentional and legacy-minded (think David in II Samuel 24) after I only completed two books in 2008.  [Editor's note: one of the two was the unabridged version of Moby Dick, but there are few Pearce males alive today who would be satisfied with production as paltry as a mere two books in one year].  I subsequently averaged about eight books a year in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and then maintained a pace exceeding one book per month in 2011 when I gorged myself on 16 books.

I am pleased to report that I have met my goal of reading 20 books in 2012.  For purposes of contemporary discussion and the edification of posterity, below is a summary of the works I read in 2012, with brief accompanying comment.

In chronological order as read:

Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens - I still haven't read a Dickens title I didn't love, and I was glad to have finally crossed this classic off my To Read list. One of my favorite traits of a Dickens novel is how characters and circumstances are so intricately and dramatically woven together.  However, in Oliver Twist there were scenarios that seemed to border on the contrived.

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien - When Rebecca and I caught wind of the release of the Peter Jackson movie to be released in 2012, we scurried to re-read The Hobbit...11 months early.

North of Boston - Robert Frost - To the long-form, prose-like quality of much of the poems in North of Boston took some adjusting.  Less conducive to memorization, but still distinctively Frost; this is a collection to which I'll come back.

Republocrat  - Carl R. Trueman -Truth be told, I read this long enough ago that I don't remember my impressions.  I think I had unfairly high expectations because of how I had heard others refer to Trueman, but I vaguely remember feeling disappointed.

The Hunger Games / Catching FireMockingjay - Suzanne Collins - I do not remember ever before being gripped by the drama and action of a story as I was with each of these three books.  Neither do I remember reading a story with as muddled or conflicting a morality as in The Hunger Games. Killings justified by killings, gruesome violence, and an exceedingly selfish heroine reduce what would otherwise be a sound endorsement.

Odes to Common Things - Pablo Neruda - That this is only my second favorite Odes collection by Neruda speaks to the exceptional nature of his Odes to Opposites.  The brilliance of Neruda in these Odes to Common Things is how the onion, or the scissors, or the table are used as metaphorical springboards into larger, grander themes while they are still, through the course of the poem, celebrated merely as onion, scissors, or table.  There is a richness and a depth to each poem, delivered in the most genuine, simple language, that makes Neruda seem transcendent to have said so much with so few words.  I never hesitate when asked to name my favorite poet.

Till We Have Faces  - C.S. Lewis - The wonder of the seven books in the Narnia series is that each story is infused with one major theme and several lessons in biblical morality that are readily distilled and discerned by even a child.  Aslan's substitutionary atonement, or the consequences of Eustace's greed as a dragon are prime examples.  The humbling part about reading Lewis's adult literature, however, is that some of the most central truths/lessons in the stories are difficult to mine even reading through them a second time, as I found in my re-read of Till We Have Faces.  Worth the effort, but humbling.

On Being Presbyterian  - Sean Michael Lewis - A nice primer on Presbyterianism.  Keith Cuomo rightfully points out that there is really only one "Presbyterian" chapter in the whole book (the one on church government).  A discerning reader could probably have guessed that the author is from the PCA (not the OPC) without a glance at the back cover.

Dandelion Wine  - Ray Bradbury - Upon Bradbury's death this summer, I was surprised to learn how much of his later work revolved around writing for television and movies.  Dandelion Wine, coupled with Fahrenheit 451, gave me an impression of Bradbury as one who would have resisted the bright lights, noise, and emptiness of Hollywood.  Dandelion Wine is Bradbury's quasi-autobiographical recreation of life as a boy in his small-town hometown, and each page is so saturated with the wonder of youthful discovery and the vitality of a boy's summer day that it's hard for the reader to not be overcome with jealousy and longing.  Despite the Hollywood ending to his life, I still count Bradbury as one of my favorite fiction authors.

Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims - Daniel R. Hyde - More confessional and (duh) reformed than On Being Presbyterian, but also not explicitly Presbyterian. Still, an introduction I'd recommend.

Beloved Bride: The Letters of Stonewall Jackson to His Wife - Bill Potter - This had been a gift from Rebecca, my own beloved bride, two Hallmark Days ago, and I read it for the first time this summer.  I was surprised to learn not only what a strong Christian the General was, but how devout a Presbyterian and how articulate a Calvinist!  Far from empty or superfluous romance, these letters are rife with spiritual instruction and admonishment.  I was inspired (and more than a little embarrassed) to see what spiritual leadership this husband showed even from a distance and even on the battlefield.  A glimpse into the mind and reflections of a truly great American man.

All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps - Dave Isay - We received this as a gift from Kyle and April Kennedy upon their visit this summer.  Whatever genuine desire I had to read the book was amplified by the understanding that such a brief, easy read would serve to "pad the stats." Asking couples how they met/fell in love is already a pastime of mine, so reading a book comprised entirely of autobiographical love stories was thoroughly enjoyable.  The stories placed a surprisingly high value on marriage (as opposed to cohabitation) and featured relatively few homosexual relationships--another pleasant surprise, considering that StoryCorps is somewhat affiliated with NPR.  With thanks to the Kennedys, this was a fun read.

The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church - Shortly after completing my 30th year as a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, I finally read The Book of Church Order, which (for the congregationalist reader) is comprised of The Form of Government, The Book of Discipline, and The Directory for the Public Worship of God.  There is a careful yet confident tone to the entire work that should inspire any OPC congregant toward feelings of protection and praise.  Among the slowest, most difficult reads of the year (it reads like a constitution), but well worth it.

Animal Farm - George Orwell - To post the appropriately cynical Facebook status during the latter months of the election season, I found myself reaching for this Orwell title so often that I eventually just decided to re-read Animal Farm to re-establish full context.  Postman fittingly describes Orwell's writing as "clear, lucid English." I do not foresee a day in which I do not count George Orwell as one of my favorite authors (even if he was a Socialist).

The God-Breathed Scripture - Edward J. Young - In picking up this brief work of one of my Dad's seminary professors, I had hoped to come away with a conclusive "proof" of the inspiration of Scripture for use in apologetic/evangelistic applications. Instead, I came to understand (correctly, I think) that Dr. Young's work was addressed primarily to those who are believers already.  This work is more of a defense of the doctrines of the Inerrancy and Infallibility of Scripture than something intended to persuade a skeptic.  Still, a very helpful work I will reference again.

The Sonnets: Poems of Love - William Shakespeare - It's a bit crass and unacademic to reduce one's commentary on works of Poetry to a mere "I liked it"/"I didn't like it" statement. Yet, I can't escape the conclusion that I didn't particularly care for most of the 154 sonnets of the greatest wordsmith of the English language.  The subject matter of at least one third of the sonnets might be described as Trifling, another fifth Petty, and an eighth of them Frivolous.  The remaining 34.2% were the masterpieces that Jane Austen characters commit to memory and English majors arrange to have recited at their weddings.  This was the most work I have ever exerted in the Poetry genre, but I would consider it worth the effort--if for no other reasons than the exercise of discipline and for the head start I have on the next decade's Valentine's Day cards.

Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture - Brian H. Cosby - I have never received (and perhaps will never again receive) an endorsement of a book as unenthusiastic and conflicting as the one I received from George Ludwig Fischer, PhD.  Some time after handing me the book and stating the requisite "I thought you'd like to read this" came an "It's not as good as [the book you lent me last year]," which was followed by a befuddling "Please don't take this as a book suggestion." If you're reformed and can get past Cosby's inclusion of "community" and "service" in his list of The Means of Grace, there are good reminders and suggestions contained herein for those engaged in youth ministry (or parenting, for that matter). Just don't ask George Fischer to provide a quote for the dust jacket.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied - John Murray - A most excellent book on the most important doctrine of the Christian faith.  Thorough without feeling painstaking; comprehensive but without an exhaustive feel.  Murray's writing is clear, concise, and saturated with Scriptural phraseology.  I am told that this book is used as a seminary textbook, but there is a beauty to his language and a pastoral nature to his chapter conclusions that defy the academic genre.  I certainly saved the best for last when I read Murray as Book #20.