When the end of the year rolls around, that means A Year in Reading will be coming out at The Millions, and I always look forward to following it throughout the month of December. It is always interesting to see which books people put on their list. I also look forward to copying them each year, and writing about my own year in reading, just like I did in 2011 and 2012. This year I read a lot less than in pervious years, mostly because of becoming a father. Turns out, things that seemed essential to life, things like reading (or sleeping) are actually privileges which can and will be taken away from those who are taking care of a baby. Who knew?
As a result, I found that I was much more deliberate about the books I chose to read. I put a lot more thought into it. Some of my choices were not that great, but I am glad to report that some of them were excellent. Here is my summary of the excellent:
Even though I read less fiction in 2013, the novels I did read were very good. I read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson which I loved. I didn’t know anything about it before I cracked it open, but I had read and enjoyed Housekeeping, so I was excited. It did not disappoint, and I got even more excited when I learned that Home (which I have and have not yet read) features some of the same characters as Gilead. It is like seeing old friends! So that is on the shortlist for 2014.
I also read The Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France, which is very interesting. It tells the story of an angel who reject God’s sovereignty and revolts against him. He comes to earth and (naturally) heads to France, where he meets other angels who have revolted against God as well. They congregate (of course) in Montmartre, with all the other revolutionaries in exile, and plan their assault on heaven. Imagine a novel that takes Camus’ concept of the physical and metaphysical revolt from L’Homme Révolté to their most logical and literal conclusion, but set in the Moulin Rouge. If that doesn’t make you want to read this book, then nothing will.
Another book I read and was blown away by was Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. I actually started reading this book in 2012, but didn’t read all of it until 2013, otherwise it would have been on last year’s list. We were staying at a guesthouse in the town of Maradi, around 600 km. east of Niamey, and I found this book in the guesthouse library. I love guesthouse libraries, they usually have such an eclectic collection, and this one was actually pretty big. We have a day to relax after the long drive, so I took this book off the shelf and started reading. I couldn’t put it down. I read 2/3’s of the book that day, but was not able to finish it before we left the guesthouse. I really wanted to take it with me, and I could have. The library had a sign that said you could take the books with you as long as you send them back once you finished reading them. I was tempted, but I knew that it was a book I needed to own. I needed to mark it up, underline its wise words and write in its margins. So I left it there, and ordered my own copy. It took some time, but eventually I got it and finally finished reading it.
This book had a huge influence on me both times I read it, and I look forward to reading it again. It is full of passages that are challenging and beautiful, as well as good advice. Here is a taste: “If a writer is so cautious that he never writes anything that cannot be criticized, he will never write anything that can be read. If you want to help other people you have to make up your mind to write things that some men will condemn.” pg. 105.
Good advice for writing and for living.
1. Martin Buber
The Kingship of God – This was great, if a bit technical. You will never look at the Book of Judges in the same way again.
On the Bible – 18 Studies – Come for the intro by Harold Bloom (anxiety of influence in the Bible!), stay for the essay on Ps. 73, which is awesome.
2. Søren Kierkegaard
The Sickness Unto Death – Sick to death.
Fear and Trembling – Faith is not easy to embrace or to dismiss.
3. Fyodor Dostoevsky
Notes from Underground – The best argument ever made against attending a high school reunion.