Books Read 2017 (part 2)
My last post was the list of books I challenged myself to read (and succeeded, I might add) in 2017. Check out the post to see just how crazy I am.
This essay lists all of the books that were not from “The Big Ten,” but that I read anyway. I’ll call them “The Others.”
“The Others” (also in no particular order)
- The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien – I assign my freshmen a book report assignment in the second and third quarter. In solidarity with them (because a teacher should not assign an assignment that he isn’t willing to do himself) I did the report on a book of my choosing from the list. I chose this posthumously published collection of sagas from the Middle-Earth before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien spent the majority of his life working on these stories, rewriting, adjusting, simplifying and expanding them. Some are better than others (the creation account is amazing, but you would have to read my wife’s essay from the 2016 Tolkien Seminar for more on that), and it isn’t as much of a continual story, more a collection of stories from the time before the events of The Hobbit. Overall, I enjoyed it immensely.
- Charmed Life by Diane Wynn Jones – My wife and I read this together. I had not read any Diane Wynn Jones books prior to this one (I just didn’t read a lot of fiction as a child). It was great, featuring an interesting fantasy world of real life Britain mixed with magic. I look forward to reading more Jones books.
- The Church & the New Media by Brandon Vogt – Another book I read in solidarity with my freshmen. This one featured several essays by a variety of notable Catholics involved in the New Media. Some looked at more spiritual or theological aspects of discussing the Faith on the Internet, while others were more advice driven, explaining how Catholics and Catholic organizations can use the New Media to reach more people and expand their ministries.
- Real Love by Mary Beth Bonacci – Another book I read in solidarity with my freshmen. Bonacci answers real questions from real teens who have real relationship problems. The answers aren’t mere “Here’s the Church’s teaching” type answers; the majority of the answers invoke statistical evidence, making the book approachable for those outside the Church. The book was a great help for me as a high school teacher, as I often get similar questions inside and outside of class.
- Scripture Matters by Scott Hahn – Scott Hahn is one of the most recognizable Catholic Scripture scholars. This collection of essays, covering a wide range of Scriptural topics, looks less at particular interpretations of specific passages, but rather at Scriptural exegesis as a whole. Overall, the book is a good introduction to the Church’s study of Sacred Scripture.
- On the Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists by Thomas a’Kempis – This was my spiritual reading during Lent. Drawing from the Passion accounts in the Gospels, the mediation, which was a portion of a larger work on the life of Christ, walks with Jesus along his path to the cross. Even though it was clearly written for those in religious communities (there are explicit references to life as a religious brother, to your religious superior, and to regularly praying the Divine Office), anyone can read it and draw deeply from a’Kempis’ spiritual well.
- One Heart Full of Love by Mother Teresa – This collection of speeches and interviews by St. Teresa of Calcutta is, shockingly, my first real introduction to the saint’s public addresses. I grew up knowing the greatness of this woman (I was 11 when she died), but I hadn’t read or heard any of her talks. This collection shows the depth of Mother Teresa’s love for the poor and the neglected, as well as for Christ. You feel her heart in every line, every word, in the collection.
- Angels (and Demons) by Peter Kreeft – Written in question & answer format, this book (an easy read, I might add) delves into the theological and philosophical tradition about angels (and demons). Humor infuses Kreeft’s reflections, as do references to literature (Kreeft posits that the best depiction of angels in literature lies in the opening section of The Silmarillion, which I had read just prior to this book) and the writings of various saints.
- The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander – My wife and I read this together. This is the first of the Prydain Chronicles, a fantasy-adventure series that I, in my majority non-fiction reading youth, hadn’t encountered before my marriage (I had seen Disney’s The Black Cauldron, which is sort of based on the series). Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper under the care of the enchanter Dallben, goes on an adventure against an evil lord Arawn. Along the way, he meets an increasingly interesting cast of characters, the kind he will want by his side in his other adventures. [Side note: My favorite memory of reading this book wasn’t as much the plot or characters, but my wife’s reading it. Her version of Gurgi, the man-beast that befriends Taran, is adorable!]
- Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis – I read this book during Adoration over the span of a couple months. Rather than reflecting on each individual Psalm, Lewis examines themes and doctrines found in the Psalms, connecting them to literature, history, and philosophy, as well as the rest of the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition.
- Rising Sun by Michael Crichton – I’m a big Michael Crichton fan. I had read almost everything of his except this book. Now I have. Corporate corruption abounds in this murder mystery/crime drama, with Japanese businesses essentially controlling the economy of the United States. The novel follows our hero as he tries to follow conflicting leads and questions less than helpful suspects, all the while trying to make it through the night alive. Enjoyable, but I still stand by my view that Crichton was at his best when writing sci-fi novels.
- Surprised by Truth, edited by Patrick Madrid – A collection of conversion stories from a variety of converts with an equally wide range of backgrounds. Some big names are in here, as well as more obscure ones. Quite the emotional roller coaster; more than once the convert would be so close to the Church, then take a sharp left, and I, way too invested in stories to which I already know the conclusion, would scream in my head “You’re so close! COME IN! The Tiber’s great!” Anyway, I liked it.
- Ablaze! by Colleen Swaim – This is the first of TWO books by someone I know personally on this list (the other is directly below). I teach with Colleen (she’s one of the greatest teachers I know) at Bishop O’Connell, and when I became chairman of the religion department, with her joining the department at the same time, I decided I needed to get to know her a little better. So I read one of her books. She wrote this book and it’s companion, Radiate, years before she came to O’Connell. Both of the books contain short biographies of saintly teens written for teens. I must admit, I learned a lot from the book.
- The Demon Maelstrom by Nicholas Mason – My wife and I read this together. I’m friends with the author from our time at Christendom College. This is the second book in his Subversion Trilogy, which is set in a dystopian future Washington DC area. Filled with crisp action scenes and thought-provoking dialogue, the story rushes towards a dramatic conclusion that sets the stage for the final installment. Central to the drama of this series is the dignity of the human person; outside of our heroine and the rebels she fights with against the corrupt central government, the whole society, in true “theology of the body” fashion, disregards human dignity on a societal and personal level. It is a dark precognition, one that feels more likely each day.
So, that’s what kept me so busy during 2017. Altogether, I began and finished 24 new-to-me books.
This year, I plan to do something different. In my living room, my wife and I have a bookshelf; friends and professors of ours wrote the books that inhabit the first two shelves. Many of them I’ve read at some point, but a substantial number remain unread at the dawn of 2018. Therefore, my reading goal this year is to read ALL of the books by people I know that I have not yet read by the start of the year. As of now, there are a little more than a dozen books on the list.
I’m off to a good start too! As of this posting, I’ve finished SIX new-to-me books, including three from this list of books by people that I know.
Want to know what I thought of them?
You’ll have to read my post on them next year.