Hello, rabbits. Here’s a short list of a few books I read and liked this year, very few of which were published in 2012. They’re not in any particular order, and a few may have actually been read at the end of 2011. Here goes.
I stumbled on this one at Goodwill and picked it up because I had the creepy feeling the title was describing me. I had, after all, just spent thirty minutes with my head cocked to the right so I could read every single spine of a hundred yards of used books. I’m a sucker for a good detective story—if it’s based on actual events, then even better. One of my hobbies on the road is visiting used book stores, so learning about not only the world of rare book collecting but the world of rare book thievery was fascinating.
I’ve read every book by Larson—first Devil in the White City, then Thunderstruck, then In the Garden of Beasts. He’s a great writer, and has carved a niche by unearthing relatively obscure bits of history and humanizing them as deftly as he researches them. His books are usually about two things: Devil in the White City isn’t just about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it’s also about a serial killer who was in the middle of it; Thunderstruck isn’t just about a famous English murder, it’s about the invention of the radio; and Isaac’s Storm isn’t just about the tragic Galveston flood of 1900, it’s about the beginnings of meteorology and the anatomy of hurricanes. Anyone who’s interested in American history and is awed by the power of storms will love this book.
It is no secret that Flannery O’Connor is one of the great American writers. I have read and appreciated many of her stories without going bonkers over them. I find that O’Connor only appeals to me when I’m in a certain mood, and I’m seldom in that mood. But Jonathan’s book changed that for me. I found that after reading The Terrible Speed of Mercy her stories feel deeper, more human, less eccentric—no longer do they feel like they’re written by the fierce, intellectual lioness of Georgia who doesn’t much care what I think, but by a weak, lovely and lonely girl who sees her writing as a way to wake the world to the glory of God.
This isn’t the greatest book ever, but it’s one of the most interesting. Lindskoog died a few years ago, having gone perhaps a little crazy trying to get the world to believe her theories on corruption in the C.S. Lewis estate. I finished the book feeling like Lindskoog was truly out of touch with reality on some points and yet raised some excellent questions about others. If even 10% of what she proposes is true, then I’d love some straight answers from the C.S. Lewis camp. It would make for an amazing documentary film.
Merton lived and wrote at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, which is where I spent the weekend in 2002 that led me to a song called “The Silence of God.” The Seven Storey Mountain is probably his most famous work, and I’m sad to say I’ve never read it or anything else by him until now. I found a first edition of Jonas at a bookstore on the road (I forget where) and started it one afternoon when I was feeling particularly sinful. It was just what I needed: the journal entries of a man in love with the mystery of God, who is discontent with his own sin and yet gives thanks for his suffering as the Lord’s loving discipline. Giving thanks for my own suffering is a virtue I hope to practice in the coming year. There’s so much to learn from Merton, and I’m excited that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Sometimes you don’t feel like reading a book written by a Trappist monk. Sometimes you read a book just for fun. If a tale about a Houdini-esque magician on the run from FBI agents who think he killed the president isn’t fun, I don’t know what is. I think this is Gold’s first book, and I think they’re making it into a film. I’m not the kind of guy who thinks every great book would make a great movie (Narnia is a case in point), but I kept thinking while I read this that it would make for a great ride in the theater.
A few of the songs on Light for the Lost Boy were influenced by this book—”Day by Day” is probably the most obvious, and I had the honor of singing it for NTW himself at a Rabbit Room event earlier this year. Chapter after chapter I found myself thinking, “I hope this is true,” and because Wright uses so much scripture I then found myself thinking, “It is true.” I’ve read a few theologians’ critiques of this book, but even the harshest admit that there’s much to be learned from it.
Every October I get out my collection of spooky stories, and Russell Kirk is at the top of the list (thanks to Jason Gray). I’ve read most of Ancestral Shadows, his collection of ghostly tales, but this was the first time I read Old House of Fear. If you’re ever in the mood for foggy moors, old castles, dashing heroes, ancient mysteries, and shipwrecks, then this is the book for you. And if you haven’t read Ancestral Shadows, it’s great. Search for Jason Gray’s excellent review of it.
Cartoonist Jonny Jimison was at Hutchmoot this year, and we talked a bit about Doug TenNapel. I had heard a lot about him (and knew of his creation, “Earthworm Jim”) but hadn’t read any of his graphic novels yet. Then at a local bookstore I was arrested by the cover of a book called Cardboard. I thumbed through it and loved what I saw: big, bold lines, cartoony but artful and bursting with energy—at times the panels felt like the best Bill Watterson drawings. I was sold before I ever realized it was a Doug TenNapel book. And it’s so good! I pushed it on my kids immediately. Then I went on a TenNapel binge and read Ghostopolis, Bad Island, and Monster Zoo. I grew up reading comics and graphic novels, but I’ve never read stories quite like his. He’s unabashed about being a Christian, and yet is well-respected in the comic world. That’s saying something. (His newer books are kid-appropriate, but Creature Tech, for the record, isn’t. I’m working my way through the back catalogue.)
There’s my short, off-the-top-of-my-head list. If I think of more I’ll tack them on. What about you guys?