Tuesday, January 8, 2008

2007-The Year in Books

Because a good friend of mine has posted his reading list of 2007, I thought it would also be appropriate to step back and list the various books that I was able to get through before the ball fell down in Times Square. As I look at the list I am happy to have read or reread these various books (and I realize how much time I spent studying Roman Catholicism!) but wish I would have had the time to have finished others which occupy a huge pile throughout my home.

I'm not sure if this ordering is the best, but it is what it is. There are also some other books that I checked out from libraries, and since they're not around I can't rouse my memory to be sure that I read them in 2007. Combine that with the size of this list, and I chose to omit them. Maybe in 2008, I'll be more systematic and write
book reviews as I go.

Out of the Silent Planet - C.S. Lewis

This introductory book from Lewis' trilogy is great on so many levels-he sets the stage for a crazy dystopic future seen in That Hideous Strength. Due to time constraints and my own worries over this country's direction, I abstained from going past the next book.

Perelandra - C.S. Lewis

The world of spirits and planets is explained on a deeper level as Ransom travels to a second planet. I love the reflection on how different planets have different modes of expression. Is it sexist? Methinks not.

Till we have Faces - C.S. Lewis

My favorite book of all of Lewis, perhaps because in this Greek myth retold he comes closest to using his knowledge of the classics and applying it to his own writing, which is something that makes me love Tolkien so dearly.

The Four Loves - C.S. Lewis

This book which is also on audio is something I listened to as a young teenager, and now that I've experienced love and the lack thereof on deeper levels I find his insights all the more witty and telling of the human condition.

The Gambler - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I'm glad to say that I've read the gambler--here Dostoyevsky deals with the trivialities of society and the way in which those things can enslave people and ruin families.

Notes from the Underground- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This could be my new favorite by my Russian friend. He doesn't develop characters in this story the way that he does in the Brothers K, etc., but the depth of the emotion that is conveyed by the writer as he shares his frustrations and near insanity is beautifully done.

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

I mentioned above that taking legend and retelling it in a new light is beautiful to me--so I had to go through old faithful and read this with my son (again). Always a delight to read his work, and I'm looking forward to the movies in 2010 and 2011.

The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

Every time I read these books, the little side stories grow in my mind for they can come into closer focus as the rest of the book is almost memorized by me. Just thinking about Barrow Wights was enough to make me so happy to reread this book.

The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien

Ditto on this one-thinking about Kreeft's analysis of this book was also on my mind as I read this, in just thinking that this book is ultimately about Sauron, who is the Lord of the Rings may sound like an obvious thing to you, but hey, I miss obvious points all of the time!

Christianity for Modern Pagans - Peter Kreeft

Speaking of Kreeft, I had seen this book at my church's book table which is purchased via the honor system. Then when I saw it at the library I got to check it out. It reminded me that I wanted to read Pascal, and brought a lot of important thoughts to mind about what it means to believe, and what should be said in sharing this faith with others. In this book he quotes portions of Pascal's Pensees and reorganizes them based on topics that he thinks, while he provides his commentary on the Pensees.

Pensees - Blaise Pascal

Wanting to get the words straight from the horse's mouth, I went to read the Pensees as Pascal wrote them, and I didn't skip the chapters that Kreeft skipped for the sake of clarity and brevity. At times I thought this concoction was a mad mess, and at other moments I saw how he would present the world from both the view of one who believes in God and from the view of the skeptic. The madness that exists in the text is merely the natural consequence of these different perspectives colliding, and when I looked at it that way, I saw the grandeur of the Pensees.

The Winter of Our Discontent - John Steinbeck

Steinbeck has been on my "to read" list, beyond Of Mice and Men, that is. Winter of Our Discontent was a great story about what it means to be a successful American, which is something near and dear to me as I pursue a career that seems to be both very successful and hopelessly underappreciated in terms of work vs. pay.

The Trial - Franz Kafka
I will admit that I do not like Metamorphosis, which is supposed to be his best. But this book was turned into a movie by Orson Welles, and while that one is a bit hard to follow, I had to read the book since my hero had made a movie of it. This was no Metamorphosis--I really enjoyed the paranoia and despair of a world beset in self-contradicting laws. The threat of a government that is so big that we can't be sure of what we are charged (habeas corpus, anyone?) is portrayed in a gripping way, and I have to say that the changes Welles made did not improve this great book. Definitely a must read.

Stonewall Jackson : The Black Man's Friend - Richard G. Williams Jr. and James. I. Robertson Jr.

Living in Maryland has put the War of Northern Aggression on my mind, and this analysis of how a religious man like Jackson could still support the South was a great read. Instead of casting things in light of national policy, in this book we see the world of Jackson and the local blacks in his town, as he sought to teach them to read in violation of laws, so that they would develop a heart and mind for the truth. The mere fact that there is a stained glass window dedicated to Stonewall Jackson in the local church that the freed slaves attended was enough for me to see that underneath the oppression of slavery, the goodness of humanity persisted and prevailed. That it would have prevailed without a war costing 600,000 lives is, of course, a matter on which we could debate, but it is a position that I maintain.

At The Helm - Kathy Barker

This book is a divergence from the others--it's almost a manual on what it means to be the boss of a lab. I enjoyed the stories on what it takes, but at the same time my fear and uncertainty on this career path grew.

Nothing Feels Good - Andy Greenwald
I was mailed this book by a friend who instructed me to burn it upon reading it. This analysis of "emo" as a genre and a state of mind had some interesting vignettes but was overall a silly analysis of culture where the blog as a medium was the apex of being "emo". Ending a few years ago he wrote as though there would be no new "emo" as personalization found its true expression on the internet. The point is--the book is well emoted (ha!) but not thought out well. Maybe he was truly being emo in so doing.......

Orson Welles:Hello Americans - Simon Callow

Callow's second book on Welles did not let down from his first great work on the earlier phase of Welles' life. Here the pace slows down dramatically and we spend about 400 pages reading about what transpired in 6 or 7 years or so. As you can guess, a lot of detail is put into this story, but it is done in a way that is exciting. As both a comment on one man's life and the overall culture of the world in which he lived, I commend this book to all. It also gave me ideas as to what movies of his to track down next. Having seen MacBeth and Jane Eyre since, I can say that I've not been let down by Callow's descriptions!

Orson Welles Remembered - Peter Prescott Tonguette

This book is a straightforward collection of interview quotes from people who knew Welles. It sounds boring but the subject is not, and so this makes for a great read.

The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism - Louis Bouyer

After Francis Beckwith's reversion to Catholicism, I began focusing on this matter with more seriousness. This book was bought for me by a friend in the summer of 2005, but I didn't touch it until the spring of 2007. This book is a very thought-provoking work, where Protestantism as an idea is described as in agreement with Roman Catholicism. Bouyer lays the charge that the things that are actually unique about us as Protestants are the very areas where the Spirit of Protestantism is choked out by varying forces such as nominalistic philosophy. A must read, in my opinion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church - The U.S. Catholic Church (I guess that's the author, if you trust amazon.com)

This book was hard to read all the way through, but I thought that if I wanted to be "fair and balanced" that it was necessary to do. It was an interesting endeavour.

The Roman Catholic Controversy - James White

This book was one by the author of a book that I formerly loved, and now I think may have been based on the fervor of angst towards an idea. I looked to see what his strongest points were, but am now convinced that any criticism of Rome must not come from this way of argumentation. That's all I'll say on this thread, at least.

Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences - Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie

This assessment of the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals varies in terms the view of how much Protestants and Catholics have in common. I suppose that's why it was worth reading. Other than that it gets a bit tiring to read, though I suppose showing how many ways you can skin this cat of ecumenism is a worthwhile pursuit.

Called to Communion - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the theologian now known as the Pope)

Many people have told me that the current Pope is a great writer, so I sat down and read one where the issue of unity from the Catholic view would be a good way to start. The book is a very deep read that I think I'll reread in 2008.

Rome Sweet Home - Scott and Kimberly Hahn

This is a personal narrative by a former Presbyterian minister gone Catholic and his wife. It describes why he was interested in Rome, which helped me understand (I think) why many have done so through the years. No matter what they said, I still don't see the beauty of the Rosary, at least as it is expressed by most people who don't even know what the mysteries are about.

Hail, Holy Queen - Scott Hahn

Speaking of the Rosary, this book by Hahn is a defense of the Roman Catholic view of Mary. He presents her as a new Eve and the ark of the new covenant, which was an interesting concept. I have heard from some that elements of this book are not standard among Catholics, so I don't know what to think about this issue.

Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church - H. W. Crocker III

This popularized narrative of the history of the Catholic Church presents a defense of Roman Catholicism as it was followed by kings and princes and paupers throughout its inception up to the present day. I wanted to read this to have a grasp of how a Catholic looks at things like the Inquisition, and reading this was a good way to learn about it. He seems to come across as harsh to the Eastern Orthodox, but overall his defense is couched in asking whether a particular injustice was coming from the church or its followers--that's an important question to ask.

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization - Thomas E. Woods Jr

Much like the previous book, this book analyzes history from the Catholic perspective. Its focus is more on concepts such as art, architecture, science, etc. I probably enjoyed each page of this book more, but it feels piecemeal at the end, whereas the Crocker book feels more systematic. Overall, these books written in defense of Catholicism remind me that as Protestants we have only been around in our form since the 1500's. 500/2000 means that roughly 3/4 of the Church's existence was lacking our presence, so understanding the good of Rome is I think a must for all Christians, despite our assessment of any of their wrongs-doctrinal, philosophical, or structural (or anything else).

Simply Christian - N.T. Wright

This is N.T. Wright's version of Lewis' Mere Christianity. I liked it but kept wondering what it means--where should I go to church in his opinion? Is he a relativist on the matter of Anglican vs. Catholic vs. Protestant vs. Eastern Orthodox, etc.? That's the big problem I have with ecumenism based on determining what our faith's lowest common denominator is.

The Shape of Sola Scriptura - Keith Mathison

Because of my readings on the Catholic view of Scripture, I gave this book a read. I was disturbed by what seems to me like an arbitrary distinction between Sola Scriptura and what he terms as Solo Scriptura. Ultimately, the importance of creeds comes to mind, as Mathison and others have attacked heterodox views such as hyperpreterism by appealing to the Apostle's Creed. If the Scripture alone is our rule of faith, why seek to find historical precedent outside of Scripture? Either we are not consistent, or our true rule is bigger than Scripture.

Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton

I grew in my love for British wit as I read this Catholic luminary's view of the Apostle's Creed and faith in general. 2008 will be full of this man's work, as I loved the way he could turn a phrase and cast things in a new light as his argument developed. A MUST READ!

The Language of God - Francis Collins

This book, by the director of one of the NIH's Institutes, presents the case for a version of theistic evolution that gives evidence of God via a principle that he terms as Biologos. Overall, I think it strange that the same sort of design arguments that are used by Paley and his modern associates seen in the Intelligent Design Movement are not palatable, whereas cosmological arguments for design that have the same logical construction are all well and good. I'd like to talk to him about the differences between biological evolution and cosmological evolution, and why one points to design while the other doesn't.

Darwin Strikes Back - Thomas Woodward

This book details the way in which mainstream scientists have responded by and large to intelligent design proponents. The main question I have after reading it is, so what are the ID proponents going to do to show that they practice science? I have heard a lot of rhetoric and discussion of ID's foundations, but "publish or perish" must drive that movement if it wants to gain credibility.

The Edge of Evolution - Michael Behe

Speaking of gaining credibility, Behe did make a good stride in defending his position with this book. He discusses exactly what has been observed in experimental analyses of evolution, especially with the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The results of such reflection leads one quite underwhelmed by what has been seen. His argument that evolution fills in the gaps of the structure of life in a manner similar to the spandrels of a cathedral is especially interesting. Sure to bother creationists and Dawkins-style evolutionists alike, it was an interesting read.

WHEW!!!! So that was 2007 in books for me. 2008 is already off to a good start!

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