Monday, October 20, 2008

Catching Up!

Among the stumbling blocks in my desire to keep current on The Book Den are the dramatic increase of activity in Vital Signs Ministries’ other cyberspace efforts, the extra time Claire and I now need to take care of my ailing mother (a joyful burden, I assure you) and, of course, my assumption of regular preaching duties down at Faith Bible Church in Omaha’s near south side.

But perhaps the greatest angst of the matter is just being so far behind with a decreasing chance of ever catching up.

Well, I may not be able to manufacture more hours in the day to overcome the first three difficulties but, doggone it if I can’t at least shake that last monkey off my back. So here's a post that covers (if only super quick) all the books from this last year I haven’t yet got round to.

Then maybe I can breathe again. So, here we go….

There was a handful of "modern" books that I managed my way through this year but few of them were very memorable. David Baldacci’s The Collectors was one of them. I picked it up in an airport for lack of anything better. If I remember correctly, it was passable but it wasn’t anything I’d recommend. I fared better with a couple of other airport purchases: P.D. James’ Death in Holy Orders and Clive Cussler’s Dragon. Cussler’s plots can be kinda’ wild but they’re very inventive, exciting and at least plausible within the framework of adventure fantasy he creates. Nice stuff -- somewhat reminiscent of Alistair MacLean.

Another modern novel that I’ve found in perusing this year’s reading list is Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks. It’s the new (and from what I gather) “authorized” James Bond book. I checked it out from my local library after reading a couple of good reviews. Both compared it quite favorably with Ian Fleming, the original creator of Bond, but as I’ve never read any of Fleming’s work except the book he wrote for his kids, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I wasn’t able to judge. Perhaps Faulks gets to wear the mantle and produce more Bond novels. I'm happy for him but I don’t think I'll be among his readers. I didn’t find this one satisfactory. Maybe if I had read it on a plane...

2008’s reading included, naturally, the monthly selections of our ongoing literary society, the Notting Hill Napoleons. I’ve already commented on a couple of them in The Book Den this year: Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea, which I liked, and Jessamyn West’s The Friendly Persuasion, which I also liked (though as a set of related short stories, not as a novel).

The NHN selections titles I didn’t cover were P.C. Wren’s Beau Geste, James Hilton’s The Lost Horizon (I’ve reviewed this in the Den a year ago), Anthony Trollope’s Dr. Thorne, Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels, Conan Doyle’s The Tragedy of the Korosko, H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and Rafael Sabatini’s The Sea-Hawk. I found them all enjoyable and our discussions over them all were lively and thoughtful. Nevertheless, there were clear favorites for me: Parnassus and Sea-Hawk.

Still to come for this year’s Napoleons’ list? Nevil Shute’s Ruined City, Selected Stories by O. Henry (Barnes and Noble Classics Series) and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The last one I've commented on before in this post.

My non-fiction reading seemed especially limited this year. I guess most of the time I would normally have spent with non-fiction (primarily history, culture and theology) was taken up instead with studying for sermons. But there were a few I managed to squeeze in. Four of them were part of Vital Signs' Book It! series; one was a selection of the Omaha Chesterton Society; and one was just pure pleasure reading. They were: Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas by Ken Foskett; America Alone by Mark Steyn; The Prince of Darkness by Robert Novak; The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias, Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and The Path to Rome by Hillaire Belloc. A few of those I did review in the Den here (Foskett, Zacharias, Ali which I talked briefly about over on Vital Signs Blog, and the one of this half dozen I’d most heartily recommend; namely, Novak’s compelling, fascinating autobiography).

Other non-fiction that I found time for included a richly detailed, exhaustively researched history by Alan Schom, One Hundred Days: Napoleon’s Road to Waterloo and one of the best biographies I’ve read in awhile, Fred Kaplan’s Dickens. Julian Symon’s Conan Doyle: Portrait of an Artist also fell in there sometime this summer but I wasn't too keen on it.

And, oh yes, a couple of non-fiction titles I found helpful in my preparations for my recent teaching stint in West Africa were The Christian Educator’s Handbook on Children’s Ministry by Choun and Lawson as well as Lawrence O. Richard’s A Theology of Children’s Ministry. But there's a rather limited audience for those last two, I’m afraid.

G.K. Chesterton reading is always popular around here and along with the casual reading of his essays this year, I also read his early novel, Basil Howe; his literary criticism, Tolstoy; and the essays collected in Brave New Family.

Finally, every year finds me re-reading some of my library’s dearest treasures and 2008 has been no exception. Among those favorites was a John Buchan tear I went on last winter. It consisted of Thirty-Nine Steps, Power-House, Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast, The Three Hostages, The Island of Sheep, and Huntingtower. There was also Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas tossed into the mix. I never tire of either author.

Okay then. My catch up post is complete. Well, pretty complete. I’m sure I’ve left out a couple of titles and I certainly haven’t done justice to any of them…but at least I’m caught up and can sleep soundly again. :)

Happy reading, guys.