Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 Reading List

Here is my reading list for 2008. I only read 31 books this year, which is 10 less than last year, and the least I've read since at least 2004 (records prior to 2005 were lost in a computer crash in 2005).

The reason for this is a combination of working and going to school so much, stress and busyness around the house, and probably the fact that I've been watching more TV than I normally have in the past. The DVR is affecting my reading time!

Since January 1 of 2005, I have read exactly 165 books. More than 40 of them have been non-fiction, the vast majority of which have been on religious studies. The rest have been novels and a few short story collections. That's an average of 41 books per year, or 1 book every 9 days.

The Alexandria Link – Steve Berry…1/20
This might be the last Steve Berry book I read, at least for a while. Berry is like so many other modern thriller writers - very formulaic plots, predictable outcomes, and recurring characters that fail to provide that warm, familiar feeling that any recurring character should give. Again, like so many other thriller writers in this post-Da Vinci Code world, Berry's plots all have to center on some religious mystery that threatens the very fabric of society, and his books have simply become too formulaic for my tastes. Another of my favorite writers, James Rollins, has sadly become largely the same way. I think part of it is not necessarily that they aren't writing good books anymore, but more that I am losing interest in this sort of predictable genre fiction.

A History of God – Karen Armstrong…2/4
A fantastic, albeit dense and at times dry, book discussing the way God has been indentified with and worshipped throughout the millenia, told through the lenses of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Not for the average reader, but a very good volume for someone with a strong interest in the history of religion.

There Is A God – Antony Flew…2/10
A book that really made me sad. Flew is nearly 90 years old, and made a name for himself as a famous Oxford atheist philosopher back in the 1940's, 50's, and 60's. He took part in a number of famous debates with C.S. Lewis there at Oxford during that time. Now in extreme old age and clearly not as intellectually sharp as he once was, he has been preyed upon and exploited by the same faction of the religious right that has given us the rebranded Judeo-Christian Creationism now called "Intelligent Design." Essentially, since the 1980's (when Flew retired), this faction - which includes prominent conservative biblical scholar Gary Habermas of Liberty University - has been attempting to persuade Flew that there is evidence of "design" in the universe. Now nearly 90, Flew has finally relented to their persuasion and has written this book saying that he has not changed his mind about personal gods or an afterlife (he still denies both), but has changed his mind about a designer of the universe. He has basically "converted" to a sort of Enlightenment-era Deism.

The disturbing thing to me is not that he has changed his mind. It is the very obvious exploitation of a famous atheist who is now in old age and clearly not at the top of his intellectual game. This religious faction has been dogging Flew since his retirement, having zeroed in on him as a possible famous "convert" because his approach to atheism was always what might be called "weak atheism" - that is, he was an atheist simply because there was no evidence to make him believe otherwise - not because he had any specific problem with religious beliefs in general.

So they exploited him in old age, and now they have their "poster boy" for conversion from atheism to belief in a designer. And naturally they have played it for all its worth - you can find articles about it all over the Internet, it was in major newspapers and magazines in England, and of course Flew published this book outlining the reasons for his change of heart. The really disturbing thing is that after the book was published, Flew admitted that he did not write it, but rather it was written by a ghostwriter - and that ghostwriter was, of course, one of the primary people in the group that spent 20 years trying to get him to change his mind. And when interviewed by a British reporter after the publication, Flew actually contradicted several of the things that were said in the book, and gave no indication - even when asked - that he realized he had contradicted himself. While he asserted that he "read and approved" everything that this ghostwriter wrote, it is clear that this simply is not true, and his inability to remember and articulate clearly was strong evidence of just how deep the exploitation of this unfortunate man has gone.

The whole thing simply reasserted my belief that the religious right is neither religious, nor right.

And for what it's worth, the arguments in the book were not convincing, and were in fact often confusing, and I did not find myself leaning toward "design" after having read it - and I read it in its entirety before I knew any of the facts listed above.

The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins…3/1
This was a surprisngly calm and reasonable book outlining Dawkins' belief that religion and theism is bad for humanity. While I disagreed with his ultimate conclusions, he provided well-written arguments, devestating logic, and was also surprisingly witty.

The Wheel of Darkness – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child…3/5
Despite my disilllusion with the aforementioned Steve Berry and James Rollins, Preston and Child (who have co-authored over a dozen novels) are still among my favorites. Unlike so many others, they have never really sold out to the post-Da Vinci Code hysteria. They are still very original and very good.

The Quest – Wilbur Smith…3/19
Book 4 in Smith's Ancient Egyptian series. Another really good one, though he is getting a bit "out there" with the ancient warlock thing. It almost read like Fantasy at times.

Trojan Odyssey – Clive Cussler…3/30
Formulaic as they come - as are all of Cussler's books - but Dirk Pitt is one of the best recurring characters in all of literary history. It's hard not to like Cussler, even if his plots are all identical and over-the-top.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling…4/4

Jesus for the Non-Religious – John Shelby Spong…4/12

Eagle in the Sky – Wilbur Smith…4/13

Misquoting Jesus – Bart Ehrman…4/16
A must-read for any Christian, in my opinion. This book delves into the academic field of "higher textual criticism," but Ehrman's style is very easy to read and understand. It is written for a mainstream audience. He basically discusses the textual and translational problems with our modern Bibles - the way that scribal errors over the centuries have left a lot of problem-areas in our Bibles, areas where we either know the words/passages are not original to the text, or we have no way of knowing for certain which version is original and which is not. A real eye-opener for anyone claiming the Bible is infallible. Even if it were infallible, the humans who have copied and translated it over the centuries are not, so it doesn't really matter. We know for a fact there are textual errors, additions, and omissions.

Coming Up For Air – George Orwell…4/23
This was the 5th or 6th time through this Orwell classic. Still one of my absolute favorites of Orwell. Written in 1938 and eerily prophetic about the coming war with Germany.

London – Edward Rutherfurd…5/17
A must-read for any anglophile. A very long novel, but very interesting and never boring. It fictionalizes the entire history of London, going all the way back to the Roman days.

Sphere – Michael Crichton…5/20

Eaters of the Dead – Michael Crichton…5/22
I was sorry to hear a few weeks ago that Michael Crichton died, but I am not sorry that he won't be publishing anymore neo-con tripe. I still enjoy his older books like these two, however.

Biggles of 266 – W.E. Johns…5/25
A book I've had on my shelf for a number of years. It's one of the old "dime store novels" glorifying the figher aces of World War I, published originally in the 1930's by a British writer who was a former WWI pilot. It was a series that was very populuar with boys, particularly in England, throughout the 30's, 40's, and 50's.

Under the Guns of the Red Baron – Norman Franks, et al…5/29
It took me longer to read and complete this book than any other book I've ever read. It's a coffee-table style book outlining each of the victories of the Red Baron, including biographies and pictures of his victims (where the information was available), as well as detailed descriptions of the combat and what was going on in the skies over Europe that day, and a transcript of each of Richthofen's own combat reports. I got this book about 9 or 10 years ago, and probably started reading it at that time. Since then, I have slowly read a page here and there over the years, and finally finished it off this year.

Start Where You Are – Pema Chodron…6/6
A Buddhist philosophy book. I saw Chodron in an interview and really liked her (she's an American Buddhist nun who entered the convent after a mid-life crisis and a nasty divorce), but I was a bit disappointed with the book. It was dry.

The Autobiography of the Red Baron – Manfred von Richthofen…6/13
Written by The Man himself, and finished just a few months before his death in combat. A very interesting look inside the mind of the greatest aerial pilot in history.

The Resurrection of Jesus – Robert B. Stewart…7/21
This was a transcript of a debate on the resurrection of Jesus between scholars N.T. Wright and J.D. Crossan. It also included a number of essays by various prominent biblical scholars from across the theological spectrum. The essays were very much academically-oriented, and this book would not be of interest to anyone who wasn't seriously interested in the academic side of biblical scholarship. Even with as much lay experience as I have in this field, I found some of the essays to be beyond my comprehension.

America (the Book) – Jon Stewart…7/27
A hilarious coffee-table book by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, giving a satirical and laugh-out-loud look at the history of the U.S. Literally the funniest book I have ever read.

Great American Short Stories – Corinne Demas…7/31

Akhenaten: The Heretic King – Donald B. Redford…8/6
Another book that has been on my shelf for years. This one may actually hold the record for the longest time on my shelf before I read it. M got this for me for Christmas 1997, our first married Christmas.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe…9/25
A friend of mine encouraged me to read this, so I borrowed the book and followed her advice. It was really interesting to see firsthand the "debate" that took place in the decades prior to the civil war about slavery. To our modern sensibilities it is overly sentimental, overly religious, and even racist, but it was without question the most important (not to mention best selling) American book of the 19th century. The racist aspects of it come from Stowe's asides where she - as the narrator - sort of steps out of voice and begins sermonizing on some topic or another. When doing so, she would frequently generalize and streotype blacks. It might go something like this: "The Negro is kind and child-like by nature, loving beauty and approaching the world with the simplistic air of a school child." She, of course, didn't mean it as an insult - it simply comes off like that today because our worldviews and sensibilities are so dramatically different from that of the mid-19th century. For its time, Uncle Tom's Cabin was extraordinarily radical and liberal, and was viewed by Southerners as vicious left-wing propaganda. It actually spawned a cottage industry of books written (mostly by Southerners) to contradict it.

Lords of the North – Bernard Cornwell…9/30

Sword Song – Bernard Cornwell…10/4
Parts 3 and 4 in Cornwell's Anglo-Saxon novels.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling…10/16

When the Lion Feeds – Wilbur Smith…11/9

The Sound of Thunder – Wilbur Smith…11/20

A Sparrow Falls – Wilbur Smith…12/12
These are the first three books of the "Courntney" series. Smith has since gone on to write about 14 Courney novels. The first book here - "When the Lion Feeds" - was Smith's first published book, first published back in 1964.

Liberating the Gospels – J.S. Spong…12/22
Another must-read for any Christian. This one has really altered my perception on how and why the Gospels were written. It has shown me that the biggest problem with understanding the Gospels is that we read them like 21st century post-Englightenment people, not like the 1st century Jews who wrote them. When you approach the Gospels with modern black and white thinking, you end up with literalists on the one hand, and those who reject it all as superstition and lies on the other hand. Spong shows why both positions are wrong. His basic thesis is that the Gospel stories were not intended by their writers to be understood literally. He then spends 250 pages defending that statement, and does so in profound and compelling ways.

1 comment:

MiriyaB said...

Thanks for the list -- interesting to see both what you've been reading & what you thought of it!