In addition to that, I didn't read any short works this year - those 200-250 page novels that you can get through in a day or two. I usually pepper my reading list throughout the year with books like that. Every book I read this year, however, was a full length work of either fiction or non-fiction.
So anyway, enough blithering. Here's the list:
World Without End – Ken Follett…1/21
This was the sequel to Follett's hugely successful book "Pillars of the Earth." Although this one wasn't quite as good as Pillars, it was still a fantastic book. I would put Pillars among my top 3 favorite novels of all time. This one could probably go in the top 10 - certainly the top 20. Set in the 1300's, it takes place about 200 years after the events of Pillars of the Earth, but takes place in the same town, with the same monastery at the center of events.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling…1/27
Having started the Harry Potter series rather later than most, I didn't read the final Harry Potter until January of 2008. As I recall, despite being roughly 600 pages, I read it in about three days. Prior to reading #7, I had slowly been reading all the others, having started in the spring of 2007. I enjoyed #7 so much, I decided to read the entire series again (it didn't hurt that I had no "to be read" books on my shelf at the time, either).
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling…1/31
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling…2/10
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling…2/14
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling…2/27
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling…3/13
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling…3/21
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling…3/26
As you can see, I ended up reading Deathly Hollows not just twice in one year, but twice in about two months. It was really interesting to read the whole series through a second time, all right in a row with no break in between. Caught a lot of things that I certainly didn't catch the first time.
The Burning Shore – Wilbur Smith…5/26
Having already completed one 7-book series in 2009, I decided to start another series of books, this one a 5-book series by Wilbur Smith known as "The Countneys of Africa" series. Starting with The Burning Shore, the story begins in World War I and follows the Courtney family up through the mid 1980's. This was actually my second time reading The Burning Shore - the first time was over a decade ago, but I was never able - back then - to read any of the other books in the series because, at the time, they were out of print.
The Invernova – S.A. Alenthony…6/30
The Infernova is a novel in verse - an epic poem. Written by a friend of mine, it is an atheist's reworking of Dante's Inferno. While I am not an atheist, I found the book to be entertaining and extremely well-written, and it certainly touches on a lot of important themes and forces its readers to face a lot of unpleasant, but important, issues.
Power of the Sword – Wilbur Smith…7/22
Rage – Wilbur Smith…8/21
A Time to Die – Wilbur Smith…8/31
Golden Fox – Wilbur Smith…9/10
These were books 2-5 of the Courtneys of Africa series. The last two books are interesting because they are backwards chronologically. A Time To Die takes place in the 1980's, whereas The Golden Fox - published last - takes place in the 1970's. The whole series is really good - top-notch historical fiction - and although they are novels, the books give a really intimate and informative glimpse into the history of South Africa and Apartheid.
The Codex – Douglas Preston…9/22
I've been a fan of Douglas Preston for quite a while, having read all the books he has co-authored with Lincoln Child. This was my first foray into reading one of his solo novels, however. As much as I love his co-authored books with Child, I was disappointed with The Codex. It wasn't terrible or anything, it just wasn't anywhere near the quality of his books with Lincoln Child. Very poor character development, weak dialogue (in some places, horribly weak dialogue), trite and predictable antagonists, and a silly plot. I was quite surprised with how weak I felt the book was, because I had always imagined that Preston was the primary voice in the Preston-Child novels. Now, I'm not so sure.
The Birth of Christianity – John Dominic Crossan…10/4
This book took me about 5 months to read. It's not the kind of book that someone with an average interest in Biblical scholarship would want to read, but for a graduate student, a theologian, or a lay person like myself with an intense interest in Biblical scholarship, this work is a "must read." Crossan describes his vision of how Christianity began, focusing his conclusions on the first decade or so after Jesus' death - that "dark age" of Christian history. He concludes that Jesus' followers continued on teaching in his name - recalling Jesus' sayings and teachings, and going throughout Galilee and Judea as itinerant prophets, much as Jesus had been before them. He describes the "prophets and the householders" - the prophets being the wandering and homeless teachers (like Jesus) and the householders being the oppressed Jews they were teaching to. Key to his conclusions are the texts of the Gospel of Thomas and a text not widely known outside of academic circles called the Didache. He also discussed the Gospel of Peter in great detail.
Cemetery Dance – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child…10/11
After the disappointment of Douglas Preston's solo novel mentioned above, the new Preston-Child book was a welcomed relief. This novel centered on their recurring character, Special Agent Pendergast of the FBI, and his investigation into a voodoo cult in New York City.
Timeline – Michael Crichton…10/18
Published (if I recall correctly) in 1998, this was the last Michael Crichton novel that was worth reading. I've stated elsewhere my feelings about Crichton and his literary decline, so I won't go into it here. But either way, this was my second time reading Timeline, and it was every bit as good as I remember it being the first time. It's about a group of archaeologists excavating a medieval site in France who get the opportunity to go back to the 13th century and actually visit the town they have been excavating. A really good high-tech sci-fi action/adventure novel.
The Origin of Satan – Elaine Pagels…10/27
A great book for a general audience outlining beliefs in Satan and how they have changed and morphed over the years. She starts with the ancient Hebrews and traces ideas about Satan up through the present day, paying particular attention to how beliefs about Satan impacted the New Testament.
Rabbi Jesus – Bruce Chilton…12/6
This is the first Chilton book I've read. I had mixed feelings about it. Chilton is a noted Jesus scholar, but this book is unlike any scholarly book about Jesus that I've ever read. It is written almost like a novel. It's got a very strong narrative language to it, starting with Jesus' birth and going up through his death. It's subtitled "An Intimate Biography" and that is very apt. It is a true "biography" of Jesus. Unfortunately, Chilton doesn't really do much in the way of supporting many of his assertions. He seems to only be interested in the 4 Gospels of the New Testament - he apparently gives them precedence over any other texts in regards to understanding the historical Jesus. Furthermore, he seems to believe that anything in those 4 Gospels is "fair game" for drawing conclusions about the historical Jesus - although he is by no means a "Biblical literalist." He doesn't believe in a virgin birth or a physical resurrection, for instance. Yet pretty much any story in the Gospels is fair game for evaluating some historical aspect of Jesus' life. Just to give you an idea of what I mean - he rejects the idea that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, but he believes the Bethlehem birth tradition came from the fact that Jesus' mother was from Bethlehem of Galilee. There's no historical evidence to support this, of course, other than the fact that a town called Bethlehem did exist in Galilee in the 1st century. The book is full of extremely tenuous conclusions like that.
However, I thought that his general profile of Jesus in a Jewish context of purifying Israel was right on target. He provided new and profound insights about Jesus and his message of purity, one that has somewhat changed my own perspective about the purpose of Jesus' life and what his "mission" was really all about.
Eternal Life: A New Vision – John Shelby Spong…12/17
This is what Spong says is his last book. It's the last book of his contract, and he apparently doesn't see himself writing anything else. Aptly, then, it's about death and eternal life. Spong, of course, does not believe in heaven and hell and rejects any traditional images of the "afterlife." What he discusses instead is the timelessness and "eternity" of consciousness, and how we can touch eternity by opening our conscious minds through loving wastefully, living fully, and being the best we can be. He believes that consciousness will survive beyond our deaths because consciousness is eternal. He doesn't pretend to know what living eternally as part of the "universal consciousness" will actually look like - will we know ourselves, our friends, our loved ones? - but he instead focuses on how it can change one's life in the here and now.