Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2010 Reading List

After an off-year in 2009 with only 22 books completed, I returned to a more normal reading schedule in 2010, completing 34 books.  That's not as much as my high-water mark in 2005, where I read 48 books, but it's the most I've done in a single year since 2007.  Of course, it's quality that really matters, not quantity.  

In any case, here's the list:

A Clergyman's Daughter - George Orwell
This was, I think, my third time through this novel, although it had probably been ten years since I'd last read it.  Orwell considered this his worst novel, calling it at various times "tripe" and "bollocks" and asserting that he wished he had never published it.  While it's certainly not his best work of fiction, it would suit the tastes of any genuine Orwell fan, I think.  It is a somewhat experimental book with an entire chapter written in stage play format.  Its central theme focuses on the loss of religious faith after the carefully built walls of the church facade are forced down (in this case, the central character develops amnesia and finds herself living on the street).  She eventually finds herself and returns to her carefully arranged life in the church, but she never regains her faith.

The Sunbird - Wilbur Smith
This was my second time through this novel.  It's a great early Wilbur Smith action novel (published in the early 70's) and centering on an archaeological dig in southern Africa.  It has all the elements of good adventure fiction, and it shocks you about halfway through the book by suddenly whisking you off from the present day back into the ancient culture that the archaeologists had been studying.  

Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
I first got turned on to Kurt Vonnegut by a friend of mine a few years back, and after having read one of his novels and some short stories, I decided I might as well tackle  his most famous book.  It was funny and heart-wrenching and disturbing and informative.  Highly recommended.

God & Empire - John Dominic Crossan
A fantastic piece of historical scholarship by one of my favorite scholars of early Christianity.  

The Last Oracle - James Rollins
I used to be a huge Rollins fan, but in the last few years I've lost interest.  I really only read this book out of loyalty.  There's about 50 James Rollins's out there now, and all of them are copycats off each other.  I've more or less given the entire thriller genre up, because no one can do anything anymore that's not an attempt to re-write The Da Vinci Code.  

The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

Jesus, Interrupted - Bart D. Ehrman

The Stand - Stephen King
I finally read this novel after years of hearing how wonderful it was.  It was okay.  Shitty ending.  Somewhat bloated and self-absorbed.  Typical Stephen King fare.

The Secret Message of Jesus - Brian D. McLaren

Antony and Cleopatra - Colleen McCullough
Famous for The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough is a widely read historical novelist that I decided to try out in an effort to read more female authors.  This was actually the seventh book in a 7-book series on the fall of the Roman Republic.  It was terrible.  It took me two months to read because it was so boring.  I got the distinct impression she was trying to show off her immense and wide-ranging knowledge of ancient Roman geography and history.  Virtually every paragraph was inundated with place names and ancient Roman geographical references that left me totally overwhelmed and confused.  Telling me that such-and-such event occurred on the feast day of Jupiter along the southern coast of the Pontus Euxinus near Bythinia tells me absolutely nothing.  And these vague Latin place names went on and on and on, page after page after page.  Interspersed with this were literally about 3 million characters.  I have never read a book that introduced so many people.  And since they all, by necessity, had to have ancient Roman names, and since ancient Romans didn't have nearly as many unique names as we have in modern societies, damn near every character was Julius Antonious Commodius Marcus Cicero, and it was absolutely impossible to keep the characters straight.  Definitely won't read Colleen McCullough again.

The Dark of the Sun - Wilbur Smith
This was the final book of Wilbur Smith's "back catalogue" that I had not yet read.  With it, I have now read everything he's ever written, going back to the mid-1960's and covering about 40 novels.

Pirate Latitudes - Michael Crichton
Published posthumously from a completed manuscript left on his computer after he died, this was classic Crichton writing the way he wrote best.  It was a relief to read a Crichton book that didn't have a political agenda attached to it.

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown
The only thriller writer who can write novels like Dan Brown is Dan Brown.  That's one reason I've more or less given up the genre - everyone has to be Dan Brown now, and it's annoying.  This one didn't have quite the spark of Angels and Demons or The Da Vinci Code, but it was pretty good.

The Summer Tree - Guy Gavriel Kay
This was the first book in a trilogy by an author who had been recommended to me a number of times by a friend.  I finally decided to try him out.  The trilogy is collectively called the Fionavar Tapestry and is very similar in style and substance to Lord of the Rings, but it manages to not seem like a total knock-off.  It is high fantasy writing, totally Tolkien-inspired, complete with a group of "good guys" going on a long journey across a fantastical countryside to stop the evil one who holds sway over the land.  If you loved Lord of the Rings, you'll  like this trilogy.  

Jesus - Marcus Borg
Hands down the absolute best work of scholarship on the historical Jesus that I have ever read - and I've read a lot.  If you asked me to recommend just one book on Christian scholarship, this would be it.

The Lost Gospel Q - edited by Marcus Borg
A transcription in book format of the hypothetical Q document.  It's interesting to read it this way, by itself, out of the foreign contexts in which the sayings were used by the Gospel writers.  

The Wandering Fire - Guy Gavriel Kay
Book two in the Fionavar Tapestry.  

The Darkest Road - Guy Gavriel Kay
Book three in the Fionavar Tapestry.  

Assegai - Wilbur Smith
Smith's most recent book.  He's been showing a strange tendency, in the last few years, to incorporate magic and fantasy into his novels - something I wish he'd quit doing.  

The Burning  Land - Bernard Cornwell
This was (I think) book 5 in the so-called Saxon Chronicles - Cornwell's series about Alfred the Great and the Viking invasion of England.  Great historical fiction.

The Lost Gospel of Judas - Bart Ehrman
An in-depth look at this newest "lost" gospel of early Christianity, by one of the world's leading experts on early Christian writings.  

Crocodile on the Sandbank - Elizabeth Peters
After years of listening to my mother giggle at Elizabeth Peters novels, I finally decided to try her out for myself.  She has not disappointed.  Her novels are set in late 19th century Egypt, and center on "Emerson and Peabody," married British archaeologists who spend their winters digging in Egypt.  They are absolutely wonderful.  It's Agatha Christie set during the golden age of Egyptology.  Definitely right up my alley.  These books are great escapist fiction.

The Curse of the Pharaohs - Elizabeth Peters

The Bormann Testament - Jack Higgins
This was my second time through this novel.

Eagle in the Sky - Wilbur Smith
My second time through this novel as well.  This is one of my favorite Wilbur Smith novels.  It reads just like a movie - easily the most cinematic book he has ever written.  

The Last Week - John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg
An interesting look at the final week of Jesus, as described in the Gospel of Mark.

Fever Dream - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
These guys, who co-author novels, are the only thriller writers I know  who have not come down with danbrownitis.  They still write exactly like they always have, and that's why I still read all their books.  This latest effort wasn't their best book ever, but it was still pretty good.

Agincourt - Bernard Cornwell
A great work of historical fiction about the Battle of Agincourt, one of the decisive battles of the Hundred Years' War.  It was before this battle that Henry V, as told by Shakespeare in the play of the same name, encouraged his soldiers by saying: "We few, we merry few, we band of brothers..."  Not to burst anyone's bubble, but the phrase "band of brothers" has nothing to do with World War II.  

The Authentic Gospel of Jesus - Geza Vermes
A saying-by-saying analysis of every single phrase attributed to Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Exhaustive in scope, this is definitely not a book for the casual reader.  

Lost Christianities - Bart Ehrman

The Winds of War - Herman Wouk
Having read two of his previous novels, I finally decided to delve into Wouk's epic series on World War II.  I've been familiar with this book, and its successor, since childhood, thanks to the major miniseries' that were based on them in the 1980's.   This book - about 800 pages - was absolutely fantastic.  Wouk's breadth of knowledge is staggering.  This book basically covers all the build-up to war in the late 1930's, telling the story through the eyes of several members of an American family.  It ends with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  

The Mummy Case - Elizabeth Peters

Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs - Barbara Mertz
"Barbara Mertz" is the real name of Elizabeth Peters.  In addition to being a novelist, she also has a Ph.D in Egyptology, and this book is labeled as a "popular history" of ancient Egypt.  It's a good introduction to Egyptian history.  

War and Remembrance - Herman Wouk
The follow-up to The Winds of War, this book exceeds 1000 pages.  Like the first, it is staggering in its scope.  At times, I felt that he got bogged down a bit too much in analyzing the war - it drew away, at times, from the narrative flow.  But all in all, it was a great book.  Reading these novels was like reading history books on World War II.  I learned more about World War II from these books than I have from any other source.  His depictions of the Holocaust are beyond description.  It's nothing you want to read, but it's something everyone should read.  What really hit home for me, more than anything else, was the realization that the Holocaust - with all its unthinkable horrors - was not perpetrated by some backward tribe in some backward Third World nation.  This was committed by a modern, western European nation with a long history of intellectualism and philosophy and music and art, and populated mostly by white Christians.  That's not a very comforting thing to think about.