I know this week has been heavy on the subject of books, but hang with me, as this is the final post on books, for a bit anyhow. I was originally planning to do an all inclusive 2017 books read list, along with my top 5, but when my top 5 list hit 2000 words, I knew I better split them off in two posts so as to not bore the pants off of you. If you want to cut to the chase and just see what my favorites were, visit my post from earlier this week. If you want to get the full list though, read on.
Now, as I stated in a post last year, 2017 was the year I woke up and realized that I had wasted most of my life reading fluff and not really learning all that I should know, and that was an incredibly humbling moment for me. So last year, I carved out as much time as I could to put aside the fluff, aside from a couple of fiction classics and works that were highly recommended, and focused the majority of my time on nonfiction. I primarily focused on theology, history, current events and politics. I wish I would have gotten through more titles, but I’m happy with what I did accomplish, especially since some of the pieces were extremely challenging. It’s only been 1 year into my reeducation experiment, and I already feel very much changed; better informed, stronger faith, and a humbled respect for history. Still so far to go, but pleased with the progress thus far. So in no particular order, here are the books I read (minus my top recs I shared in my previous post), along with a brief description and my rating.Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance: 3.5/5 stars “Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.”
While not technically a hillbilly, Vance’s story often resonated with me due to my own upbringing in a white working class family, often dysfunctional, but thankfully not to the same extent as Vance. While moving and honest, I did feel it fell flat in some key areas. Just by reading the commentary and praise it received from certain circles, I think it sent the wrong and overly simplistic message of achievement through pure will and dogged self-determination, while ignoring outside forces that have continued to play a role in the decline of the WWC hillbilly, including global trade policies.
The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: 5/5 stars “Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.”
Full of beautiful language, storytelling and biblical themes, this classic was even more delightful to read with my children now as a parent, than it was when I was a kid. If it’s been a while since you read this Lewis classic, definitely pick it up again.
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis: ⅘ stars “On a daring quest to save a life, two friends are hurled into another world, where an evil sorceress seeks to enslave them. But then the lion Aslan’s song weaves itself into the fabric of a new land, a land that will be known as Narnia. And in Narnia, all things are possible.”
While technically the first book of Chronicles of Narnia series, I highly recommend reading it second, after the Lion, Witch & Wardrobe, for no other reason than the wonderful way in which the origins of the wardrobe are revealed. We listened to the audio version of this book on our road trip to Utah, and I still recall the chills I got when hearing how the wardrobe came to be; it actually made me tear up a bit.
The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher: ⅗ stars “The Benedict Option is both manifesto and rallying cry for Christians who, if they are not to be conquered, must learn how to fight on culture war battlefields like none the West has seen for fifteen hundred years. It’s for all mere Christians—Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox—who can read the signs of the times. Neither false optimism nor fatalistic despair will do. Only faith, hope, and love, embodied in a renewed church, can sustain believers in the dark age that has overtaken us. These are the days for building strong arks for the long journey across a sea of night.”
Numerous critiques have been written of the BO, and if I were to devote a whole blog post to one, it would read a lot different now, almost a year later, than it would had I written it right after reading it; especially since I have come a long way in my faith and understanding of how we as Christians are called to live and serve. Bottom line, I get what Dreher is saying about the whole downward spiral of the culture, but don’t fully believe he even believes the way forward is through withdrawal and being counterculture, especially since Dreher himself hasn’t withdrawn. A hip world traveler, often tweeting about whiskey and craft beer drinking on the interwebs, I have a much harder time buying into his wayward plan to move the church forward through the “culture wars.” And besides, the book doesn’t offer a whole lot of practical advice, which would have been helpful. Overall a year later, I think Dreher has a lot of valuable insight and comes from a good place, but he often spouts off too much nonsense to really be taken seriously.
Body Love by Kelly Leveque: ⅘ stars “Kelly has studied the science behind familiar diets to understand how they trigger the body to lose pounds—and why they aren’t sustainable. Instead, she offers a better choice: her four-step Food Freedom program that helps you find your wellness balance between eating enough and deciding how you feel. Once you find your balance, you will lose weight, lose fat, increase lean muscle mass, and drop at least one size. You’ll also enjoy thicker, shinier hair; clear, glowing skin; a remarkable improvement in your overall appearance; reduced joint pain and other inflammations; increased energy; and better sleep.”
So I read this book over the course of 3 days I enjoyed it so much. The book is packed with real science to back up her claims for eating the way she prescribes, and the focus is not so much on losing weight, although there are plenty of weight loss stories she shares, but more about getting to a comfortable place with your eating and being able to maintain it, and the weight will adjust accordingly. I most appreciated that there are no structured meal plans, but instead she aims to teach you how to feed yourself by giving portion and food group recommendations. It’s very much a “teach a man to fish mentality” versus giving the man the fish. Once you know it, you won’t forget it and will always be able to balance out your meals and portions to manage weight and blood sugar, as opposed to having to jump back on a strict meal plan every few months, to get back down to a desired weight. This is truly the key to healthy & sustainable eating that can be maintained and jumped back into over the course of your life, and is the real problem I have always had with structured meal plans. Once you’re off the plan, do you really know how to feed yourself? What have you learned? One of the only things I didn’t like about the book was that it felt written for a younger audience; lots of screenshots of text threads, emojis and texting lingo. Having met Kelly a few times, I know how smart she is, so wish she would have kept her writing elevated and mature; instead I felt like she was dumbing it down a bit and being too cutesy, as to appeal to a more youthful reader.
The Way Of The Strangers: Encounters With the Islamic State by Graeme Wood: 4.5/5 stars “The Islamic State is bent on murder and apocalypse, but its followers find meaning and fellowship in its utopian dream. Its first caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, has declared that he is the sole legitimate authority for Muslims worldwide. The theology, law, and emotional appeal of the Islamic State are key to understanding it—and predicting what its followers will do next.”
This book was FASCINATING beyond belief and extremely educational. There’s so much I can say about it, but just take my word for it; if you want to understand the ideology behind fundamental Islamic terrorism, please read this book, you will come away with a clearer, albeit scarier, understanding of the movement and what it aims to achieve. I appreciated it so much I bought it to have my own copy, after checking it out from the library.
A Practical Guide To Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World by John Stonestreet & Brett Kunkle: ⅗ stars “We don’t have to lose the next generation to culture. In this practical guide, Stonestreet & Kunkle explore questions including: What unseen undercurrents are shaping twenty-first-century youth culture? Why do so many kids struggle with identity? How can leaders steer kids away from substance abuse and other addictions? With biblical clarity, this is the practical go-to manual to equip kids to rise above the culture.”
Meh, I was disappointed in this book and found it overly simplistic, often glossing over very hard questions and topics. Having not grown up in a “Christian” home, I could very easily see how some of the recommended approaches could drive kids even further away.
Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum Of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gotto: ⅘ stars “After over 100 years of mandatory schooling in the U.S., literacy rates have dropped, families are fragmented, learning “disabilities” are skyrocketing, and children and youth are increasingly disaffected. Thirty years of teaching in the public school system led John Taylor Gatto to the sad conclusion that compulsory governmental schooling is to blame, accomplishing little but to teach young people to follow orders like cogs in an industrial machine.”
This is one of those books that I’m sure has pushed many parents who’ve read it, into homeschooling. I even gave it some consideration for a brief moment in time, and do believe that if I felt truly called to and convicted to home school, I could figure it out and give my kids a top notch education that they would thrive and flourish in. Not because I think so highly of myself, but because I know how many resources and support exists in the home school world, to give kids an amazing education that easily rivals, if not surpasses the average public school education. While in the end, we have decided against homeschooling, the book gave me much to ponder and has led me to take a more proactive approach to being involved with their public school education.
Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era by Thomas C. Leonard: ⅘ stars “Leonard meticulously reconstructs the influence of Darwinism, racial science, and eugenics on scholars and activists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, revealing a reform community deeply ambivalent about America’s poor. Illiberal Reformers shows that the intellectual champions of the regulatory welfare state proposed using it not to help those they portrayed as hereditary inferiors but to exclude them.”
A stunning and shocking recount of the progressive era policies and procedures from the late 1800’s to 1930’s, that shaped and impacted our country for many years to come. I was in utter disbelief learning about the eugenics movement that occurred less than 100 years ago, with the sole purpose of suppressing and breeding out less than ideal “stock.” My jaw was literally agape as I read some pages, proving to myself how little I truly know of our own country’s history and ugly past.
The Death Of Expertise by Tom Nichols: ⅗ stars “As Tom Nichols shows in The Death of Expertise, this rejection of experts has occurred for many reasons, including the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher education, and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine. Paradoxically, the increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement.”
While Nichols is certainly correct that too many people today fancy themselves intellectuals and experts just because they’ve read some things found on the internet, the point is easily stated and made in the first couple of chapters, then goes on to be come repetitive and boring. I found myself forcing my way through to the finish line, and think the book would have been great limited to 50 pages.
The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah: 5/5 stars “With courage, grace, and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France―a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.”
Oh, how I loved this book, especially since I listened to it at the very end of the year, after spending 11 months reading so many heavy things. Don’t get me wrong, this book is itself very heavy, but also beautiful and captivating and heartbreaking, and a story you can easily get lost and wrapped up in. Taylor listened to it after me and is also quite fond of it. I loved the audiobook, but I’m sure the actual text is just as if not more amazing.
How To Think: A Survival Guide For a World At Odds by Alan Jacobs: ⅗ stars “Most of us don’t want to think. Thinking is trouble. Thinking can force us out of familiar, comforting habits, and it can complicate our relationships with like-minded friends. Finally, thinking is slow, and that’s a problem when our habits of consuming information (mostly online) leave us lost in the spin cycle of social media, partisan bickering, and confirmation bias. In this smart, endlessly entertaining book, Jacobs diagnoses the many forces that act on us to prevent thinking—forces that have only worsened in the age of Twitter, “alternative facts,” and information overload—and he also dispels the many myths we hold about what it means to think well. (For example: It’s impossible to “think for yourself.”)”
Great premise for this book, and I had high hopes reading the interviews and critiques of Jacobs and the book leading up to the release, but after reading it in a weekend, I was left kinda scratching my head, wondering what the actual survival guide was. I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t in the right mindset when I read it and need to give it another try, but felt like it just didn’t live up to the overall hype.
Anne Of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: 5/5 stars “Anne is described as bright and quick, eager to please, talkative, and extremely imaginative. She has a pale face with freckles and usually braids her red hair. When asked her name, Anne asks Marilla to call her Cordelia, which Marilla refuses; Anne then insists that if she is to be called Anne, it must be spelled with an e, as that spelling is “so much more distinguished.” Marilla at first says the girl must return to the orphanage, but after a few days she decides to let her stay. Marilla feels that she could be a good influence on the girl and had also overheard that another disagreeable woman in town might take Anne in instead. As a child of imagination, Anne takes much joy in life and adapts quickly, thriving in the close-knit farming village. Her talkativeness initially drives the prim, duty-driven Marilla to distraction, although Matthew falls for her charm immediately. Anne says that they are “kindred spirits.” The book recounts Anne’s adventures in making a home.”
How do you not give AOGG 5 stars? A classic, beautifully written, eternally enchanting and a pleasure to get lost in. Taylor and I listened to the audiobook together and while she didn’t seem as fond of it as I was, I think she’ll eventually come around and I predict she’ll share it with her daughter when she becomes a mother.
The Confessions by St. Augustine: no stars because at this stage in the game, I cannot properly evaluate since I wasn’t able to yet grasp the book. “The Confessions of Saint Augustine is considered the all time number one Christian classic. It is an extended poetic, passionate, intimate prayer. Augustine was probably forty-three when he began this endeavor. He had been a baptized Catholic for ten years, a priest for six, and a bishop for only two. His pre-baptismal life raised questions in the community. Was his conversion genuine? The first hearers were captivated, as many millions have been over the following sixteen centuries. His experience of God speaks to us across time with little need of transpositions. This new translation masterfully captures his experience.”
I need to reread it in another stage of life, when I can fully understand the depth of the text. Has anyone else out there read it? I would love to hear your take. I know it has been absolutely life changing for so many people of faith, including Bishop Barron, I guess I’m just still in the infancy stage of my development.
The entire Old Testament (minus 100 pages): I had hoped to complete the entire OT by the end of the year, but alas, I came up about 100 pages short. But I did read over 1100 pages, my biggest endeavor throughout by far, and it was absolutely transformative in my faith and understanding. I cannot overstate how monumental a shift it has caused in my thinking. Truly life-changing and I cannot wait to complete the New Testament next, thus completing a long-held life goal of reading the Bible cover to cover. I encourage you to go forth good and faithful servants, you can do it! 🙂
And that’s it! I look forward to another year of reading, and diversifying my texts a bit more. What are your reading goals for 2018, and what titles are on your must-read list? I’d love to hear.