Monthly Archives: December 2011

Day Six: Almost Next Year

I’ve started Death Comes to Pemberley. It is lovely. Any of you looking to use up bookshop gift cards (the Constant Reader has some I know) I’d recommend getting this book. I find it true to the spirit of Austen, down to the author’s apology to the Shade of Jane Austen. Good stuff. All this means I cannot make any decisions about the Best Book I Read in 2011 just yet.

In honour of the sixth day of Christmas, here is another song:

All three Godfathers

Happy New Year! (That is to say, happy arbitrary calendar date which we designate as the beginning of a new year.)

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Day 5 of Christmastide: How Many Books?

The big question for me as I get down to the last few days of the year is how many books will be on my list of Read in 2011? Will I make it through one or two more in the next few days? Which ones should I focus on finishing? At this point I’ve got a few books on the go, and (checks book) 106 already on the list for the year. I should tell you that this is down from 2010 (134) but up from 2009 (91). I don’t think I’ll make 110, but might do 108 or 109. 107 seems probable.

It surprised me to see that people online were pleased with a count of 50 or 55 books for the year. I’ve never read so few. I do devour a lot of junque books, so maybe I’m bulking up on those, but my count has been at least 70 since I started keeping track. To be fair, I do live alone, have no children, and don’t watch a lot of television. I’ve got friends who think my numbers are laughably low. Are we crazy? Possibly we’re reading so we aren’t online telling other people how many books we’ve read. How many do you read in a year? Do you keep track? Why or why not??

I keep track of all books I read from cover to cover. If I start a book but do not finish it, it doesn’t make my list. If I read a chapter of a book for research, not on the list, an article, not on the list. If I read a complete book for research, it is on the list. This means that my list doesn’t completely reflect my reading for the year. There may be years when my complete book count is low, but my article count is high. I don’t keep track of articles I read, though I’ve been meaning to find a way to do that. It is handy to have notes and bibliographic information on record for future writing. (I’m a geek.)

I haven’t been categorizing books by anything other than fiction/non-fiction and religious/not religious. I’m realizing my rough categories are not very helpful. I need to find a finer set of categories to use, but not so fine that one is always making up a new category for each book. I’ve occasionally also used children’s fiction or classic fiction, but those are not always helpful either. This is a project for the new year — come up with a set of categories for the books I read. Yet another reason to think about genre.

Keeping track of the books I’ve read in a year and over time means I know when I last read a book. I try not to read a book in the same year, though I’ve done it before. I find if I re-read too quickly I’m not quite ready to be fully absorbed by the book again. I used to read a book, then re-read it immediately if I liked it a lot. I’d often read books from the library at least twice before returning them. I don’t do that anymore. I’m tempted to do it most with non-fiction books of the dense theological variety. I think that I’ve missed something and I need to re-read right now — but I don’t. I need to go back to non-fiction like I do fiction. I’m quite sure I’d get more out of the book the second time through. Do you re-read non-fiction?

For the fifth day of Christmas, a little song:

Drive the Lotus

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4th Day of Christmas: Best non-fiction of 2011

I mentioned yesterday that I was disappointed in a lot of the non-fiction I read in 2011. My disappointment had to do with a few things that I (sadly) found repeated from disappointing book to disappointing book. Some of these are:

a. the poor communication of ideas, that is to say uneven, or in some cases, downright bad writing;

b. repetition;

c. disconnected bits trying to be a united whole.

Most of the books that I was disappointed in were written by people with doctorates. This makes me wonder does no one edit these people? Does no one challenge the poor writing? Why not? I have a doctorate and I know that I do not always write well. I often misplace commas and write over-long sentences. I ask others to read what I write. I recognize the possibility that if someone misunderstands what I have written they may not be stupid, I might not have been clear. As I pointed out yesterday, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it is profound. It might just be poorly written. It could also be profound — I’m not sure I can explain the difference easily at this point. I might not even know the difference. This is a good project for future posts. Does anyone have any pointers for distinguishing between bad writing and profound writing?

On to the best non-fiction of 2011. I read two books that I immediately passed on to others. The first runner-up in the category best non-fiction is Take this Bread: The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first-century Christian, by Sara Miles. This is a conversion story that centres around food and the Christian life. Miles describes her journey in faith clearly and challenged me to think again about the idea of community and faith. One of her claims is you cannot be a Christian alone. I think this is very true, and I admired the way she talked about community, about the ways she has learned and is still learning that community is essential to the Christian faith. There are ways in which she gets this better than I do.

The best non-fiction I read this year is This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver. This is a great book. Daniel and Copenhaver are ministers in different settings and with different experiences of ministry but their stories complement each other and add to the bigger idea of what life in ministry is really like. Pastors and their families don’t have it all together, they need the Christian community as much as the rest of us — but they are called to lead communities in particular ways. Daniel and Copenhaver have provided all of us with a way into talking about the balance of life, faith, vocation, family, and leisure. I think this is a key work for anyone contemplating a call to ministry.

You might ask why I picked This Odd and Wondrous Calling over Take this Bread. It was a close call. I don’t agree with all the theological thinking/practice/living in these books, but both are well written and challenged me to think about my life and faith in new ways. I don’t agree more with TOAWC and less with TTB, but I think that my own vocation is closer to that of Daniel and Copenhaver than that of Miles. This is probably what tipped the balance in my mind. I recommend them both. Remember, we can’t be Christians alone, and one way of engaging with other Christians is reading books they write and thinking about them. Carefully.

Now that you’ve made it this far, the song of the day from Down Under.

12 Days, Aussie version

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On the Third Day of Christmas: Densest Book Read in 2011

Continuing with the 12 Days of Christmas, here is the Canadian Eh version of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Doug and Bob: And a Beer.

On to the award of the day: densest book read in 2011. Here dense means packed with ideas, not thick as a brick. I was disappointed in a lot of the non-fiction I read in 2011 — ideas were a little thin on the ground. There were two contenders for this award. The first runner-up is A History of Christian Thought by Paul Tillich. Lots of ideas, lots of interesting spins on the history of theology and Christian thinking, but possibly a tiny bit dated at this point.

The densest book I read this year was Reality and Evangelical Theology: The Realism of Christian Revelation by T.F. Torrance. This book is based on lectures given in 1981. On the back cover this book is called “one of his most accessible works.” If this is Torrance at his most accessible (ie readable) I’m not sure I’m ready for the not-so-accessible Torrance. RAET is a Christian epistemology. Torrance engaged with the work of Michael Polanyi, who I have not yet read, so I am probably at a disadvantage there. I’m fairly sure this book will repay re-reading in the future, but for now all I’ve got is wow. That was pretty packed with stuff and I’m not sure how much of it stuck in my head.

How about you? Any difficult but important reading in 2011?

On a side note, a colleague and I had a discussion the other day about whether academic books should be readable or not. I claimed that just because a book is difficult to understand it isn’t necessarily more profound than another work, easier to read. It might just be that the author can’t write. Possibly the author is confused by his or her own ideas and cannot communicate them clearly. Possibly the author who can communicate ideas clearly is just as profound — or more — than those who cannot. Maybe we get tangled up in difficult reading for no good reason. Thoughts? Feelings? Profound observations that are difficult to understand?

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On the Second Day of Christmas…

Yesterday I began the 12 Days of Christmas song-fest with some puppets and a person. Today we continue with talking animals who mostly sing the original lyrics.

Talking Animals Sing 12 Days

The year-end round-ups have begun — top news stories, best sports plays, top 2011 _____, where the blank can be filled in with almost anything. Because this is a blog about books, I’ll do a top reads of 2011 list. I’m afraid I’m rather reluctant to do this before the year ends. Why? Because I might read something in the next 4 days that is better than anything else I’ve read yet this year! Because I’ll mostly be reading fiction in the next four days (holidays), I’ll begin by looking at the non-fiction reads of 2011.

This year I didn’t read a lot of non-fiction that stood out as Really Good. That’s not to say that it was all bad or uninteresting or unimportant. I used the word “Dense” a lot in my notes. This doesn’t mean dense as in stupid, but dense as in packed with stuff, lots of ideas per page. Dense books are often difficult to read the first time, but make more sense the second time through. I can’t say whether this is the case for any of the books on my list this year as I’ve not yet re-read them. It does mean that I’ll award the  “Densest Book of 2011”  to one of the books.

I’m still thinking of other awards I’ll give out. I think that “Most Personally Helpful” and “Most likely to be Passed Out To Others” will be awarded. I’m not sure if I’ll give a “Most likely to be gotten rid of before I move” title to any of the non-fiction I read this year. I’ll have to look again. There may yet be something in that category. Look for the “Densest Book of 2011” award, to be announced tomorrow.

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Days/Daze of Christmas: Day One

Previously I noted my dismay that people were counting down the 12 days of Christmas as though they were before Christmas, not after Christmas. Please note that 12th night is the 5th January, that is Epiphany Eve. This means we are now in the 12 days of Christmas-tide. There is some debate about whether the twelfth day of Christmas follows the twelfth night and co-incides with Epiphany, or whether the first day of Christmas is Christmas Day, and thus the 12th day is the 5th January. Because I didn’t post yesterday, I declare that in this blog, this year, we begin the day count today, and days change over at sundown.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, on to the business of the first day of Christmas. For the next twelve days I’m going to include a link to a rendition of a version of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” In order to remind ourselves of the original words, we begin with some puppets and a person singing the lyrics that include “… and a partridge in a pear tree.”

Muppets 12 Days

On the First Day of Christmas I’d also like to note that I got the following books for Christmas:

1. Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader Edited by Katie Geneva Cannon, Emilie M. Townes, and Angela D. Sims. Hot off the press, published this fall by Westminster John Knox Press.

2. The Hunter by Richard Stark, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke. A graphic novel, given to me as an introduction to graphic novels by YoungestBrother (YBro).

3. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. Omnipresent on this year’s (Canadian and Commonwealth) book award shortlists. Won the Giller. From RestorationArchitectBrother (RABro).

4. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. Also omnipresent on this year’s (Canadian and Commonwealth) book awards shortlists. Won the Governor General’s (G.G.) Award & Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. From RABro.

5. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. New! Eugenides novel much reviewed and hallooed this fall. From RABro.

Last, but certainly not least, and sure to rise to the top of my pile,

6. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. Wahoo!! P.D. James does Austen fanfic! Can’t wait. Am only waiting as am in the middle of re-reading Anathem by Neal Stephenson and it is really really good. DCTP is next. Also from RABro, but I asked for it.

Pretty good pile. OK, off to eat gingerbread cookies and read.

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Christmas Vacation

It is time for a little break while Christmas happens. Look for more exciting posts next week!

Merry Christmas

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Giving Books

This past weekend was 1Fam Christmas in Toronto. I gave almost everybody books. These were well received. This makes me happy. The one that was most passed around and talked through was Russian Criminal Tattoos, Vol 3. Bet you didn’t know there were three volumes of books on Russian Criminal Tattoos! Now You Know. Trust me though, most of these you don’t want to see or think about. I’m sure they make an interesting sociological study, but visually, hmm.

I often give books because I like books and I like giving things I’d be happy to receive. I also think I’m good at picking out books for people. I could be wrong, they could all be faking happiness at the books I pick out, but I don’t think so. I listen and learn what people are interested in, often they might give me a starting point or criteria for books of interest (like my RestorationArchitectBrother, who gave me tips on what books are most useful to him — they must have illustrations including floor plans and drawings, not just photographs). But mostly I listen and try to plug into things of interest. I like the challenge of finding a book that fits.

Most people don’t give me books — they say things like I don’t know what you’ve already read. Or, you have so many books, and I don’t want to give you something you already have. Or, you have too many books already. See above on what I’d be happy to receive. I did get a book from YoungestBrother — a graphic novel. I told him I didn’t have a clue where to start with those, what did he recommend?

I bought books for 1Mom for Christmas and had to guess on what she’d read and hadn’t read. I have some idea of what she likes and reads, and since she’s a book addict like me, she’s read a lot. I had to go by our conversations and picked out books that I liked a lot that I was pretty sure were enough out of her range that she’d probably not read them. I did ok with that, mostly getting things she hadn’t read. This proves that one can actually purchase books for a book-lover and get them things they’ve not read.

Do you give books? What about receiving books? Is that an acceptable gift?

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A List of Interesting List-like Things I’ve Found This Week

1. Tales of the Nightstand, or To-Be-Read lists.

2. Why knowing that you’ll never read all the books in the world is a good thing. So all those True Confessions are ok. I’m not hopeless.

3. 12 Days of CanLit! (Aren’t the Twelve Days usually AFTER Christmas??)

4. How To Arrange Your Bookshelves — or not. An audio clip from BBC 4 with Alexander McCall Smith and the arrangement of books on bookshelves. Or the non-arrangement of same.

Happy Sunday Before Christmas!

(A celebratory song for the occasion. Hallelujah.)

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Current Reading or A Little Electricity for the Weekend Before Christmas

It isn’t quite time for the end-of-year lists from me, as the end of the year is still two weeks hence. Today I’m going to talk about current trends in my reading, and take a glance at my to-be-read piles. Really it is more like my to-be-read bookshelves as I’m a bit obsessive about collecting books and I don’t read them nearly as quickly as I collect them.

This past year has been one of new/different/odd mental space as I’ve been in contact with 1Mom since 2 January and we met for the first time in (mumble mumble) years on 9 January. I know my reading has been influenced by (a) my distracted state, and (b) the books she’s passed me. (Yes, she is also a constant reader.) Some things I’ve noticed:

A. I’ve read a lot of science fiction this year. This picked up in the second half of 2010, and I’ve been reading more in that direction than I have for years. It’s been kind of fun.

B. My concentration on non-fiction has dropped. I also think my selection of non-fiction was not as great this year. More of that in a moment.

C. I’ve not re-read as much this year as I have in previous years.

For the past year and a half I’ve been attempting to be disciplined about reading theology for an hour a day. I’ve not totally given up on this, but my distracted state means that the daily thing is not happening as much. I’ve got a lot of theological books in my to-be-read piles that I bought thinking I’d read them someday. Then I decided that someday had come and I needed to act like a theologian and read the books. So I started. I made a short list in four broad categories (biblical studies, theology, history, pastoral theology) and I read a book in one category, then move to the next. Since I started this scheme I’ve read 6 books in each category and I’m on the seventh cycle through. I hope this picks up speed again in the year ahead. Just finished: Figured Out by Christopher Seitz. It was a bit spotty. Some interesting things, enough for me to pass it on immediately. Current theological reading: Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology ed. Stanley Hauerwas and L. Gregory Jones. Next up: The Last Divine Office: Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Geoffrey Moorhouse.

In fiction-land I most recently read The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card. It was interesting, very Mormon theology influenced. I’m currently re-reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Very nice, it has pulled me right back in. I love the way a child’s reading experience is described near the beginning of the book.

“(I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being held buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now. Reading can be dangerous.)”

Oh yeah. Reading can be dangerous. Next up, I’m not sure. I’ve got wobbly stacks of books everywhere that have loads of possibilities for next reads in fiction-lands. I’ve picked up a few potentials over the past few days while Christmas shopping. Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card, House of Shards by Walter Jon Williams, Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, Sovreign by C.J. Sansom. Any of these, it depends how the mood strikes. Maybe something that’s been on the shelf for a longer time. We’ll see. Any suggestions?

In other news, a Blog interview of me was published yesterday. Check it out.

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