Category Archives: lists

Favourite Non-Fiction Books

After posting my ten favourite novels I got thinking about a top-ten non-fiction list. This turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be. I’ve got a list of non-fiction books that I like and have been influential, but how do you pick favourites? And how do you eliminate some of these? I’m not sure. So I have two lists.

The first list is my current top ten, ordered alphabetically by title. Here it is:

An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis

Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner

Holy Writing Sacred Text by John Barton

How To Read Slowly by James W. Sire

Outsmarting IQ by David Perkins

Second Words by Margaret Atwood

The Call of Stories by Robert Coles

The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education by Walter Brueggemann

The Godbearing Life by Kenda Creasy Dean

The Science of God by Alister McGrath

The second list is the next twenty books. These books might make a top ten list given more or different criteria, or given a different week or month. I couldn’t quite bump them up, but neither could I let them go. So here they are for your consideration, again alphabetically by title.

100 Ways to Improve your Writing by Gary Provost

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Between Two Worlds by John R.W. Stott

Black and White Styles of Youth Ministry by William R. Myers

Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris

Everybody’s Favourites by Arlene Pearly Rae

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Like Dew Your Youth by Eugene Peterson

Of This and Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis

Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative by Adele Berlin

Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

Take and Read by Eugene Peterson

Texts of Terror by Phyllis Trible

The Bluestocking Circle by Sylvia Harstock Myers

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers

The Original Vision by Edward Robinson

The Scope of Our Art by L. Gregory Jones

This Odd and Wondrous Calling by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell

How about you, any favourite non-fiction reads?

 

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Ten Favourite Novels

My friend the Outdoor Voice recently asked for a list of my ten favourite books. Similar requests have been made by other friends via various social media at various times. This is a hard question. To make it easier, I decided to produce both a fiction and non-fiction list, thus (sneakily) doubling my choices.

These are my favourite novels. The first 9 are in alphabetical order by title (excluding “the” of course), and the tenth is my favourite book. Please note that Possession tops anything non-fictional I’ve read, so it would be my number 1 whether or not I made two lists.

  • The Children of Men by P.D. James
  • Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Killing the Shadows by Val McDermid
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
  • Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

And the top of my list:

  1. Possession by A.S. Byatt

I sat with this list for a couple of weeks. A few books almost made it, but then were cut in favour of others. I frequently consulted my database of books I have read (records kept since July 1993) in making the list. I excluded two series from consideration: The Chronicles of Narnia and the Potter books. Both of those are favourites, but in both cases the series must be taken as a whole, not split apart. I realize that you can get Narnia all in one volume, but the order is wrong in that volume (in my humble opinion of course).

Which of your favourites are missing from my list?

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Influence Part Second

Some people with some time on their hands searched Facebook for everyone’s lists of ten influential books/books that stayed with them, then compiled the top twenty. I’m pleased to say that not a single one of my ten books of influence made the top list. I’ve read most of the books on the list (16/20) but none is in my books of influence list.

Are you one of the mob? Or do you stand alone?

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Influence, what is this influence?

Ten Influential Books:

My friend Slick tagged me on her list of 10 influential books. Slick managed to squeeze in 12 or so by using letters with some numbers. I have kept it to ten. I’m not sure these are THE ten, but they are the ten that I can think of right now. I’ve avoided putting the Bible first; take that as underlying the rest – possibly it is the zeroth entry. I am, after all, a PK who could recite Luke 2 (King James Version) from a very early age. (The recitation of Luke 2 is an excellent Christmas party trick. My RABrother pulls it out from time to time.)

  1. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis: Gateway Narnia book for me.
  2. The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch: Time travel is a (fictional) possibility. Time Travel!
  3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: First grown-up mystery book I read, assigned reading in Grade 10, got me hooked on mysteries for good.
  4. Loving God by Charles Colson: First venture into reading Christian theology-type books.
  5. Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood: Hmm, literary fiction is interesting – Canadian literary fiction no less.
  6. The Call of Stories by Robert Coles: Pulled together a theory I had lurking in my head about teaching and stories. I’d tried something with science fiction when teaching high school physics, and reading Coles convinced me I was on to something.
  7. The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe: Writing a paper on Kempe convinced me that I could be a scholar. It also got me into the women.
  8. Possession by A.S. Byatt: I connect with this book. It is the Best Book Ever – IMHO, of course.
  9. Mystical Paths by Susan Howatch: I also connect with this book, in a different way than Possession, but definitely there are connections.
  10. Room by Emma Donoghue: This book is so interesting and suspenseful and it was also the first book 1Mom passed me to read. We both thought it was great.

What are your ten influential books? What do you mean by influence?

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Get your Summer Reading On

Summer reading, depending on your definition, could be anything from beach brain candy to something heavy that you need more time and space and sunlight to get into. What does your reading list look like?

These days my summer list looks like a list from any other season — it depends on my mood, what is available, and other hard-to-define factors. I’ve been looking at other people’s lists for ideas (as usual), so here are some lists that I’ve looked at for your own amusement.

Ten unlikely heroes of children’s literature. I just finished Wizard of Earthsea for the first time, so I’ve just met Ged. I must admit that I’ve not met many of these unlikely heroes. I may have to work on that.

Books people think they’ll actually finish this summer. This list comes from readers responding to a Powell’s bookshop enquiry about the state of their summer reading. The photo of the Harry Potter books in this list is so great. I like my collected-over-time Potter set, but I think I’d trade it for this set, just for the look on the shelf. Check it out.

CBC’s list of 100 books (plus 10 more) that make you proud to be Canadian. To be honest, I saw the plus ten list first and I was a little shocked that some of these weren’t on the original 100! Who doesn’t put Anne of Green Gables on a list of 100 proudly Canadian books?!? Of the plus 10, I’ve read 4, and of the original 100 I’ve read 12, though I have many of the others on my shelf with good intentions. I should get on those good intentions and be a little more intentionally Canadian for part 2 of summer reading.

If you are looking for a new place to read this summer, this article suggests a bar between meals when it is only you and the bartender. I’m actually better with a coffee shop, though a mostly empty diner also works well for that isolation factor.

How’s your reading this summer? Anything good? What do you recommend?

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Lists!

I found a couple of new lists of books on the web this week. In case you need reading suggestions for July, here they are:

  • The Top 20 Novels Set in Toronto. Local Literature! How exciting. I’ve read five from this list, including the Fionavar Trilogy, which is actually three books. In this case “top” means popular, which explains the breadth of the list. It includes fantasy (the Fionavar Trilogy), graphic novels (Scott Pilgrim), and books by CanLit icons (Atwood, Ondaatje). (5/20 = 25% of this list I’ve read)
  • 100 Greatest American Novels. 100 years, 100 novels, “American” novels, though some of the USAians listed work abroad (ex. Plath, Hemingway), and buddy who wrote the list includes William Gibson (born in the USA works in Canada) but not Carol Shields (same pedigree) which I find a tiny bit odd. His criteria are clear, and he invites revisions to the list with the rule being to add something you must eliminate something else. I’ve read 8/100 or 8% of this list. I tend to prefer British or Canadian writers I think, which may skew these results.
  • Time 100 Best Novels since 1923 (the beginning of TIME, haha.) I’ve read 19% of this list. Lev Grossman was involved in making the list, so he included Possession, a critical inclusion in my books.
  • Modern Library 100 best novels list includes two lists on one page, how handy. One list is the Modern Library Board’s list, the other is a Reader’s list. I’ve read 12% of the Board’s list and 26% of the Reader’s list. The Reader’s list is oddly skewed toward science fiction, which may indicate that somewhere someone was stuffing the ballot box in some way, or that only scifi fans found a way to participate in making the list.

So there you go, handy dandy reading lists for this July weekend.

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A Dozen Books of Influence

Karen Swallow Prior recently wrote an article called “Classic literary works to challenge the thinking Christian” in which she lists 12 + 1 (a baker’s dozen) works she recommends because they are challenging but rewarding, and all have helped her “to love the Lord my God with all my soul, all my strength, and all my mind—and to be a better steward of this world in which God has placed us.”

It is a good list. I’ve nothing against Prior’s list. So far I’ve read 2 of her 13, and have at least three others on my shelf. I agree that the list is challenging. I started one of the books she lists, and was not able to go on after about a page. I’ve not had the courage to try again, though everyone raves about Beloved. (Does this count as a true confession? Probably.) Though Prior’s list is good, it isn’t my list. So I’ve come up with a list of my own, not to replace hers, and not with exactly the same criteria. I made a list of books, works of fiction, that have in some way shaped my spiritual life and thinking. Often a particular author has been a spiritual guide in many works, but I have only chosen one work by any author.

Disclaimer: These are all works of fiction, and I don’t think any of them is classified as “Christian Fiction” anywhere. Some come closer to actually being that than others. Just because a novel is on Prior’s list, or on my list, you shouldn’t think it is “safe” or happy-clappy or filled with people going to church. These books gave me some kind of positive spiritual insight, but they are not in the least preachy.

  1. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve set this as an option for an intro to the OT class I taught. I have enjoyed students’ thoughts on this as well, and learned from them.
  2. John Wyndham, The Chrysalids. I’ve also set this for that OT intro class. This has some striking ideas about what it means to be created Imago Dei.
  3. P.D. James, The Children of Men. You may notice a speculative/science fiction bent to this list so far. Yes, that is true. Sometimes by writing about worlds askew somehow from reality, writers are better able to comment on lived reality.
  4. Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. And a fantasy novel?? Yes. See above remark. Also see the works of C.S. Lewis, who I have not included on this list anywhere.
  5. Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana. More fantasy. Don’t worry, I’ll turn to more “serious” fiction next. If, however, you think that the speculative/science fiction and/or fantasy is less serious than other kinds of fiction, I refer you again to that guy Lewis.
  6. John Grisham, The Last Juror. Yes, this could be classified as genre fiction of a certain kind (Thriller? Mystery?). Grisham is, however, a good story-teller, and his stories can pack a punch. You don’t need to go to the classics for the possibility of life-change.
  7. Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection. At last! A canonical writer! Bet you’ve never heard of this Tolstoy though. You should check it out. It is his last novel.
  8. Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory. More solid recognized fiction, even recognized as Christian. I read Resurrection and The Power and the Glory this year. The timing was good for me on both of them. If you don’t find them appealing now, try again some other time.
  9. Susan Howatch, Mystical Paths. Again, Howatch’s Church of England series is pretty churchy, but not in a conventional way. I picked this one out of all of them because it was the one that resonated with me most when I read it.
  10. Chaim Potok, In the Beginning. All of Potok’s books belong on this list, as with Howatch above. Let’s just leave it there. With Potok we end the obviously religious books.
  11. Emma Donoghue, Room. This is a life-altering book. I’ve heard lots of people say so. I don’t think anyone who says that has exactly the same experience reading the book. You should try it.
  12. A.S. Byatt, Possession. I debated putting this book on this list. It could also be on a list of books that have influenced my personal life, or resonated with me personally/emotionally/intellectually. It does all those things, but it also has spiritual resonance.

And now the plus one for the baker’s dozen. Ready for it?

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ll just leave it there for you to ponder.

What about you? Books that have influenced your spiritual life in some way?

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Ten (non-fiction) books on my To-Be-Read Pile

Yesterday I inflicted part of my fiction To-Be-Read Pile upon you. Today, it is time for non-fiction. These are all books in the actual piles in my apartment. They are not on shelves. Some of them are borrowed from the library or from kind, accommodating friends. Again, these are in no particular order.

  1. The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition by C.S. Lewis. Scored a seventies reprint at a used bookshop. Looking forward to Lewis on Literature.
  2. The Lord as Their Portion: The Story of the Religious Orders and How They Shaped Our World by Elizabeth Rapley. It looks interesting and the title is intriguing and there is a great photo of cloisters on the front.
  3. Thomas Cranmer by Diarmaid MacCulloch. A biography of a Very Important English Reformer. And he has a great beard in the cover painting. I borrowed this from the accommodating friends.
  4. The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs. A biography of C.S. Lewis with a cool picture of him and a lion drawing on the cover.
  5. Better Living: In Pursuit of Happiness from Plato to Prozac by Mark Kingwell. A local Philosophy prof writes popular essays.
  6. The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund De Waal. About a nineteenth-century art collector and his collection and his family.
  7. Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Michael Casey. More monastic practice, but with notes for current practice of this ancient art.
  8. A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland. Recommended to me by a friend last summer, but I haven’t quite gotten past getting it to reading it.
  9. Theology, Music and Time by Jeremy S. Begbie. I’ve heard Begbie a couple of times and am fascinated by what he’s said on both occasions. Now I also want to read his stuff.
  10. Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II by Keith Lowe. About the terrible, wild, and crazy things that happened at the end of the second war. I heard this guy lecture on a podcast and went after the book.

What non-fictional, reality-based things are you reading these days?

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Nine (fiction) books on my to be read pile

True Confessions: I went to a bookshop today. Is anyone surprised? I was. I wasn’t really planning on it, but it turns out the new Book City Bloor West is open. I am so happy there are books in the ‘hood again, I went in and bought books. The three books I bought have been added to my growing To Be Read Pile. Here are 9 randomly grabbed books from my fiction to be read pile. The first three I bought today, the others I acquired as noted.

  1. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Why have I not noticed this book before? Possibly people have pointed it out to me but I couldn’t see it for various reasons.
  2. Divergent by Veronica Roth. Now A Major Motion Picture! But I’ve also been intrigued by what I’ve heard about this YA dystopia. My friend the Library Page is a fan.
  3. Longbourn by Jo Baker. My Orthodox Colleague is muttering about the pollution of the shades of Pemberley again, but I can’t help it. It is Austen FanFic.
  4. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. I got this for Christmas but Whim has not taken me to this book quite yet. I’ll get there soon. Almost there. (I’ve just finished reading The Pleasures of Reading in An Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs, who talks about reading Serendipty and Whim. These things, he argues, are vital to the well-rounded reading life.)
  5. Millenium by John Varley. A Time Travel Thriller! according to the cover. I recently re-read a Varley book (Red Thunder) and enjoyed it so much I went Varley-hunting in several used bookshops. I scored a bunch. This is one of them.
  6. The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe. Lent to me by 1Mom a while ago, but Whim has not yet encouraged me to open the cover.
  7. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The ambitious choice. I picked this mass market seventies edition up at one of my local used bookshops. The owner and I had a little chat about whether it was actually a readable book or not. We both agreed that the mass market format made it less formidable looking.
  8. Domino by Ross King. I’ve read King before and enjoyed his historical fiction. I found this used somewhere, so I picked it up.
  9. Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom. I really like Sansom’s murder mysteries set in the reign of Henry VIII. This is not so much set in the reign of Henry VIII, but I thought I’d give Sansom’s other work a try as well.

What is on your to be read pile?

 

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Eight Books that Blew Me Away

I list these eight in addition to the six-that-stick other-worldly books I wrote about the other day. These are in no particular order, but are clustered as indicated by the subtitles.

Books other people recommended to me that I was pretty skeptical about:

  1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The Norwegian gave this book to me. I was pretty skeptical. How interesting can a book about a tiger and a boy in a boat be? If this is what you think, think again. It is really good. Try it and see.
  2. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Again, this is the Norwegian’s fault. I should just stop being skeptical of books she gives me and read them. This book won the Booker Prize in 1997. I don’t think the Booker is infallible (there are a couple of Booker-winners that I thought were duds) but I’ve usually enjoyed the winners. This one kept me glued to the pages, plus the writing is beautiful.
  3. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. 1Mom recommended this one to me. I was slightly skeptical because of the title. But I thought I’d give it a try. I usually like the books 1Mom recommends, though we don’t always see eye-to-eye on every book. (Her theory is that this is timing. Sometimes a book comes to you at the right time. I think there’s more to it than that, but agree that timing is important.) This book blew me away for a variety of reasons, not least that it is a window on worlds I didn’t know existed.

Books other people recommended to me, no skepticism to overcome:

  1. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. One of my math students recommended this to me. “You are religious, right? And you like computers? You would like this book.” Who can resist this recommendation?
  2. Room by Emma Donoghue. This was the first book 1Mom lent me. I read it pretty much in one sitting. It blew me away. Look for the resurrection in it.

Books I read because of the author, but were better than I expected:

  1. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. Link this to Cutting for Stone because of the twins if you must, but this is something else entirely. Surreal. Haunting. Mind-blowing. All of these things. Fair warning: it is not The Time-Traveler’s Wife in any way, they just happen to share an author.
  2. Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams. I expected a nice little scifi adventure and got my mind blown. Kaboom! You should read it even if you don’t like science fiction. It is philosophical. Yes, yes it is. Mind-blowingly philosophical.
  3. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Potok’s book stick in my head in general, but this one sticks out more than the others. I’m not sure exactly why that is. Some of it is the art discussion I think.

So there are my 8 books that blew my mind. Which books blow your mind?

Follow-up from the number 7:

Many of you have read my previous post about books I’m not interested in reading — in fact the post has turned out to be the most popular post I’ve published in some time, with over two hundred hits in the last couple of days. I’ve enjoyed the feedback, both in comments on the blog and on fb. I’m not actually sure that I’m open to reconsidering some of the books on that list (as the Constant Reader astutely pointed out on fb), but I’m thinking about some of them in a different way now that you have spoken. Keep speaking! Who knows what will happen.

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