Category Archives: What to Read Next

Mysteries in the Vortex

Here we are in another Polar Vortex. In honour of the cold, a list of 50 essential mysteries to read when you cannot possibly go outside has been posted over at Flavorwire. This list is an entertaining read, though it is heavy on USAian Noir, and light on the British mysteries I like. I have noted a few books from the list to hunt down.

In the meantime, I’ve got a lovely pile of books to get me through any vortices that might spin my way this week. I got both Atwood and Atkinson (MaddAddam, and Life after Life respectively) for Christmas. I’m also slowly making my way through a really interesting library book called Time’s Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination by Richard Morris. I first heard about the book on a podcast, and it is fascinating. The book won a prize for non-fiction books in the UK, and I am not surprised. It is quite good. It also riffs off on the philosophy/idea of time. I like it when a book does that.

What are you reading?

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Too Much?

Last year I resolved to read more older books. This year I resolved to do the same, but more. Fifteen days into the resolve, I wonder if it was too much to do a same-song-second-verse-a-little-bit-louder-and-a-little-bit-worse kind of resolution. It feels like it is taking a lot of concentration and thought to find the older books to read. But I thought the same thing last year.

I made the resolution again because I have more unread old books that I want to read. Last year having a goal that I wrote about here in public meant I read more far more of these than I would have otherwise. It also meant that I re-read all of my Dorothy Sayers books, which felt like a bit of a cop-out. In the fall almost all my older books were Sayers. Of course, now Sayers is out of the road, and I can’t use her as a fall-back this year. Plus there are a lot of other old books which are just as enjoyable as Sayers. I’ve just got to find them.

Currently on my Old-Book-To-Be Read Pile I’ve got A Passage to India (E.M. Forster, 1924), Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie, 1934), and Assignment in Eternity (Robert A. Heinlein, 1953). I’m currently listening to The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920, introduces Hercule Poirot) and have just finished Landfall by Nevil Shute. You might see a new pattern developing, but don’t worry — while it might be fun to revisit a select few Agatha Christie, I have no intention of reading the complete Hercule Poirot as I’m not a fan of Christie’s as I am of Sayers. The only other Christie books I’ll consider re-visiting are Death on the Nile and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I’m more likely to re-read most of Nevil Shute’s oeuvre. Shute worked with aeroplanes in the early 20th century and his fiction reflects his knowledge. The aerospace engineer  in me finds his books fascinating.

Last year I didn’t get to Dickens or Conan Doyle or H.G. Wells. They are on my list of authors to get to (through?) this year. Do you have any suggestions for other older books I should consider?

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Thinking Ahead

This year I’ve had a couple of reading projects on the go. Reading Old Books was fun and interesting. I think I’ll try to keep going with the older books for next year. Reading LOST books is ongoing. I didn’t read nearly as many as I thought I might.

I’ve been thinking about possible new projects for 2014. I came across this post, in which the author read only books by women in 2013. It might be obvious to some readers of the words in this space that I study women authors, more specifically, women who wrote about the Bible in the nineteenth century and other distant times. I’m not sure what the gender balance of the authors I read in 2013 looks like. I’ll figure it out as part of my year-end assessment on January 1. I’m not sure I’ll shift to 100% women in 2014, but I think I’ll be more intentional about looking for women authors, particularly in theological reading. That would be an interesting challenge/project.

What about you? Any reading projects happening?

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Making Reading Lists

A friend of mine has a whole month off over Christmas this year because he’s lucky and his exams end early. He plans to read. In that light, he asked me to pass him some recommendations, particularly in theology. This has led me to reflect on the making of reading lists in general, so I pass on my reflections to you.

  1. Start with what interests you. My friend — who I’ll call Cakebane (because cake is what he cuts with swords) — is interested in history. I’m not sure exactly which history courses Cakebane is taking this year at university, but if he chooses correctly he could end up with a Classics minor, so I know he’s got some interest in the ancient world. I will take this interest into consideration as I select possibilities for his reading list. But I will also tell him to start with what interests him most.
  2. Your reading list is not someone else’s reading list. As I began to think about this month-long block of time Cakebane has at Christmas I began to think “What would I read if I had a month off at Christmas?” But my reading list is not his reading list. I think I might plunge into The City of God by St. Augustine if I had a month to read. I’m not sure Cakebane wants that particular challenge this Christmas, though, he might. Don’t feel constrained by what other people are reading. Your reading list is not someone else’s reading list.
  3. Consider your location in life when putting together a list. Things change. You change. One of the things that happens when you read is that your reading changes you. I can read things now that I couldn’t read before because I’ve got more reading experience in some areas. For example, I’ve read a fair amount in the theological disciplines. I read theological books differently now than I did when I began to study. I also have more life experience now than previously. Never mind how much life experience I’ve got, just know that I’ve got more than Cakebane. Thus his reading list will reflect his life and reading experience.
  4. Let one interesting book lead to anotherI’ve mentioned before in this space that I like bibliographies. (I’ve said so more than once, and mentioned that bibliographies are part of how I figure out what to read next.) You can set up a reading list, but sometimes when you read one book, it leads you to something not on your list. Go there. Don’t be restricted. Then when that rabbit trail ends, go back to your list. This week as I read a footnote in my current Theology Reading List book, I was reminded of a memoir I picked up in the summer. Guess where I’m going next?
  5. Be flexible. This flows from point 4. Once you have a reading list, don’t feel bound to it, particularly if you’ve only got a limited time. If you’ve got a good reason for being disciplined about the list, then possibly you should be selective about the bookish rabbit trails you follow. If, however, this is a list to broaden your horizons, then follow your instincts. If that book in the footnote looks more interesting than the next book on your list, go for it. If the tenth book on the list catches your eye more than the second, skip down! Be flexible.

Happy reading list compiling. Let me know what is on your To Be Read List/Pile.

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Old Books: An update one month in

You may recall that I resolved this year to read one older book (which I defined as originally published pre-1970) for every two newer books (those published since 1970). Despite my backlist-reading tendencies, most books that I read have been published in the last 42 years, thus reading the older books takes a bit of planning. I’ve got lots of older books on my shelves, but here’s one problem around my resolution — can I read a bunch of old books in a row, then read a bunch of new books in a row and keep the proportion right in the end? I think that is ok, but I think it would be too easy to read a bunch of new books and assume I’ll catch up later with the old book reading. Plus, if I’m being honest, I find the newer books more attractive right now. I enjoy reading older books, but they take a tiny bit more effort, and sometimes what I really want is a nice murder mystery. Hah! I should break out Dorothy L. Sayers! Murder mysteries that are also older books! What a great idea.
Back to older books, not by Dorothy L. I read many books at once. Right now I’ve got three active reads (I’ve picked them up in the last week) and a few other more inactive reads. Only one of my active reads is an old book, Barchester Towers. I think I need to make sure I’ve always got at least one older book on the go. And it helps to know where the next older book can come from. That makes the process easier.


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is the very last letter of the English Alphabet. As related to books I read, or how I choose books, Z (pronounced “Zed”) is for Zany

Zany. Crazy. Funny. Edgy. I like all these things in books. I tend to like the quieter sort of Zaniness, the kind that comes out in edgy wit or in crazy stunts that take brains to plan and pull off, not the kind that runs around screaming mindlessly just to appear fun and crazy. I like the Starbuck sort of character (Battlestar Galactica people, get on board). That’s my idea of a good zany character. Gaius Baltar (still BSG), he’s just weird. He’s not even a good geek. Ick. But I’m supposed to talk about reading here, not (excellent) TV shows. Zany means Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It means books by Adrian Plass. It means the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. What? You’ve not heard of Thursday Next? Go now to the library, do not pass Go, collect The Eyre Affair, and meet Thursday Next. You’ll be pleased to know that the series gets better and better as it goes along. I think I liked First Among Sequels the best. I’d have to revisit them to make sure though.

On a completely different note, Lent starts today. I hope you had all your pancakes and goodies last night, because Lent is a fasting and penitential season. Some of you may be wearing ashes as you read. I’m not giving up blogging for Lent, but I’m going to blog about Lent and my understanding of the 40 days before Easter. I learn about Lent mostly from reading theology and the Bible, so books will still be included. Hopefully I’ll learn more about Lent and the spiritual disciplines in the next 40 days. Sundays are non-fast days during Lent. If I’ve got something to say about current reading or something pops up that needs an update, I’ll post non-Lent things on the occasional Sunday.

For now, from the Canadian Book of Common Prayer, a prayer from the penitential service on Ash Wednesday:

Almighty and everlasting God, who forgavest the people of Nineveh when they repented in sackcloth and ashes: Mercifully grant that we, truly repenting of our sins, may obtain of thee perfect pardon and release; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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is for Youth.

I do a little youth ministry, mostly at camp. These days I’m primarily involved in an LIT program. I’ve directed the Jr. High girls camp (did that for 12 years) and also worked with senior high and college students. I also taught high school math and science (did that for 8 years), which is also youth ministry/youth work when you get right down to it. I’ve got a lot of books on my shelves about youth work. Many of these say a lot of the same thing; it feels like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. There are a few that stand out. Here are five that stick in my head:

1. The Godbearing Life by Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster (1998). I think this is now in a second edition. I highly recommend this book. It talks about relational youth ministry in a realistic way that gets to the heart of the matter.

2. Portrait of Youth Ministry by Maria Harris (1981). This may seem dated, but Harris’s discussion and definition of ministry in general and youth ministry in particular is very helpful.

3. Youth, World and Church by Sara Little (1968). Surely Little’s book is past its sell-by date in the youth ministry world? No. Little discusses issues still relevant, though parts of the book are dated. Little argues that youth are serving the church and the world NOW, thus youth ministry should equip them for this service. This is still a valid thesis. Little is thought-provoking even for 21 C youth minstry.

4. Black and White Styles of Youth Ministry: Two Congregations in America by William Myers (1991). Absolutely fascinating study of the youth ministry at two churches in the American mid-west. One church studied was suburban and white, the other urban and black. Really really interesting thoughts on style and culture and the gospel.

5. Like Dew Your Youth by Eugene Peterson (1994). This is a great book about parenting teens.

Remember this blog is about Backlist books, not the most recent youth stuff out there. See above on if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. These are the stand-outs that I’ve encountered. How about you?

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is for Xenophile. Look it up.

I like British writers. I’ve said this before. This may make me a xenophile. Canadian authors are ok, but I find Canadian literature tends to the depressive side. This is not always true, but there are some writers from Canada who probably mostly wrote during the winter, when the lack of sun influenced their mood. Just saying.

I enjoy reading books in translation, but I recognize that anytime a work of literature is translated into English, something happens to the book. Different translators have different ways of rendering a book or poem or whatever into English. The translation of a literary work is in itself a literary act, one could argue. In theology this can be seen in the variety of Bible translations that exist and the enormous amount of heat and light generated by people arguing over which English translation is superior. Each translation has a slightly different theory of translation and usually has a large number of scholars working on it. Then look at serious Bible commentaries, which usually contain the commentator’s English translation of the original text. It is fascinating what divergences are possible over rendering the same Greek or Hebrew text into another language. Fascinating. Since such variance can be seen in the multiple English translations of the Bible, it will probably also be the case that different English translators of (say) Tolstoy will provide slightly different versions of a book in English. INteresting. How does one decide which one to read?

Do you read books in translation? How do you decide which translation to read if multiple options are available? Or do you pick the one in the course text list because that is the only time you read literature in translation — for a course?

In other news, I finished The Great Divorce. Huh, I wonder why I’ve never read that before. Really good and really interesting. If you haven’t read that particular C.S. Lewis work, go and do that now. It’ll take you an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the interruptions around you. Totally worth it.

For those of you wondering what will happen after I hit Z in the current series, worry not. I have it figured out. All will be revealed on Ash Wednesday, the day I post about Z. Tune in then for the next Backlist series announcement.

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I got a Scrabble mug for Christmas with W on it.

is for Women.

Are you really surprised by this? I research and write about women interpreters of the Bible, of course W is for Women. It only makes sense.

In the novel Unless, by the brilliant Carol Shields, the main character is a feminist who becomes more aware as the novel progresses how many feminist battles are still being fought. One of the character’s particular concerns, the one that jumped out at me when I read the novel the first time, is that books considered Important are often written by men. Where are all the women? Surely some women must have recorded thoughts that are Important in Books. This reflection on the male dominated canon of Books to Read in Unless made me look carefully at the books I read. Are they by both men and women? Is the gender of the author related to the genre of the book? Things that made me go hmmm.

Possession (that book again) is also about genre, writing, and reading from a different angle. The key characters are two twentieth-century academics, one male and one female, researching two nineteenth-century poets, one male and one female. The book contains interesting discussions on gender and reading and writing particularly in an academic setting. Very Interesting.

I’ve noted previously that published reading lists I’ve encountered tend to be male dominated. Has anyone found a reading guide that isn’t? Do tell.

Lots of people I know, women included, inform me that they’d read more books written by women if they existed. Really. Have you looked? Here is a list of some Important Women Who Wrote Ideas Down (available in English) that you should investigate:

Margery Kempe (I’ve mentioned her before)

Julian of Norwich

Elizabeth I

Christine de Pizan

Hildegard of Bingen

Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke

The Bluestockings

Hannah Adams

Harriet Martineau

Caroline Cornwallis

That’s a start anyhow, and I’ve barely begun. Check them out. Google them. Find their works on the internet archive. Read Women Writers.

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Ain’t no hearts and flowers here.

Lookit that scary skeleton frightening the guy on the horse. V could be for Violence. I don’t usually go for Violent books, though I do read murder mysteries, spy stories, and war books. Instead of Violence we’ll go with Variety.

V is for Variety.

I like variety in my reading. Sometimes I go on an author binge, but then I can’t read the person for some time after that. It’s like having the same thing for dinner all the time. A little variety goes a long way. I also don’t read the same genre all the time. Some Science Fiction should be mixed with some Mystery or Historical Fiction or some other kind of book. Variety is the spice of life, to use a cliche.

In the Various books I read, I have read a little about Vampires. The Constant Reader hoped I didn’t read Vampire books when she suggested that V could stand for Vampire. But I’ve read some. Recently. I read the first five Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. “True Blood,” the HBO Vampire series, is based on the Sookie Stackhouse books. While Harris’s books tend to the comic, they have a bit too much of the gruesome in them for me to continue to read them. I found the first five in a local used book shop (big surprise to all of you I realize) and they were ok, but not good enough for me to look for more. I’ve never watched the show, so I can’t comment on that. Sookie and Vampire mysteries with a surreal comic edge have added to the Variety of books I’ve read over the last six months.

My Neighbour suggested that V could stand for Victorious, as in Oh Sweet Victory, I’ve finished this book which was a real slog to get through. In the Various books I read, I do encounter books that require a battle to finish, and, at times, I feel Victorious when they are finished. Most often when I finish a tough read, though, I don’t feel Victorious, rather I feel Vindicated. Possibly Valourous. Maybe Vindictive. Even Virtuous. Such a Variety of V-feelings to choose from after Valiantly battling through to the end of a difficult book. A lot of the theology I read has a Valiant battle aspect to it. Some of the non-fiction I read is poorly written and edited. I’ve complained about that before (Vindictive). Other times, the book may be reasonably well written, but the ideas are dense on the page and one must creep slowly through the tangle of thoughts and try to grasp the pattern of the whole. It can be rewarding to do so and the end result is positive (Victory! Virtue! Valour!).

What Various Virtuous Volumes are you reading these days? Oh, that reminds me. It seems that The Great Divorce should climb to the top of my TBR pile. It comes next, after Started Early, Took My Dog, which, so far, is Atkinson at her edgy and odd best.


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