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2010 In The Books (Fiction)

Every year I mean to write down the books I read as I read them, but I never remember to. So, below you’ll find a list of what I can remember that I read this past year. So fascinating, I know. Please don’t hyperventilate.

I’d love to bore you with more details, like which books I loved and which not so much, but I won’t. Most were good (Winter’s Tale), some were transporting (Paradise Lost). I’m linking only to books of friends and a few others, because of a long and complicated reason, best summed up by the following: I don’t want to do the rest. You can find ’em if you want to. I’d be glad to answer individual questions about any in an e-mail, or in person (like age appropriateness, negative depictions of Appalachians, etc.). I’m psyched out of doing a Top 10, or any ranking, so don’t look for that.

I’m a very slow reader, but audiobooks have rescued me. I listen to a lot of them. They do count, by the way. Don’t hate, participate.

I do read a lot of fiction (compared with my non-fiction reading). Part of that is to try to learn the craft of novelizing and improve at what I think is a calling on my life. Another is that I love fiction and think it is very valuable –even to Bible study. Of particular value to Bible study (which I love) is reading old literature from another culture which has been updated or translated. I got a few shots at that by reading Gilgamesh, Beowulf (and their excellent accompanying essays), and Ancient Near-Eastern Texts Related To The Old Testament. These are of great value for understanding how language works, how cultural idioms are related in verse, and how the world that is past is still understandable (to some extent).

Another value that relates specifically to understanding the Bible is the form of genre. It helps to read poetry, history, tales, prayers, etc. The Bible is a collection of a lot of different kinds of writing and it helps to see what those genres are like, to better interpret what is intended. I’d love to write a little more (on the very little I know) about Bible study, but for now I’ll just say this. To me, it seems really important to notice what the author is emphasizing (repetition, location in text, etc.) and to remove as many barriers to interpretation as possible (ignorance of genre, history, language, idioms etc.). More on that later? Or, do yourself a favor and read some one who knows what they are talking about, like David Dorsey in The Literary Structure Of The Old Testament (especially the first few chapters).

This will be the Fiction list, with the Not Fiction edition coming in a couple of days.

Gilgamesh (New English Version by Stephen Mitchell)

Beowulf (Seamus Heaney)

The Children of Hurin (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootten Major (reread, J.R.R. Tolkien)

Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (reread, ed. Walter Hooper)

Tree and Leaf (J.R.R. Tolkien)

100 Cupboards (N.D. Wilson)

Angela’s Ashes (re-read, by Frank McCourt)

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Suzanna Clark)

Paradise Lost (John Milton)

Fiddler’s Green (A.S. Peterson)

Straight Man (Richard Russo)

The Charlatan’s Boy (Jonathan Rogers)

Hannah Coulter (Wendell Berry)

Merlin’s Blade (Robert Treskillard)

Winter’s Tale (Mark Helprin)

The Martian General’s Daughter (Theodore Judson)

The Book of the Dunn Cow (Walter Wangerin Jr.)

Continued The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency Series (Alexander McCall Smith)

Book 2: Tears of the Giraffe

Book 3: Morality for Beautiful Girls

Book 4: The Khalahari Typing School For Men

The Fortune of War (Patrick O’Brian)

Some More P.G. Wodehouse, including Summer Lightning.

I know there were others, but I can’t remember and the library won’t give me a printout unless I’m from the C.I.A. (true).


  1. Read Dunn Cow and 100 Cupboards as well, enjoying both. I definitely agree about the strengths of reading fiction for Bible interpretation. I see it day to day as I read histories and novels and then read the Scriptures (esp. OT), which are ancient history, which is to say its told as a story. Reading the OT as narrative and not simply as a moral textbook does wonders for its enjoyability factor, that is, if enjoyability is a word.

  2. The 100 Cupboards series was fantastic. I just started The Charlatan’s Boy. 100 pages in and I love it. Fiddler’s Green. Awesome. Duh. I read The Children of Hurin when it came out. A little disjointed (I believe it was pieced together from an unfinished manuscript) but a great book. I started Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell but haven’t gotten very far.

    Have you considered using GoodReads.com? It helps me keep track of what I’ve read and gives you stats for each year of the books you’ve read.

  3. It is very good for me. You can find me there as J.J. (the Fairfax, VA one). I’m sure your investagatory skillz will help you find me. Then we can be friends there too.

  4. Love this post! Duly impressed by your list, which would put mine to shame. I was keeping up with my “books read” by putting them into a Kindle folder of the same name…but sadly, lost that folder when I sold that Kindle, and haven’t had the energy to manhandle all of them into the “books read” folder on my new Kindle. I should look into goodreads, maybe. Anyway, thanks for both your lists 🙂

  5. P.S. *LOVE* Wodehouse, and have unfortunately been known to embarrass family members by guffawing uncontrollably in public places. I am now prohibited from taking his books along to any place a loved one might show up.

  6. Oh, bummer about the Kindle list, Cheryl.

    You’re so right about PGW. He’s hysterical! I love him. It gives me great joy that there are about 80 some of his novels I haven’t read. Yay!

  7. Pleased to see “Winter’s Tale” — my favoritest novel EVAR! — on your list. Where may I read your thoughts on it? Didja do a blog post huh? huh? huh? I’m always curious to read others’ reactions to it.

  8. Drew,

    I didn’t do a post on it. I stink at “reviews,” so I don’t do them . (Though I do a lot of things I stink at.)

    I enjoyed it. It was a linguistic adventure, for sure. Like a long poem, almost. Or enraptured prose. I loved the funny parts, loved the sound of it.

    It was, in the end, not the best “story” kind of story, I thought. The story was definitely second to the voice of the storyteller. The author was everywhere, showing off. But he’s so good at it! Usually that’s a killer, to me. But man, he’s so good at it and the characters were often so compelling, that I really enjoyed the whole thing.

    A little post-modern in some ways, but oddly rooted in definite morality in others. A fascinating book. What was your take? Did you review it?

  9. I’ve read it a few times since the late 80s when I first stumbled upon it. (Well, actually it was that I had a copy thrust into my hands like it was a religious tract by an old girlfriend who was nuts about it.)

    I was at first taken in by the prose. I’ve read everything Helprin, but I think that “Winter’s Tale” is probably his peak.

    I don’t know if he was consciously showing off here — the writing feels so effortless — but I think some of his more recent stuff feels a bit strained at times.

    I’m still not exactly sure what Helprin was trying to say. Love and loss, death and suffering, but when viewed from outside time itself, ultimately everything is just. But he takes more than 800 pages to say it, skips around through time, has his main character disappear less than halfway through the book and introduces a whole bunch of new protagonists.

    What is Athansor (besides being a flying white horse)? What’s the deal with Jackson Mead and his legion of bridge-builders? What about the other characters who likewise seem to transcend time? Who are they? What’s the deal with Lake of the Coheeries? What is the cloud wall supposed to represent? (And why does Helprin reuse the cloud wall in “The Veil of Snows”? He obviously has something in mind.)

    I get stuck on the interpretation. I want to know what each part means. I’m looking for one-to-one analogues, when instead I should probably just step back and try to view it as a whole.

    It’s been awhile since I read it; perhaps it’s time to read it again. Age and experience might add some insight.

    Whatever the heck Helprin was trying to say, I sure do like the way he says it.

  10. Can’t believe I didn’t respond to this earlier. It’s fascinating what you say and I’m sure I wondered the same when trying to make sense of it all. That’s where the pomo charge comes in for me, with the unimportance of answering questions definitely posed along the way. It was like Lost in that way, although nowhere near as egregious.

    I’m probably missing something, of course. Daft.

    Drew, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and reading over here when you do.

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