So one of my resolutions for 2018 was to read more. A lot more. I don’t remember the total number of books I put in my reading list…something like 55. But that number is misleading because “one” of those was actually the entire Harry Potter series. I didn’t accomplish my goal…as of today I’ve read 44 books in 2018 (not counting the Bible which I read every year). And yes, some of those were graphic novels (more on that).
I’m okay with falling short because my overall goal was to start reading again like I used to. I used to read all the time. Then that slowly went away. And like brewing and writing, I missed it. I missed a quiet morning or rainy afternoon with nothing more than a book. I missed getting lost in worlds of fantasy, or far flung futures, or the unbelievable events of our own history.
So I approached this list with more flexibility than I normally do in the past. I found some new authors which I liked, and read other works by them that weren’t on their list. I also really struggled with history. I love history. But lately I can’t find a good work of history. I made it through 8 chapters of Potter’s biography of Zwingli and that is pretty much the most history I read. In case you are wondering, I didn’t count that book in my list since I didn’t complete it.
All that being said, I did want to give some awards out. The authors will never know. But maybe it’ll help you one rainy day when you’re trying to decide what to read.
Best Book (I read) in 2018: Death Comes for the Deconstructionist by Daniel Taylor.
This was definitely NOT what I expected. I had the sequel, Do We Not Bleed on my list and so I read this when I discovered that well, it was the first book in the “series.” This book was written in the 1st person perspective, which is very challenging to do and remaining engaging. But what makes it even crazier, no pun intended, is the narrator is crazy. So as he describes things, you never actually know if it is real or not. He talks about the voices he hears, and then we hear them too. He occasionally will drop mention of a hallucination. For example, a giant catfish follows him around. He’ll casually mention it is there. Half a sentence. That’s all.
The author is also a thoughtful Christian. And he weaves his faith into the narrative so that crazy and faith become one some times. For example, “I wonder what Pratt would say about that catfish. Was it remembered or manufactured? Transubstantiation or consubstantiation or mere symbol?”
Daniel Taylor is a wordsmith. He writes sentences that make you just pause and wonder at the thoughtful beauty of it. I knew this from the first chapter. Look at how Taylor introduces the two main characters: “We live together now on a rented houseboat in the Mississippi, in the shadow of the Wabasha Bridge in downtown St. Paul. Kind of an oxymoronic place—out on the river, like Huck and Jim, but going nowhere, towered over by government and office buildings on the far bank. Illusory freedom. It’s not a big old tub, as houseboats go. Two tiny bedrooms up top over a fair-sized living room and galley kitchen below. Engineless, like me, neither houseboat nor occupant seaworthy.”
Taylor also did a great way of bringing his faith to bear on the novel. But most definitely not in a preachy way. In fact, much of it was obtuse enough that people who weren’t Christian may miss it. Such as a reference to a hot dog suspended before an open mouth and a reference to the “already but not yet” which every theologian uses to describe the kingdom of God. Or this, “There is a full moon low in the sky and its light splashes across the waters, squandering beauty on a sleeping town. I try to see riverboats paddling up the river, steam whistles screeching. I try to see women in hoop skirts, bales of cotton, and running boys, me and Huck among them. I am not successful. “Why … why are we stopping here, Jon?” “Oh, just to stretch our legs and look at the river.” “Yes, this is like the Jor … the Jordan River. There’s a picture of this in my … my very own Bible.” “I wish this was the Jordan, Jude. God knows I could use a Promised Land.”
His casual weaving of biblical references into the narrative challenged me with how integrated my worldview and knowledge of the Bible really are. I mean I like to say I have a biblical worldview, but do I? When a murder mystery that most definitely isn’t “christian” can make you ask those questions, you know it is a good book. And this was a very good book. In fact, I’d say it was my favorite book that I read in 2018.
Best Devotional of 2018. Letters to My Children by Daniel Taylor. So the first two books that made my awards list weren’t on my initial “to read” list at the start of the year. The joy of being flexible. After enjoying Death Comes for a Deconstructionist so much, I did some research on the author and found this book. Out of a fear of a too sudden death, the author decided to write letters to his children about a variety of things: suffering, vocation, marriage, friendships, etc. The wisdom contained in these letters is rich and worth dwelling upon for many years. As I peruse my highlights, this little gem speaks to me on this evening so I’ll share it with you: “So why when we prayed for Mr. Cuendet did he get well, but when we prayed for Uncle Clinton, God took him to heaven instead? I don’t know. God never promised to tell me why everything happens the way it does. But he did promise me that anytime I wanted to talk, he would be happy to listen. And in a world where so many people feel they are all alone, that’s a pretty great thing to know.” I’ve already quoted this book this year more than everything else I’ve read combined!
Best Science Fiction book I read in 2018: Roadside Picnic by Strugatsky Brothers. So…this one wasn’t on my original list either. Oops. Anyways, I love science fiction. It is, without a doubt, my favorite genre. And I’ve got oodles of “best science fiction books of the century” lists and somehow, this one was never on them. But then when I learned of it, it seemed like every Grand Master and Grand Madame of Science Fiction couldn’t stop talking about it. Funny how legends can hide in plain sight.
The premise is brilliant. And there seem to be no other books that have come up with anything like it or attempted to copy it sense. Aliens visited earth. Several spots around the world. They were there briefly and then left. The places where they touched down have been profoundly changed. And that doesn’t even begin to describe what I mean by profoundly changed. The dead are reanimated. Children of people who venture into the zones become inhuman as they age. Physics go bonkers in the zone. And people called Stalkers sneak into the Zones to steal technology and sell it on the black market while the governments of the world try to protect the zones and figure them out on their own. The story follows one Stalker in one zone who is a master at going in and finding new technology.
The title comes from the idea of a roadside picnic. Imagine a large family decides to have a picnic in an undisturbed area. Their bodies flatten the grass. The picnic blanket they lay down changes the ecology of the region. The build a fire ring and roast hotdogs. The heat of the fire, the left over stones, the ash from the fire change the landscape and are left behind. Then there’s the trash. Maybe a child’s toy was left behind. A watch fell off. An earring came lose and fell to the grass, lost forever. And we are….the ants who lived in that spot. That’s where the title came from and why the Zones are so profound. The aliens had a roadside picnic on planet earth and it changed everything forever.
Finally, the best graphic novel I read this year was Vision Vol I & II by Tom King. Ever since Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, the graphic novel has become a legitimate medium for not only some great stories, but for some great philosophical explorations. Tom King nailed it with his take on The Vision in Vol I: Little Worse than a Man and Vol II: Little Better than a Beast. The underlying question of Vision is this, “How far would you go to try to live a normal, American, life?” You just want to fit in. You want the two kids. The house in the suburbs. Even the dog. But you aren’t a white, middle class, American. You’re Vision, an android (or synthezoid) created by Ultron and capable of destroying the Avengers. But you just want to fit in. How far would you go, what would you compromise, to live the Suburban American dream? Dark, depressing, and eye opening on our quest for normalcy.
So there ya have it. My 2019 list is just about finished. I anticipate it being as fluid as this one. And hopefully I’ll read even more book in 2019 than I did in 2018.