Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Memorable Books of 2015

My favorites from the many books I read this year.

Art: A New HistoryArt: A New History by Paul Johnson

This took me a couple of years to leisurely work my way through. Now that I'm done I miss Paul Johnson's voice looking at history and art and the fascinating, creative people who are artists.

My only wish is for a companion volume that shows all the images that Johnson mentions. There simply wasn't room in this book for enough of the actual art.

I'll be putting this in my rereading stack. My full review is here.

A Tale of Two CitiesA Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

As with the best books, this surprised me in new ways the second time around. For one thing the ending is so powerful it tended to overshadow my memories of a lot of the plot. Also some characters were so unforgettable, like Madame Defarge, that they overshadowed others which I now appreciated much more, such as Monsieur Manette. And one feels as if the Revolution is taking place all around, which makes the beginning and middle fade when one is simply remembering rather than having read it recently.

I tend to say this about a lot of Dickens' books after I finish them, but this might be my favorite of his works. (My review after reading it for the first time is here.)

The LordThe Lord by Romano Guardini
How does one adequately review this magnificent book? I'm not really up to the task, though you may read my review here.
Romano Guardini set out to explore the life and words of Jesus in the gospels. He has a clarity and depth that often turns our view upside down to show the deep meaning of Jesus' words and actions. All with a completely reverent viewpoint that never leaves Catholic teachings but yet shows us something new and startling.

Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth, and ReligionTerence Fisher: Horror, Myth, and Religion by Paul Leggett
"Please - I never made horror films. They're fairy tales for adults." — Terence Fisher, London Daily Telegraph, Nov. 27, 1976

Fisher's spiritual orientation is a mixture of myth, fairy tale and Christian doctrine. ... [he] remains one of the few directors in cinema history with a clear, spiritual outlook.
This book is simply fantastic as well as being extremely easy to read. My review is here.

Midnight Riot (Peter Grant, #1)Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

“Are they really gods?"

"I never worry about theological questions," said Nightingale. "They exist, they have power and they can breach the Queen's peace - that makes them a police matter.”
Better than Harry Dresden. Better than Odd Thomas. Not better than White Cat or Night Watch, but it would take a lot to top those.

This book did what I thought impossible: pulled me back into reading an urban fantasy series.

For a lengthier, good review that is a fair representation of what I thought, see what Lois Bujold said.

I read all the series at a dead heat, one after the other. The audiobooks are very good also.

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire #1)His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

The series takes the idea of "what if" there were dragons during the Napoleonic Wars.

I really loved the first five of this series (which I told you all about here, if you missed it the first time around).

The Godwulf Manuscript (Spenser, #1)The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker

"A pig is a pig," she said. "Whether he's public or private, he works for the same people."
"Next time you're in trouble," I said, "call a hippie."
Oh yeah, that's the stuff.

I encountered the Spenser novels in the early 1980s and became enamored. I'd never read anything like them.

Of course, I'd never read Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. I knew of them from movies but hard-boiled didn't appeal as reading material or even, at the time, as viewing material. It took a smart mouth like Robert B. Parker's detective, Spenser, to delight me and pull me into that world.

Now, decades after I first read this book, I realize the legacy Parker was carrying on. Rereading this book after listening to The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, I could really appreciate just how well Parker pulled it off.

I felt the same way about the next books in the series, all of which I reread: God Save the Child, Mortal Stakes, and Promised Land.

Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic TraditionHeaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition by Louis Markos

An excellent overview of the stories that have influenced and shaped our views of Heaven and Hell from ancient times until now. I particularly enjoyed the author's exploration of the chain of influences that have connected all these stories and the way that they've been tweaked to express new ideas in the "journey to the other side" format.  It also made me begin thinking about rereading Dante's Divine Comedy. For my full review, go here.

MockingbirdMockingbird by Walter Tevis
Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.
I've been jaded by the plethora of recent apocalyptic novels but this one is different. Perhaps the highest tribute I can give this novel is that when I finished I didn't want to read another book. To do so would sully what I'd just read before I'd finished thinking about it, as well as be unfair to anything that followed because it wouldn't be able to compare.

My full review is here. We also discussed this book in Episode 110 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

101 Famous Poems101 Famous Poems by Roy J. Cook

One of my 2015 Reading Challenges was to read a poem a day. This is such a great book that I had to buy my own copy.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and imagine that it speaks equally as well to those who are more acquainted with poetry than I am. I wound up reading through it twice this year.

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