“This year, I really do mean to slow down, and this time I have a plan on how to do it. This year, Lord willing, I will take time to read the books that actually do need time—plenty of time—to read. There are many brick-books I’ve been wanting to read for ages, but have always been intimidated by the dedication required to get through them. 2021 will be the year I tackle the tomes!
That’s what I said at the beginning of 2021. I wanted to read bigger books, and to cut down my list to no more than 50. How’d I do? Let’s take a look and see:
- The Mysterious Benedict Society: The Riddle of Ages, Trenton Lee Stewart—The end of an era. This fourth and final book in the story has the puzzles and perils of the others, but it still feels like the goodbye that is. There is an uncomfortable but understandable tension as the intrepid quartet go into the hoped-for closure of a final battle that will bring an end to the threat of the Ten Men—but also stand on the threshold of the next stages of life, and with it the end of the Mysterious Benedict Society as we know it. Thankfully there is adorable tot Tai, who adds innocent happiness to the tense situation.
- Dawnsong, Bryn Riplinger Shutt—It’s silly to complain that a novella is short, but that’s what bugged me. The characters and the world they inhabit give hints at being much larger, much more vivid. But I wanted immersion, not hints. I anticipate the full novels, which are said to be coming soon.
- Home from the Vinyl Café, Stuart McLean Rushing to the radio after church, and listening to Stuart Mclean tell stories, is an experience I miss. Reading the stories myself just isn’t the same, and this collection in particular holds some of the more awkward (and hence my least favourite) stories. But Home from the Vinyl Café still made me laugh, and I still enjoyed the nostalgia. // January
- The Borrowers Aloft (and Poor Stainless), Mary Norton Perhaps the best out of the series. One of the things that stood out to me was the excellent contrast between the two human pairs, humble and considerate Mr. Potts and Miss Menzies contra greedy and thoughtless Mr. and Mrs. Platters. The book begins cozily with a sweet old man building a model town and railway in his garden, then the story carries on to be a hot air balloon adventure. That’s excellent stuff for kids, and kids-at-heart. After having this story read to him, my youngest brother went out and began building a model town. He has not, so far, started on a home-made air balloon.
- Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey—A difficult book, filled with tragic testimonies and disturbing implications as people increasingly devalue and try to alter God’s purpose and definition of humanity, family, and sexuality. It’s also an encouraging book, filled with resources to combat harmful ideologies, advice on how to speak the truth in love, and reminders of the solidity of God’s word and God’s way.
- The Vinyl Café Turns the Page, Stuart McLean—The stories in this collection take place some years after Home from the Vinyl Café, and I think age refined them. They are still silly, but more thoughtful. Some of my favourite stories are in this collection.
- Henry VI, Part 3— Poor Henry, more concerned with his conscience than the crown. The play is less about him and more about those who do want the crown, such as his wife Margaret and his enemy Richard. It was interesting how Margaret shows herself human when she loses, grieving more for the loss of her child than her throne, even though she had previously mocked York for doing the same. Meanwhile, Richard becomes more inhuman, showing himself willing to betray family in order to take kingship, and so setting up the next play. //February
- The Confessions of St. Augustine— I was a little uncertain when I got my new copy of Augustine’s Confession and found it had only 10 of the thirteen books (besides that, the use of ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ seemed pretentious). It turned out all right, however. When I read the last few chapters online, I thought them too philosophical and confusing for my taste, as Augustine muses on time and memory. I much preferred the previous chapters, as Augustine tells his story, remembers the friends and family who helped him along the way, and praises God for his rescue. It’s wonderful being able to have a beloved historical figure’s story in his own words, but I also appreciated the extra information included in the introduction. // March
- The Instructor Book III, Clement of Alexandria—Clement’s advice on beauty, health, and art, among other things. Mainly interesting for its historical information. I got a picture of what life was like in Clement’s day, and the culture Christians were up against. In some ways it sounds so similar to my own day. I question his interpretation of the Mosaic food laws, though.
- Writers: their lives and works—An interesting Album, listing authors across the globe from the medieval era until today. Of course, not every author could be listed (Raul Dahl was, I think, the only children’s writer). I understand that, but still felt sad that favourites like L.M. Montgomery and C.S. Lewis had no feature. Many were writers I wouldn’t care to read, unfortunately, and it was depressing how often sexual and mental troubles came up in the biographies (and books). But I still learned many interesting things, more of the world around the writers than the writers themselves (such as the fact that storytelling was a regular job in Russia, like the blind storyteller employed by Tolstoy’s family. Machado De Assis, who wrote a book from the perspective of a dead man, remained loyal to the Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro II. Jean Rhys, who felt too English in Dominica and too Dominican in England, wrote a backstory for Mr. Rochester’s poor Creole wife). // April
- Catholic Concerns, Mary Ann Collins—Because of the format, I felt as if I were reading an article—but this counts as a book. I enjoy hearing conversion testimonies. They are encouraging as rescue stories, but they also help me understand how other people tick. Collins tells her journey from unbeliever to Catholic convent to saving faith, but her personal story isn’t the focus. The majority of the book covers the titular Catholic concerns, weighing them against scripture. Let me stress, this is not a polemic piece. Remembering her past, Collins speaks with gentle understanding to her Catholic audience; but she isn’t afraid to show some tough love. Neither does she fail to mention that the same faults that corrupted Catholicism also corrupt Protestants, so that the Evangelical audience is cautioned against feeling smug. The refrain throughout is a call to rely on God’s solid Word, to find rest in Truth amid the failings of mankind. I am not entirely certain about the historical conclusions of Chapter 10, but aside from that quibble the book is well researched, with plenty of resources and footnotes.
- Octavius, Minucius Felix—Reminiscent of Justin Martyr’s Dialogues with Trypho the Jew, this apologetic work covers a debate. Caecilius, the pagan, is offended by Octavius’ attitude towards idolatry and proposes the dialogue, with Minucius as moderator. Caecilius’ defence of idol worship, I thought, was more of a mix of ‘probably does nothing, but better safe than sorry’ and ‘besides, you Christians are weird’. Octavius’ rebuttal is interesting, with historical insights—and even some empirical science. Octavius is among the most appealing of the old apologies. While not a quick read, it doesn’t feel too long (41 chapters, usually short), and it gives us the viewpoint of both pagan and ancient Christian. Besides that, it’s charming. It opens with the three friends going for a walk about town, with a description of children skipping shells by the ocean, and closes with a happy ending.
- Schaff’s Church History Volume I: Apostolic Christianity, Philip Schaff—I didn’t intend to slip an extra tome into my TBR, but I couldn’t resist this one! Schaff isn’t the most streamlined historian, and so I wouldn’t recommend him for anyone wanting a basic primer on Church History. But I appreciated the investigative details, the background descriptions for context, and the way he highlighted certain issues and weighed out the different opinions on each subject. Schaff was well educated in different viewpoints, he knew Church History from several angles, and often criticized the extreme rationalism of his day. One of the main things I liked was how Schaff took his readers on a deep investigation of the earliest historical documents of Church history—the New Testament. We are given a renewed appreciation not only for the authenticity of the New Testament, but also for its styles and coherence.
- Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541), John Calvin— Although this is pre-Dort pre-Puritan Reformed Theology in a world of pre-Trent pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, much of this book is just as relevant today as it was back then. I imagine I’ll be looking back to this book for reference in the future. There were many excellent chapters, but I think I liked the prefatory letter best, since it touched on so many topics at once and had interesting references besides. However, the chapter on Baptism was awkward. Perhaps another read through will help me understand pedeobaptism better, but the main thing I picked up was that Calvin seems to have disliked credeobaptism because he only knew of it from the anabaptists… who sometimes had a tendency to drift into disorganisation and even heresy. The occasional name-calling and rare cases of snark aside, Calvin was quite the scholar. He was well-read, insightful, and didn’t seem to know what a ‘small book’ was.
- Storming, K.M. Weiland—I needed something to read in between tomes, something adventurous, made for reading in the hammock and long after decent bedtime hours. Filled with high-stakes and hijinks, crackling with energy in both characters and plot, a re-read of Storming was just the thing. // May
- The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime, Toshio Ban and Tezuka Productions (translated by Frederik L. Schodt)— A biography of a manga pioneer, told in manga style. Fairly quick, being a comic, but this is probably the thickest book I’ve ever read. Frankly, it could have been shorter. A few scenarios showing Tezuka’s love of insects and his interactions with his editors were enough, I thought, for me to get a picture of his quirks and character, but the biographers had many more examples they wanted to show. It was encouraging to see how the young Tezuka was helped along by understanding authority figures like his mother and teacher, and interesting to watch the artistic world of manga and animation change. It was a little fretful, though, to know the way he pushed himself. I admire his work ethic, but I wouldn’t want any young artists to try and imitate him at that level.
- Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, Tony Cliff—A good comic for fans of Tin Tin. The artwork is attractive, the characters expressive. Unlikely exploits and explosions abound. Delilah Dirk is the talented and tenacious adventurer. Her sense of humour, though it provides much of the fun, feels a touch too modern for the early 1800s setting. However, the story is told through the eyes of Selim, the Turkish Lieutenant. Selim is much more at home blending fine teas than he is at his job, getting the short end of the stick among the Janissaries. The story generally follows the duo learning how to not get one another killed—intentionally or otherwise, and Selim’s journey from a battered subordinate to a slightly-less battered travelling companion. Although I was not entirely convinced by the story, the beauty of the art and the fun of the adventure quickly caught my attention.
- I Was an Eighth Grade Ninja—Vaguely remember browsing this one, probably when I was in eighth grade (but not a ninja). This introduction to the series is a bit too brief, and some may be confused about Tomo’s special talent (which is revealed so quickly as to be almost missed). My youngest brother seemed to enjoy it, though, especially since it helped him learn some Japanese.
- Time Flyz, Pyramid Peril—I thought the concept of this comic was great. I wasn’t too keen on some of the art style, and the beginning was a bit chaotic. But I liked how the comic discussed interesting people and events from history, as well as the difference between weight and mass. I’ll admit I got a good kick out of the reactions, when asked what it was about. “Oh, time travelling robot insects” // June
- Volume III Ante-Nicene Fathers, Phillip Schaff—Schaff organises his history by topic mainly, which is a valid way of doing it… but I found myself a little foggy about the chronology, the thing I struggle with the most. Even so, I enjoyed this volume. I appreciated how Schaff’s investigation took me to places not often explored in Church history (at least not that I’ve found so far). I was able to better understand the catacombs, and was introduced to the awesome Julius Africanus, who Schaff said was ‘the first Christian chronographer and universal historian’. // July
- A Pelican at Blandings, P.G. Wodehouse— Similar to my first Blandings book, this one also had people tripping down the stairs, heists, and a character’s sanity being questioned. All that makes for fun reading. Perhaps not one of Wodehouse’s most memorable books, but still fun.
- Asterix and the Golden Sickle— I don’t tend to like the earliest Asterix books as much, but I had forgotten this one and felt a refresher was due. I remembered the plot was about getting new sickle for Getafix, but I didn’t remember the larger plot of Obelix’s missing cousin. Turns out it was a good thing I had forgotten so much, the reveal for the main villain was especially funny.
- Delilah Dirk: the King’s Shilling, Tony Cliff— Illusions and honour are at stake in this second volume. Delilah returns to her native soil in order to clear her name after a traitor frames her for his crimes. But to do this she has to put up a false front for her mother, and take up her real name again. Meanwhile, Selim has to deal with the pain of his travelling companion (of three years, mind you) withholding things from him, as well as the disappointment of having his exotic picture of England shattered (and the tea not up to his standards). All this is fun reading, but I liked it best when, nearer to the end, illusions and honour were replaced with honesty and humility. That, combined with some cinematic action sequences (including a carriage chase… like a car chase, but for the 1800s) gives Indiana Jones a run for his money.
- The Code of the Woosters, P.G. Wodehouse— Similar to Right Ho Jeeves, one of Wodehouse’s best (in my humble opinion). Gussie Finknottle and Madeline Basset are back and up to their regular blunders. I was also introduced to clumsy curate ‘Stinker’ Pinker, who is danger of disqualifying himself (based on 1 Timothy 3:10-12) if he marries the insufferable ‘Stiffy’ Bing— of whom Bertie says: “The more the thoughts dwell on that young shrimp, the more the soul sickens in horror.” But I think the best parts were, as usual, the ones featuring Aunt Dhalia—especially with how much she enjoys the cow creamer heist.
- Ralph Gemmell, or The Banks of the Irvine: A Tale of the Scottish Covenanters, Robert Pollok— While searching for resources on the Scottish Covenanters, I was surprised and delighted to come across my family name! This doesn’t seem to be a very well-known story, but I was able to read it with online archives. It’s a dramatic story, covering just about every high and low a man can go through, and constantly points to Christ. Actually, it’s the dramatic aspect to it that makes me raise an eyebrow. The story seems to be advertised as true, but almost sounds too perfect. I’ve tried to look into the historicity of Ralph Gemmell, but I can’t find anything conclusive either way.
- Two Lives of Charlemagne, Einhard and Notker the Stammerer—Two records of Charlemagne, one by a man who knew him personally and one by a man who came some generations after him. The first book, written by Einhard, tells about Charlemagne’s wars, government, private life, and death. However, it is extremely short. The second book, written by Notker, was the more entertaining—and it had that section on organs being introduced to the church, information I was interested in. But I didn’t really trust Notker as a historian. A lot of what he had to tell wasn’t about Charlemagne at all; he often told gruesome stories about people who stepped out of line and either had a run-in with the devil or died; and would even say something along the lines of ‘I’ll tell you later’. // August
To be continued…