05 January 2014

2013 Book Survey

Here's a silly survey sort of thing, but it gives me a chance to reflect back on some of my reading last year--even though I'm a few days late. A lot of my reading didn't make it on here, because it consisted of articles, poems, short stories, textbook material, and books I read around in for research, but didn't go straight through.

1. Best Book You Read In 2013?

I'm probably supposed to say Hamlet here, but I think I'll go for The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Fall of Arthur is startlingly good; I didn't know Tolkien could write such great poetry, or such a powerful female character, or something so strong outside his Legendarium. You can review my reviews of it via this post.  
Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers gets second place: it is the best psychological exploration of marriage I've ever read. I wouldn't recommend taking it out of order; read it where it belongs in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, if that's your thing.

2. Book You Were Excited About and Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Ender's Game by Orsen Scott Card. I am a sucker for compelling narrative fiction, especially with a fantasy, sci-fi, or dystopian twist, but this was a creepy story. Eek. 
Also Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor. I adore her stories, but this novel felt like all the darkness of her tales drawn out way too long without any light to relieve the darkness.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?

A Myth of Shakespeare by Charles Williams. You know how crazy I am about Williams's writing, but that doesn't mean I always find his books easy or even enjoyable to read, especially his early works. This is an early play in verse, and I was prepared for it to be difficult and dry. Not at all! It's a very lively imagined biography of Shakespeare's life, with lots of scenes from Shakespeare's plays cut-and-pasted in. It's quite performable; if you've got connections to a theatre company, I recommend it.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien. I think I'm going to mention this one most in answering these questions.

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

The Legend of the Redeemer series by Richard Berrigan. It's also the only series I discovered this year, so.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

Brenton Dickieson and/or Richard Berrigan (wait, am I allowed to mention friends of mine?). I readA Stone’s Throw Away by Brenton Dickieson and The Legacy of Kings (the first volume of the Legend of the Redeemer series) by Richard Berrigan. Brenton is a fellow Inklings scholar; I had only read his academic work before this, but loved his novel (which he wrote in three days). Richard is a co-worker and member of my local artists' fellowship. Check out Brenton's work on C.S. Lewis on his blog, A Pilgrim in Narnia, and check out Richard's author page on amazon.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

A Theory of Adaptation by Linda Hutcheon. Of course, I read tons of academic stuff (the sorts of things that you don't read cover-to-cover, so they don't get mentioned here), and I've read some film theory and books about particular page-to-screen adaptations, but I hadn't read a work specifically about the theoretical concepts behind translating a book into a movie. I learned a lot from it, and also from The Tolkien Professor's Riddles in the Dark podcast, in which he applies his own theories of adaptation to Peter Jackson's Hobbit films.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James. All decent murder mysteries are “unputdownable” (don't we have a better word for that?), but this one, while remaining thoughtful, literate, and disturbing, was also compelling enough that I read it in flash.

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I'll probably reread it again next year before the final installment of Peter Jackson's adaptation. (You can read my reviews of the first two Hobbit films here, here, and here.)

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

I read almost every one of these on my Kindle, with the exception of the Williams books, that are all in a nice but fairly boring imprint from Apocryphile Press, the Inklings Heritage Series (I'd better be careful what I say, as I'm scheduled to contribute a book to that series this year!). Even though it's plain, I really loved the cover of The Fall of Arthur.

11. Most memorable character in 2013?

I reread most of the Hornblower books by C. S. Forester this year, and I'll never forget Captain Horatio Hornblower, especially as played by the gorgeous Ioan Gruffudd in the TV adaptations.

I finally met Poirot this year, too, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. I wonder if that's the one that fooled the Doctor?

2. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

The Fall of Arthur (sorry to sound like a broken record). 
 Measure for Measure and Hamlet by William Shakespeare aren't bad, either (although I think Hamlet is a mess of a play, it's got some good lines....)

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?

Not to be boring, but the real answer is The Fall of Arthur again, since I am now practically staking my professional career on my ability to squeeze an academic book out of it.... But That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis also continues to hit me hard, every time I read it. I got to teach it for the first time ever, this past spring, and the result was surprisingly good. I had a classroom full of ordinary Penn State students defending CSL's conservative views of marriage and gender roles. That was unforgettable. 
Speaking of that Humanities class at Penn State, the anthology that we used, Being Human edited by Leon Kass, also had an enormous impact on me. It's a collection of literary selections organized around the “big questions” of life, death, human nature, suffering, and so forth. I found it very powerful.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read?

The Masque of the Manuscript, The Masque of Perusal, The Masque of the Termination of Copyright, The Silver Stair, Windows of Night, Outlines of Romantic Theology, and the Arthurian Commonplace Book by Charles Williams. I'm supposed to be a Williams scholar, and there are still many of his books I have yet to read straight through. I hope that next year will find me with an even longer, more embarrassing, list of his works that I have finally read.

I guess Ender's Game belongs here, too, because I read the first chapter more than twenty years ago and have been meaning to finish it ever since.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

Maybe this poem from The Silver Stair:. Sonnet XXXIII, “Of Love's Enemies—The Cross”:

In sight of stretched hands and tormented brows
How should I dare to venture or to win
Love? how draw word from silence to begin
Tremulous utterance of the bridal vows?
Or, as the letter of the law allows,
If so I dared, how keep them without sin,
While through our goings out and comings in
That Sorrow fronts the doorway of our house?

It is the wont of lovers, who delight
In time of shadows and in secrecy,
To linger under summer trees by night.
But on our lips the words fail, and our eyes
Look not to one another: a man dies

In dusk of noon upon a barren tree.

16. Shortest and Longest Book You Read In 2013?

That's a dumb question. Who cares?

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?!

Well, since most of the books here that would fit that description were assigned in classes I teach, I did get to talk to somebody about it right away. 1984 by George Orwell and Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton would have fit this category when I first read them, years ago, as would That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis.

There were several startling scenes in She by H. Rider Haggard. Many vivid, visual, gripping scenes. And I haven't found anybody to talk to about it yet.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

That would have to be Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers. 
I also read something or other by P.G. Wodehouse with Jeeves and Wooster in it; they're hilarious. 
And Tommy and Tuppence from Secret Adversaries by Agatha Christie are, as I said, sparkling. 
There's also a fantastic relationship between the angelic character and the demonic character in the first chapter of The Ball and the Cross by G.K. Chesterton.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

I assume you mean that I've read something else by this author before but haven't read this particular book? Well, then The Fall of Arthur by Tolkien, followed by A Myth of Shakespeare by Williams.

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

I don't know about SOLELY (and what's with the caps?); there are many factors that influence anyone's reading: time, energy, cost, availability, connections... But anyway. 
Ender's Game, recommended by Marian (a member of my artist's fellowship).

I also read three biographies of C.S. Lewis, for my job as book review editor of Sehnsucht: the C. S. Lewis Journal. Does that count as a recommendation, when they get sent to me by the publisher to review? I didn't know where else to queeze them in. They are: C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alistair McGrath, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by Devin Brown, and C. S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship by Colin Duriez. My review will appear in the next issue of Sehnsucht. In short, McGrath's was excellent, Brown's was good, Duriez's you can skip.

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?


22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

I don't have one this year. Any recommendations in this category for next year? Peter Dalgliesh is very admirable, and I reread most of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, but I already had a crush on Sherlock (of course) and my admiration for Dalgliesh is not of the romantic kind.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

Legacy of Kings in The Legend of the Redeemer series by Richard Berrigan

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

The Hobbit, in the context of the larger legendarium and all the other Tolkien bits and pieces I read this year.

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie. It was totally hilarious and such a surprise. It was quite unlike anything I've read by Christie, a side-splittingly funny genre parody. The characters are delightful: they really sparkle.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

Uh... I'm very hard-hearted. I think I saved all my crying for Doctor Who this year. Plus there were a lot of re-reads, so the initial shock was gone from many of the plots.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

Anything by Charles Williams. All his works are under-rated.

1 comment:

brentondickieson said...

So pleased to be mentioned! I have to get that book edited (a big job, I think). And some new ideas. Maybe I should read some Dorothy Sayers in 2014. And Rider Haggard.