2012 Summer Reading List Reviews

I’ve managed to finish almost all of the books on my summer reading list by now, although I’m still working through Hayek. It’s not that The Road to Serfdom isn’t fascinating. On the contrary, I feel such a strong urge to copy down so much of what he says that I get held up penning his words down in my book of quotations rather than reading them.

In addition to the books on the list I prepared in June, I’ve also managed to read a few extras, giving me a pretty hefty collection of works to review. Here are some of my thoughts on them.

A Concise History of the 20th Century (Martin Gilbert) – 3 STARS – I started off thinking I was going to love this book, but found myself growing increasingly irritated by Gilbert’s obvious bias in favor of a central world governing system and disturbed at times by his naiveté regarding late 20th century foreign policy. While I didn’t come away feeling like I had both sides of all of the stories, I did appreciate the sheer volume of numbers the man was able to cram into the text in a reverent and respectful way that I felt portrayed well the appalling suffering of the world at war throughout a turbulent century.

So Brave, Young and Handsome (Leif Enger) – 4 STARS – While I’m not sure Enger can ever write anything as memorable as Peace Like a River again, this was a well-constructed and lovely novel, full of significant thoughts and questions and yet wholly a story about fugitives from justice and authors and family and the bitter sweetness of the world.

The Thirty-Nine Steps (John Buchan) – 3 STARSWhile there’s nothing especially remarkable about this detective story, it’s a good, satisfying read.

Ever Wonder Why? And Other Controversial Essays (Thomas Sowell) – 3 STARS – This collection of Thomas Sowell’s columns is insightful but nevertheless a bit of a disappointment after the brilliance of The Vision of the Anointed. Sowell sticks to classic conservative premises which he reuses over and over again in these short essays. While they would make good articles in a magazine or newspaper, they don’t read well in the format of a book, leaving the reader feeling that they are getting recycled material. What’s more, the brevity of the pieces leaves them many of them dangling as though they have not been thoroughly pondered. I would certainly recommend The Vision of the Anointed as a better pick for anyone interested in reading Sowell’s works.

Your God Is Too Safe (Mark Buchanan) – 5 STARS – Buchanan offers a stirring and wrenching, honest but eloquent call to meet God in the holy wild. You need to read this book.

The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy (Penelope Wilcox) – 4 STARS – I am divided in my mind about this book. It’s a trilogy bound in one volume, dealing with the stories of 14th century Benedictine monks. While I felt that the first two books were poorly written and childish and didn’t enjoy them at all, the third book, The Long Fall, was an entirely different matter. Dealing with the friendship between Brother Thomas and the enigmatic and proud Father Peregrine, suddenly incapacitated by illness, this book leaves no holds barred and is altogether heartbreaking. I don’t know when any book has made me cry so much. So, while I can’t recommend the first two books, I can urge you to read The Long Fall and ponder the love of Christ until it remakes you.

Hannah Coulter (Wendell Berry) – 5 STARS – I read this on Sarah Clarkson’s glowing recommendation and was not disappointed. Having never read anything at all by Wendell Berry, I had no idea what to expect, and was certainly blown out of the water by his elegant and singing prose. Hannah Coulter explores in beautiful language the vast questions of land and war and children and marriage and memory. It is the voice of the past speaking into the reckless ears of the present day, offering like jewels the wisdom that our age has already chosen to disregard.

What’s Wrong With The World (G.K. Chesterton) – 4 STARS – I’ve already reviewed this book here.

The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor  – 4 STARS – While I ended up getting ahead of Jonathan Rogers’ Summer Reading Club and finished the O’Connor stories a few weeks early, I really enjoyed the discussions we were able to have and the input that other readers offered into the gritty and baffling writing of Flannery O’Connor. Some of the stories were as plain as day to me, and others I didn’t understand at all, but overall I appreciated this woman’s staggering insight into the human condition and the nature of depravity. Her clearest and most insistently communicated message is that the road to redemption leads right through the place of nauseated self-loathing. In my mind, she ranks with William Golding as a champion of the doctrine of original sin, and her message is needed urgently in an society that seeks to reduce evil altogether to a mere matter of mental disorder or diversity. I plan to write about my favorite O’Connor story in the near future.

Current Reading List

Collected Fictions (Jorge Luis Borges)
The Island of the World (Michael O’Brien)
A Patriot’s History of the United States (Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen)
Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chesterton (Kevin Belmonte)
The Landlady’s Master (George MacDonald, edited by Michael Phillips)
Collected Poems (W.H. Auden)
Letters To Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer (C.S. Lewis)

3 thoughts on “2012 Summer Reading List Reviews

  1. I too loved Hannah Coulter. I deeply enjoy Berry’s fiction-writing, although there is a lot of his academic writing that I have some serious disagreements with. But he is worth reading, even if it is an antagonistic discussion going on with my pen in the margins.

    Also. I read So Brave, Young and Handsome when I found it in a library here in China and I have decided… I love Enger’s writing not really for his stories (which are okay, but not — well, not Lord of the Rings. *smile*), but because he is a marvelous wordsmith and he phrases some things so amazingly, beautifully well.

    1. You’re right — Enger’s strong point is not really plot but people and place. And is that maybe the most mighty form of writing there is? Because it leaves us with the sense that in the midst of the dark and the dirt and the pressing chaos, things were so so beautiful, life was so so worth it. And maybe ours are too?

      That, I think, is what I take away from Enger’s writing. That, I think, is what makes everything peace. Like a river.

  2. Ahh, “Hannah Coulter”! I too “read” Wendell Berry for the first time several months ago via audio download, and I found myself wishing for the print version so I could underline to my heart’s content. I picked up a second, “A World Lost,” and enjoyed it as well. I’m not sure the story was as intriguing as “Hannah Coulter,” but I would give it 4 stars, I think, based on the quotes I copied alone. It might not be a good fit for everyone, but even 3 1/2 years after my daddy’s sudden death at 55, the book helped me sort through some of the grief I’ve not wanted to deal with, although Andy Catlett and Daddy are as different as two persons can be!

    Anyway, thanks for the reviews! I’ll be adding more to my running list. 🙂

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