Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Best of 2013

Well, another year has passed with the usual speed of lightning, and it's time to look back and sum up the Year in Books--something I look forward to doing each year.

Numbers are down a bit this year: over three very busy months in Tennessee, I read a grand total of four books! I did get through 71 books, though, down from 89 in 2012.

Best re-reads

These days I usually don't re-read books unless they are old favourites. So, as usual, consider these doubly or even triply recommended:

The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
The Ball and the Cross by GK Chesterton
Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton
Farmer Giles of Ham by JRR Tolkien

Best new reads

I read a high proportion of new books this year--and loved many of them. These are the ones I've been raving about:

The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens
Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment by James R Gaines
Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope
James I: The Fool As King by Otto Scott
Autobiography by John G Paton
The Rhetoric Companion by ND Wilson and Douglas Wilson
Death By Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent by ND Wilson
Intellectuals by Paul Johnson
The Great Christian Revolution by Otto Scott
The Lord's Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship by Jeffrey J Meyers
Empire of Bones by ND Wilson

Only two novels! Not because I didn't read many novels this year--but because most of the ones I did weren't much good.

Favourite Non-fiction

Orthodoxy is one of my favourite non-fiction books of all time. When it comes to picking a favourite non-fiction book for the year, though, I like to focus on new reads. This is because you can often dig whole new ideas out of a novel, but a non-fiction book can only be re-read as a refresher; it does not usually give new insights a second time. The Rhetoric Companion by ND Wilson and Douglas Wilson is a book I can't recommend highly enough to anyone who wants to learn to communicate well in writing or speech. Its chapter on rhythm in prose, for example, quantifies and explains a phenomonen I'd observed and used but never fully understood. It's one of the few books I would heartily recommend to someone who wanted to learn to write well. (Another is Douglas Wilson's book Wordsmithy).

Even more than The Rhetoric Companion, though, my favourite non-fiction book for the year must have been James Gaines's Evening in the Palace of Reason. This book chronicles two very different lives. Bach, son of the Reformation, master musician, father and Christian, versus Frederick of Prussia, rockstar of the Englightenment, absolute monarch, degenerate, and humanist. The two met briefly near the end of Bach's life, when Frederick gave Bach an unsolvable musical riddle designed to demonstrate the shortcomings of Bach's music. Bach not only met the challenge, he did so in a way that constituted--so Gaines argues--a comprehensive rebuke to the monarch's entire worldview. Gaines is an excellent writer and the book is gripping and mostly insightful--insightful enough to see the different cultural effect of Bach's Christian worldview as opposed to Frederick's modernist worldview, though blind enough to decide that Bach demonstrated an irrational faith!

I strongly recommend Evening in the Palace of Reason to everyone who wants to appreciate Bach, learn about Christian philosophies of music, or read a rattling good history book. This is a must-read! Language and content warning for young readers, who may prefer to skip the chapters on Frederick.

Favourite fiction

By far, my favourite fiction read for 2013 was Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene. No other book I read for the first time this year (other than Scripture) has had such a profound effect on my thought and life. Spenser's epic is, as I've mentioned before, not just an allegory of the Reformation, not just a thrilling multi-strand story of knights, damsels, monsters, magicions, dragons, narrow escapes, epic battles, and's also a staggeringly profound discussion of six great virtues. I did a whole series of posts on the work earlier in the year, which I've now published on Amazon as an ebook titled The Epic of Reformation: A Guide to the Faerie Queene.

I know that reading obscure old epic poems is not for everyone! But The Faerie Queene is potentially life-changing. It's at least as edifying and important as Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. We live in a time that is rediscovering the theological writings of the Puritans--let's recover The Faerie Queene as well.

Some announcements

And of course, as usual for this time of year, I'm now reading another great epic poem--and enjoying it almost as much as I enjoyed The Faerie Queene! Look out for a review later this month!

I have lots of plans in the pipeline for Vintage Novels this year. I'm hoping to do another ebook or two. I'm also planning on a blog update and redesign (again)--and I've also decided to bite the bullet and branch out from my focus on fiction and old books.

Most exciting of all, there's a big project which I'm hoping I can launch sometime this year! Eight years in the making, this is something I've been working at hard throughout 2013--and the end is most certainly in sight. Of course, life is uncertain when you live a life of travel, adventure, and hard work--so I'm not promising anything! Just hinting that I'm excited, and you should be too!

To see what else I read in 2013 and keep up with what I'm reading in 2014, follow me on Goodreads! Happy New Year!

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