…and a helpful must-read list for Christians who want to study their faith
Last year’s list of books highlighted the theme of how eclectic a reader I’ve become. This year is no different.
I’ve wanted to pick up certain genres “once I’m retired,” and finally into my third year of retirement I’m beginning to blow the dust off that list. British history fascinates me, and I’ve been reading British lit for most of my life. Heck, my degree is in British lit, so no surprises there. So in addition to sticking with my penchant for all novels British, I’ve begun to pick up history books on that subject.
Winston Churchill wrote an enormous, 4-volume History of the English-Speaking People, completed in 1956, and I’ve always been curious about it. The first volume, Birth of Britain, spans from the earliest days of Roman occupation and ends after the Wars of the Roses in the late 15th century. For such a heavy subject, this is surprisingly readable and interesting. I’ll be picking up the next volumes in the coming year: Volume 2–New World, Volume 3–Age of Revolution, and Volume 4–Great Democracies. The last volume finishes right before the first World War. Churchill mostly focuses on the political and economical developments in this first volume.
Along that theme, I also read The Plantagenets by Dan Jones, documenting the royal family spanning from 1066 to the late-15th century when the Tudors rose to power. (Not coincidentally, this spans nearly the same time period as the first Churchill volume!) I had attempted a book on this same subject by Thomas Costain and couldn’t slog through it, even though I do like Costain. Jones’s book, on the other hand, was a smooth and compelling narration from beginning to end. (I’ve added a few more of his books to my to-read list.)
A more modern British history book, Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre, follows the story of a most unlikely spy during World War 2. Eddie Chapman, a con man serving a sentence for numerous petty crimes, ends up a most valuable double agent. A frustratingly narcissistic thief, always hungry for the next con and/or the next woman, leads such a complicated double life that neither side–German or Allied–can really be sure of his alliance. This reads like a James Bond novel, and I’d love to see it made into a movie.
So historical survey aside, I hope you’re ready for my seriously eclectic reading list from 2018. You are welcome to recommend more!
First, a report on the books I promised myself I would read in 2018, taken from my 2017 reading list. I just could NOT get into several of these books!
- Dune by Frank Herbert. This was going to be my summer-by-the-pool read, since it is in paperback and therefore safer to take to the pool than my iPad, on which I do most of my reading. Unfortunately we didn’t have much summer by the pool, because our sky was filled with ash and smoke from early-July through November, so no pool reading. (We live in Northern California, just a few miles from where the Carr fire started. We were evacuated for 7 days, but thanks to the heroic efforts of first responders, our neighborhood still stands.) You might say that this is not an excuse, but I’m using it anyway.
- Rooster Bar by John Grisham. A very good read, building excitement and intrigue as he tells the story of a trio of law school students who go off the reservation and try to con their school.
- The Whistler by John Grisham. This one follows an investigator for a board of Judicial Conduct, who finds herself looking into a judge who gets wealthy off of the bribes of a Native American-run casino. Her investigation turns deadly, and the story is a fast-paced race to find the truth before the judge disappears with her fortune.
- The Buried Giant by Kasuo Ishiguro. I just couldn’t get into this one. I was told it was beautiful, but it just didn’t capture me.
- Never Let Me Go by Kasuo Ishiguro. Tried this one as well. What’s wrong with me?
- The Conquering Family: The Pageant of England, Volume 1 by Thomas Costain. As I said earlier, this was too dry, so I picked up Dan Jones’s history instead.
- Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson. Another one that just didn’t capture my attention. I’ve read many delightful British mystery novels, but I couldn’t get into this.
- Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson. I love Sanderson’s fantasy novels. His Mistborn Trilogy and Stormlight Archives held me riveted to the very last pages. And then there are some fantasy books in his collections that I just didn’t have the patience to endure. This one, I felt, needed me to go back and re-read everything else just to understand the first chapter. Too many characters, too much happening all at once.
- Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. Ditto.
- The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. The true story from Austria-Hungary of two sisters who traveled to the palace of Emperor Franz Joseph to fulfill the betrothal of the older sister to the emperor. Unfortunately the younger sister, Elisabeth, was the one who fell in love and married him. If it hadn’t been a true story, I would not have believed the events that followed. The emperor’s shrew of a mother took every opportunity to rule the couple’s lives, including taking away their babies–literally from the birthing room–to raise them herself, claiming that Elisabeth was not a fit mother. The book was well-written (enough to make her readers angry at the dragon-lady and at the emperor’s inability to stand up to her. I’m still seeing red).
Now follows the list of also-read for 2018. (Not sure I want to tell you what’s on my 2019 list since I am embarrassed that I didn’t get through my to-read list of 2018.)
Science Fiction and Fantasy:
- Artemis by Andy Weir, author of The Martian, which I enjoyed a couple of years ago. My one (very minor) complaint about The Martian was its exhausting use of physics, so I wondered if Artemis would be the same. Thankfully, it’s not! There’s still plenty to keep the geeks engaged, but this one was a little less…physics-focused (read: more dumbed-down for people like me). This takes place on the moon, where a city called Artemis has been established. Great protagonist, wonderfully crafted supporting cast. If you like Sci-Fi, pick it up. And listen to it on Audible if you can. The reader was absolutely perfect.
- Skyward by Branden Sanderson. I mentioned above that I couldn’t get into a couple of Sanderson’s novels. For me, he is hit-or-miss. But this one is fantastic. Humans in a world where they escaped a devastating war, living underground and building spacecraft so they can fight the aliens who threaten to destroy them all. The protagonist is a young woman who wants to be trained as a pilot/fighter, not just because she wants to save her people, but also because her father was said to have cut and run during battle, and she is compelled to get out from under the disgrace she feels as the daughter of a coward (and really not willing to believe that he was a coward). Well done, exciting, great characters, a must-read.
Intrigue and Mystery:
- Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci. Riveting adventure of an FBI investigator who mans a one-man (one-woman in this case) office near the Grand Canyon. She’s a compelling character with a dark history. The story is well-told (like most of Baldacci’s novels) and gripping. This looks to be a new series by Baldacci, so I’m keeping an eye on his upcoming books.
- The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova. Written by the author of The Historian, a tale of Dracula, this dark, mysterious novel takes its readers to Bulgaria, where a young American woman has come to start a new life, escape her demons, and find adventure. The slow-moving book didn’t capture me at first, but the two principle characters are compelling. You will wonder about them both through the entire book. I recommend it.
- Camino Island by John Grisham. As always, I thoroughly enjoy Grisham’s novels. For some reason I stopped reading him a few years back, so I have a treasure trove of novels to make up. This centers around a rare, expensive book heist. While the main characters are not his best, the book is still fun and satisfying.
- The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse by Alan Bradley. This is a novella from the author I have loved for a few years now. Bradley’s main character, Flavia DeLuce, is a precocious, genius 12-year-old in post-war Britain who solves mysteries. Yes, this is probably categorized as a YA (Young Adult) novel, but don’t let that keep you from picking up Bradley’s first book in the series, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia is hugely entertaining.
I never felt like I had the time to do some more in-depth studies while I was a teacher. I’m so grateful to have the time now. None of these books ever take the place of daily Bible-reading, which I urge you to do. These books supplement the study of the Bible. Some study books become more about me-me-me, so be careful to discern the intent of the writer.
- The “Be” books by Warren W. Wiersbe. He wrote in-depth commentary on books in the Bible. If you’ve decided to study, either in a group or on your own, these are great help and insightful aides for further study. In the past year we have read Be Faithful (on 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon) and Be Mature (on the book of James) in our small group study.
- Women of the Word by Jen Wilken. If you know me well, you might see me resisting a twitch or two when considering Bible study books written just for women. I won’t get started on that rabbit trail for now. But wanting to take the women in our church’s Bible study group into examinating of books of the Bible, rather than the self-focused study books used by many other groups, a friend recommended this book as a starting point. I highly recommend it to you. This book tells us the WHY and the HOW of Bible study, then launches us out of our nest to go study books of the Bible on our own. Having finished it, we are now studying the book of Colossians–one of my favorites. If you’re interested in seeing the study questions I’ve put together, please let me know!
- Westminster Confession of Faith. I recommend every believer to read this at least once, with a Bible open. This is from the description on Amazon:
The Westminster Confession of Faith is a Reformed confession of faith, in the Calvinist theological tradition. Although drawn up by the 1646 Westminster Assembly, largely of the Church of England, it became and remains the ‘subordinate standard’ of doctrine in the Church of Scotland, and has been influential within Presbyterian churches worldwide. In 1643, the English Parliament called upon “learned, godly and judicious Divines,” to meet at Westminster Abbey in order to provide advice on issues of worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. Their meetings, over a period of five years, produced the confession of faith, as well as a Larger Catechism and a Shorter Catechism. For more than three centuries, various churches around the world have adopted the confession and the catechisms as their standards of doctrine, subordinate to the Bible.
This is a study of theology and doctrine. If you are a believer, you should be able to defend your faith, knowing why you believe what you believe. Find the version of the Confession that is heavily footnoted with scripture references. I say this because anyone can make a list of beliefs, but not ground them thoroughly in Scripture. I want to see what the “divines” wrote, but I want to know what the Bible says about it. Please don’t try understanding who God is, what He has done, and what your response should be, without finding it in the Bible. As the last sentence of the description above says, this Confession is “subordinate to the Bible,” as should all your Bible studies should be.
Along that note, add a few more helpful sources to your library:
- Luther’s Small Catechism
- The Heidelburg Catechism
- The Book of Concord
And these brief, beautiful books by Martin Luther:
- On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church
- The Bondage of the Will
- Concerning Liberty
And by Augustine: Confessions
Finally, I want to hear from you about your booklists. What did you love reading in 2018?
And would you like my classic reading list? I’ll be happy to send it to you.
Oh! And if you’d like more recommendations regarding biblical worldview and Bible study, please ask!
Now get reading!