I started All Things for Good by Thomas Watson several weeks ago and have slowly been working my way through it. This short little book by the Puritan minister is an in-depth exposition of Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Though it may sound intimidating, Watson’s writing is easy to understand and is so methodically organized it’s easy to follow his train of thought. He breaks down this one verse, expounding on each phrase with Scripture and applying it to our lives. It is a very rich, devotional book, full of Scriptural wisdom. After being introduced to Watson’s writings in Voices from the Past, it was nice to delve deeper into his writings. I look forward to reading more from him and other Puritans in the future.
As 2017 drew to a close, I started to rev up for 2018 reading. And then I stalled. Between morning sickness, the frigid temps, and a cold, I hit a reading slump. I started three different books but none of them got me excited about reading. So, instead of trying to force through any of those, I went back to an easy, comfortable favorite: The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis, book 1 in The Chronicles of Narnia. This is one of my favorite books in the series, and was a perfect book to help my slump as I read it through in two days. The Magician’s Nephew is about Digory, a young boy from the country that comes to spend the summer in London with his aunt and uncle due to his mother’s illness. He meets and befriends Polly, the young girl next door, and they spend their days playing and exploring. One day they accidentally end up in the study of Digory’s Uncle Andrew – a mistake that leads them on a great adventure into other worlds, and eventually face-to-face with the great Aslan himself. One of the latter books written, this book serves as a prequel to the rest of the series, explaining how Narnia came to be. There’s a debate over the order in which to read The Chronicles of Narnia, and some people have very strong opinions. There’s not a “right way” to read them, just read them! I’ve always read them in the chronological order in which the events happen within the stories (usually how it comes boxed), and don’t think it has detracted in any way from the amazing story Lewis has crafted. He has created an amazing world full of wonder and magic for readers of any age. I love this series, and it’s so enjoyable to visit it again.
It has been another fun year of reading!
- New favorite authors that I look forward to reading more from include Fredrik Backman (I read his entire body of work this year), Jasper Fforde, Cassie Beasley, and Amor Towles.
- I don’t reread often because there’s so much out there I’ve never read, but I did enjoy rereading Til We Have Faces (this might become a yearly read), the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Running on Empty. But I’ve figured out there are some amazing works that are worth the time to reread to allow a deeper delving into the book, and I look forward to some different rereads next year.
- Experimenting with a book flight was a very interesting way to read – although, I suggest picking a topic less depressing than WWII, or at least end with one less depressing than Night.
This year for my devotional reading I worked through Voices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings and the six-volume Reader’s Edition of the Bible. Voices from the Past is a collection of Puritan writings specifically for devotional time, a page for each day of the year. I was intimidated to read the Puritans, afraid of archaic language and complex thoughts above my comprehension. But these writings are so far from archaic or academic – they are rich and deep, delving into the grief and struggles of the Christian life, and rejoicing in its blessings and treasures provided for us through the work of Christ. They are immensely relatable and brimming with wisdom from godly men that aimed to live a life pleasing to the Lord. I highly recommend it if you are looking for something short yet rich to add to your devotional time.
Earlier this year we got Crossway’s six-volume Reader’s Bible. This set not only looks lovely, it formats the Bible without any chapter or verse numbers, and it’s printed on real paper (not tissue paper like most Bible), so it looks and feels more like a real book. I love this edition because it helps me see the Bible as a cohesive work, each book relating to the whole, whereas with chapters and verses it is easy to read it as segmented, unrelated chunks. I enjoyed working through it this year for the first time, following Ligonier’s Bible Reading Plan (2018’s is available here), and look forward to reading through it again using this reading plan that goes through each volume at a time. This set is a bit pricey, but Amazon has the best deal and I have found it very helpful in my reading and understanding of the Bible.
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer is another of Backman’s novellas, short enough to read in one sitting. This story is about a grandfather, his son, and grandson as the grandfather begins to lose his memories. In such a short span of story, Backman captures the intense poignancy of such a difficult situation. Like his other novella, it’s a little trippy and fantastical, but like all his works this story is emotionally gripping and sweet, displaying the trials and bonds of family.
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal is one of those novels that’s hard to describe. It’s a young adult novel, but at it’s core it is a modern day fairy tale in the vein of Neil Gaiman. The book is narrated by the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one of the Grimm Brothers, lending to its fairy tale feel. Jacob has met Jeremy, a teenage boy who can hear the ancient ghost. Jacob becomes a companion for Jeremy but, unawares to Jeremy, he is also his protector from the Finder of Occasions, an unidentified evil force at work in Jeremy’s town of Never Better. Like most fairy tales, this novel celebrates the outworking of justice on evil and the triumph of virtue. It’s an easy, engaging read with unique characters and an intricate plot. McNeal’s mix of modern day and fairy tale is creative and well-done, giving this book a distinctive flair. It’s a novel that took me for a loop, I had no idea what to expect as it progressed, and I enjoyed the surprise.
To continue my Backman streak, I read his novel released earlier this year, Beartown. This story is about the people of Beartown and their love for hockey. It consumes them: everyone plays hockey, everyone is a fan of the local club team, and everyone knows that hockey can make or break their hometown. This year, they finally have a chance at winning the finals. A victory could mean a new hockey training center, new businesses, more jobs, a better economy, and a better life for Beartown citizens. But after a horrific, violent incident, the town is threatened with losing their chance at revitalization. Some react to this with wisdom and grace, some with cowardice and anger. This is unlike any of Backman’s other novels. He deals with sensitive subject matter, and the overall tone is much darker, the characters more grittier. It’s an excellent story with complex characters and plot, and, like all his other novels, it is emotionally gripping. This novel reads like a culmination of his writing – crafting a tale more intricate and piercing than any before.
To continue my Fredrik Backman stint I grabbed his newest work, a Christmas novella called The Deal of a Lifetime. It’s a short story about a father talking to his son on Christmas eve. After meeting a young girl dying of cancer, the father reflects on his life – his triumphs and mistakes, joys and regrets – and considers his future. Backman asks the question what and who would you give your life for? It’s a very quick read; I read it in one sitting, maybe about forty-five minutes. Backman, as usual, delivers a sweet, tender story that evokes many emotions in the reader, even in such a short form. I expected something marketed as a Christmas story to be a bit more happy, but regardless it is an endearing tale of reflection, longing, and second chances.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is a mystery novel by Australian writer Joan Lindsay. I have not read many mysteries, so this was a new kind of experience. The novel is about the young ladies of Appleyard College, a boarding school in Australia. On St. Valentine’s day in the year 1900, they venture to Hanging Rock, a unique, naturally-formed stone formation, for a picnic. Four girls climb higher up on the rock to explore, and three of them are never seen again. If you like stories tied up neatly, you may not like this one. The emphasis of the story is less on explaining the disappearances and more about the ripple effects these disappearances have in the lives of those that remain at Appleyard College, the surrounding towns, and all Australia. It is well-written with interesting characters and a story that carries the reader along. Lindsay also provides an interesting exploration of the consequences of “civilized” British society imposing on the wild, mysterious Australian bush. Apparently, a cornerstone novel in Australian literature, it was an enjoyable book to read.
The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall explores how our lives are completely steeped in story – from our dreams to entertainment to even our memory. Written from a humanist perspective, Gottschall provides research showing that story is all around us, and how this differentiates us from other creatures. We are drawn to story in all contexts, from children to adults, though the manifestation of how we partake of story changes. The research he presents is very interesting and eye-opening to truly how immersed in story we are. Gottschall attempts to explain why this is true, but falls a bit flat. He shows how story provides structure to society, empathy toward others, and common morality, but is never quite able to hone in on why, from an evolutionary point of view, we maintained the need for stories versus animals. It might seem simple, but factoring God into the equation gives the answer: we’re drawn to stories because we were made in the image of a story-telling God. A great book along these same lines, but written from a God-centered worldview, is The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth by Mike Cosper. Though I read Cosper’s book a couple years ago, it could easily pick up where The Storytelling Animal stops. Cosper focuses less on the scientific research and more on drawing out the repeating themes found in the stories we love – themes originating in God’s Word. They’re both great books and make me appreciate this great gift of story God has given us.