A Year In The Making

Another year has passed; another Reading List draws to a close. Not a moment too soon…

Following a tradition I started some two years hence (the 2004 list, and the 2005 list), I have kept a running account of the books I have read over each month of this now dying year – a version in brief that I kept along the right-side margins of my journal as well as a more exhaustive version within a document I kept on the desktop of my Analytical Engine. `Twas, in a sense, two sets of books.

As I have in the past, I am omitting almost all books of poetry & sonnets as well as any articles or essays I have read over the last year – for no better reason than that, due the sheer amount thereof, this list would take a character of far more pretension than I believe it already does. On any given day I might read at least two or three articles and/or essays, of untold variety or depth of scholarship – and for this reason my record-keeping of such is erratic, at best.

Looking back over the list, I am more than surprised by the glaring absence of almost anything Classical or profoundly literary (including what amounts to probably the least amount of Shakespeare I have read since my early childhood) as well as a significant (and therefore inexcusable) deficit of polemical work as compared to recent years – with a seeming greater emphasis on works pertaining to Music (or the Arts, in general) than usual.

I surmise this might have been somehow impacted by the role of Music Minister I have undertaken since the mid-point of the year while the earlier months of the year were consumed by more Academic themes.

However, to have read two Stephen King books in one year (On Writing and The Stand) and only one work of Shakespeare (King Lear) is ridiculous. What was I thinking?!

Nevertheless, thus follows my Reading List of anno Domini 2006

January

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

The Lamentations of Jeremiah

The Mabinogion

The Tragedy of King Lear by William Shakespeare

February

Always Ready by Dr. Greg Bahnsen

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Epistle to the Philippians

The Epistle to the Colossians

What To Listen For In Music by Aaron Copland

March

Baroque Music by Claude Palisca

Christians Are For Ever by John Owen

The American Constitution

The Epistle of James

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant

April

Amadeus (Original Play) by Peter Schaffer

Morality Play: Case Studies in Ethics by Dr. Jessica Pierce

Out of Tune: David Helfgott and the Myth of “Shine” by Margaret Helfgott

The Epistle To Titus

The Prophecy Of Isaiah

May

All Of Grace by Charles Spurgeon

Freefall of the American University by Jim Nelson Black

Living With Art by Mark Getlein

Reading Literature and Writing Argument by Dr. Alan Merickel

Southern Baptists… by Slayden Yarbrough

The Song of Songs

The Stranger by Albert Camus

June

First Book of Chronicles

Men of Music: Their Lives, Times, & Achievements by Wallace Brockway

The Gospel of Mark

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

The Revelations

July

Art, Arts & the Great Ideas by Mortimer J. Adler

Man Is The Measure by Reuben Abel

Mother, Come Home by Paul Hornschemeier

Second Book of Chronicles

The Epistle to the Hebrews

The Stand (revised) by Stephen King

August

Acts of the Apostles

Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

The Ministry of Music in the Black Church by J. Wendell Mapson

The Grass Harp by Truman Capote

The Pilgrim`s Progress by John Bunyan

The Vision of Obadiah

September

Augustine`s Memory by Dr. Garry Willis

Book of Ruth

Book of Esther

Planting Growing Churches by Aubrey Malphurs

Globalization & Diversity by Lester Rowntree

How Musical Is Man? by John Blacking

October

1st Book of the Kings

2nd Book of the Kings

Born Slaves by Martin Luther

Luther`s 95 Theses

Royal Bounty by Frances R. Havergal

The Lotus & the Cross by Ravi Zacharias

November

A Concise History of Western Music by Paul Griffiths

Evolution of Modern Popular Music by Mark Vinet

The History of Rock Music by Andrea Bergamini

The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee

The First Epistle of Peter

The Second Epistle of Peter

December

Bob Dylan: Chronicles, vol. I

Bound For Glory by Paul Hendrickson

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions On Writing & Life by Anne Lamott

Gabriel Prosser: Black Freedom Fighter by Paula Ross

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday… by David Margolick

The Gospel of Luke

The Year, At A Glance

Here is a sampling of some of my thoughts on the better & worse books I read this year. However, I do not mean to imply that these are either the best or worst – only that these works sufficiently exemplify both categorizations. Caveat lector!

Always Ready by Greg Bahnsen

This fantastic work is “Apologetics 101” for any zealous Believer that seeks to provide an answer for the hope that resides within. While not an exhaustive work in and of itself, it also does not descend into some paltry “10 easy refutations for skeptic remarks” which do little to demonstrate the true point of conflict between us and the Lost.

An excellent primer and/or introductory work for someone desiring a deeper insight into the Apologetic discipline, Always Ready offers a sweet first taste of the Presuppositional paradigm.

Perfect for teachers and students of all ages, I give this book my highest recommendation.

grade: A+

Christians Are For Ever by John Owen

There is very little that has come from the pen of the illustrious John Owen that has not blessed me greatly and Christians Are For Ever is no exception. In this work Owen takes pains to offer an airtight case for the solvency of the Christian in their LORD, or the “eternal perseverance” a Believer has in Jesus Christ; an issue that, I believe, is just as relevant now as it was then… and has always been.

Owen`s prose can be a bit thick at times… well, okay okay, so his writing is always dense. He was a Puritan, what do you expect? However, this edition is both abridged and “translated” into a simpler, more “modern” dialect – which is both advantageous and bothersome.

Though streamlined and rather simplified, this is still a meaty work and not for light leisurely reading. Owen is a very demanding master, and requires that one devotes considerable focus to the propositions he brings forth.

Recommended for any that seek a deeper examination upon such vital matters of Theology.

grade: A+

How Musical Is Man? by John Blacking

An excellent introduction to the broader field of Ethnomusicology, with a surprisingly philosophical and historical bent – meaning that the author does not merely state the anthropological developments in a detached and scientific tone, but seeks to understand what led to those developments, what followed them, and what it all might mean to the individual cultures and/or culture in general. Rare, in my experience, for a field of study which too often limits itself to mere pluralistic dissemination of the “noble savage” absurdity.

While the author certainly does not plumb the depths of all the various issues at hand in this discipline, this is a work not meant to accomplish so ambitious an ends. It seemed that the author is trying to establish a basic overview with the reader, from which he or she might study further.

A superb resource for any that are interested in learning more about Music of the world.

grade: A

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Every time I read one of Ayn Rand`s fiction works, I`m reminded of that scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye tells the Constable that he`s a good man and “it`s too bad you`re not a Jew.” A sentiment that I would echo (with some modification of the terminology, of course) towards Rand`s ability to encapsulate and appear to raze entire philosophical systems with a deft stroke of her pen, and it is too bad that she is (or rather “was”) not consistent.

The Fountainhead is little more than a philosophical allegory wherein Rand creates characters to embody different paradigms before setting them loose on each other. While for most this would likely be an immediate turn-off, for me it is demonstrative of how the writing of fiction can be used to convey something far deeper than just the absurd people, gestures, moments, and “bits of rapture” that passes for Art in the modern novel.

On the other hand, Rand can be all-too quick to knock down Strawmen in her rhetorical zeal and cannot, even within a work of her own creation, escape the fatal self-refutation found nestled within the premises of her own system.

grade: B

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt

While not quite on par with his earlier memoirs (Angela`s Ashes and `Tis), McCourt has that rare gift which enables him to somehow capture your attention even in the midst of his run-on sentenced ramblings. Like a repetitive Blues song, McCourt expounds deeper and deeper upon his own struggles in his meandering but poetic style.

For a book that appears to be about his experience as a schoolteacher, McCourt soon abandons that premise for expositions on everything from Religion and Politics to the dynamics of teenage girls in a movie theatre. Somehow, though, he manages to keep your attention.

However, would it kill the guy to write in smaller paragraphs? I`m not sure if it`s some sort of paean to unreadable hacks like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf but his technique leaves something to be desired, especially for a lifelong teacher of English.

grade: B-

Freefall of the American University by Jim Nelson Black

Okay, so you`re telling me that Academia is pervaded by moral/social/intellectual Liberalism? Well, uh, alrighty then – not a big surprise there. Now you`re telling me that Academia is extremely hostile towards Christianity and/or conservative socio-political perspectives? Right. Well, again, that`s not exactly earth-shattering information.

I think, at this point, the revelation of the particular liberality of Academia is about as astonishing as the obdurate liberal bias of the mainstream media. Though I am sympathetic to the author`s vantage point, I am not sure that his is the best approach for leading the masses in turning the tide – but perhaps his intent is not so much to sway as to inform.

Nevertheless, it is hard to tell really what the author is after. He neither delineates the progression (or, in this case, regression) of Academia to its current dreadful state nor does he offer a significant answer. Conversely, The Messianic Character of American Education does both… you should read it instead.

grade: C

Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

There is no historical record of an actual Beowulf… but what if there were? Oooh. What if some little known Arabic scholar had happened upon this Beowulf and followed him along during some of his adventures? Interesting, no?

Crichton makes rather clever usage of the well-known historical account of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan`s experiences with the Varangians (Rus) of the North, bending both fact and fiction to come up with an altogether readable story. However, the various historical inaccuracies and/or outright anachronisms too often jolted me out of the suspension of disbelief that the narrative requires. Perhaps if one is not very familiar with the history of these cultures, they might enjoy it more than I. Ultimately, it was like some sort of Viking DaVinci Code.

Recommended for hardcore fans of the sagas of Beowulf (or even tawdry historical fiction) or for those that really enjoyed the film The 13th Warrior and are interested in the source material from which it was wrought.

grade: C-

The Lotus & The Cross by Ravi Zacharias

If you read just one book by Ravi Zacharias, please do not read this one!

Zacharias is an excellent teacher and author; his book A Shattered Visage is a seminal work in modern Christian Apologetics. However, this paltry and overly-sentimental effort on Buddhism violates several of the unwritten prime directives of the Apologist (“unwritten” because they exist only in my imagination).

The book is not even 100 pages long. This is not to say that more pages equals a stronger argument but, for as convoluted and irrational a system as Buddhism, I think Zacharias theses would be far more compelling if he took the time to make a more comprehensive case.

Of course, perhaps Zacharias only meant for this to be a brief survey or primer on the matter. All the same, I simply can`t imagine a serious Buddhist (how`s that for a contradiction) or even a fence-sitting Skeptic taking this work with anything less than scorn or derision.

Furthermore, it is written as a semi-fictional narrative dialogue between Jesus Christ and the Buddha – bad form, in my opinion. While one might be able to craft a clever didactic exchange between the two using each religions` sets of Scriptures, to attempt to invent such a conversation (based upon one`s presumed concept of how each might argue) almost always comes off as ham-fisted.

I really really wanted to like this, and I really really wanted it to be a powerful work but I came away unimpressed. Ah well, maybe his conversation with Oscar Wilde will be better.

grade: D

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

There are few books which capture the particular rambling bleakness and wanton sexual undercurrent of small-town Texas life as well as The Last Picture Show. So much of this book reminded me of the town where I went to high school and the people I knew there. It is an all-too accurate portrayal of the lusts and longings of the desperate.

For all of its painful authenticity and torrid grounding in humanity, this book utterly fails as Art. McMurtry paints everything with the cozy sepia glow of fond remembrance, an act no less obscene than those which he attempts to gloss. Propaganda for Sin.

grade: D-

Bird By Bird: Some Instructions For Writing & Life by Anne Lamott

I read all 200-odd pages of this disjointed mess, only to find that not only does Anne Lamott have nothing to say in general but her instructions touching upon the craft of Writing are equally as vacuous – that is, where they are even existent.

Early on (in the second chapter, I think) Lamott refers to a clever little aphorism that her father said to her brother (an illustration which inspired the title) and after that it descends into obvious platitudes (write what you know, write often, etc.) that contain nothing remotely as instructive as her father`s trifle. This weak start only gets weaker as the book limps along.

You learn a lot about Anne Lamott`s bizarre approach to and ideas about life in this screed, but if you are at all sober in your ambitions as a writer (or even serious in your approach to your own life) than I doubt you`ll find much of Bird By Bird that is in any way profitable.

Moreover, it appears that Lamott`s “teaching” is no less contradictory and absurd than the work she produces. I suppose she cannot be faulted for such queer consistency.

Recommended for anyone interested in a case study for the decline of Western Literature.

grade: F

Well… that`s about it for 2006.

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