2017: Reading Highlights
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
“For if joyful is the fountain that rises in the sun, its springs are in the wells of sorrow unfathomable at the foundations of the Earth.”
I’ve read The Silmarillion back in high school but it was mostly a vanity read. I wanted to have read it and to throw my Tolkien knowledge around. This time, I sat down with a beautiful illustrated copy and really enjoyed it. The book is unmistakably mythic, beautiful, and often tragic.
If you want a sweeping poetic epic that reads like a legend, this is for you. Be warned though, it’s more of a compendium of tales than a coherent narrative.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
“I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't children's stories. They were better than that. They just were.”
This book was so good at mixing the wonder and horror of faerie tales (and childhood) that I’ll likely remember it’s more striking passages for a long, long time.
Despite some moments of horror, this one is for everyone.
The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’Connor
“You can't just say NO," he said. "You got to do NO. You got to show it. You got to show you mean it by doing it. You got to show you're not going to do one thing by doing another. You got to make an end of it. One way or another.”
Flannery O’Connor is very good at what she does, and what she does is trace the common cracks in humanity before smashing them into a million beautiful pieces. Part southern gothic, part grotesque, The Violent Bear it Away is a story about the brokenness all people share, fanaticism, and “the terrible speed of mercy.”
You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith
“You can’t not bet your life on something. You can’t not be headed somewhere. We live leaning forward, bent on arriving at the place we long for.”
I’m not quick to call things life-changing but this book has significantly reoriented my view of and approach to worship and virtue. Smith’s main idea here is that the virtues (and vices) are habits that are formed in our worship. By worship here he means specifically liturgy, in both its religious and cultural forms—because “everybody worships.”
Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper
A disenchanted world has been drained of magic, of any supernatural presences, of spirits and God and transcendence. A disenchanted world is a material world, where what you see is what you get. It’s not a world entirely without God or a world without religion. Rather, it’s a world where God and religion are superfluous.
Maybe this will be the year I actually read Charles Taylor, but I enjoyed reading around him in 2017. Similar to Smith’s You Are What You Love, this book proposes pushing back on disenchantment by getting out of our heads and getting our hands on tangible practices. It’s less of guide to spiritual disciplines and more a framework for laying the foundation of meaning that gives the disciplines—like prayer, fasting, and feasting—their power.
I wrote a mini-review of it on the blog.
Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson
“…we must never forget that looking like God does not mean that we are God. We are made in His image, but we are made nonetheless.”
This book saved my sanity in the whirlwind that was 2017. Anderson is thoughtful and keeps two feet on the ground. Like plants (and all created things) people are bounded by limits and Anderson gracefully lays out the counterintuitive power of humility—the only posture that won’t grind us into the dust we are.
I connected the book to Spider-man: Homecoming on the blog.