Last year was a good year in reading for me with 138 books (2 short of my personal record) totaling 51,671 pages (a new personal best) and more 4–5-star books than usual. As far as reviewing/blogging, it wasn’t so good, with reviews written for only about a quarter of what I read. Between the pressures of ministry and my wife’s ongoing/worsening health issues, I’m having a hard time summoning the energy to write anything beyond my weekly sermons, Bible studies, etc. for church. This blog has been enjoyable in the past, but it’s time for me to let it go for now. It is possible that I will pick it up again at some point in the future, but don’t expect any new content here anytime soon. I plan to continue reading and interacting with other people’s book blogs (I love this community!), so you will still see me around. Also, I plan to remain somewhat active (including sporadic short reviews) on Goodreads, so if you have an account and want to stay in contact there you can find me HERE. On to the next chapter of life!
Thank you to Karen at Books and Chocolate for hosting the Back to the Classics 2022 challenge! I completed all 12 categories this year for three entries in the prize drawing (I can be contacted here on the off chance that I win). My reads for the year were:
Title: For Whom the Bell Tolls Author: Ernest Hemingway Genre: American Classic about Spain Pages: 480 Rating: 2.5 of 5
I try to give most well-known classic authors at least a couple tries before I decide that they’re not for me. After all, theoretically, there must be something of value in their writing since it’s considered classic. This was my third Hemingway and probably my last.
I found the general subject matter interesting: a guerrilla’s-eye-view of the Spanish civil war. Stylistically, the famed stripped-down Hemingway style neither amazes nor annoys me (though the deliberate self-censorship featuring phrases like, “go to the unprintable and unprint thyself” was humorous). What grates on me with Hemingway is the bleak outlook that seems to pervade his work and his obsession with macho manliness. I can see how he would appeal to some people, but I probably won’t bother with anything else by him. I don’t need 400+ pages of “It’s probably going to fail and even if it doesn’t what’s the point of it all?”
I’m using this as for the Classic that has been on your TBR the longest category at the Back to the Classics Challenge (I kept putting off trying Hemingway again, hoping that older me would get more out of it… the experiment was not a success). That’s the last category that I needed to finish, so stay tuned later this week for the wrap-up post.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. – from John 1
Title: The Citadel of Forgotten Myths Author: Michael Moorcock Genre: Angsty Dark Fantasy (Eternal Champion “Series”) Pages: 336 Rating: 2.5 of 5 Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way influences the content of my review.
Elric of Melniboné, that whiniest most tortured iteration of the Eternal Champion, returns in an all-new (sort of) prequel (sort of). If you are a big Elric fan, run out and buy this. It’s pretty much of a piece with all the previous entries in the continuously reworked, reshuffled, and re-released Elric canon.
If you aren’t already acquainted with the character, this is not a very good place to start. Important events and characters are recapped (some ad nauseum), so you wouldn’t be completely lost, but you’re a lot better off getting to know this classic doomed antihero by reading in chronological order (more below on where this fits in chronologically).
The stories woven together to create this book previously appeared in slightly different form in two or three magazines, but I think that this is their first time in book form. Their biggest value is that they add quite a bit of new lore to Elric’s world. This includes interesting insights into the origin of the Melnibonéan civilization and exploring a completely new setting on the other side of Elric’s ovoid world. Unfortunately, the book also showcases some of the worst of Michael Moorcock’s tendencies when writing Elric: so much self-pitying whining, highly repetitive phrases and situations, pontificating social commentary, and new pieces of information seemingly pulled out of thin air to make the plot work.
As far as where this fits in the Elric saga chronology, the publicity blurbs claim it is a prequel that fits between the first and second volumes of the saga. I have two different versions of the saga, and this is true in neither of them. It actually fits in about 2/3 of the way through the second volume in both cases. It belongs after the section called Kings in Darkness and before the section called either The Flame Bringer (Stormbringer: The Elric Saga Part 2 – Kindle edition 2022 – p. 519) or The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams (Elric: The Stealer of Souls, Paperback by White Wolf 1998 – p.400). Maybe there’s a version of the saga where this fits between volumes 1 and 2, but it’s certainly not the case for the edition currently available on Amazon.
Overall, this is worth reading if you are an Elric completionist, but it is far from the best entry in the series.
Over the last month I finished the last three books for the Official TBR Pile Challenge, so here are the reviews (I ended up using my two alternate titles to reach 12 books, but I may still get back to the two that I skipped):
Title: Fear and Trembling Author: Søren Kierkegaard Translator: Alastair Hannay Genre: Theology/Philosophy Pages: 160 Rating: 3 out of 5
In this classic, Kierkegaard ponders the nature of faith by considering the account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22). Themes include the relationship and relative merits of faith and reason, the necessity of resignation before faith can occur, belief in “the absurd” (that which is humanly impossible), and more.
I found some of it hard to follow as Kierkegaard is largely interacting with Hegel and I’m not really up on Hegelian philosophy. On top of that, he is writing as the pseudonym/character “Johannes de silentio” whose thoughts do not necessarily fully reflect Kierkegaard’s own (he’s an odd writer/thinker). This is my second time reading Kierkegaard and I don’t know if I’ll dip into his writings again…I think I prefer my theology/philosophy a bit less convoluted.
Title: The 1980 Annual World’s Best SF Editor: Donald A. Wollheim (Ed.) Genre: Sci-fi Short Story Anthology Pages: 284 Rating: 2.5 of 5
It has been quite a while since I read this sort of anthology, though I read them all the time as a teen. It gave me a sense of nostalgia when I started, but that eventually gave way to annoyance. The stories are well-written and memorable (I actually remember reading one of them in a different collection 20+ years ago) but almost all of them were some variation of “let’s imagine a world in which Christianity and/or sexuality and/or the nuclear family has evolved away from the pathetically narrow-minded present.” I don’t know if that was the prevailing theme of late-70’s/early-80’s sci-fi or just the editor’s pet theme. After a while it just kind of felt preachy.
Title: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine Author: Gail Honeyman Genre: Some sort of Psychological Fiction? Pages: 352 Rating: 4.5 of 5
This isn’t my usual kind of read, and I don’t remember how it originally ended up on my TBR, but I’m glad that I read it. I’m not sure how much I can say about it without spoilers as gradually getting to know Eleanor (a socially awkward loner who repeatedly assures us that her life is fine) and seeing her personal development is the whole point of the story. I don’t know if someone with so little self-awareness and understanding of the real world (to say nothing of other issues) would really be as independent as Eleanor is, but her struggles, tragedies, and triumphs provide a moving tale of humor, heartbreak, and hope.
Title: Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story) Author: Daniel (birth name: Khosrou) Nayeri Genre: Slightly Fictionalized Autobiography Pages: 368 Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Over the last week, my church hosted a missions conference with the theme of Sojourners. Much of the focus was on ministry to displaced people (a topic much on our hearts and minds as we have a sister church in Ukraine), and as a follow-up I will be recommending this book on Sunday.
All too often displaced people are reduced to political pawns and depersonalized talking points to shame opponents or outrage the voting base. Everything Sad Is Untrue is an antidote to such lack of personal empathy and compassion. In it, Daniel/Khosrou records a barely fictionalized account of his own life as a refugee. He writes from the point of view of his 12-year-old self, speaking directly to the reader about his memories, confusion, heartaches, and hopes.
We are told repeatedly that “a patchwork memory is the shame of a refuge,” and the extremely disordered and fragmentary narration highlights this theme. Khosrou jumps around wildly in his story from earliest childhood memories to present middle school experience to everything in between (including an odd number of poop-related stories…gotta love middle schoolers). Along the way he frequently references The 1,001 Nights of his native Persia/Iran as a sort of parallel to his own desperately throwing out stories as they occur to him.
The scattery style and 12-year-old voice take some getting used to, but it is worth your time to stick with it. The confusion, loss, and hurt that underly most of the stories will sadden your heart and make you angry at the cruelty of mankind, but there are also some beautiful descriptions of his mother’s courage and faith and his own hope that looks beyond present circumstances. This is not a Christian book per se (in fact, behavior by some of the churchy people in the book really ticked me off!), but his mother’s faith in Jesus is a truly amazing expression of the blessed hope that there is coming a day when “everything sad comes untrue.”
I don’t usually like child in peril/child suffering/missing child fiction. As a parent, I find them too disturbing. For some reason, two of the books that I read in October were weird missing/suffering child thrillers. I still found them overly disturbing, but there was enough weirdness in them to keep my curiously reading while I cringed. Here are a couple mini reviews for those who can handle such books:
Title: The Last House on Needless Street Author: Catriona Ward Genre: Unreliable Narrator Weirdness Pages: 352 Rating: 3.5 out of 5
If you like unreliable narrators and can handle disturbing/abusive content, this is the book for you. There are multiple first person POV narrators (including a talking, Bible-reading cat) and some third person limited omniscient narration. It’s the kind of story where you spend a lot of it trying to figure out what is going on with dawning horror and some barely believable twists. A lot of it has been done before, but the author does it very well (even if her self-important afterward is a bit overblown).
Title: The Changeling Author: Victor LaValle Genre: Magical Realism/Fairytale Mess Pages: 448 Rating: 1.5 out of 5
I picked this up in spite of the “missing child” plot because I enjoyed LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, and this book won multiple awards and rave reviews. Unfortunately, I thought the book was an absolute mess. It’s one of those “magical realism” things where “magical realism” is an excuse for incoherent worldbuilding, illogical character behavior, and plot coming in a distant second to preachy ideology. Parts were compelling, but it felt like three largely unrelated stories smashed clumsily together with an eye on portraying big important themes (importance of family, difficulty of being a black woman, dangers of white males and social media) rather than on presenting a coherent narrative.
Title: Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas (The Posthumous Memories of Brás Cubas) Author: Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis Genre: Brazilian Classic Pages: 223 Rating: 2 of 5
Machado de Assis had one of my favorite reads of the year a few years ago (O Alienista), but I did not enjoy this one. It features the same absurdism and quirkiness (reminiscent of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman). For example, one chapter was titled something like “How I Failed to Win the Election” and is followed by a blank page. However, the highly digressive story ultimately revolves around an adulterous love affair, which is among my least favorite plot devices when played for humor or romance. Someone who doesn’t have this hang-up would probably enjoy it a lot more than I did. I will be using this for my Classic by a BIPOC Author category at the Back to the Classics Challenge.
Title: The Sundial Author: Shirley Jackson Genre: Gothic Absurdity Pages: 241 Rating: 4 of 5
The Sundial is reminiscent of Jackson’s later We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but if feels like she read a lot of Oscar Wilde before writing this one. Ostensibly, it is about a rich blueblood family (and various hangers-on) preparing for the cataclysmic end of the world and dawning of a new age. However, it’s more of an excuse for wicked/clever repartee among eccentric characters who believe crazy Aunt Fanny’s doomsday predictions to varying degrees, but none of whom want to be left out just in case she’s right. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but I did enjoy it. I will be using this for the Classic by a Woman at the Back to the Classics Challenge.