Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Awards -- 2011

Halfway through! I finished the fifth year of The Plan just a couple of weeks ago with Dickens’s Pictures of Italy. This weekend I start year 6, and the weekend after that I take the Kindle to Italy. In the meantime, I’m happy to announce my book awards for the year. I blogged earlier in the year about the recipients of all awards except the last.

Still Too Good to Compare with Anyone Else
Charles Dickens. This year I read the Great Man’s masterpiece among masterpieces, the book about the boy Dickens called his favorite of all the children that lived in his mind. Much of David Copperfield, in fact, is about people that live in the mind: both fictional people and the imperfect shadows we create of people we know. I always wondered before why David begins his first-person account with local women prophesying at his birth that he would grow up to see ghosts. Now I understand that the prediction came true.

Best New Read: Fiction
George Orwell, Animal Farm. Partway through the book I realized that trying to figure out the allegory was a pointless distraction. Stalin’s Soviet Union provides just one example of the contemptible but all too common human dynamic demonstrated in this fairy tale. The leaders’ insistence that the common folk use particular language, the changing rules, and the loose interpretation of the rules by those who are more equal than others all sound very familiar. I once received an email stating that in my publications and correspondence I must always refer to the University of Oklahoma with a capital T in the word “the.”

Best New Read: History
Durant, The Age of Faith, chaps. 27-36. Last year I read the section on the political history of the Middle Ages in Europe. This year I read Durant’s account of the Church and the arts. My spirit soared with the Gothic cathedrals and was humbled with Dominic and Francis. And Durant got the part dealing with music right, including all the technical descriptions – a rare accomplishment for a nonexpert!

Best New Read: Religion
My first inclination says to go with the Church History of Eusebius, especially on this feast day of the Holy Innocents in commemoration of Herod’s slaughter of Jewish babies, but instead I’ll take the opportunity to celebrate George Morrison’s Christ in Shakespeare. According to Morrison, the Bard testified to Christ not so much by putting sermons in the mouths of the Christian characters as by faithfully depicting the physical, spiritual, and moral world that Christ created. I’ll never read Shakespeare the same way again.

Most Confusing Philosophy
As much as I want to say Hegel, especially after reading William James call him a lunatic, I have to give the award to Oswald Spengler, who expected others to judge ideas, people, and institutions by the colors they invoked in Spengler’s mind.

Most Encouraging Philosophy
Aquinas, Part I-II, QQ. 59-63. I’ll attempt a summary of this section on virtues – gulp! The moral virtues arise in us first as aptitudes and are developed usually by habitual action but sometimes by miraculous gift. They don’t eliminate the passions, as the Stoics incorrectly taught. The ends of moral actions must be in accord with reason, and reason orders and directs the passions; therefore, some moral actions are strengthened by rationally ordered passion. God surpasses human reason, so He gives us the theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) to direct us to Himself. My summary of the summary: God works in us to will and to do his good pleasure.

Biggest Disappointment on the List
Since Spengler already got an award, I’ll give this one to Richard Blackmore’s Lorna Doone.  The “hero” gets a lot of guns so he can kill all his enemies and get the pretty girl. Seriously?

Most Disappointing Sequel
Jasper Fforde, Lost in a Good Book. I liked the wildly inventive first book in the Thursday Next series (which got a positive award from me last year), and this one provided lots of new clever ideas, like the secret library of all possible plots, but the story brought in too many elements and meandered. I couldn’t help wondering if the sidetracks were there to give a second meaning to the title, as if Fforde were saying that the plot of his book suffered from the literary espionage that he writes about in his fantasy world. But I never could fully buy into that theory, especially when this supposed celebration of books dethroned classic after classic by calling them all boring.

Best Reread
C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy. As much as Jasper Fforde seems to hate the classics, Lewis loves them. His story of the way God used good friends and good books to reveal Himself inspires me on every page, and I was pleasantly amazed at the number of Lewis’s favorites I had read in the twenty years since I last enjoyed Surprised by Joy.

Best Recommended Offroading
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games. I could be picky and ask who Katniss is talking to in her first-person, present-tense narrative. Sometimes it seems like I’ve been given access to her stream of consciousness, but at other times she explains details of her culture as if talking to an outsider. But in spite of this problem (which may be resolved by one of the later volumes, for all I know), this book had me enthralled  beginning to end. It clearly belongs to the era of reality television and cameras in the sky, yet it shows Aristotelian unity in its almost relentless pursuit of a single story.

Well, there’s my last retrospective on 2011. Next time, a preview of 2012.

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