Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Awards – 2016

In their December edition each year, GAMES Magazine used to put out a report of what they judged to be the top 100 games to buy for the holidays. Somewhere in the early 80s or 90s, they got sick of taking up using up slots with Monopoly and Twister! (perhaps for different reasons). So they instituted the GAMES Hall of Fame. Then they got down to the business of ranking what they actually thought were the hundred best games.

Inspired by their example, I decided in my first Book Awards post that Dickens would have to go in a Hall of Fame category.

Best Book by the Man Who Has His Own Category: Edwin Drood
Everything about its deliciously unresolved mystery is wonderful. And it’s certainly better than the other Dickens book I read this year: The Battle of Life.

Best Poetry: Tennyson, In Memoriam A. H. H. 
Lord Tennyson cheated slightly by nominating himself in a category that didn’t have a lot of competition this year. But especially after reading so many disappointing poems by the Laureate, In Memoriam struck me as powerful, beautiful, and healing.

Best Drama: Euripides, Heracles Mad
When Theseus arrives homo ex machina to make Heracles’ life as tolerable as he can simply by promising to be a good friend, Euripides has done the very best he can with the weird religion he had to work within. And he got to point out how unworthy of worship Hera really is.

Comeback of the Year: Ovid, Metamorphoses
I hated this classic saga of changes the first time I read it. But I put it on my plan just so I could see whether I had missed something the first time. I’m so glad I made myself reread it!

Best Read in Religion: Martin Luther Reader
I didn’t learn any new information about Luther or his theological views. But reading Luther’s own words turned him in my mind from a theologian who cared about his ideas to a pastor who cared, in some way, about me.

Best Nonscientific Science: Lucretius, De rerum natura
Lucretius got as close as he could with his thoughts alone to a modern theory of elements and molecules – a lot closer than the more intelligent Aristotle. I wonder what would have happened if the thirteenth century had had access to Lucretius?

Most Satisfying Detail: Augustine, There is no number that is half of 1.
I’ve asked professors of mathematics and science when in recent history western culture finally accepted the existence of fractions as numbers, and they all tell me that the ancients knew all about fractions. My question makes no sense to them. I try to explain the difference between a fraction-as-a-number and a fraction-as-a-ratio, and they look at me like a nonmathematician trying to explain mathematical concepts to a mathematician. And of course they have good reason to. This year in Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine, in a passage on numbers, I started reading about 3 being half of 6, and I thought, “OK, they’re all correct. Augustine knows all about a half as a number.” But then he said that odd numbers cannot be divided in half because there is no number that is half of 1. How much clearer can it get that Augustine used the word “half” as a ratio but not as a number?

Most Recurring Theme: China
From histories to Henry Kissinger’s World Order to current news stories this year, I kept reading over and over about China’s expectation (no matter the political dynasty or system in control) that all other nations will acknowledge their superiority. And I’ve also seen that those who know to say what’s required find the Chinese cooperative. Let's hope "someone" knows what to say.

Most Eye-Opening Surprise: Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship
Before Wilhelm, I didn’t understand Goethe; after Wilhelm I did. And it was an enjoyable read, as well.

Biggest Disappointment: Anthony Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds
Why, oh! why did Trollope decide to make his central character so unlikeable without making her colorful?

Best Off-roading: Amity Shlaes, Coolidge
Exactly the right person at the right time. Did you know the U. S. ran in the black each of the six years he was president? Remember that time in the 90s when we had a budget surplus and everybody argued about what to do with it? Cal would have known.

Oh! Wait! Actual Biggest Disappointment
Right around the time of that budget surplus, GAMES magazine subtly changed its Games 100 to the top 100 games that had come out that year. OK, I’m sure advertisers were happy with that move. I could no longer think, “This is the year I’ll buy that game they’ve been raving about for three years.” But I still had lots of shiny things to distract me, so I was happy. Then they added 100 video games, and the GAMES 100 became essentially the GAMES 200. I don’t play first-person shooters (which seemed to fill most of the slots), so I didn’t have a lot of use for the expansion, but I still had 100 board games to drool over each holiday season.

This year, however, the newly constituted GAMES, a ghost of its former glorious self, just offered brief blurbs of about ten games. Now that was even more disappointing than Trollope.

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