Book List 2020

“Well we come now to that part of the show when I say: ‘Well we come now to that part of the show…” – Stephen Fry

As so many blogs do around this time of year I now present a reading list. This is supposed to be the best books I have read this year. It will not be that. Instead I will put in some of what I have read this year, as well as some things that I just think are damn good and you should read them in the coming year. I love giving books away and since I don’t know you I will just tell you what you should buy. If you end up hating my recommendations then tough. I quite liked these books. Also my goal is to try and keep to things that in a couple of years will still be good. There are those books that have a short shelf life. So while I would in this moment recommend Tom Woods Jr.’s Your Facebook Friends are Wrong About the Lockdown, my guess is that in a few months it will have very little relevance (Thanks though Tom, I loved it while it lasted!) 

The Complete Life – John Erskine

Here is what I like about this book. You can skip around and read the parts that interest you. Then implement what you learned to have a relatively complete life. I skipped the chapter on dancing because my Southern Baptist heritage was showing particularly strongly that day. Erskine’s prose is smooth and frequently charming if not insightful. On occasion he is given to lengthy tangents. For example in the chapter on reading and writing he takes many pages to write at length about obscure greek philosophers he reckons dong get enough credit. Mostly because they pissed people off. And if you know anything about Erskine and his (mostly failed) quest to make the great books a full set in every American’s living room, then you get the attraction. The nice thing is he is easy to navigate so if a section is killing you then you can pretty quickly find the next thing that snags your attention. Erskine thinks of himself as an absolute authority. This kind of pomposity makes me want to skip around in his book just to tick him off.

The Romance of the Word – Robert Farrar Capon

Endlessly Charming, frequently funny, very insightful, usually when it is being funny. Capon writes the way most of the authors at Crossway wish or think they can write. The way that this man wrote… It just flows. I’ll pick it up to read thinking I will just do a section or two and a hundred pages later I am having to force myself to put it down so I am not late for work. The only other time I will pause is when I am making notations which should be more frequent but I get lost in the flow of the text. Also his humor is brilliant. In a sense he is similar to Garrison Keillor, when he would attempt a theological insight. But Capon usually sticks the landing in orthodoxy. Pretty much he is only wrong in the ways you would expect an Anglican to be wrong. 

The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis

I read this every year once at a minimum, you should do the same.

Spirits in Bondage – C.S. Lewis

Ok this is not so much a recommendation as just a suggestion for you to splurge on an interesting book that looks gorgeous on the shelf. Lexham Press has released a beautiful new edition of Lewis’ first published work. It was written when he was quite young, an aspiring poet, and flaming atheist. And it shows. It is interesting in a kind of biographical way. The introduction by Karen Swallow Prior is excellent. And the binding is worth the price alone. A very slim hardcover in dirty and faded robins egg blue, copper lettering, pen and ink drawing on the frontispiece. It really belongs on any shelf of prized Lewis books. 

Thrawn Ascendancy; Chaos Rising – Timothy Zahn

This one probably comes closest to breaking my rule about “timeless books.” We never know these days when Micky will wake his wand and re-erase the Star Wars canon. This is also not one of the greatest books ever written. But it is fun and interesting, definitely better to it’s three predecessors. My hunch is that Zahn, irritated with the deletion of his greatest creation by Jar Jar Abrams in The Farce Awakens is trying to salvage what he can and set it far back enough that it might still be left standing when Walt’s cold cryogenically frozen fingers start itching toward the reset button. This also was a delight to read because the production value has exceeded any previous entry. Each page is bordered in blue and the chapters of history sprinkled throughout have a different pattern so that the reader knows where they are chronologically. It is a subtile visual pleasure that also brings clarity.

The Willows in Winter – William Horwood

Picks up right where Wind in the Willows left off. It is a perfect pleasure. Absolutely perfect. Mole, Ratty, Badger, and Toad are all there, what is more it really is them. This is a work lovingly created and is a completely worthy sequel. Horwood has captured the style of Grahame to such a degree that if the book were placed next to Wind and picked up immediately after “But when their infants were fractious and quite beyond control, they would quiet them by telling how, if they didn’t hush them and not fret them, the terrible grey Badger would up and get them.  This was a base libel on Badger, who, though he cared little about Society, was rather fond of children; but it never failed to have its full effect.” and begun, one would be hard pressed to realize that the author had changed. As a final note I wasn’t entirely certain I could love Toad more, but I do. This book made me love him even more.

The Puritans – Martyn Lloyd-Jones

O Banner Books how I love thee. This collection of addresses given by Lloyd-Jones (nearly) annually at The Puritan and later Westminster Conferences is delightful. I must confess I read it out of order. I skipped around with wild abandon through the persons most interesting to me on down. In particular I delighted in Lloyd-Jones asserting John Knox as the first Puritan. Even if I am not entirely convinced I still devoured the essay whole. The introduction which was a brief history of the conference served to make me incredibly jealous that I could never have attended, not having been born yet. (I would love to find a volume of J.I. Packers addresses before the conference split but thus far have not found anything.) It put me in mind of the early days of Acts 29 and the power of the preaching that would take place then. As a final note this being published by Banner of Truth means that it will be the kind of book your kids or disciples will fight over after you are dead. Cloth over board, clean gilt spine lettering, _____ on the inside covers, with solid creamy paper, woven binding, and a dynamite dust jacket. This is a book built to last down the ages, in more ways than one.

The Preachers Catechism – Lewis Allen

I judged that this would be a good book by it’s cover. It was excellent. Thoroughly Reformed and practical. It paraphrases the Westminster Catechism to direct it toward the preacher. There was not a lot of advice that was necessarily new. But chock full of things that must be freshly remembered. And by that I mean Puritans. While the concise nature of the book is nice (clocking in at just over two hundred pages) I would have loved more. A quick favorite quote from the book, “A few years later, I would learn that to become a preacher was to enter the company of men who seemed to attract trouble without looking for it.”

Pause Now for a Strange Interlude

Since I have been waxing so eloquently on books that I love, I figured I would mix things up a bit and wane eloquently on a book I hated.

Letters to Young Men – W.B Sprague

I bought this in a moment of wild abandon during a sale on Reformation Heritage Books. I have a few Sprinkle Publications and the title did it’s job and grabbed my attention. Since I am such a fan of Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle and Sprague was an American contemporary I assumed it would be in the same vein as Ryle. It is not. It is the kind of victorian tripe that is not only dated but part of why the church is in the mess it is today with feminized men. It is a book that hates young men. They are a liability and must be controlled by mothers and sisters and eventually wives. This is charmingly called, “domestic influence.” There is no mention of a strong father who can control the boy, because that would mean that the mother and sisters would not be in-charge. Better to manipulate and nag the boy into righteousness.

It is rare that I refuse to finish a book. It is a point of personal pride that I persevere through the end no matter how bad a book is. There are only ten or so books I have refused to finish. This has joined them. I hated it.

And Finally a personal note…

To M’colleague. Confessions of a Food Catholic – Douglas Wilson. 

I bought you this book because you said you would read it and write a review for this blog! You have done neither. I have no idea if it is good or bad but good gimlet gravy woman it’s been over a year at this point! Read it and review it or mail it to me! You can even make it your annual book review. All five people reading here will love hearing form you once, just once a year. 

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