The end of the year is finally here, or nearly so. I think I just have time to squeeze in this last entry in the “Favourites of 2010” posts.
Only one of the books I read this year was actually first published this year, so I am allowing myself to draw on any book I happened to read in 2010.
Planet Narnia – Michael Ward
I don’t often read, much less enjoy, books of literary criticism, but for sheer pleasure nothing I read this year matched Michael Ward’s fascinating study of The Chronicles of Narnia. It is rare to read something that illuminates a well-beloved literary work the way Ward has illuminated Narnia with his theory about how the Chronicles are constructed on the plan of the medieval cosmos. It sounds right to me. A splendid Lewisian feast. [Book Note]
The Histories – Herodotus
Time was long past due for me to acquaint myself with this foundation stone of the Western house of intellect. It was a long trawl, but richly rewarding on many fronts. The stories which Herodotus so lavishly supplies were frequently delightful, and I have half a mind to make a children’s book from the best of them. When the narrative finally settled down to recount the Persian Wars, it was absorbing reading.
A Soldier of the Great War – Mark Helprin
It would be hard to imagine a more humane war novel than this long, leisurely account of one man’s experience of the First World War. Helprin reminds us that war is more than a clash of bodies; each body houses a mind, heart, and soul, and the inner life carries on beneath the fray. The book evinces a great faith in the strength of goodness. Ultimately it is the story of a man who lives obedient to love and beauty, and it is quite beautiful itself. [Book Note]
Surprised by Beauty – Robert Reilly
An alternative history of twentieth-century classical music that brings attention to a host of relatively little known composers, each of whom rejected to some degree the radicalism that dominates the standard histories. Reilly writes with knowledge and affection about these composers, who have toiled, often in deep obscurity, to carry on the tradition of writing music that is beautiful and attractive to audiences. A treasure trove. [Book Note]