Favourites of 2010: Books

December 31, 2010

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]

7 Responses to “Favourites of 2010: Books”

  1. Janet Cupo Says:

    It’s been a long time since I read the Histories, and I only read about half of the book, but I loved it.

    You need to go see True Grit so somebody will talk about it with me.


  2. cburrell Says:

    Which half? The first half has most of the stories — not all of which are suitable for children, if you remember — and the second half focuses on the Greco-Persian Wars. I liked the whole thing.

    My wife and I wanted to go see True Grit during the holidays, but we didn’t manage it. Now our next chance to go to the movies is in May.

  3. Mac Says:

    With you and Rob G and others praising Helprin so lavishly, I really ought to give him another try. I started The Winter’s Tale (I think that’s the title) once, some years ago, but was just too busy and distracted to keep it up.

    I’ve read Reilly’s stuff in Crisis over the years and accumulated a lot of recommendations that I never had the opportunity to follow up on.

    What’s going to stop you from seeing a movie between now and May?

  4. cburrell Says:

    The Winter’s Tale is the book of his that I am hoping to read next. I keep looking for a second hand copy, and I keep not finding one.

    We find that it’s rather hard to find time to go out on the town. My wife has two big exams, in April and May, and until then she’s pretty much got her nose to the grindstone. She does take a night off every few weeks, but she’d usually rather go to the gym, for a walk, etc. Movie houses are not high on the list.

  5. Janet Cupo Says:

    I read bits here and there according to a syllabus that I was using with my son. He’s thirty now, so it was a long time ago. It was probably all in the first part. I remember his saying, “Mom, I can’t believe you are reading me this stuff.” But I don’t think I read anything really awful.


  6. cburrell Says:

    Here’s one that should probably be left out of the children’s edition:

    [2.111] On the death of Sesostris, his son Pheron, the priests said, mounted the throne. He undertook no warlike expeditions; being struck with blindness, owing to the following circumstance. The river had swollen to the unusual height of eighteen cubits, and had overflowed all the fields, when, a sudden wind arising, the water rose in great waves. Then the king, in a spirit of impious violence, seized his spear, and hurled it into the strong eddies of the stream. Instantly he was smitten with disease of the eyes, from which after a little while he became blind, continuing without the power of vision for ten years. At last, in the eleventh year, an oracular announcement reached him from the city of Buto, to the effect, that “the time of his punishment had run out, and he should recover his sight by washing his eyes with urine. He must find a woman who had been faithful to her husband, and had never preferred to him another man.” The king, therefore, first of all made trial of his wife, but to no purpose he continued as blind as before. So he made the experiment with other women, until at length he succeeded, and in this way recovered his sight. Hereupon he assembled all the women, except the last, and bringing them to the city which now bears the name of Erythrabolus (Red-soil), he there burnt them all, together with the place itself.

  7. Janet Cupo Says:

    I love a good story.


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