Favourites of 2014: Books

January 2, 2015

With the advent of the new year, it is time to look back at 2014. Over the next week or so I’ll write a series of posts about my favourites of the books, music, and film that I encountered in the past 12 months. Actually, these posts are already written, but it will take some time to embellish them with little pictures.

I’ll begin today with books.

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This year much of my reading was devoted to re-reading: I re-visited Virgil, Augustine, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, and Dickens. This did not leave a great deal of time for other things, but from those slim pickings I offer a few brief recommendations.

aubrey-maturinA couple of years ago a friend told me that he had read the twenty-one volumes in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, and had enjoyed them so much that, upon completion, he had returned immediately to the first volume and read all twenty-one volumes again! His was perhaps an extreme case of Aubreyphilia, but he was not the first person whom I had heard praise these books in glowing terms, and so this year I set sail on my own voyage, reading the first half-dozen titles in the series. For the landsmen among us, the books chronicle the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend and physician Stephen Maturin aboard His Majesty’s naval vessels during the Napoleonic Wars. O’Brian has been praised for his richly textured historical writing, and justly so, but the heart of the books is their portrayal, both separately and in friendship, of the two principals. They are wonderful characters. The books are not to be ranked with the greatest literature, but they are examples of compelling storytelling wedded to admirable craftsmanship. I am looking forward to reading another half-dozen or so volumes in the coming year.

hart-experienceMy favourite nonfiction of the year was David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. Hart mines the basic features of conscious experience, and even the very conditions for such experience, to exhibit what they reveal to us about God, or at least about a transcendent order surpassing those things in heaven and earth dreamed of by our modern Horatios. It is a serious book that gives the reader a good deal to grapple with, and beautifully written. I wrote extensively about the book, so I shant elaborate further here.

bate-johnsonMy runner-up is W. Jackson Bate’s much-praised biography Samuel Johnson, published in 1977. There is a temptation, even among Johnson’s admirers, to reduce him to a wit or a sage merely, but Bate wants to unfold for us the man in all of his complexity: his generous heart, his pride, his insecurities and fears, his depressions, his moral wisdom and piety, and, yes, his genius. It is a thoroughly engrossing portrait of a great man, which I hope to write about in more detail in the coming months.

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I always enjoy looking at when the books I have been reading were written. Here is a histogram showing the original publication dates of those I read this year:

books2014

You can see Euripides and Virgil there on the left, then Augustine, then Dante, and so forth. Looking at that last bin, which counts books from the past hundred years, one might wonder how a father of two (now three!) small children, with a full-time job, and a wife working more-than-full-time, and a long commute, and a house to take care of, etc., etc. has time to read so many books! What is the secret of my success? I answer with just two words: Beatrix Potter. Remove those from consideration (as I have not considered any other of the many children’s books I read this year) and my numbers drop off drasti– but let’s not remove those from consideration.

3 Responses to “Favourites of 2014: Books”

  1. Janet Says:

    I read several of the Aubrey-Maturin series and really enjoyed them, but then it was enough for a while. Maybe I’ll pick them up again, but there are so many books clamoring for my attention at the moment.

    This year I did something I always wanted to do when my kids were little, but never could afford, and that was to buy the entire boxed set of B. Potter books. I gave them to my 4 (well almost) year old granddaughter, and next year I’m going to do the same for my then 3.5 year old granddaughter.

    AMDG

  2. cburrell Says:

    My favourite of the Aubrey-Maturin books so far has been Desolation Island, in which they sail the South seas and nearly reach Antarctica. But then I suppose that was predictable.

    We bought the full set of Beatrix Potter books, in the original small, hardback editions, all couched in a nice box. The children promptly destroyed the box, but I had a good time reading through all the books. They are a great gift; I’m sure your grandchildren will like them.

    • Janet Says:

      Yes, you have to get the small books because Miss Potter was very insistent that they be exactly that way. I hate to see big editions. We had quite a few that we picked up at book sales for a dollar or so, (well, I still have them), and we checked others out of the library, but I always lusted after the set.

      I know the box will get destroyed, but it is a very nice box.

      AMDG


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