Quarterly Book Update: Tolstoy, Levine, du Bois, Etc.

Book listFor the past few years, I’ve been posting quarterly updates of what I’ve been reading on Facebook with little two- or three-sentence reviews of what I thought. And now I transliterate it here, so that the five people who read me on my Facebook page can see the same post on my blog! It’s called cross-promotion or something. Deal with it. (Links go to my typically more in-depth Goodreads reviews.)

1. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (1956) – This retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid is quite good. It gave me a whole new respect for Lewis as a writer of more than “just” children’s fantasy and Christian apologetics. If you liked Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, you should give this a read because it’s better. *ducks*

2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Easily one of the best novels of 2017, if not the entire decade, if not this generation. Everyone should read it. Everyone.

3. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (2017) and 6. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – Two much-hyped novels exploring race and class, and neither quite lives up to its billing. In both cases, the characters sound too much like their creator, spoiling the suspension of disbelief.

4. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton (2017) – An uneven campaign memoir, but the parts worth reading are *really* worth reading. Her chapter on sexism and politics ought to be repackaged and sold as a standalone book.

5. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848) and 14. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1878) – Two classics written in different countries three decades apart, yet both featuring a compelling and ultimately tragic female protagonist. Tolstoy’s is the better and more memorable novel, with fewer trips down the Victorian bunny trail.

7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000) and 11. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908) – Two children’s novels written a century apart that masterfully create a world that every child (and adult) dreams of entering, both of them so perfect in execution that they transcend the kid-lit label and demand engagement from readers of all ages.

8. It by Stephen King (1986) – As thrilling, as terrifying, as relentless as I remembered from high school, with a few, um, troubling scenes I’d blessedly managed to forget (or repress), as well as some unrealistic dialogue and decisions that didn’t bother me 20 years ago but I recognize now as the seeds of what has made some later King books all but unreadable.

9. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans (2015) – Alternately beautiful and frustrating, Evans has some good points to make, and the memoir parts of the book are excellent, but too often she clouds them with overwritten prose.

10. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2018) – As the cover of the axed and toppling tree would indicate, this is not a story of a happy marriage, so I feel guilty for how much I enjoyed it. The writing is great, the characters are interesting and relatable, the larger message is thought-provoking, and the plot is compelling.

12. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. du Bois (1903) – Should be required reading in every high school and college American history class. If kids have to read Paine, Jefferson, Franklin and other writers, they can surely spare a week for du Bois, whose beautiful writing eclipses all of them while illuminating the stain of slavery and its ongoing effects in the lives of African Americans.

15. Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi by Amy-Jill Levine (2014) – Provocative and challenging, this is an engaging and well written work of impeccable scholarship overturning sometimes centuries of Christian misinterpretation of Jesus’ initially Jewish parables.

16. Fever by Deon Meyer (2016) – If The Stand met The Road and went on a trip to South Africa. Of course, that’s not really fair because it isn’t as good as either one of those post-apocalyptic classics (and few are). Still an enjoyable novel, though.


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