For me, New Years is always a time for reflection and thought—a time for me to remember the past year’s struggles and triumphs and to look ahead to dreams and goals for the future. I’m not big on New Years Resolutions (as one really has no idea what new challenges or opportunities tomorrow will bring), but for the past few years I’ve been able to meet a general goal of reading on average one book a week—sixty-five in total this year. They (whoever “they” are) say that great authors are first and foremost great readers, and although I make no pretentions to greatness in either category, isn’t that the standard to shoot for?
That said, here are a few of the notable books I’ve read over the past 365 days, with a few words on what I appreciated about them. As usual, I’ll break them into rough categories.
BEST GENERAL NONFICTION: Republocrat by Carl R. Trueman
Confession: I kind of hate politics. This isn’t to say I don’t have political opinions, but rather that I have a general distrust of most of the government and little patience for the social media name-calling that stands in the place of debate these days. I often joke that I’m just conservative enough to piss off my liberal friends, and just liberal enough to piss off my conservative friends, being sure to alienate and enrage everybody. In that sense, Trueman feels like a kindred spirit, and Republocrat like a breath of fresh air. For anyone dissatisfied with the state of American political discourse, this book can help make one make a little sense of the madness.
BEST SCI-FI: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
I now know why Clarke is hailed as one of the all-time greatest science fiction authors. Childhood’s End is an alien invasion story with a twist… then another twist… then another twist. By the time I reached the end of the book, my jaw was on the floor. No spoilers. If you trust my opinion at all, read this book. It is fantastic, in every sense of the word.
BEST COMIC: The Superior Spider-Man by Dan Slott
The three-volume collection of Superior Spider-Man is a tour de force that ranks up with some of the best Marvel stories I’ve read. After swapping brains with Peter Parker (resulting in the death of the former spidey), Otto Octavius determines that he will take over Parker’s role as protector of the city—his own way. The resulting story of supervillain-turned-superhero involves lots of good character moments, as well as plenty of action, ranging from the Green Goblin’s dealings in the criminal underworld to time-traveling dimension-hopping madness. It’s a total hoot.
BEST HORROR: Toss-up between It by Stephen King and What the Hell Did I Just Read by David Wong
With the success of the recent movie, I suspect It wound up on a lot of people’s reading lists, but (cue hipster impersonation) I’d like to say once and for all that I began the novel before I even knew there would be a movie (starting it in 2016 and finishing it in January). Regardless of whether people are bandwagoning or not, though, this novel deserves the attention. Although the final scene of the book (which I hear was cut from the film version) was a huge disappointment, the rest of the book was a delight. King is known for his slobbering, sharp-toothed monsters, but I find he shines most in his quieter moments of character interaction. The real heart of It resides in a gentle nostalgia for the ups and downs of childhood, and a delight in the power of friendship.
As a contrast, David Wong’s gleefully immature take on the genre never fails to entertain me. What the Hell Did I Just Read is the third (and maybe best) addition to Wong’s successful John Dies at The End series, in which he blends absurd, outrageous humor with scenes of gut-wrenching terror. Imagine HP Lovecraft as a thirteen-year-old boy who has watched too many Saturday morning cartoons, and you’ll have a fairly good idea of Wong’s style. If you can tolerate the middle-school-level vulgarity, there is plenty of mind-bending fun to be found here.
BEST THEOLOGY: The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
The Knowledge of the Holy is a slim, unassuming little book, but it is both dense in its content and profound in its implications. Contemplating on the attributes of God, Tozer manages to say more in two or three pages than many authors say in their entire books, and I found myself needing frequent pauses while reading in order to properly digest the ideas on the pages. It’s good, rich, meaty stuff, but rather than being a mere intellectual exercise, Tozer uses the scholarly aspects to direct the readers’ hearts to worship the amazing, incomprehensible, marvelous God who has revealed Himself in creation, in the holy Scriptures, and in the person of Jesus Christ.
BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK: The Brave Little Toaster by Thomas M. Disch
I grew up on the movie The Brave Little Toaster, and it remains one of my favorite animated films. It wasn’t until this year that I learned it was initially based on a book—and immediately tracked down an audio version someone recorded online. The story wasn’t initially intended for children, serialized in Fantasy and Science Fiction, but no matter—this is a children’s classic on par and sharing its tone with Milne’s Whinnie the Pooh books. Although the movie is manic fun, the book’s humor is a bit softer, gentler, and more poignant. It’s sweet and innocent, a story I loved as an adult and intend to share with my own children one day.
So there you have it. What books did you love this past year? I’m always on the lookout for recommendations.
So long, 2017. Hello, 2018. Let’s make it a good one, friends.