Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top books of 2016

According to Goodreads, I read eight books this year that I rated 5 stars ("It was amazing"). In a significant change from last year, all were fiction, and half were written by members of the same family. Six of the eight were YA fiction.

Beowulf and Paradise Lost were the two non-YA fiction books. The Beowulf edition that I read was a "new verse rendering" by Doug Wilson. Wilson writes in the introduction,
So what is a rendering [as opposed to a translation], and why is it any better? While I am limited in Old English, I do okay in New English, and know my way around, both with the regular stuff and in the reading and writing of poetry. So what I did was this. I took about five different translations of Beowulf, including my two favorites (Heaney and Chickering), got the sense of lines x, y, and/or z from them, and then cast that general sense in my own modern form of an Anglo-Saxon-style alliterative poetry. [For another example of alliterative poetry, see C. S. Lewis's essay "The Alliterative Metre" in Selected Literary Essays.] Then I did the same thing over again, and went on and on until I was done. Since I was making free to add words for the sake of the alliteration, and because I sometimes supplied my own imagery, the result is a loose paraphrase of the sense of the original and not a knock-off of any of the translations I used. [For another example of literary rendering, see Dennis Danielson's prose edition of Paradise Lost.] At the same time, the poem can generally be followed 'line by line,' give or take a couple of lines, and I am not saying I never looked at the original. What with one thing and another, this version of the poem has three more lines than respectable editions do. I don't know. It was dark. They were big. Just think of it as more Beowulf than you would get with those other editions. (1–2)
Praise for Wilson's rendering comes from great writers such as Anthony Esolen (translator of Dante's Divine Comedy), Richard Wilbur (United States Poet Laureate in 1987 and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner), and Leland Ryken (a Miltonist who also writes on the Bible as literature and other great texts). (See here for a related post regarding a connection to Homer's Iliad.) Wilson's edition includes two appendixes, one of which appeared as an essay in Touchstone. This essay may be the best piece of literary criticism that I've ever read. I taught from this edition in my British literature survey course at Baylor University.

I listened to Paradise Lost on CD (read by Nadia May). My 5-star rating is for Paradise Lost, not the reading of it.

The other audio books that I listened to, however, were wonderful as books and as reading performances. I "read" N. D. Wilson's 100 Cupboards series again this year, and if I were to rate them according to narration alone, they would all get 5 stars. Russell Horton is a simply fabulous reader. I rated books 2 and 3 (Dandelion Fire and The Chestnut King) 5 stars, and gave 100 Cupboards 4 stars, although I'm not sure if I can explain why. I think the series just takes a dive after book one, and by "takes a dive" I don't mean "decreases in quality"; I mean "deepens and enriches." (See here for a related post on pirates and Augustine.) I am a big advocate of N. D. Wilson's writing, both fiction and non-fiction. I have already published an article in Pro Rege, and next year I am scheduled to publish a book chapter on Boys of Blur (another 5-star book from this year; trailer here).

Thus far I have mentioned five of the eight 5-star books: four by Wilsons, and one by Milton. Two books by C. S. Lewis almost complete the list. I read Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to Kate. She turned five in February, and I still think that she's a little young for the Chronicles. Voyage is particularly challenging because of its nautical/ship terminology. But she hung in there, and we muscled through while managing to keep it fun as well. Sometimes I paraphrased words or passages to avoid getting bogged down. I concluded my British Literature survey course with Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Finally (also via audio), I read Richard Adams's Watership Down for the first time and loved it so much that I bought the illustrated (by John Lawrence) edition.

Honorable mentions (4 stars) include the following:
Nonfiction
Nancy Guthrie's Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
René Girard's I See Satan Fall Like Lightning
Joseph Pieper's On Hope
Leland Ryken's The Devotional Poetry of Donne, Herbert, and Milton
Richard Mouw's Called to the Life of the Mind
James K. A. Smith's You Are What You Love
Tim Challies's Do More Better

Children's books
Kevin DeYoung's The Biggest Story
N. D. Wilson's The Dragon and the Garden
Mary Ann Hoberman's The Seven Silly Eaters
Garrison Keillor's The Old Man Who Loved Cheese
Kobi Yamada's What Do You Do with a Problem? and What Do You Do with an Idea?
William Steig's Yellow and PinkPete's a Pizza, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Amos and Boris
Ben Hatke's Nobody Likes a Goblin
Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny
Drew Daywalt's The Day the Crayons Came Home
Jack Prelutskey's If Not for the Cat

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