I didn’t do a lot of reading for pleasure in 2006. I blame the first year of EFM with it’s insane reading demands for this. That, and the time taken up reading my favourite book this year (maybe of any year), in a year with little time for reading. Surprisingly, I read a lot of non-fiction this year – I usually read books by honest liars. Favourites, in ascending order, follow.
5. The Hauerwas Reader, Stanley Hauerwas, edited by John Berkman and Michael Cartwright
With the super-famous, Oprah-lovin’, best-is-not-a-theological-category-sayin’ theologian coming to my fair city this year I thought I should read some of his work. I was pretty lucky coming across this in the bargain section at McNally Robinson. A collection of essays, book excerpts and interviews with the man himself, from 1973-2001. A great introduction to his thinking. I thought. Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be isn’t it?
4. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond
I would not shut up about this book after I read it. A little bit controversial – for it’s reliance on anecdotal evidence – and very exciting. Diamond’s thing is presenting the history of civilization as the inevitable result of the accidents of geography – not human endeavor. I could totally see this book becoming kuhninized by popular science lovers. It’s a great read. Interesting ideas, remarkable stories. Thanks, Burton Lysecki Books!
3. Dogmatics in Outline, Karl Barth, translated by G.T Thompson
The first primary text of Barth’s I’ve read. I picked this up from the “book guy” at the local Fringe Festival. A series of lectures delivered at the Bonn University after WWII. Barth structures the lectures around – ah, just read what Hauerwas has to say about it.
2. The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself, Daniel J. Boorstin
Another great Lysecki find. One amazing story after another. Boorstin tells the story of World History as a story of Discovery. This following quote, taken from fifteenth century Korean printing regulations discussed in the chapters on printing, made me thankful to be a twenty-first century graphic artist:
“The supervisor and compositor shall be flogged thirty times for an error per chapter; the printer shall be flogged thirty times for bad impression, either too dark or too light, of one character per chapter.”
This apparently seems to explain the incredible reputation for accuracy of the earliest Korean efforts in print and the difficulty Koreans found in recruiting printers.
1. Joseph and His Brothers, Thomas Mann, translated by John E. Woods
The top spot goes to the big Mann. This book was not only my favourite of the past year it might be my new favourite of any year. I had a long hankering for it so it was my big Birthday gift-certificate purchase (this year was The Book of The New Sun, will it be my new favourite?).
The first thing any one ever notices about the book is it’s enormous hugeness. It’s over 1500 pages. It hurts to read it. Really, it actually hurts your arms. The introduction by the translator even has a warning to the new reader suggesting an alternate nonlinear reading pattern to ease you into the book and keep you reading it.
The story itself is, of course, the story of Joseph, the dreamer, and his brothers. And his Father, Jacob. Mostly Jacob at the beginning. Unfortunately, the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers was not quite as long as Thomas Mann would have it. So, Mann makes a synthesis of every scrap of legend and scholarship surrounding the Genesis stories, mythologizing and demythologizing, building up something like an ironic hand grenade. The pin is finally pulled, for me, when you realize Mann’s god is the ultimate clever ironist. A joy to read. I was so absorbed in it I was surprised when it finally ended. Then again, I was reading it so long I may have forgotten what it was like not to be reading it.
The Worst Book I Read, 2006
That would be the dollar-store version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears where Papa Bear approaches the stairs leading to the second-floor bedrooms with a shiv made from the broken remnants of baby bear’s chair while Mama Bear and their child look on with fearful, anxious expressions. Huh? Appropriate for no child ever.