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My 2013 Top Reads

Gone are the days where trashy romance can satisfy this avid reader/audiobook listener. I kicked the habit sometime in college and proceeded to move onto delectable literary treasures that tend to leave me wanting more as soon as I finish reading them. This past year I was introduced to a few books that were  incredibly good reads. I tend to review books of a religious nature here, but don't want to repeat my ravings of these books in yet another post. If you want to read those reviews...just click on the "Geeky Review" label below.

Today's post will feature books from a more secular realm, but books that are certainly worth a read from a Catholic perspective if you choose to read between the lines a bit.

1. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
I loved Rothfuss's books so much, I painted Bast.
If you read the books, you'll understand.*girly squeal*
Name of the Wind and the Wiseman's Fear have to be the top two books I read in 2013 because they are the two books that I have reread the most. These books are fantastic for those of us who enjoy folklore, stories within stories, and some pretty unforgettable characters. This is a fantasy series that follows a young protagonist who can pretty much do anything he sets his mind to. He is limited by his pride and the same foolishness that many young men tend to have, but his wit and ability to get himself out of trouble is pretty amusing. The other characters are not too bad either. One of the many, many, many things I appreciated the most about this series was that it was quite fair with regards to religion. I have no idea if this will continue in the next book of the trilogy, but I really appreciated how Rothfuss presented both the good people and the evil people that tend to follow a religion. You have good monks, you have bad monks...and nowhere near as much one-sided all-religion-is-evil mentality as I tend to come across when reading fantasy. I happen to be Catholic and I happen to be BFFs with quite a few people that are atheist, agnostic, lapsed, etc. As much as I am sure they hate being branded as heathens bound for hellfire by one extreme, I really hate being branded as a brainwashed idiot by the other extreme. It is quite refreshing to come across a well-rounded approach to religion (and these books have quite a few of these). Reader discretion is advised for this book as it contains some sex and strong language.

2. World War Z by Max Brooks
I will admit, I was pretty late getting on this bandwagon, but I made up for it as soon as I finished reading World War Z. I picked up the survival handbook and graphic novel of zombie attacks throughout history as soon as I had the chance. Who would have thought that the son of Mel Brooks could be such a fantastic author that keeps you at the edge of your seat as you read through the different narratives of people who have survived the zombie war. My favorite character? Do I even have to say it? Okay, it was Sister Montoya. I would have loved to hear her narrative of how she held off a zombie attack for days, protecting her students with nothing but an iron candlestick (and maybe a bit of divine intervention, though this was never mentioned in the book). There is quite a bit of religious references in this book, one of which involves the Pope hanging out at Ireland after the Zombie war (I wonder what St. Catherine of Sienna would have to say about this)...but overall a pretty fair collection of views. Besides Sister Montoya, there is a pretty good narrative involving the readmission of Muslims into Israel and the internal struggles that this leads to. Overall, it was a pretty exciting read...and made me work harder on my zombie apocalypse survival plans. Reader discretion is advised for strong language in some points as well as a few references to drug use, sex, etc.

3. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
This book was an absolute treat. I loved the authors ability to seamlessly integrate magic into 19th century England where gentlemen were still chivalrous and where everyone had a beautiful command of the English language. I simply loved the characters as well (Childermass, Stephen and the ever-mentioned but never seen Raven King are some of my favorites) . As  much as I don't want to make this comparison, the characters reminded me of my favorite Jane Austen characters sprinkled with the best that Shakespeare had to offer in terms of fantasy. The author's ability to describe everything in colorful detail painted quite a few memorable scenes. One of my favorites was when the stone carvings  in York Cathedral came to life under the influence of magic. The images of statues clamoring over each other in order to be heard by a few bewildered "magicians" was pretty fantastic. Yes, some parts of the book were a bit dry...but overall, I loved it so much that I ended up picking up the Ladies of Grace Adieu (a very enjoyable collection of stories that take place within the same world and even in Gaiman's village of Wall). Religion is present in this book, but as a form of normalcy rather than a contrived omnipresence or contrived absence as I have seen before. I have no idea what Susanna Clarke's religion happens to be or whether she has a religion at all...and I like that better for non-religious fiction than the extreme alternative of authors who attempt to convert readers by antagonizing another religion, etc. every other sentence. Again, everything was balanced and I appreciated it.

4. Phantastes by George MacDonald
I have only just begun to delve into the works and sermons of George MacDonald, a man who inspired quite a few Christian thinkers (among them is Tolkien and C.S.Lewis). This book was simply a well-written treat for any brain longing for good fiction. This book will bring out the nostalgic fantasy-lover in anyone. It brings nature to life with the same kind of magic that every child once used to create fairies out of fireflies and nymphs out of green trees. My perception of the natural world is a lot more grounded in science now than it was when I was a child, but I still dream of the same kind dreams about enchanted woods, elves, and all the other wonderful things that (unfortunately) tend to only exist in good fairy tales. There are plenty of free pdf versions (like this one) and even audiobook versions (like this one on librivox) for those of you on a tight budget. Don't worry about paying for it, this book is open domain material....but be sure to get it from reputable sources if you intend to listen or read.

5. Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
This book really does deserve its own post, so it will not be reviewed here. I will add a link to the appropriate review post when I get to writing it. In the meantime, just know that it is DEFINITELY WORTH READING.

In case you were wondering, pretty much all of these books were published before 2013. A number of factors can account to my late discovery of these books. Mainly, I have a Kindle now (and no longer have to make the decision between carrying back-killing books and not reading at all). I also have started listening to books on tape as I slice brains. It takes anywhere between 3-5 hours to slice a brain...which gives me more than enough time to get through quite a few chapters on a given "slicing day."

Pax Vobiscum

1 comment:

  1. Canticle for Leibowitz .... YES. Also I don't know if you've heard they're making a BBC series of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which I am most anxious about. If anyone can pull it off it's the BBC, but man ... it could just go so wrong.