The Best and Worst of my January Reading
What I would and wouldn't recommend picking up this year
At the start of this year I decided I wanted to record a short review of every book I read, and then publish it on YouTube and Twitter. Just over one month in and I’m already quite behind. Nonetheless, I read some fantastic—and some mediocre—books last month, and so here are my very quick thoughts on each, and why you might like to read them too…or not.
I’d also love to hear what you’ve been reading. Have you read any of the books below, or if you intend to pick one up?
Before I get into the books I’ve finished, there are a couple I need to talk about that I won’t finish for quite some time. I decided that this year I would choose a couple of books, one fiction and one non-fiction, to read over the course of a whole year. Here are my choices and why I chose them.
War & Peace
Tolstoy is known for both his hefty works, as well as his short fiction. Up until now, I’d only gotten around to the latter, and I thought it was time to rectify that. Having watched a recent adaptation with Mrs. R again last year, I thought War & Peace would be a good choice. At 361 Chapters, this also seemed like the perfect book to read over the course of the year, taking my time to live with the characters and to take time to really enjoy his writing. The translation I’m reading isn’t in my favourite style and there are certainly misunderstandings on behalf of the translator at times, however, it is very readable, and Tolstoy’s depth and wit still come across very well.
I won’t update you every month on my progress, but if you’re interested in knowing how I’m finding it, you can always drop me a message.
In addition, I wanted to get around t reading the entirety of John Calvin’s Magnum Opus, the Institutes of Christian Religion. Up until now I’ve only read portions, as well as some of his other work, but never the whole book. I’ve wanted to take time to do so for a few years now, but haven’t gotten around to it.
As you might imagine, his work is full of wisdom and care, written with a pastoral heart and theologian’s mind. It is blessing that we have such books readily available today, and I highly recommend you read it for yourself one day, if not today!
I read a lot more fiction than non-fiction in January, which is uncommon for me. Do you read more fiction or non-fiction?
Children of Time and Children of Ruin
The first book I finished this year was Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, which I loved far more than I anticipated. Tchaikovsky’s character work, as well as his world building are on par with writers like Tolkien and Sanderson, and yet, the world never gets too complicated that a new reader would get stuck reading it. Having now finished book two in the trilogy, I suggest that you simply read book one. Children of Time wraps up well and didn’t need further exploration, and in many ways, Book Two isn’t so much a second part to the same story, but a different story in the same “universe.” If Children of Time was a 9/10, Children of Ruin was at best a 3/10.
For my thoughts on Children of Time, check out my 60-Second review:
Yumi and the Nightmare Painter by Brandon Sanderson (10/10)
I’ve gone on record as saying that this book has now taken the top spot as my all-time favourite of Sanderson’s books, although not because it’s necessarily his best. The reason is very personal to me, and while I think anyone could enjoy this book, I found a kinship with one of the main characters that I’ve only ever experienced a couple of times before—Fanny from Mansfield Park and Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
For more on Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, check out my 60-Second review:
Twelfth Night (10/10)
Without a doubt my favourite play of all time, by my favourite playwright. I also watched a version of play with Sir Alec Guinness, which was throughly enjoyable.
If you’ve not seen / read the play before, the story picks up after a ship has been decimated at sea. Viola, one of two nobles on board, has been saved by a member of the crew, but they are stranded abroad. Thankfully, the man knows the country they’ve landed in and Viola, fearing for her safety, decides to pretend to take on the persona of a man in her brother, Sebastian’s clothes, who she fears has been lost to the waves. Hilarity, calamity, and chaos ensue.
If you only have the chance to watch one version of the play, you must search for the RSC’s all-male cast performance from 2012. In Shakespeare’s day, all actors would have been men, and so the comedy aspect of a man, dressed as a woman, who in turn is dressed as a man, makes the whole show all the more funny.
Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson (8/10)
The second Sanderson book I’ve finished this year, with a third soon to follow. This book is an interesting twist on the book & film the Princess Bride, set within Sanderson’s “Cosmere” universe. This standalone novel is one the best romances I’ve ever read, playing with many classic fairy tale tropes, but in a way that is consistently unique.
If you like fantasy, romance, hijinks, or any of Sanderson’s other books, you’re bound to love this one too.
This will probably get me some stick. I love Jane Austen, I go to a festival in her honour every year with my wife and our friends, in full regency regalia, however, this is my least favourite of her novels. I found that contrary to Austen’s other works, this book left me without much feeling at all towards the characters by the end. Only one of the cast seemed to develop much over the course of the book, and I didn’t feel that his decisions in the end were as strong as I’d come to expect of him. It wasn’t a bad book by any stretch, and I loved the way that Austen could describe beautiful things through the eyes of those who despised them—for instance Bath—but it couldn’t hold a candle to Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, or my all-time favourite of hers, Mansfield Park.
Keep Going (7/10)
Whether you paint, write, make collages, play guitar, or have any other creative strength, I seriously recommend picking up one or more of Austin Kleon’s currently trilogy of books. In each he tackles a different struggle in the life of the artist, but this one is likely the most common—writer’s block.
I don’t know if there are analogous terms for musicians or artists, but my guess is that if you’re artistic in any way, you’ve had this feeling before. In my 60-Second review, I cover on of my main takeaways, but if you pick up the book yourself I’d love to hear yours too.
Christian Beliefs (4.5/10)
Finally, Christian Beliefs is a condensed version of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and falls into many of the same pitfalls in that work. Whilst my theological understand has a significant amount of overlap with Grudem’s own, I consistently find myself struggling with his methodology, and the way he handles takes contrary to his own. Whilst this book doesn’t really make any bold statements, and I don’t disagree with many of his conclusions, I wish that he would made his cases more soundly than he does here, or in his other works.
What about you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and about the books you’ve been reading. In addition, if you haven’t yet caught up with the Polycarp series I’ve been writing with Tim Suffield from Nuakh.uk, I suggest that you read Tim’s latest piece. If you only have time for one of the articles we’ve written so far, this is the one to read, I think it’s the best either of us has written yet.
Grace and Peace,
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