Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2012 Booklist: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

At the start of another year, I thought it would be fun to list my ten favorite books from 2012. “Favorite” might be a bit of a stretch, simply because I only read fifteen books. However, I don’t need to bore my audience with a review of Buying and Selling a Home by the editors of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine (although I would actually recommend that book to first-time home buyers).

Because Shannon and I enjoy reading to each other, some of the books on this list were read to me. Hence, my occasional reference to “our” thoughts and responses in some places.

Due to its length, my list of top ten reads from last year is divided into two posts. The first five books are below. The second five will be featured in next Tuesday’s post, accompanied by my highly coveted* Book of the Year Award.

Note that this list is not numbered—and is most certainly not listed in order of importance.

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Suzanne Collins’ writing draws you in and keeps your attention. I found the story to be quite engaging. The first person narrative format, which took some getting used to at first, added a palpable sense of immediacy. Throughout the book, Collins made sure to make me feel exactly what she wanted me to feel at all times. She is a great manipulator of emotions. The critique of “violence as entertainment” is needed, although it can be hard to draw a line between portraying violence and glorifying violence. Collins isn’t entirely successful in this regard—although the movie based on this book was. (In my opinion, the film adaptation of The Hunger Games is one of the few times when the cinematic treatment excelled the quality if its source material. It toned down the most objectionable parts of the book and heightened the integrity of the book’s thematic weight.) This first installment of the trilogy ends on a bit of a downer, so it’s a testament to Collins’ craft as a writer that I still liked the book after finishing it.

Paradise Regain’d, John Milton
Having read the majestically superb Paradise Lost in 2011 (although Shannon and I technically finished the book in 2012), I was ready to delve into the fairly obscure, and much shorter, sequel. While this second poem fails to reach the poetic and narrative grandeur of the original, it is still a worthwhile and rewarding read. If you think it ludicrous that some scholars consider Satan to be the hero of Paradise Lost (as I do), this poem serves to solidify that belief. Satan is clearly the antagonist in Milton’s eyes: a macabre fiend dedicated to destroying all the good and beauty of God’s creation.

Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ, Russell D. Moore
After reading through Milton’s poems on the loss and reclamation of Paradise, I thought it could prove helpful to read through a theological/practical book on the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. I am not a huge student of Russell D. Moore, but I greatly appreciate his grasp of Biblical truth and his evenhandedness when it comes to modern political and social issues. Even so, I did not find this book particularly helpful. Others have noted Moore’s ability to communicate creatively and effectively, but I kept being so drawn to his creative word choices and sentence structure that I missed much of the flow his arguments and the points he was trying to make. So yes, his ability to craft words is, in a sense, superb. But if his flowery language keeps drawing attention to itself, it could very well be considered poor writing. There were some good points buried in here, but I didn’t walk away with much to show for it.

Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
I enjoyed roughly the first fourth of this book; it developed the characters in an engaging way. And then the story succumbed to a serious case of déjà vu, from which it never fully recovered. The repeated and graphic violence causes the message of the first book to unravel, as Collins relies more heavily on violence as entertainment—which she explicitly condemned in the first book.



Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Yes, we pretty much read these books back-to-back. Despite their problems, they are somewhat addictive. As we worked through the third installment in the Hunger Games trilogy, however, Shannon and I became more and more frustrated with the main character’s psychological Ping-Pong action. The trilogy started out dark to begin with, but by this third book the story delves into such gross and detailed violence that we were practically sick as we worked our way toward the conclusion. In fact, we were fairly disgusted with most of the proceedings, up until the last couple of pages. I don’t quite know how Collins did it, but we ended up being okay with how things ended. Again, Collins has an amazing ability to get you to feel exactly what she wants you to feel. Even so, whatever Collins tried to say about violence in her first book succumbed to the hypocrisy of her stylistic choices during the rest of the trilogy. Overall, we would not recommend this series.

Coming next week: some new and old classics.

* A better phrase might be universally disregarded

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