My Reading Year 2011

Another year has gone. Praise be to God.

I've had the opportunity to read a number of books in 2011 mainly because of two things: my academic load is much lighter now, and I own a mobile reading device. In this entry I hope to document each book I had a chance to read. Each of these has contributed to my personal growth in some way.

1. Amsterdam (Ian McEwan). I read this book before going to Amsterdam to get a feel of what the city was like. It turned out only the last chapters were set in Europe. The novel opens with two old friends attending the funeral of their lover, Molly. In the process they make a pact whose consequences have major moral implications—can euthanasia, for instance, ever be justified? I'm a sucker for McEwan's prose; he can both be comical and philosophical at the same time.


2. Cantor's Dilemma (Carl Djerassi). This one's about politics and integrity in the scientific world. Professor Isidore Cantor—Isidore, can you believe it?—is about to receive the Nobel prize, but how far can he guarantee the reliability of his experiments? I sympathized with his young assistant, Dr. Jeremiah Stafford, who felt enormous pressure to come up with groundbreaking scientific results. Having been a science major myself, I enjoyed this work immensely, and not just because the main character is my namesake.


3. The Green House (Mario Vargas Llosa). I must say I had a hard time reading Llosa's writing. After all these years, I still haven't gotten the hang of the stream of consciousness style. I'm not sure I really understood the story—this is one of those books I plan to read someday, when I become a more mature reader.



4. Wordliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (edited: CJ Mahaney). How must a Christian view and deal with technology, movies, and television? This short book addresses vital issues confronting the Christian in a modern world.


The following are the books I read during the summer break. I've written about them here
5. Man's Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl)
6. Light Years (James Salter)
7. Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
8. Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
9. The World is Flat (Thomas Friedman)
10. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
11. The House of God: The Classic Novel of Life and Death in an American Hospital (Samuel Shem)
12. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Gregory Maguire)
13. Things Fall Apart (China Achebe)
14. God Has a Wonderful Plan For Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message (Ray Comfort)
15. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson)
16. A Sport and A Pastime (James Salter)
17. Confessions (Augustine)
18. On Death and Dying (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross)
19. The Man Who Was Thursday (GK Chesterton)
20. Orthodoxy (GK Chesterton)
21. Saving Faith (AW Pink)

22. A Wind in the Door (Madeleine L'Engle). The young Charles Wallace sees a dragon, and he tells his sister Meg about it.


23. Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins). This is the second in the Hunger Games trilogy. Go, Katniss!



24. Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins). The gnawing question was: would Katniss Everdeen choose Peeta or Gale in the end? I thought this book was a proper ending to the trilogy. I highly, highly recommend Hunger Games, especially to young readers.


25. The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen). I'd call this a portrait of the American family. Enid Lambert wants to bring her family together for Christmas. Meanwhile her husband Albert suffers from Parkinson's. Their children live colorful lives, as well. Gary suffers from clinical depression, Chip loses his job in the academe, and Denise recovers from a failed marriage by falling in love with another married man. Franzen's prose is just magnificent.


26. All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque). This is a searing and moving account of a young German soldier, Paul Bäumer, in the trenches. Shortly after World War I, he and his classmates are drafted for the war. To this day, I still wonder if his life ever got back to normal, after the death and suffering he saw in the fields.


27. Finally Alive (John Piper). What does it mean to be born again? What is the new birth? John Piper takes the reader back to Scripture as he unravels and meditates on the answers to these questions. This is my favorite Piper book so far—a grand feast for the soul.



28. The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Alan Jacobs).* I'm not yet done with this book, an unofficial biography of my favorite author, CS Lewis.


29. Gravity's Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon). Except for James Joyce's Ulysses, which I never got to finish, I've never felt so exhausted after reading a novel until I got to the last page of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. They say only ten percent of people who start reading this work actually finish it. And I see why: the writing is simply overwhelming, featuring some 250 plus characters, many of whom disappear after a few paragraphs, only to resurface again in the ending chapters. There are unpredictable shifts from first- to third-person, and these occur quickly. Poems and song lyrics (95% of them I couldn't understand) are interspersed in the long sentences that remind me of the works of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) and Mario Vargas Llosa (The Green House). Read more about it here.



30. Waiter Rant (The Waiter). Thrill came over me when I saw this book in the store being sold at a discount. I've been a reader of The Waiter's blog (www.waiterrant.net) since 2004, when the writer was still shrouded in anonymity and not a lot of people knew him. Of course, his writing, a gem in cyberspace, was bound to get famous, and this eventually earned him a book deal. It brought me such joy, reading the fruit his labor. To this day, though, I have no idea where the Bistro really is.


31. The Ground Beneath Her Feet (Salman Rushdie). I mean, this is Salman Rushdie, you guys. He can adapt a timeless mythological account to a modern story—which he did in this book, and quite masterfully at that. A song writer falls in love with a beautiful singer. Together they make music that change the world and themselves.


32. Christ the Center (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). There'll be no Christianity without Christ. Christianity is all about Christ. This is Bonhoeffer's emphasis in Christ the Center, a compilation of sermons he gave at the University of Berlin.


33. George's Wonderful Medicine (Roald Dahl). A boy despises his grandmother who complains a lot and asks him to do many unreasonable tasks. One day he combines all household cleaners, solutions, medications, and fluids to make a syrup. He wants to fool his grandmother into believing that the syrup is her cough medicine. Little does he know an adverse drug reaction is bound to happen. The moral of the story? Children should learn pharmacology.



34. King of Torts (John Grisham). When was the last time I read a Grisham paperback? I don't remember at all. Here Grisham takes us to the world of a young, almost anonymous trial lawyer, who gets famous overnight when he wins a class action. A really easy and fun read.


35. The Hours (Michael Cunningham). At first we read of three women—Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown—each living colorful yet dreary lives during different time periods. Their stories eventually intersect in the end, an "aha" moment for me. Michael Cunningham's mastery of words really got me going.



36. Portrait of Calvin (T.H.L. Parker). One of the best books I've read this year. T.H.L. Parker strictly did not write a biography (which is otherwise told chronologically). Instead he's come up with a painting of sorts, a portrait, snippets of of one of the Reformation's foremost preachers and scholars, John Calvin—his life as a student, a teacher, a preacher, a man zealous to live out and proclaim the truth of God as revealed in the Bible.



37. The Road (Cormac McCarthy). The world is beyond repair. Depressing. A look into the human condition. Short book, but a hard one to finish. You should watch the movie, too, a faithful adaptation to McCarthy's novel.

38. 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami). It's 1984 in Tokyo, and Aomame—which means "green pea"—notices that the world has changed when she gets out of the taxi. There are two moons in the sky. Meanwhile, Tengo, an aspiring writer, decides to take on a challenge: rewrite a novel written by a weird, dyslexic teenage kid. This novel about the so-called Little People wins a top literary prize. Aomame and Tengo's fates become intertwined as they both realize that the novel, now a hit in the market, is coming true. The plot is weird: a cultic movement in the mountains, a wealthy dowager who rescues abused women and children, a gentle yet ruthless bodyguard, and an unrelenting television-fee collector. I'm told this is Murakami's most ambitious work thus far—a compilation of three books separately released in Japan, totaling about 1000-plus pages. Good thing I read this in a mobile device. There's nothing impressive with Murakami's writing, of course, but it's the story that gets you.


39. Be Myself (Warren Wiersbe). The book is replete with reminders for would-be pastors and preachers. This book, though, would benefit not just pastors and pastors-in-training, but any ordinary Christian. I highly recommend it. (My review.)



40. The Sense of An Ending (Julian Barnes). Tony Webster, a middle-aged Englishman, does some recollection. How has his life been? What mistakes has he made? Memories can be harsh. They, too, are affected by biases. This is my first Julian Barnes book (also one of the shorter ones in this list).



41. Humility: The Forgotten Virtue (Wayne Mack). In this short but important work, Dr. Wayne Mack attempts to "understand pride and humility from a biblical perspective" in the hope of diminishing the "destructive pride factor" and to increase the "true humility factor" in our lives. The book follows the 4D outline: a biblical definition of what pride and humility are, the display of pride and humility, how humility can bedeveloped, and how pride can be diminished. At the end of each chapter are simple guide questions that readers are encouraged to answer. (My review.)



42. The Thousand Autumns by Jacob de Zoet (David Mitchell). Set in the 1800s, during the time when Japan's only connection to the rest of the world was her trading relations with the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), the story revolves around Jacob de Zoet, a twentysomething clerk set to check and document the corruption going on in the Company's transactions in Dejima, Nagasaki Bay. There he meets Orito Aibagawa, a midwife, who rises to fame after she successfully saves the lives of both the Magistrate's wife and son after prolonged labor. To tell you the truth, what initially drew me to this book was David Mitchell's scientific descriptions of obstetric techniques in the first chapter—how the attending Doctor Maeno and Miss Aibagawa-san determined the fetal lie, what they did when they suspected a possible cord strangulation, with an illustration so reminiscent of those seen in William's Obstetrics. These details were mixed so expertly with the author's prose. (My review).



43. Solar (Ian McEwan). A Nobel-prize winning physicist (having discovered the Einstein-Beard Conflation) takes on the challenge of designing energy-efficient, solar-powered generators to save the world from global warming. His previous five marriages have failed, his present wife is having an affair, and his personal life is crumbling. If he cannot solve his own problems, can he save the world's? I never get tired of Ian McEwan.


44. The Wapshot Scandal (John Cheever). I was told to read John Cheever, so I did. The Wapshots of St. Botolphs are rich and hilarious. The two grown children are struggling with the drudgery of their lives. Their old cousin, Honora, goes to Europe to escape the IRS. An ambitious and well-written work, this deserves to be read at least once.



45. Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (D.A. Carson). You should've seen me in the airport, crying inconsolably, while reading the final chapters of this book. Good thing no one who knew me was around. Here Dr. D.A. Carson writes a biography of sorts of his father, Tom Carson, who pastored in the French Canada region from 1950's to the 90's. We read of the struggles of evangelicalism in Quebec, a place with strong Roman Catholic influence. We understand these things from the perspective of an unknown yet faithful pastor. The most moving parts were the deteriotation of Tom's wife to Alzheimer Disease, and the final chapter where D.A. Carson tried to piece things together. This will profit not just pastors but other Christians as well.



46. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua). Why are Asians so smart and successful? Amy Chua writes about Chinese parenting and how she brought her children up with this worldview. She has very high expectations for her children. One incident I can't quite forget is that during a trip to Europe, she reserves a piano so her children don't miss their piano drills. The book has become controversial because, in a sense, Chua has critiqued the American way of child-rearing. This is an interesting read.



Here are My Top Ten Books of 2011:
  1. Portrait of Calvin (T.H.L. Parker)
  2. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
  3. The Thousand Autumns by Jacob de Zoet (David Mitchell)
  4. Finally Alive (John Piper)
  5. The House of God: The Classic Novel of Life and Death in an American Hospital (Samuel Shem)
  6. Gravity's Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon)
  7. Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (D.A. Carson)
  8. The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen)
  9. 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)
  10. Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)

3 thoughts on “My Reading Year 2011”

Leave a Reply