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The Best Books Read in 2014 no. 8

The LineupLooking over the whole list, this year was a year of non-fiction. Only three novels top the year. #8 is a sort of hybrid. Otto Penzler, at least at the time of the publishing of the soon to be mentioned book, was the operator of a mystery/detective fiction bookstore in New York. Such a store is quite a niche, so to help with profits and hopefully bring new business Penzler asked some of the best detective fiction authors to write essays about their detectives, inspiration for, reasons why, etc. He brought them all together in a collection called The Lineup: The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives. 

You can tell from previous top tens that I’m a big fan of detective fiction, especially the old school stuff, and have latent hopes of creating my own detective one day. This was fascinating to hear behind the scenes stories from the authors about how they got in to crime fiction and what brought them to the particular character that made their writing famous. It was fun to see the different minds of writes. Some wrote personal stories. Some wrote short stories about their character, not even breaking the fourth wall. Despite my enjoyment of the genre, many of these authors and detectives were new to me, which spurred some desire to pick up a few more characters other than Holmes and Poirot.

If you are at all into crime fiction, you would enjoy this book.

The Best Books Read in 201 no. 9

Part of the reason I read fewer books this year is that I took on two massive books of near to or over a thousand pages, the first of which shows up in today’s #9 spot. Due to HBO, popular culture is well aware of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and the quasi-medieval world he builds therein. I don’t have HBO nor do I have any desire to watch the series, but a good friend recommended the series of books a few years before “Winter is coming” became a phrase of geekery jumping in with “May the force be with you” or “Beam me up Scotty.”

So I figured I would pick up the first in the series and see if I like it. Martin has created some indelible characters both protagonist and antagonist and no-tagonist, characters you love instantly like Ned Stark and characters you grow to love, Tyrion Lannister, and characters you hate, Little Finger. He sets up his characters and just lets them play out in this world he created. He writes a dramatic and compelling story that leaves you wondering what will happen next, and who will die next.

It does have some, to me, unnecessarily graphic sex scenes that do nothing to advance the plot, that could have be written more tastefully. I will probably end up reading one of the series a year. We’ll see in the future if Martin remains on the top ten next year.

Best Books Read in 2014 No. 10

So it’s been a long time since I’ve been on here. I took an unannounced leave of absence for no particular great reason, but for those of you who are still reading this blog, I am back and hope to be producing more regular content. To that end, it’s that time of year again, for my top ten books of the year. Last year was a weak reading year for me. I didn’t read much at all. In fact, I would say 75% of the books I ‘read’ were audiobooks. Some normal authors that show up on this countdown every year, Mr. Chesterton and Ms. Christie, will be absent in the list this year. I didn’t even have time or take time to read my favorite authors. Hopefully, this year will hold a better time for reading. It is one of my ‘resolutions’ for this year.

I was planning on publishing this series earlier, but I hesitated because I came into reading some great books during the last few days of 2014 (I had time.), which change the shape of the list I had originally devised. So without further ado …

#10 isn’t the genre of book you’d normally find in my top ten, but it was so insightful and thought provoking, I couldn’t leave it out. I picked up The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence through Leadership by Jeffery Likes and Gary Convis because for a little over two years I was in a leadership program for priests, and it seemed like good supplemental reading. I was glad I did pick it up because it provided a good supplement and also gave some good philosophical and theological background towards the importance of leadership with any organization.

The Toyota Way to Lean LeadershipNeither Convis or Likes are theologians, and honestly, I don’t even know their religious affiliation. However, as they began to outline the leadership practices and structure of Toyota, theological lightbulbs started flashing in my head. Toyota is an interesting case study because in their entire history as a company they have run in the red only twice in something like 60 years. Most other years they have turned a substantial profit. Businesses tried to imitate their practice so as to stabilize their own companies and increase their profits. The key to Toyota’s success, though, isn’t in its processes, although they are very good. It isn’t in the hiring, although, that too, is good. It isn’t in how they budget and plan, although, that too is good. It’s success comes from its formation of its employees into leaders. It is, first and foremost, a person-centric company. Yes, many of the processes are automated to construct the cars they make, but Toyota realizes that is is only as strong as its people who design, maintain, and operate that equipment. Toyota takes great pains and many, many years forming its leaders. It sees the importance in forming good individuals who can think critically, think reflexively, and think creatively about problems.

Furthermore, problems also are attribute to Toyota’s success. They look for problems and address them with the best solutions they can devise. Then, they address the next problem and so forth. They recognize that no process, nor person, and no car is perfect. It can always be made better. It is seeking through its leaders to better reform itself to produce what is best. I have no doubt that is why the Camry is such a fantastic seller.

Finally, it follows the principle of subsidiarity. It puts its trust in its leaders. If a lower leader, closer to the source of the problem can address it, then he should address it. Only when a problem gets beyond him does it go above him to the next level, and even then, the next level guides him, but still allows him to come up with the solution. This allows for more knowledgeable problem solving and less micro-management. That kind of philosophy builds up the human resources even more.

Whether you’re a in business or not, whether you are in a leadership position or not, I would suggest this book as a theological reflection on the  practical application of the dignity of the human person and the principle of subsidiarity.

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 1

Sorry for the wait. I have no excuse. (sad puppy dog face) Anyway, the best book I read last year is by an author who has On Hopealready been top of my list before and has already appeared on the list this year. Josef Pieper’s On Hope is one of those life changing mind blowing books. I was introduced to Hope as a life changing awesome thing through Pope Benedict XVI’s Spe Salvi, but unfortunately, I found that I had trouble internalizing it (looking at my life, not much changed after I had read it).

Pieper started from our natural perspective as human persons: we are pilgrims. We are not where we are in fulfillment. We live a mortal not-there-yet life. “The state of being on the way .. refers rather to the innermost structure of created nature. It is the inherent ‘not yet’ of the finite being.” Which, as an editorial note, is why ‘getting there,’ the dream job, the dream house, the dream net worth, is an ontological contradiction. It is in our nature to never get there. I that’s why we take solace in stories with ‘happily ever after.’

This state is inherently uncomfortable. “The only answer that corresponds to man’s actual existential situation is hope. The virtue of the status viatoris (state on the way); it is the proper virtue of the ‘not yet.’ In the virtue of hope more than in any other, man understands and affirms that he is creature, that he has been created by God.”

This is hope the book starts, and it only goes deeper and more theologically, philosophically, and spiritually mind lowing. It change the way I understand the virtue of hope and how I practice this virtue. His thoughts of ‘the fear of the Lord’ provide the most cogent explanation of that misunderstand gift of the Holy Spirit.

I have recommended this to spiritual directees, but will tell you, this book, to be understood well, requires some greater than average comprehension skills because of his references to foreign languages and philosophical concepts that don’t appear on a state college curriculum. That being said it’s short (92 pages) and well worth the time to mull through.

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 -2

Lamy 2000

Lamy 2000

My familiarity with Neil Gaiman came from his penning the comic book series Sandman, which admittedly and ashamedly I’ve never read. He instantly became a cool cat for though when I found out that he writes his novels with a Lamy 2000 fountain pen. So when one of his books, co-written with Terry Pratchett came on-sale in Audible I clicked the buy button. It seemed like right up my alley too. It is a novel about the Armageddon as described in the book Revelation. I speak of Good Omen.Good Omens

I though I laughed a lot at Woody Allen. I was wrong. This novels is hilarious. It follows a demon and an angel who over the millennia have established a friendship. The demon is entrusted with taking care that the anti-Christ grows up as evil as possible. Only neither of the tow want the world to end so they conspire to keep the anti-Christ neutral, only they accidentally switch up babies. From then on there is blunder after hilarious blunder, a perfect comedy of errors.

This is a great book, audio or otherwise, for any occasion.

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 3

The Fathers Tale Last summer we attempted to run a second Reverenced Reading Summer Reading Extravaganza. The book I ambitiously (I repeat … ambitiously) choose was Michael O’Brien’s The Father’s Tale. Yes, I understood it was as large as my dictionary, but oh, the eyes were bigger than my reading stomach.

My sister (who read the book in two days … did she sleep?) had  raved about this book. She said I had to read it. Well, I did. It took 10 months of stop-and-go reading. It doesn’t flow like a Tom Clancy novel where action and suspense or the promise of one or the other moves the words along. O’Brien was content to sit and reflect on a situation. That style was new to me as a reader and I struggled through it, because the pace was pedestrian.

And I am glad it was, because it forced me to reflect on fatherhood through the eyes of Alex Graham who chases he son across the world to save him. The chase though moves through snow instead of in two supercharged automobiles.

This was my first O’Brien novel and I love his prose. I love his characters. I love the way he constructed his plot, and I look forward to the next I read by him.

This would be a great book for a road trip or a Father’s Day gift for that man in your life who loves to read.

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 4

Sorry for the slack in posts the last few days. Saturday took all day and it took Sunday and Monday to recover. Tuesday is no excuse.

This next book is nothing new for the blog (if you happened to following us this long ago). Two years ago, I picked up this book as spiritual reading for Lent. I had a reading schedule and everything. I didn’t hold to it. I picked it up again the next Lent and didn’t finish it. Third time’s a charm, right? I picked it up again this year and finally finished it.Abandonment to Divine Providence

Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean Pierre de Caussade took me three time because it kicks your prideful, selfish little behind. It doesn’t hold  any punches with regard to how to live a saintly life. His principles are very simple but they require a deep and abiding faith. He says simply to be holy is to abandon yourself to the will of God.

This would be a great book if you are looking to go deeper in your spiritual life and willing to put in the work of humility. But check with your spiritual director first.

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 5

For the past eight years or so, the popular theological buzz has been around Bl. John Paul II Wednesday audiences collected as his pinnacle work, the Theology of the Body. Everyone seems to talk about how revolutionary his insights into the human person are in this tome. However, for the brave soul who picks it up to read, realizes how possibly foolhardy an undertaking can be because John Paul’s style and depth makes it seem like swimming through seaweed. For the armchair theologian it can find itself collecting dust on the shelf.

Christopher West has been able to communicate its basic ideas in common language, but for all the good he has done as a TOB apologist, there are presuppositions in John Paul’s writings that help form his thought which West doesn’t (in my reading of him at least) communicate.

Men, Women, and the Mystery of LoveEnter Dr. Edward Sri. He is primarily a Scripture scholar, but because of the nature of Catholic intellectual life in the US, scholars branch out due to small, solid faculties at good universities. Curriculums call them to broaden themselves. Sir takes Karol Wojtyla’s presuppositions in Love and Responsibility and communicates them to someone without philosophical and/or theological training, in his book Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love. He writes clearly and directly. He gives life examples but doesn’t water down Wojtyla’s depth. It is a great book and I would suggest it as the introduction to TOB before West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners.

I found the book also good for marriage preparation.

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 6

G.K Chesterton has become a regular on this annual countdown (and on the blog in general), partly because of his vast amount of writings and partly due to their wonderful commonsensical quality, always because he has a mustache. But as has been the case this year, we have another first, a book of poetry.

Wine, Water, and Song is a whimsical look at food and drink. Chesterton has great personal experience with both. Many of theWine, Water, and Song songs are taken from his novel, The Flying Inn, (which sounds like a book for next year). One of my favorite poems of the group in “The Logical Vegetarian.”

You will find me drinking rum,
Like a sailor in a slum,
You will find me drinking beer like a Bavarian.
You will find drinking gin
In the lowest kind of inn,
Because I am a rigid vegetarian.

One of the other great gems is “The Song of the Strange Ascetic”

If I had been a heathen,
I’d have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyard,
And I would drink the wine,
But Higgins is a heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day …
Now who can run can read it,
That riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight–?
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run)
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.

Pick up a beer or high-ball of scotch and enjoy some good levity and even better insights.

 

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 7

This is one of the few books I got around to reviewing this year, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s collection of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers. This is certainly the surprise on the list for me. I wouldn’t have expected really to like anything Flappers and Philosophersregarding flappers. However, I felt like I jumped back into the roaring 20’s to reflect on its energy and it’s main faults both philosophical and moral. Fitzgerald’s characters were well developed and were either likeable or detestable depending on how he played it.

If you noticed, I’ve been reading more collections of stories. I’m doing that to learn more about the craft of the short story. This collection is a great group to see how to write a solid, well crafted short story.

If you are looking for a few short spurts of storytelling, this is a great group of stories to pick up. As an added incentive, they are in the public domain.