It’s time for my annual run-down of the literary heroes and zeroes I’ve encountered. It was a good year for my reading tally: I didn’t keep accurate track, but I know it was at least 40, and perhaps even over 50 books. That includes at least 30 theology-related titles, with a variety of fiction and non-fiction making up the rest.
It’s not easy picking this year’s stinker. There were some unexpected disappointments and there were some that were just mediocre. The worst book I read in 2021 I didn’t actually complete. I only endured about a third of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden before I gave up. It’s supposedly a classic; my edition is from a series entitled “Masterworks of Literature.” However, Walden takes pretentiousness and self-indulgence to nauseating depths. What a waste of time!
On the flip side, there’s some stiff competition for best reads. Top marks go to Carl Trueman for The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. This is the most important book published in 2021. It’s not an easy read, but those who stick with it get valuable insights into the sexual zeitgeist. You can read my review here.
I’ve got two runners-up. Michael Kruger’s Surviving Religion 101 is an apologetics book pitched at university students, but it’s so well-written that it deserves a much wider audience. If you’re dealing with intellectual questions about the truth of the Christian faith and need some help, check out this one. You can read my review here.
I really enjoyed Jackie Hill Perry’s sophomore effort, Holier Than Thou. It’s not only beautifully written, but also theologically sound. It’ll give you a sharper perspective on God’s holiness. My review can be found here.
For non-theological non-fiction, Lewis Sorley’s Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam was my favourite of 2021. Westmoreland is a fascinating figure illustrating the Peter Principle: people in hierarchical organizations (like the military) often rise to a level beyond their competence. As a junior army leader, Westmoreland was average to slightly-above. As a four-star general, he was a disaster. The skills he had to command smaller units didn’t translate to those needed to command armies.
Thanks to our youngest daughter I’ve spent a lot of time in novels this past year as well. I just finished my top pick of the last 12 months: Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace. This is a fictionalized account of one of the most notorious women in early Canadian history, Grace Marks. Marks was a 16 year old Irish servant girl tried and convicted of murdering her employer and his housekeeper/lover in Richmond Hill. Though eventually she was pardoned, she spent nearly 30 years in a Kingston prison. Atwood being Atwood it has its feminist slant (including a fictional botched back-alley abortion), but it’s also a really engaging story.