Books of 2010
Books read in 2010 (in no particular order):
A Million Miles In a Thousand Years is an awesome book. I actually read it twice this year because I wanted to make sure and really digest what Miller had to say in relation to the connection between understanding the concepts of story and how they relate to real life.
It’s a book that challenged me to really face my life and consider the choices I was making in the present. I’ve had a “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality about life much of my life. This book convicted me to live out a life that doesn’t obsess about the future while forgetting that transformation only happens as we engage in the present. At one point, Miller states: “The truth is, we are all living out the character of the roles we have played in our stories.” In other words, the story you live by will determine the character you play. Which ultimately leads one to question what kind of character you are, and even deeper, ‘what kind of story are you living out?’
Ultimately, one of the key points that I think Miller is trying to get across (especially for Christians who live out a theology of escapism) is that life isn’t about the end. The point of a story isn’t about the conclusion:
“The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.” Then he quotes the famous scholar on ‘story’ Robert McKee: “Writing a story isn’t about making your peaceful fantasies come true. The whole point of the story is the character arc. You didn’t think joy could change a person, did you? Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over. But it’s conflict that changes a person.”
Angels & Demons is a fascinating read. If you can accept that fact that this is a work of fiction, then I think you will be engrossed by this thriller. If you like historical fictional adventure stories such as Indian Jones, then you will love this. I had a really hard time putting it down.
Here’s the cover summary:
“World-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a cryptic symbol seared into the chest of a murdered physicist. What he discovers is unimaginable: a deadly vendetta against the Catholic Church by a centuries-old underground organization – the Illuminati. Desperate to save the Vatican from a powerful time bomb, Langdon joins forces in Rome with the beautiful and mysterious scientist Vittoria Vetra. Together they embark on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and the most secretive vault on earth…the long-forgotten Illuminati lair.”
The Road is heavy. It will require much of your emotional state of being. So don’t lightly pick up this one. It is a Pulitzer prize winner, and it deserves that award. It is the story of a father an son on a journey in a post-apocalyptic world. It is a story of survival, and a meditation on the limits and depths of human love when there is no hope left in the world. A thoroughly engrossing read. I highly recommend it, but with caution: probably not a good read if you’re struggling with depression already.
Cover summary: “The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which a father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love.”
I read Culture Shock: Korea before we came to Korea. This has proven extremely valuable. It’s a summary of everything one would need to know before coming to visit or live in Korea. Etiquette, culture, history, language, relationships, geography (ect.) is covered in this book. If your going to come and visit us in Korea, read this book first!
The Giver is one of the first books I read in my life that made me realize the power a great story can have. I read it in middle school as required reading, and I just recently re-read it for an English assignment some of my middle school Korean students had. Even though the target audience are ages 12-14, I think any adult could be taken by it. Reading it as an adult, I gleamed from it things that I didn’t as a middle-schooler.
Here is amazon.com’s summary of Lowry’s work: “In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.”
Many paradoxes of life are wrestled with in The Catcher in the Rye. It’s not so much the plot that is amazing as is the immense inner turmoil of one man’s struggle to discover who he is. The literary style is unique, and powerfully paints a picture of the human condition. It’s somewhat of a coming-of-age novel, and I really felt like I resonated with Holden (the main character) as he wrestles with what to do with his life after dropping out of yet another university. This book stands out in my mind as entirely unique in regards to the main character and his voice (the literary style of the book).
I just finished reading A.J. Jacobs’ “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.” Jacobs is an agnostic, secular writer and editor at Esquire magazine who wanted to see if faith (specifically Jewish/Christian fundamentalism (fundamentalists claim to follow literal interpretations of the Bible)) still had relevance in the modern world.
A little background on Jacobs’ religious experience: “I grew up in an extremely secular home in New York City. I am officially Jewish, but I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant…the closest my family came to observing Judaism was that paradoxical classic of assimilation: a Star of David on top of our Christmas tree.”
To answer his questions about the relevance of faith, Jacobs embarks on a one year journey/experiment “to follow the Bible as literally as possible.” Even to “abide by the oft-neglected rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers. To stone adulterers. And, naturally, to leave the edges of my beard unshaven (Leviticus 19:27). I am trying to obey the entire Bible, without picking and choosing.”
The book is full of great content and a great story…one that even leads him on a trip to the Holy Land. It is funny, interesting, human, inquisitive, and humble. I think people of faith, and even those without faith would enjoy this book…and be enlightened by it.
The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time by: Mark Haddon was a book that took me by surprise. Recommended by a friend, and looking for something to read, I picked this up at the local mall bookstore (fortunately they have an English section), and paid about twice as much for it as I would have in the States. But it was worth it.
The fictional story is written in first-person by a teenage autistic boy named Christopher. Christopher’s autism makes it impossible for him to understand human emotion which makes for some very powerful scenes and perceptions when he is recalling experiences with his struggling parents. Christopher is however blessed with an extremely logical/mathematical mind. His whole world is understood and perceived through this logic that is void of emotion. Here is the cover summary:
“Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.
Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, fifteen-year-old Christopher is autistic and everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. He lives on patterns, rules, and a diagram kept in his pocket. Then one day, a neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed and his carefully constructed universe is threatened. Christopher sets out to solve the murder in the style of his favorite (logical) detective, Sherlock Holmes. What follows makes for a novel that is deeply funny, poignant, and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing are a mind that perceives the world entirely literally.”
I’ve had the privilege to work for people with autism, and this book helped me understand more clearly what it must be like to interact with a world that doesn’t fully understand you, and that you don’t fully grasp. It was moving not only from Christopher’s perspective, but also to watch as Christopher’s very human parents tried their best to understand and love him.
I read A Grief Observed at a difficult time in my spiritual life. I was wrestling with certain aspects of a faith that I needed to grieve. Inside are the journals of C.S. Lewis from the time he was grieving the death of his wife. My own life with God was blessed yet again by another of C.S. Lewis’ works. Here is the cover summary:
“Written after his wife’s tragic death as a way of surviving the “mad midnight moments,” A Grief Observed” is C.S. Lewis’s honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss. This work contains his concise, genuine reflections on that period: “Nothing will shake a man–or at any rate a man like me–out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.” This is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.
Three Cups of Tea is a must read. If you are as ignorant as I was about the history, people, culture, and faiths in Pakistan and Afghanistan, please read this book. I was profoundly touched by the work Greg Mortenson and Central Asia Institute is doing in these regions to promote peace through education. But don’t read it just to be touched. Read it to be moved to action through correct thinking.
In 1993 a mountaineer named Greg Mortenson drifted into an impoverished Pakistan village in the Karakoram mountains after a failed attempt to climb K2. Moved by the inhabitants’ kindness, he promised to return and build a school (after seeing the children in the open air scratching their math in the dirt & without the guidance of a teacher). Three Cups of Tea is the story of that promise and its extraordinary outcome. Over the next decade Mortenson built not just one by fifty-five schools–especially for girls–in the forbidding terrain that gave birth to the Taliban. His story is at once riveting adventure and a testament to the power of the humanitarian spirit.
On to “The Sun Also Rises.”
This was actually my first Hemingway book. I try to read at least three classic pieces of literature a year, so after being recommended by a friend, I went for it. I know after doing some research that Hemingway revolutionized writing. His short, precise, and vivid sentence structures broke new ground in literature.
As far as the book goes, I have to say that I really couldn’t fall in love with, or hate any of the characters. They all seemed very bland and shallow. But on another note, they were painfully human. I think it’s essential in works of fiction that the readers of the story, care about the fate of the characters (at least the main characters), but I honestly couldn’t have cared less. This could say more about me than the author.
The bright spot in Hemingway’s book for me, were his vivid descriptions of Spain, and especially the fiesta and the running of the bulls in Pamplona. His use of precise and vivid sentences led me to feel as though I was right there in the midst of the chaos and joy of the celebrations. His descriptions had an ability to romanticize the festivities without being overly sentimental or gaudy.
Overall, “The Sun Also Rises” is a book worth reading even though it won’t make it’s way to my list of favorites.
I read “New Seeds of Contemplation” s l o w l y. Each page and each chapter had something to challenge and teach me with. I highly recommend this book for meditations on the spiritual life. Even if you’re not a Christian (Thomas Merton was a Trappist Monk), you will find yourself deeply challenged and enlightened by his writings. Here’s an excerpt from the chapter “Things in Their Identity” that had a profound impact on me:
“All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct it’s nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.
But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed. I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But they are all destined by their very contingency to be destroyed. And when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake…
The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God.”
If you’ve read “Three Cups of Tea” then you MUST continue to follow the story of the Central Asia Institute, the non-profit organization committed to peace through education in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Written by Greg Mortenson,
“Stones into Schools picks up where Three Cups of Tea left off in late 2003, tracing CAI’s efforts to work in a whole new country, the secluded northeast corner of Afghanistan. Those efforts were diverted in October 2005 when a devastating earthquake hit the Azad Kashmir region of Pakistan, and Mortenson describes how the CAI helped with relief efforts by setting up temporary tent schools and eventually several earthquakeproof schools there. The action then returns to Afghanistan in 2007, as the CAI launches schools in the heart of Taliban country and as Mortenson helps the U.S. military formulate new strategic plans in the region.”
This is a great read with vivid storytelling, and if you have an interest in knowing more about the humanitarian aid going on in this region of the world, I strongly recommend this book.
“Till We Have Faces” is still one of my favorite books. So much so that I will read it again and again. That’s what I did towards the end of this year, I read it for the second time. It’s hard to put words to describe this book because it’s impact on me is very personal. A work of fiction with the main topic being a meditation on what true love is, no one should walk away from this book–after reading it with an open heart–and not be changed in some way. If you’re only familiar with C.S. Lewis through “The Chronicles of Narnia” or his theological and philosophical works, then you’d be deprived if you never picked up this beautiful piece of literature.
“In this timeless tale of two mortal princesses–one beautiful and one unattractive–C.S. Lewis reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction. This is the story of Orual, Psyche’s embittered and ugly older sister, who possessively and harmfully loves Psyche. Much to Orual’s frustration, Psyche is loved by Cupid, the god of love himself, setting the troubled Orual on a path of moral development.
Set against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world, the struggles between sacred and profane love are illuminated as Orual learns that we cannot understand the intent of the gods “till we have faces” and sincerity in our souls and selves.”
Being that my wife and I live and work in South Korea, news and thoughts of North Korea are never far from our minds. I’m especially interested in what life is like in North Korea, so to my surprise on a visit to the English bookstore in Itaewon, Seoul, I stumbled across “Nothing to Envy,” a nonfiction book that tells the story of six North Korean defectors.
Written by Barbara Demick, I was immediately pulled into this story that was nothing less than a modern day fulfillment of Orwell’s prophetic “1984.” It comes with my highest recommendation. From Publisher’s Weekly:
Starred Review. A fascinating and deeply personal look at the lives of six defectors from the repressive totalitarian regime of the Republic of North Korea, in which Demick, an L.A. Times staffer and former Seoul bureau chief, draws out details of daily life that would not otherwise be known to Western eyes because of the near-complete media censorship north of the arbitrary border drawn after Japan’s surrender ending WWII. As she reveals, ordinary life in North Korea by the 1990s became a parade of horrors, where famine killed millions, manufacturing and trade virtually ceased, salaries went unpaid, medical care failed, and people became accustomed to stepping over dead bodies lying in the streets. Her terrifying depiction of North Korea from the night sky, where the entire area is blacked out from failure of the electrical grid, contrasts vividly with the propaganda on the ground below urging the country’s worker-citizens to believe that they are the envy of the world. Thorough interviews recall the tremendous difficulty of daily life under the regime, as these six characters reveal the emotional and cultural turmoil that finally caused each to make the dangerous choice to leave. As Demick weaves their stories together with the hidden history of the country’s descent into chaos, she skillfully re-creates these captivating and moving personal journeys.