Monday, December 11, 2023

Books I’m Not Recommending for Christmas

Once again, I’m not recommending books for Christmas. This goes back a long, long time, when I learned that, if people know you’re a reader, they will shower you with books as gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Unfortunately, it was usually books the giver liked, without thinking too much about the recipient.  

That’s not to say I don’t really like books. Or that certain books have made me wildly enthusiastic. I discovered that this blog (and my page at Dancing Priest) is a good way to describe books I like. If I read a book and don’t like it, I don’t review it.


What follows is a list of the books I truly enjoyed this year.




I surprised myself when I tallied up the classic books I read this year. Some of them surprised me; they weren’t what I remembered them to be. But it’s hard to go wrong with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson; Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott; The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway; The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde; Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson; John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benet; Andy Catlett: Early Travels by Wendell Berry; and The Wonderful Visit by H.G. Wells.




Just when you think contemporary literary fiction is going down the drain, you read books like Small Things Like Theseby Claire Keegan and Eugene Vodolazkin’s Solovyuv and Larionov and A History of the Island. And Robert Hudson’s The Beautiful Madness of Martin Bonham is simply stunning.




I’m still reading a lot (A LOT) about the Civil War. If We Are Striking for PennsylvaniaVolume 1 and Volume 2 focus on the runup to the Battle of Gettysburg. Man of Fire by Derek Maxfield succinctly explains the personality of William Tecumseh Sherman. And Of Age: Boy Soldiers and Military Power in the Civil War Era by Frances Clark and Rebecca Jo Plant tell a fascinating story: how 10 percent of both the Union and Confederate armies were comprised of boys under the age of 15.


For non-Civil War history, my favorite was England in the Age of Dickens 1812-1870 by Jeremy Black. 




I read some really fine poetry this year. When you start a year with The Family Book of Martyrs by Benjamin Myers and finish it with Under the Pearl Moon by Rick Maxson, you know it was a good year. In between were Meet Me at the Lighthouse by Dana Gioia; Stairwell by James Sale; Skyscrape by John Sibley Williams; and Mining the Bright Birds by Jody Collins.




When people wonder why I read mysteries (a lot of mysteries), I tell them that T.S. Eliot was a famous mystery reader, too. My favorites this year tended to cluster around authors: the Hillary Green series by Faith Martin; the Arnold Landon series by Roy Lewis; the Inishowen mysteries by Andrea Carter; the York mysteries of H.L. Marsay; the Louise Blackwell mysteries by Matt Brolly; the Munro & West mysteries by Pete Brassett; and the Lord Edgington mysteries by Benedict Brown.


Literary Criticism


Two titles were special standouts for me this year: Mythic Realms by Bradley Birzer and Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War by Stephen Cushman. 


News Media


Newspaperwoman of the Ozarks: The Life and Times of Lucile Morris Upton by Susan Croce Kelly describes a journalism I recognize, even if it was the first half of the 20th century (back when reporters used to report news). 




Luke Davis had two books aimed at younger (teen) readers – Reform: The Church at the Birth of Protestantism and Renewal: The Church That Expands Outward. Ben Palpant’s Letters from the MountainLetters to Doctors by Earle Carpenter, and Monastery Mornings by Michael Patrick O’Brien. Of special note is The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living by Leslie Busatrd.




High marks to Brian Miller for his Kayaking with Lambs. It's about farming, and a lot more.


Top photograph by Valentin Antonini via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Some Monday Readings


A Great Historian’s Inner History – Jeff Reimer at The Bulwark on Journeys of the Mind by Peter Brown.


Remembering with Christmas Cards – Brian Miller at A South Roane Agrarian.


The Legacy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative. 

Every Day Poems: Community Mandalas + New Poetry Club Invitation -- Tweetspeak Poetry.

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