Tag Archives: Books

Best novels of the 2000s – according to US critics

The Guardian is carrying an report on a BBC Culture survey recently among US literary critics on what they considered the top novels of the 21st century so far. I’ve a read a few and haven’t heard of some!

Their top twelve are:

1. Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
2. Edward P Jones, The Known World (2003)
3. Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009)
4. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004)
5. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (2001)
6. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000)
7. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)
8. Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012)
9. Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001)
10. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
11. Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)
12. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)

My take on those I’ve read:

Wolf Hall was one I really struggled through. It was only my stubborness that kept me going. I liked the gist of the story, in my mind at half or two thirds the length it would have been much better.

Gilead is one many of my friends like Jayber raved about. I enjoyed it, although it didn’t blow me away. I may need to reread it.

A Visit from the Goon Squad – another one I struggled with and really wasn’t impressed by.

Atonement – the first on their list that I agree with – brilliant and poignant.

Half a Yellow Sun – again this is a fantastic book – I’m a fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Americanah – one of my best novels/reads of 2014 makes number 13 on the critics list.

What do you make of the critics choices?

Advertisements

Best reads of 2014: fiction

One huge advantage of a kindle (apart from portability) is that with it I read more. This does not equal reading more good books but reading more average novels/easy reads, unable to resist a free or 99p deal of the day. Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks series and Greg Isle’s Penn Cage series were some of the more enjoyable cheap reads.

I did still manage some decent books and my top five in no particular order are:

An Officer and a Spy – Robert Harris

State corruption, whistle blowing, wrongful imprisonment. The story of French army officer Richard Dreyfus at the end of the 19th century. Harris at his best.

The Spinning Heart – Donal Ryan

Ireland after the crash through the eyes of the inhabitants of a small town brilliantly demonstrating the human (and moral) cost of the boom times going bust.

Americanah- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Loved this tale of identity and belonging,  of emigration and return.

The Son – Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo does crime fiction/thriller like no other.

The Truth Commissioner – David Park

This had been on my list for a while and didn’t disappoint. Weaving together several characters and their past into an imagined future of a truth and reconciliation commission in Northern Ireland.

 

What were your top fiction reads of 2014?

 

Next up – non-fiction reads of 2014.

Currently Reading: Invisibles

Amazon recommendations can be wonderful things. This is one that is certainly working so far.

Telling the stories of many of the highly skilled people who by doing their job well become invisible it provides an antidote to the self-promotion and ‘platform’ building all around. [And yes even by blogging about it I recognise a level of irony!]

As David Zweig researched this group he began noticing similar characteristics:

  • ambivalence towards recognition
  • meticulousness
  • savouring responsibility

Not exactly things that tend to characterise most of the ‘5 tips’ ‘6 ways’ etc articles that populate most of our twitter feeds (and I’m guilty of retweeting!) And not characteristics that our culture tends to promote.

Our ever more fragmented news and entertainment fosters an increasingly personalised experience, which research suggests implicitly reinforces a solipsistic attitude. Most of all, as we continue to develop and live through our online versions of ourselves – forever crafting our various social media profiles and avatars – there is the growing notion that we, as individuals, are actually brands to promote. this cacophony of self-importance, of personalised electronic vuvuzelas, has made us like that annoying kid at the front of the class who keeps raising his hand, moaning with distress as he over-tries for the teacher’s attention. and it is tipping us dangerously out of balance.

What can help us maintain a healthy tension to avoid slipping into what he describes above?

David Zweig - Invisibles

The Books I’m Planning to Read in 2014

Gemma inspired me to be a little more intentional with my reading so I’ve put together a list of the books I’d like to read in 2014. I’m sure it will have a degree of flexibility.

Have you read any of them? What did you think? Any you think I should add or not bother with?

Fiction
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Canada – Richard Ford
May We Be Forgiven – AM Homes
Best Of Our Spies – Alex Gerlis
Biography
The Governor – John Lonergan
Conversations With Myself – Nelson Mandela
Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life – Sari Nusseibeh & Anthony David
Leadership
Boundaries for Leaders – Henry Cloud
Authentic Happiness – Martin Seligman (Psychology as related to coaching)
Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek
Thanks For The Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well – Sheila Stone &Douglas Heen
Theology
The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatious
A Theology of Work -Darrell  Cosden
Introducing Liberation Theology – Boff & Boff
Why Cities Matter – Stephen Um & Justin Buzzard
Doing Local Theology – Clemens Sedmak
And looking for some good stuff on Isaiah
Have you read any of them? What did you think? Any you think I should add or not bother with?

2013 in Books: Non-fiction (part one)

Due to my need to categorise this is part one in the non-fiction books. On a side-note I’m finding Goodreads a great way of keeping track of my reading.

Biography

OneWildLifeFrontCoverART-sm1. One Wild Life – Claire Mulvaney

This qualifies as biography (in my mind!) in that the author Claire Mulvaney tells the stories (and interviews) people around the globe who are working for social change. From Ireland to India she introduces over 30 people working to make the world  better place. With a few pages per person its a great book to dip into every day and come away inspired and motivated to make a difference. Find out more on her site here.

51eaYJmEwfL._AA160_2. Adventures of a Waterboy – Mike Scott

No matter if you’re a fan of the Waterboys or not this is a great read and wonderful insight into life as a musician. I read Peter Carlin’s ‘Bruce’ at a similar time and Mike Scott’s writing is vastly superior – unsurprisingly.

51q1qdKksBL._AA160_

3. Where Are You Really From? – Tim Brannigan

I think everyone from Northern Ireland should read this – especially if you come from a Protestant background. Fascinating and incredible story of growing up black in West Belfast in the 70s and spending time in the H blocks.

Honourable mention for ‘Stillness and Speed: My Story’ by Dennis Bergkamp which isn’t really by him but more a series of interviews. Bergkamp was undoubtedly one of the best footballers to grace the Premiership. His insights and story of a playing career spanning Ajax, Inter Milan and Arsenal are a must read for the football geek. and it was only 59p on Kindle. Bargain.

Theology/Christian

Interestingly I found myself reading much less Christian books in 2013 although maybe I was just being more selective!

JTMEE1. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes – Kenneth Bailey

Kenneth Bailey is a Middle-Eastern scholar (and lived there for 40 years) who has written some brilliant books unpacking the context of the Middle East at the time of Jesus helping bring deeper understanding of many of Jesus’ encounters and parables. The section of Jesus and women was particularly helpful with some of the material on the parables similar to his earlier works Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes.

WMF2. The Word Made Flesh – Eugene Peterson

I feel I’m starting to turn into Jaybercrow as my love for Eugene Peterson’s writing reaches adulation. Maybe its about stage of life or experiences but I find Peterson incredibly insightful, earthy and inspiring.This is the fourth in Peterson’s wonderful ‘Spiritual Theology’ series. Continuing the parables theme – I really enjoyed getting stuck into them this past year, also dipping into Ched Myers ‘Binding the Strong Man’.

STPOTC3. Seek the Good of the City – Doug Banister

A free ebook (get it here) this is a wonderfully short, holistic and practical guide to what it looks like to seek to bless the city.

Honourable mention to Multiplying Missional Leaders by Mike Breen – another practical and provocative read.

What were your best biographies and theology/Christian reads of 2013?

Next up is leadership and productivity.

Looking back at 2013: Fiction

I love reading. Getting a kindle a year or so ago has increased the quantity of books I read  – not necessarily the quality though!

I love hearing what people have enjoyed reading as it broadens my horizons and introduces me to new authors,ideas and perspectives. I’ve been asking on Facebook, and inspired by Jaybercrow I’m going to try to get back to blogging this year.

2013 fictionKicking off with my best fiction reads of 2013.

1. The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach

Quite simply a stunning, beautiful and emotive read.

2. HHhH – Laurent Binet

Brilliant story of the plot to kill Heydrich in WW2 complete with author’s ruminations and wrestling with how to tell the story.

3. Harry Hole series – Jo Nesbo

My big weakness is crime fiction and there are few better at gritty crime thrillers than Jo Nesbo. I devoured 8(!) of the Harry Hole books this year…

Honourable mentions:

Transtlantic – Colum McCann

I love McCann’s ability to weave storylines together.

And The Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

One I imagine most of you read this year.

What were your top reads of 2013 that i should get on my 2014 bookshelf?

Next up – non-fiction. Which may sprawl into several sub-categories – leadership, biography, theology, ‘other’.

Hauerwas – Coming Late to the Party

As with many things I tend to take a while to get around to reading what everyone else has been talking about for a while. Nelly first introduced me to Stanley Hauerwas through Living Gently in a Violent World (Resources for Reconciliation)""Living Gently in a Violent World. Now one of my former housemates has helped me along with a copy of Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir""Hannah’s Child – Hauerwas’s memior. I’m drinking it up.

A few weeks ago we had a session for young leaders on Spiritual Formation, which Hauerwas speaks into wonderfully saying:

Thus Jesus does not tell us that we should try to be poor in spirit, or meek or peacemeakers. He simply says that many who are called into his kingdom will find themselves so constituted. We cannot try to be meek or gentle in order to be a disciple of this gentle Jesus, but in learning to be his disciple some of us will be gentled..

Another comment caught my attention too, especially thinking back to various theological debates, and our need to try to explain everything, dot every i and cross every t:

Only in God are existence and essence one. Accordingly, our language about God is necessarily analogical, which means that theology has the task of helping the church not say more about God than needs to be said.

Enough said…