It’s the end of the year, so it’s time for my annual summary of the books I’ve read during 2014 (see 2013’s entry).
Here are the books I’ve completed during 2014, broken down into categories (fiction, non-fiction, theology) and listed in order of completion. I’ve also identified my two favourite books from each category. Each title links to my comments about the book on Tumblr. Books marked with a * are books I’d read before.
- Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone, by James Baldwin
- The Honourable Schoolboy, by John le Carré
- Smiley’s People, by John le Carré
- The Post Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig
- Brick Lane, by Monica Ali
- Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot
- Monsignor Quixote, by Graham Greene
- Parade’s End, by Ford Madox Ford
- Foxglove Summer, by Ben Aaronovitch
- An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris
Favourites: Daniel Deronda, Parade’s End.
Currently reading: Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.
Comments: I’ve not read a huge number of novels this year – though arguably Parade’s End should count as four, and Daniel Deronda is even longer than Ford’s tetralogy. Greatly enjoyed finishing off the Smiley trilogy (especially Smiley’s People). My clear favourite for the year, though, was Daniel Deronda, which is (as I said at the time) probably in the top three novels I’ve ever read.
Looking ahead: Having only just broken into double figures this year, I must try to read more novels next year. My wife has bought me Pat Barker’s Regeneration (having been recommending it to me for ages), so maybe I’ll end up doing the whole trilogy. I also have War and Peace sitting on my Kindle…
- Rice’s Church Primer, by Matthew Rice
- Books of Hours, by Phaidon Press
- Levels of Life, by Julian Barnes
- Rubicon, by Tom Holland
- Landscape and Memory, by Simon Schama
- An Interrupted Life, by Etty Hillesum
- Persian Fire, by Tom Holland
- Soccernomics, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
- The Bluffer’s Guide to Cycling, by Rob Ainsley
- Gironimo!, by Tim Moore
- Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty
- The War that Ended Peace, by Margaret MacMillan
- Why Not Socialism?, by G.A. Cohen*
- War By Timetable, by A.J.P. Taylor
- The Shock of the New, by Robert Hughes
- House of Debt, by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi
- Introducing Slavoj Žižek: A Graphic Guide, by Christopher Kul-Want and Piero.
Favourites: Capital in the Twenty-First Century, The Shock of the New.
Comments: A very satisfying set of books. Tom Holland’s Rubicon and Persian Fire were both hugely enjoyable works of ancient history. Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace is, to my mind, the definitive book on the underlying causes of the First World War. Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory is a remarkable book, and was only narrowly pipped to the post by Robert Hughes’ The Shock of the New.
Clear winner, though, is Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty’s book has, of course, been widely read and commented on, with people arguing strongly for and against his thesis. As for me, I feel similarly to the FT’s literary editor (£):
No one is going to turn to the literary editor for a decisive ruling on all of this but it seems fair to conclude that, while Piketty may not have settled the inequality debate, he has taken it into new territory: his opponents will be obliged to follow.
But the real impact for me was not Piketty’s analysis of the current position or his predictions for the future, but the insights his book provides into the nature of wealth, and its changing distribution, in the past: especially the dominance of income from capital until the First World War and its (temporary?) eclipse by income from labour during the mid-twentieth century. This has illuminated my reading of books as diverse as Daniel Deronda, Parade’s End and The War That Ended Peace.
Looking ahead: The biggest book currently looming on my to-read shelf is David Hackett Fischer’s “magisterial” (read: enormous) Albion’s Seed. And who knows: maybe 2014 will be the year I finally get round to reading E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art. I’m also hoping to read William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain – described by Tom Holland as the Christian equivalent of Douglas Adams’ Last Chance to See.
- Mary and the Christian Life, by Amy Welborn
- God’s Philosophers, by James Hannam
- Evangelii Gaudium, by Pope Francis
- The Benedictine Handbook, ed. Anthony Marett-Crosby, OSB
- The Birth of the Messiah, by Raymond E. Brown
- Seeking God: The Way of St Benedict, by Esther de Waal
- Teresa of Avila, by Rowan Williams
- The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, by Louis Bouyer
- Thomas Aquinas: A Very Short Introduction, by Fergus Kerr*
- The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton
- Basil Hume: The Monk Cardinal, by Anthony Howard
- Prayer Primer, by Thomas Dubay
- All Things Made New, by Stratford Caldecott
- An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, by John Henry Newman
- Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait, by Denys Turner
- Letters to a Young Catholic, by George Weigel
- First Aid in Pastoral Care, by Leslie Virgo
- A Graceful Life: Lutheran Spirituality for Today, by Bradley Hanson
- The Spirituality of the Cross, by Gene Edward Veith, Jr*
- Lutheran Theology, by Steven Paulson
- The Mystery of God, by Wilhelm Stählin
- Martin Luther’s Christmas Book, ed. Roland H. Bainton*
Favourites: Lutheran Theology, God’s Philosophers.
Currently reading: Being Christian, by Rowan Williams.
Comments: A tricky one, this. There’s no doubt which was my favourite theology book this year: Steven Paulson’s Lutheran Theology blew my mind and made me fall in love all over again with, well, Lutheran theology – to an extent that rather overshadows the rather different material I’d been reading for the rest of the year. However, James Hannam’s book God’s Philosophers deserves a mention, not least because its thesis – that medieval science was far more sophisticated than is generally assumed, and indeed was foundational to modern science – is one that needs constant repetition in order to counteract the Protestant and Enlightenment propaganda that still governs most people’s assumptions on the subject.
This is also the one category in which my favourite belies the title to this post, with Steven Paulson coming in at a svelte 272 pages (plus notes). James Hannam clocks up a respectable 448 pages, but this still falls short of Thomas Piketty (577 pages plus lots of notes), Parade’s End and Daniel Deronda (each more than 800 pages). The Shock of the New is a mere 412 pages, but they’re big and glossy, so the book ends up weighing an impressive 1.66 kg.
Looking ahead: Oswald Bayer’s Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Reinterpretation is one I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into. I may also give Heiko Oberman’s Luther: Man Between God and the Devil a go. Basically the plan (“if you want to make God laugh…”) is to read more Lutheran theology this year than has been the case until recently.
I could have included graphic novels in the fiction list, but I’m too much of a snob:
- Serenity: Leaves on the Wind, by Zack Whedon and Georges Jeanty
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller*
- Saga: Volume One, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
- Black Orchid, by Neil Gaiman
- Saga: Volume Two, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
- Saga: Volume Three, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
It feels insulting to bury “poetry” under “other”, but poetry books are not always the sort that you read from start to finish. Hence a “books completed” list leaves most of the poetry I’ve read (e.g. Geoffrey Hill and Paul Celan) unrecorded. But here goes, anyway: