70: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. This was, as I said in my old blog last year, one of the most interesting reading experiences I've had in quite a while. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a really damned hard book to read. The first 80 pages or so were s l o w and seemed to be going nowhere fast. I was just about to give up on the thing when it began to interest me. For the next few weeks, I'd read just enough to keep my interest piqued, and finally in the last week I devoured the final 300 pages and really enjoyed the experience.
What's to like? Well, it's about British magicians in the early 19th century, fighing Napoleon while trying to reestablish "English magic," which apparently rose out of the north in the Dark Ages at the coming of John Uskglass, the Raven King. Gilbert Norrell is almost more of a magical archivist than magician - his two residences hold a library of over 5,000 books of magic, which he guards zealously. Jonathan Strange, his young protege, is of course impetuous and frustrated with Norrell's reluctance to step outside of his library to do magic in the real world.
There were several things I really enjoyed in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. First, Clarke's writing is polished and very, very descriptive. One can feel the chill of English rain and winter in her writing, and there's a decidedly Poe-ish feel to much of the novel, which I very much appreciated. Secondly, the characters are varied and human - they are neither flawless nor irredeemable. Third, Clarke mixes fiction with history in such a way as to make me wish I knew more about the actual history with which the plot is interacting. Finally, the ending is unresolved: this is no fairy tale, though much of it does deal with fairies. I recommended it before, and I suppose I still recommend it today.
69: Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine. I really enjoyed this book. I'd heard about it last Christmas season and had been waiting to get it from our local library for some months. Matter of fact, when they called to let me know it was in I couldn't remember even ordering it! Be that as it may, it was a great, thought-provoking read. Premise: the author and her husband decide to spend one calendar year buying only essentials, and by that they mean ESSENTIALS, even down to questioning whether community theater is a luxury or community item. They question their own preconceptions of consumerism and materialism, but they also question the industry that's grown around reducing the impact of industry (yes, you read that correctly). It's not a knee-jerk liberal screed against the mean and nasty materialist Republicans, nor is it an exercise in apologetics for the granola crowd - just a good book about a social experiment that goes farther than the author figured it would go. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
68: Reallivepreacher.com by Gordon Atkinson. My friend Matt let me borrow his copy of Gordon's excellent book. I was surprised to note how many of the stories I'd already read as a regular visitor to Gordon's blog - but I was also surprised by the deep impact of those stories I hadn't read. Gordon's got a real gift for writing, and I'm proud to call him a brother in Christ and a fellow preacher - not bad for a Lutheran from Minnesota and a Baptist from Texas. You'll find a link to Real Live Preacher on the right - go visit!
67: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
66: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
Of course, these old favorites were on my list thanks to the movie version of TLWW that Walden Media released last December (which I thoroughly enjoyed, btw). But it was nice to visit old friends. Dawn Treader has been my favorite in the series for years, probably because it's unlikely that I'll ever sail beyond sight of land, Nebraska boy that I am. The idea of sailing to the end of the world is, for me, much like Lewis describes it - the voyage which we can make only the once, and I'm not ready to make that voyage just yet. But that doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to the trip. TLWW is, as always, a classic, but as a friend noted, the movie was better in some ways because you get the idea of the terrible power of the White Witch, the despair of Mr. Tumnus at realizing his betrayal and his endangerment, and the determination of the Beavers and all the other allies of the Pevensie children. Of course, now that we are expecting our own little one, I'm dearly anticipating reading these beloved tales at bedtime in a few years. Can't wait!