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Top Ten of 2018 + Reading Goals Recap





There's three weeks left in the year, but I honestly don't expect to get much reading done till my Christmas break (beginning the 20th!!!), so I thought I would start my yearly retrospective a bit early.

These were my reading goals for 2018:
  • Bring back Book Journals - Kind of a fail. I started a book journal with Ben-Hur but lost momentum early on.  I'm still tacitly reading it, and maybe during my break will start posting about it again.
  • Read more non-fiction.  Check!  Of the 45 books I read (or partially read) this year, almost a third were non-fiction, and some of the fiction was based heavily on real life.  That's pretty good for me.
  • Escape the comfort zone.  Check.  I read a number of books this year that definitely challenged me, and some made me extremely uncomfortable.
  • Revive the blog.  Check.  While podcasting, I made an effort to write posts that complemented the episodes, and that worked out nicely.
In spite of having more or less reached my 2018 goal of 40 books, I have to admit only a fraction of the books really stand out to me as I think about it now.  Some were duds; others were momentarily entertaining but failed to leave a long-lasting impression.

Here, then, are my top ten books of the year (excluding re-reads):

10. The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers--How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death, by Dick Teresi
What a title... This wasn't a cheerful read, but I thought it was very educational, especially the sections on the ambiguity of death itself. 


9.  Please Look after Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin
A moving and memorable novel about family, old age, and culture.

8.  Various stories by Flannery O'Connor
Can't believe I hadn't read O'Connor before.   

7.  The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea, by Bandi
Disturbing, dark, and challenging to anyone who is a writer.

6.  About Orchids: A Chat, by Frederick Boyle
A sad history story about one of my favorite flowers.


5.  Embers, by Sándor Márai
Another book I couldn't believe I hadn't read before.  The ideal book for fans of the introspective, nostalgic novel, almost like something by Ishiguro...

4.  84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff
A short, poignant book to make you laugh, then cry.

3.  A Pale View of Hills, by Kazuo Ishiguro
I don't generally like or read ghost stories, but this one is a masterpiece.  It's also featured in one of my favorite podcast episodes from this year - "What Is a Classic?"

2.  CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping, by Kerry Brown
To my own surprise, I really gravitated to this biography of a very powerful, and somewhat mysterious, leading figure of 2018.  Absolutely worthwhile.

1.  The Sea and Poison, by Shūsaku Endō
This book is a Kafkian "axe" if ever there was one.  I spent the better part of a week in shock over the book itself, as well as over my research for the episode "Doctors, Murderers."  Hard as it was, I'm glad I pushed myself and tackled a subject I was almost too afraid to talk about on the podcast.


That's it for me.  What were some of your favorites from this year?

Slowing Down with Tolkien, Lectio Divina

With all that's been going on in my life lately, I've been finding it necessary to take action to slow down.

I know, that sounds like an oxymoron.  But as a recovering perfectionist and incorrigible planner, I tend to labor over any life changes, even if it's merely the quest to find a little peace and quiet.  I have learned a few things from this methodical approach, although in reality, just the awareness of trying to slow down has helped lead me into some more practical, if unexpected, steps.

Turning off the "TV"

Prior to all of this, I had (for other reasons) decided to take a YouTube fast for three weeks this past November.  For me, YouTube is the equivalent of cable TV, except that I get to choose the content through a very personalized subscription list.  Typically, I can spend hours just trying to keep up with each channel, and I actually avoid some channels in part because I can't keep up.

Taking a break was really hard, but very good.  I did not feel particularly happy knowing I was missing out on all my favorite YouTubers, but at the same time, it forced to me do more reading.  It's probably the reason I managed to finish Kirkegaard's The Concept of Anxiety, a book which was as dry as YouTube is enthralling.

Coming back to YouTube in December, I'd been dreading the "catch up" phase. What I didn't expect was that my fast had changed my perspective.  Now I see a lot of videos I could watch, but viewed collectively, only some of them stand out as actually interesting.  I feel motivated by this to limit my viewing now and may even unsubscribe from some channels.

A Long-Expected Viewing Party

Something really exciting happened during my YouTube fast.



The local library had the full, extended-edition Hobbit trilogy.  More importantly, the DVDs all arrived for me at once.  Unheard of!

My siblings and I have been watching it over the past few weeks - it's new to us.  "Extended edition" is by definition "slow," but in a good way.  It gives you space to really savor each segment and talk about it.   

I don't know if it's the "extendedness," but I love these three films more than ever and in some ways as much as The Lord of the Rings.  It's really apples and oranges, yet I'm a child at heart, and The Hobbit especially appeals to my love of fairy tales.


You can read about my history with Tolkien here.  I have just started re-reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time.  I don't know how long it'll take me - and in the spirit of slowing down, that's ok.  I just don't want to wait for the "perfect time."

The Bible and Lectio Divina

As a Christian, I've read the Bible through once or twice, in addition to studying sections of it.  But it's been a while since I read it regularly, and I've found it difficult to get back into it.

During my break from YouTube, I listened to several episodes of The Word on Fire Show, a podcast by Bishop Robert Barron from Los Angeles.  He talks about books on occasion; I think I first stumbled across his talks on YouTube, possibly to do with Shūsaku Endō's The Silence (a book I have yet to read).  I'm not Catholic, and I don't agree with all of Barron's views, but of the episodes I've listened to, I've found the podcast to be interesting, educational, and well presented.

One of his older episodes is about "5 Ways to Pray Better Today."  In it, he talks about lectio divina, a method of prayer and Bible reading traditionally used by Benedictine monks.  It's broken down into four steps (which I paraphrase from Wikipedia):
  1. Lectio (read) - Read a passage of Scripture.
  2. Meditatio (meditate) - Ponder over what you have read.
  3. Oratio (pray) - Speak to God.
  4. Contemplatio (contemplate) - A calm silence.  Bp. Barron describes this step as "contemplative listening to what God wants to tell you."
Coming from a Protestant background, I had never heard of lectio divina before.  I tried this for the first time the other night, reading John 17

John 17 is one of my favorite parts of the Bible and certainly one of the most beautiful passages of all literature.  Absorbing it slowly and with prayer brought me so much peace.  I think I will continue lectio divina as I re-read the New Testament.

Looking to the New Year

As planned, I've read at least 40 books this year.  Much of that was for my podcast, which I highly enjoyed while I had time to do it.  I still want to bring it back next year, though it's looking doubtful if I will have the energy for it.

I've shelved Flannery O'Connor's Complete Stories and Václav Havel's Open Letters for the time being.  Same with Hawthorne's Complete Tales and Sketches.  I love anthologies, but the best way to read them is at intervals, not all at once.  (I made the latter mistake with Kafka.)

Next year remains open.  How many books will I read?  I don't know if I want to set a goal.  Ideally I'd like to avoid reading several books at once, which is what happened this year.  Focusing on one book at a time and avoiding multi-tasking - these are going to help me get more out of my reading and enjoy life.

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