100 books in 2020, Big Books in 2021

My big picture reading goal in 2020 was to finally crack the 100 books in a year mark which I have been approaching for a few years. I was able to accomplish that and so look for a different approach in The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty-One.

Side note: I always feel a little guilty about counting graphic novels, novellas and other forms of very short books in my books I have read count. But this is in tension with my desire to read 100 books and to track every book I have read. And to be fair, I listened to a number of audio courses which are equal to quite large books given the number of hours involved. So I will call it even.

I will admit to sometimes being put off by very large books for two reasons. 1) hard to get to 100 if you are reading large tomes 2) I struggle to stay engaged and get a lot out of large books because I don’t always have the large blocks of time required to read such books well. I started thinking about this even as I was on track to read 100 books in 2020.

But as a way to challenge myself and read some books that I have had on my TBR pile for some time and have had recommended to me multiple times, I decided to declare 2021 the year of big books.

I also want to attempt to focus on some key interest areas in my reading: classics, books on conservatism, books on writing and books on faith and/or theology.

Continue reading →

The Future of Collected Miscellany

Lined notebook and pen

Once more into the breach…

As the one or two people who read this blog with any regularity know, I have been struggling with whether to keep going. Traffic has gone down year by year. No one leaves a comment or links to this blog. On occasion a publisher might retweet or tweet a review or an author might say thank you for a review, but for the most part this site is visited by those led here from Google searches with a small trickle from social media.

My motivation and energy for posting, let alone quality posting, had all but disappeared. Largely because of the above. I admit, I struggle when I get no feedback or interaction; when it seems like no one is listening. I was hanging on mostly because I still like getting books from publishers and having a website where you post reviews helps with that.

As the end of 2020 approached, I thought it presented a good opportunity to make a clean break one way or the other. So I began to think about what I wanted to do.

The biggest motivation for me to keep this site going is the realization that social media and other distractions had undermined my ability to concentrate and focus on writing. And in 2021 I want to prove to myself that I can do the hard work necessary to write engaging and thought provoking book reviews and cultural criticism.

I also felt frustrated that I had read a great many books without coming away with much insight, opinion, or reaction. I was too passive. Writing is one way to force yourself to pay attention and get more out of reading.

The question was then whether I had the time and energy to make it work and how I would go about setting myself up to succeed. I decided that I owed it to myself to try. I didn’t want all the years CM has been around to simply disappear with a whimper.

Continue reading →

Yuval Levin on The Path Back From Conspiracy

If I could select on person to rule as a benevolent dictator it would probably be Yuval Levin.  He has the knowledge, wisdom, experience and temperament to make a great leader (which is why he is not so stupid as to run for office but that is another post).

If you are seeking some sense of how we might get out of the mess we find ourselves in, I recommend his piece at The Dispatch today (BTW, you should join The Dispatch): The Path Back From Conspiracy. Building on his must read book, A Time to Build, he locates the solution in institutions but crucially rebuilding the integrity of institutions.

This requires a realistic understanding of human nature:

To imagine we don’t need responsible elites—or that the desire for institutional integrity is a naïve and over-earnest fantasy—is actually to deny the limits of human reason, power, and ability. It is a kind of utopianism masquerading as realism. It ultimately depends upon the fiction that corrupt elites are exceedingly competent, so that what the people need is their own hyper-competent champion to fight back. In truth, however, neither the elites nor their opponents are particularly capable. They are all human beings, and to imagine that human beings can seamlessly pull off a sophisticated, multilayered, sinister conspiracy over an extended period in a free society is already to lose touch with reality.

But our institutions seem corrupt and useless:

That sort of corruption of our professional institutions has grown pervasive. Not only in politics but in journalism, the academy, public health, federal law enforcement, American religious life, and beyond we have lately seen the lure of political expression overcome the strictures of professional formation, and the result has been a cratering of public trust and a growing detachment from reality.

The solution, however, is not to burn it down as so many seem to want, but build it up:

We should criticize elites for failing to live up to professional and institutional standards, not dismiss those standards as a sham. We should demand integrity, not deny it is possible. We should fight for the professions and the universities, not against them. We should want our institutions to be worthy of trust and authority, not seek to burn them down.

The corruption of the American establishment doesn’t mean we can do without elite institutions, it means we need to help them recover their integrity.

We desperately need leaders and communities who can take up this important work. Particularly in the areas noted above that so warp our perspectives these days.

The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson

For those of you not following along, I’m reading the Wingfeather Saga to mark the release of new collectable hardcover editions being released this year.

And so we come to the much anticipated final book in the series: The Warden and the Wolf King:

All winter long, people in the Green Hollows have prepared for a final battle with Gnag the Nameless and the Fangs of Dang. Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli are ready and willing to fight alongside the Hollowsfolk. But when the Fangs make the first move and invade Ban Rona, the children are separated.

Janner is alone and lost in the hills; Leeli is fighting the Fangs from the rooftops of the city; and Kalmar, who carries a terrible secret, is on a course for the Deeps of Throg. Monsters and Fangs and villains lie between the children and their only hope of victory in the epic conclusion of The Wingfeather Saga.

Perhaps not surprisingly given the continued improvement book to book, I found book four a satisfying conclusion to the series. It was a happy ending of sorts but not without some serious sacrifice. Quests, epic battles, twists and turns and some resolution (but not everything tied up in a neat bow).

Continue reading →

The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson

For those of you not following along, I’m reading the Wingfeather Saga to mark the release of new collectable hardcover editions being released this year.  Specifically, books three and four being released today, October 6.

As I noted with book 2, the books seems to be getting better as we go. I enjoyed On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and found the second half of the book more engaging than the first, and that pattern continued with North! or Be Eaten.

And that pattern continued with The Monster in the Hallows.

Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby, the Lost Jewels of Anniera, are hiding from Gnag the Nameless in the Green Hollows, one of the few places in the land of Aerwiar not overrun by the Fangs of Dang. But there’s a big problem. Janner’s little brother–heir to the throne of Anniera–has grown a tail. And gray fur. Not to mention two pointed ears and long, dangerous fangs. To the suspicious folk of the Green Hollows, he looks like a monster.

But Janner knows better. His brother isn’t as scary as he looks. He’s perfectly harmless. Isn’t he?

Each book builds on the previous; more history revealed, more surprises, more depth to the characters, etc.

Peterson continues to balance a focus on the inner lives of the children, Janner in particular, with the history and myth of Anniera. He adds in secondary characters that help flush out the details and color of the world he has built but also keeps readers on their toes with twists and turns.

The last third of this book in particular is pretty intense as the action and intrigue ratchets up. Things are barrelling towards the fourth and final book.

As I have said before, great series for young readers and particularly a read out loud or audiobook to share as a family.  But something adults can enjoy too.