pre⋅ténse

I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move.

Category: Books I read

Books I read in 1391

This is the first year that feels, in a way I can’t quite explain, familiar. There was certainly some intentionality in my reading choices before this, but somehow things really seem to come together in this year.


  • Jesus and the Victory of God—If this was the first book I finished in 1391, I must have started it pretty early in the year before. All of NT Wright’s books are worthwhile.
  • A Graded Reader of Biblical Greek
  • Beowulf (Heaney)—I read this aloud to my son Abraham (then six, I guess). I think it was mostly relational for him, though he made it through the language even when the other boys lost interest.
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—After Beowulf I dialed it down a bit, and started
  • Incarnational Ministry—By Hiebert. Excellent books, but oddly titled: it’s a book on cultural anthropology. The distinction between tribal, peasant, and urban societies was enlightening.
  • Prince Caspian
  • The Great Game—This had been recommended to me probably four or five years previously. I wish I’d read it earlier, it was extremely entertaining.
  • The Old Testament—Salutary, no doubt, but thinking back, what I really should have read first was a solid book on biblical theology.
  • The Golden Key—Here it is in the list; but in spite of reading a plot summary just now I can’t recall a thing about it.
  • Heart of Darkness
  • The Road—McCarthy; the only book I’ve read I think with a vaguely hopeful ending.
  • My Man Jeeves—Probably read as a reaction to McCarthy
  • Robert Falconer—This is probably my favorite George MacDonald book. His plotless novels don’t always work, but in this one the character development was strong enough to carry it. As for his universalism, he comes by it honestly.
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • George MacDonald, a biographical and critical appreciation
  • The Great Transformation—By Karl Polanyi; I took some interesting ideas from this—especially the idea that in traditional societies economic activities are submersed in culture—but most of this was beyond me.
  • The Odyssey—(The Pope translation) I enjoyed this far more than the Iliad. I was reading this in the Wakhan, among people who are materially poor, and who were offering me hospitality constantly. This line from Book 14 (spoken by a poor man offering hospitality to Odysseus) hit home: “Little, alas! is all the good I can // A man oppress’d, dependent, yet a man”
  • Fundamentals of Clinical Nutrition—There’s so much quackery around about nutrition, I was curious what the reality was. It turns out that the consequences of vitamin deficiency are not subtle.
  • Mud, Blood, and Poppycock—A curious book that tries to put a happy spin on the U.K.’s involvement in WWI.
  • Analyzing Discourse
  • An Introduction to Persian
  • Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters
  • Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945—My first Max Hastings book. Incredible, well-researched history. Unfortunately this was the first of four extremely depressing books I read one after the other, which notably affected my mood.
  • Things Fall Apart—I thought this was good, though somewhat heavy-handed.
  • My Bondage and My Freedom—Douglass is always worth reading, but I remember being disappointed that there wasn’t much in here that wasn’t in the Autobiography. The first post in this blog was a review of this book.
  • The Good Earth—I enjoyed this a lot, though I have yet to read the sequels. The blog post contrasts it with Things Fall Apart, which I had just read as well.
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way
  • Understanding How Others Misunderstand You
  • Hostage—Elie Wiesel
  • Bill Bryson’s African Diary
  • Exclusion and Embrace (here, here,  here, and here)—The blog posts are obviously my efforts to engage with a serious book. (NT Wright said this was the best book he’d read in the last twenty years, which is why I read it.) My recollection five years later is that there were a lot of emotive passages, but it was intellectually unsatisfying.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone—What a fun series!
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—I started reading Roald Dahl books aloud to the boys
  • The Place of the Lion—The first of many Charles Williams books I didn’t get. 🙂
  • A Boy’s Will—Frost
  • Flying to the Moon: An astronaut’s story—Read aloud
  • The Cultivated Mind—This was a great little book; it really motivated me to cultivate my mind intentionally.
  • The Silver Chair
  • Barnaby Rudge—Probably reading The Cultivated Mind made me feel like I should be reading Dickens.  I asked my friend Matt to recommend one, and he recommended this one, which was a lot of fun.
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy—The book was fine; I was ambivalent about Bonhoeffer, though.
  • Introduction to Christianity (here and here)—This was a really, really good book.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • The Prophetic Imagination—I always find Brueggemann a mixed bag, but this book helped me to articulate some feelings I had about how necessary it is to articulate one’s feelings.
  • The Deutercanonical Books
  • The Last Battle
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Books I read in 1390

There’s a pleasing variety of non-fiction here. It doesn’t seem to have been a great year for fiction, though there are some good ones.


  • [redacted] — “Oooh… I wonder why it’s redacted?” But this was a painful book to get through, so a little damnatio memoriae may not be inappropriate.
  • The Language of God—Francis Collins; good book.
  • Wuthering Heights—Bleak and depressing. I didn’t care about any of the characters.
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes
  • Epitome of the Divine Institutes (Lactantius)—I was very glad I read the epitome instead of the full Institutes, because this guy gave no evidence of knowing anything about the Bible. A cautionary tale to future cultural apologists.
  • Indo-European Language and Culture—This was really excellent, the ‘missing manual’ for Indo-European studies.
  • Kidnapped—Stevenson! Wonderful adventure author.
  • Extraordinary, Ordinary People—Condoleeza Rice’s first autobiography. She likes Brahms’ piano sonatas; I’m ambivalent about him.
  • Pirate Latitudes—Published posthumously, so who knows what he would have done with it, but what a terrible book.
  • No Country for Old Men—My first Cormac McCarthy book; I’ve become a fan (and tried my hand at his style!).
  • The Critical Villager—Interesting development writing; good reflections on the aid process.
  • The Great Divorce—Lewis writes the perfect rebuttal to MacDonald’s universalism—strong, yet gentle. Moral formation is important. This is probably my favorite C.S. Lewis book.
  • Christian Behavior—Unfortunately I can’t remember this book; a google search suggests that the author was either Lewis or Bunyan; I think Lewis is more likely, but I can’t recall a thing about this.
  • The Little Book of Conflict Transformation
  • Jesus and the God of Israel—Bauckham. This was very good, and offers some interesting directions for understanding early christology.
  • Next
  • The Princess and the Goblin—George MacDonald at his best, profound and childlike. Probably also the most cohesive plot of any MacDonald book too.
  • The Art of Writing (Stevenson)—He sure knew how to write, but I don’t recall that he had any insights about how to write.
  • Operational Security Management in Violent Environments—Good, straightforward prose and hardheaded thinking. Bit of a depressing read, but good nonetheless.
  • Rob Roy—I remember waiting and waiting and waiting to meet Rob Roy. This was good, but the actual protagonist is someone entirely different.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—The plot was thin and the sex and violence were voyeuristic. Its popularity is no mystery.
  • His Last Bow
  • Basics of Biblical Greek
  • The Psychopath Test—This was a great read.
  • The Pioneer Woman—Don’t judge me; my wife had gotten it from the library and I needed a book.
  • The Iliad—The Pope translation. It reflects poorly upon me that I’ve enjoyed having read this book far more than I enjoyed the actual reading.
  • Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy—This was pretty thin gruel. I’d previously enjoyed the same author’s history of Byzantium, but this was too cursory. (I want to say Julian Norwich, but of course that’s not right)
  • The Princess and Curdie—I didn’t enjoy this as much as The Princess and The Goblin; this was much more grown up.
  • Basic Music Theory
  • The Trivium—Slightly more interesting than reading the classifieds.
  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Man with Two Left Feet
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave—If America was produced any more mature reflection of freedom, individualism, and human dignity, I have not found it.
  • War in Heaven—This is my favorite Williams book; I love the image of the archdeacon who is saturated with the liturgy.
  • The Valley of Fear
  • Basics of Biblical Greek Workbook
  • Many Dimensions—Perhaps my second-favorite Williams book.
  • The Great Gatsby—I can’t understand the appeal of this book. Want to read a choppy story about people throwing their lives away over trivia?
  • Introduction to Epistemology—This was very nice; very good explanations.
  • 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know—This was my foray into making my programming more professional. I forget what I took away from this book specifically, but my code has become far better in the last several years.
  • Sense and Sensibility—I can’t recall a specific critique, but I didn’t enjoy this. I don’t seem to have read a Jane Austen book since this one.
  • Never let me go—A single clever idea, spread too thinly over a novel.
  • Ben-Hur—My goodness, what a terrible book. What a terrible portrait of Christ at the end, anemic and effeminate.
  • Watch for the Light—An uneven collection of Advent devotional material, but it stirs the pot.
  • The Climax of the Covenant
  • Relevance Theory: A Guide to Successful Communication in Translation—So much of linguistics is quibbling over details and paring down the data until we can account for it. Relevant Theory allows us to analyze satisfying chunks of reality.
  • Introduction to Translation Studies
  • The Persian Literature, Volume 1
  • Semiotics for Beginners—A fun book available online. I’m still only vaguely aware what semiotics itself is good for, but the data are interesting.
  • The Persian Literature, Volume 2 (Gulistan)
  • No Higher Honor
  • Thousand and One Nights, Volume 1—I don’t plan to read the subsequent volumes, since this was mostly the same story told over and over again. But perhaps the stories are sorted by plot, and other volumes have different plotlines.
  • The Tacit Dimension

Books I read in 1389

For the beginning part of this year I was still reading books that I had started and not completed before I adopted the discipline of finishing every book I started. I believe that Homilies on the Gospel of John is the last book I had started but not finished.


  • The Bookseller of Kabul—this book is worth reading as an illustration of how not to engage with foreign cultures. It is ridiculously bad; the author doesn’t even make an effort to see things from Afghans’ point of view. Quite typical of the period.
  • Conceptual Foundations of Teaching Reading—I remember this was really excellent and data-driven. The best part of the book comes at the end, where the author reproduces the results of national standardized reading tests that show that—believe it or not!—none of the changes in reading pedagogy has really moved the needle on reading ability. Frankly,  I think that this is because “literacy” is described in such expansive terms about processing, comparing, and synthesizing information, that it’s basically become redundant with terms such as “intelligence” or “cultivation.”
  • Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach—This was valuable; and the first edition was much better than the second.
  • Developing Adult Literacy
  • Homilies on the Gospel of John—This was Chrysostom, but (perhaps because I was sort of anxious to read through it and get on to something else) I don’t recall taking much away from it.
  • Hexameron—The science and even the understanding of the natural world is… dated. But the exultation with which Basil glories in the wonders of Creation can’t be gainsaid.
  • Second Treatise of Government—This fell apart for me when Locke remarked, almost as an aside, that if someone stole his property, then he (Locke) would be justified in killing that man, but not in taking his property back. It’s like one of those moments in math when you come up with 2 = 0, and you know that something has gone wrong somewhere, even if you don’t know exactly where.
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales
  • My Grandfather’s Son—What struck me about Clarence Thomas’s autobiography was that race forms so much of his personal experience, however much he tries to keep race out of his jurisprudence.
  • Bright Against the Storm—This book and the one following were written by my friend Ari Heinze. I enjoyed them, and I don’t think they’ve be received as they might be.
  • Ashes of Our Joy
  • The Turkish Jester—I enjoy a good Mullah Nasruddeen story, but I don’t think I understood a single one of these jokes.
  • Dracula—This is such a terrible book. It was so painful to read I was angry most of the time that I was reading. What kind of person writes out an entire chapter in German-accented dialect, because zat’s ze vay ze character speaks? It was so difficult to get through this book I can’t even say.
  • Stones to Schools—Of course this now needs to be read in concert with Jon Krakauer’s book.
  • A world without poverty—There’s probably a honeymoon period after winning a Nobel Prize where it seems like you can really make a diffference.  I think Muhammad Yunus was going through some of that here. A great man, though.
  • Working together for literacy
  • Handbook of the International Phonetic Association
  • The New Testament and the People of God
  • Persian Grammar
  • A Man For All Seasons—Of course I heard Paul Scofield’s voice as I read the play.
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
  • Jane Eyre
  • First on the Moon—This was a lot of fun. I was getting into space stuff again with the kids.
  • Henry VIII
  • A Preface to Paradise Lost—Helpful on many levels.
  • A Student’s Guide to Literature
  • The Canterbury Tales—In the original. I need to write some blog posts about these.
  • The Well-Trained Mind
  • The Remains of the Day—Probably not as good a book as the movie was a movie.
  • Notes from the Underground—For all the hype, I didn’t get much out of this. I probably need to read it again.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • A Journal of the Plague Year—Very interesting and engaging. Defoe paints a vivid picture. (It was hard to believe he hadn’t actually witnessed the events.)
  • The Jungle Book—I enjoyed this a lot.  “I will remember what I was” is one of the great lines in English literature, in my opinion.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel—Lots of swashbuckling fun, but…
  • I Will Repay— …why would you write a sequel without the main character from the original. I expected to read the series but six years later this book was disappointing enough that I haven’t read the third.
  • Biko—Biko the man was admirable. Biko the book was somewhat less so. It was too journalistic and conspiratorial for me (especially at the end). For me, the melodrama detracted from the seriousness of the events.

Books I read in 1388

Midway through the solar Persian year of 1388, I started keeping tracks of the books that I read (in connection with this discipline).  Motivated party by nostalgia, partly by a desire to see what stuck with me, and partly by pretentiousness, I’ve decided to go over my lists. This list begins in alphabetical order, because I only started keeping track midway through 1388, so I listed all the books I had read up to that point.


  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • A Child’s History of England—My first voluntary Dickens book. Charming; probably whiggish.
  • Diggers in the Earth—surprisingly fascinating.
  • Frankenstein—Great literature; so much more than a monster story.
  • Gulliver’s Travels
  • Ivanhoe—Very good.
  • Little Women—Sweet… treacly sweet.
  • Orthodoxy
  • Peter and Wendy
  • Phastastes—My first foray into George MacDonald. I reread it recently because I couldn’t remember the plot. But there is no plot, just George MacDonald’s fertile imagination.
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress—Heavy-handed moralizing, terrible fiction. My first intimation that C.S. Lewis and I have different taste.
  • Pride and Prejudice—Not as good as the 1996 BBC original. 😉
  • Robinson Crusoe—Great story; difficult prose.
  • The Sign of the Four—Holmes! So I was in my late 20s before I got into this.
  • Sketch of Handel and Beethoven
  • A Study in Scarlet
  • Thomas Wingfold, Curate—Really wonderful moral novel.
  • The Time Machine
  • On the Incarnation—I know I had read this before, so this was a (fully justified!) re-reading.
  • The Resurrection of the Son of God—Intellectually formative. I read about a hundred pages and ordered the earlier two books in the series.
  • Kingdom and Promise
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?—Great popular-level discussion of philosophical questions.
  • Language documentation
  • Henry VI, Part 2—This is when I decided to finish up Shakespeare’s histories. There’s a reason you don’t hear much about Henry VI.
  • Henry VI, Part 3
  • Life of Anthony
  • Tricks of the Trade—Provides wonderful intuition about qualitative research.
  • The Spirit of the Disciplines—Easily my favorite Willard book; far better than The Divine Conspiracy.
  • Cultures & Organizations—Principal component analysis of cultural variables; what’s not to love?
  • A Practical View—This book, written by William Wilberforce, sounds like one I’d like to read. I can’t remember a thing about it.
  • Descent into hell—My first Charles Williams book. Mind-bender! I’d like to re-read it.
  • Richard III—My reward for making it through the Henry VI’s.
  • Please Understand Me II—I don’t recall the merits of the book; I’m a big fan of Meyers-Briggs in general. (I’m a textbook INTJ.)
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns—If his first wasn’t exploitative enough for you….
  • A Manual of Literacy for Preliterate Peoples
  • Descent into Chaos—Interesting subject matter, horrible analysis.
  • Emma
  • Silmarillion—Very difficult to care about.

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