Well, another year over and done. It’s been a busy year, so I didn’t read quite as many books as I typically do, but I still managed to finish 105 books this year. This year I tried re-reading a few classics from my childhood, and it made me realize just how much the publishing industry has changed. So many of yesteryear’s successes would never get off the ground in today’s publishing culture (I’m looking at you, Ivanhoe). I found it fascinating, and it also makes me aware of how I structure my own stories and how I need to keep myself open to shifts in publishing needs and wants as well as reader temperament.
And if you’re wondering what I’ve been up to, I’m definitely working on a few projects. I’m about to finish up the first draft of a new novel, I have a finished novel that needs some more editing attention, I’m working through and planning the next (and final) book in the Solitary Man series, and I’m looking at adapting a story I wrote as a teenager into a novel as well. Plenty to do, and no time to do it, the typical author’s mantra.
Anyway, here are my top ten favorite reads from the 105 books I finished this year. All come highly recommended by me. And a happy 2024 to you all! Thank you for reading!
1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
I’m late to the party on this classic, but only by about forty years or so. I love a good satire, so I really enjoy Adams’s quirky and irreverent prose. He has a humanistic and atheistic worldview that I rolled my eyes at a few times, but this is a thought-provoking and hilarious read that proves no matter where you go, bureaucracy will always be there to make your life miserable.
2. Sandman Slim – Richard Kadrey
I’m always fascinated by authors who manage to take the genre of fantasy and flip it into something fresh and new. This one takes a character who seems straight from a hard-boiled Raymond Chandler novel and drops him into a supernatural revenge story. It’s dark and twisted, but it’s also got great moments of gallows humor. I’ll definitely be picking up the next book in the series.
3. Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton
Don’t let Chesterton’s Roman Catholicism deter you from reading this wonderful treatise on morality. While there are certainly a few things I would disagree with, Chesterton has plenty of wisdom and humor to offer the reader, and reading this book was a richly rewarding experience. When I think of Victorian age writers, Charles Spurgeon still sits at the top of the list, but Chesterton is definitely close behind.
4. The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler – John Hendrix
I found a copy of this in a discount store, and never expected to absolutely love it. Hendrix offers up the fascinating story of Bonhoeffer’s life and work, but adds brilliant illustrations to go along with the story. I learned some things I hadn’t known before, and the illustrations only serve to make the story pop even more, making it feel alive in a way I hadn’t known before.
5. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke
After reading Clarke’s phenomenal Piranesi last year, I decided to try this thousand-page doorstop, and I was not disappointed. Clarke creates a mash-up of historical fiction and magical fantasy about two magicians who start as student and teacher, but end up as rivals. The twists and turns in the plot made those thousand pages go quickly, and here it is, now on my list of favorite reads. Don’t miss this one.
6. Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson
After hearing multiple people from various worldviews and mindsets sing the praise of Brandon Sanderson’s work, I decided to see what all the hubbub is about. It turns out that Sanderson is not only a good writer, but he is fantastic at world-building. This is the first time I can recall an author really considering the science of his magic rules and incorporating that into the story. And of course, there’s the actual plot that will keep you turning pages while you marvel of just how skilled Sanderson is with the world he’s created.
7. All Things For Good – Thomas Watson
The Puritans get a bad rap in our current culture as being too restrictive and too legalistic, which is why people really need to read more Puritan writings. And while some Puritan writing is dense (Hi, John Owen!), I found Thomas Watson’s prose much easier to read and process. And of course, the subject matter here will bring any Christian deep comfort in the goodness and glory of God.
8. The Postmodern Pilgrim’s Progress – Kyle Mann & Joel Berry
Believe it or not, this right here is my favorite read of the entire year. When you pick up a book by two writers from the Babylon Bee, you expect to laugh, but you certainly don’t expect to be challenged and even moved nearly to tears. Underneath the irreverent satire, you’ll find plenty of pathos and truth, and you might even learn a few things to rethink about and apply in your own life.
9. Play Like a Man: My Life in Poster Children – Rose Marshack
I love 90s punk and indie rock, and one of my favorite bands to come out of that period is Poster Children. Rose is PC’s bass player, a classical violinist who was handed the bass because “it has the same number of strings as a violin.” She tells the band’s story with engaging detail that sent me on my own trip down memory lane, and made me a little envious over some of the other bands she rubbed elbows with. If you’ve ever been fascinated or just interested in this scene (driving around America in a van and playing in dive bars), Rose makes an excellent tour guide.
10. Lore Olympus: Vol. One – Rachel Smythe
This is a modernized retelling of the mythical Greek love story between Hades and Persephone. It’s creatively told, but the real hero of this book is Smythe’s simple, yet beautiful artwork. Using a limited color palate and unique character designs, she’s able to evoke a mood in each panel of this graphic novel that perfectly fits the story. I can’t get enough of this, so I’m already up to Volume Three.