The books I read in 2011


A couple years ago I decided to start keeping a list of all the books that I read. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, and now that I am keeping such a list, I am glad that I am. I find it to be a valuable thing. I can’t say exactly why it’s valuable, and maybe it’s simply because I have a morbid curiosity to know exactly how many times I will read Brideshead Revisited, The Great Gatsby, Crime and Punishment,  Jane Eyre, Orthodoxy and I Believe in Love before I die (although you will notice that I didn’t actually read any of these, except the latter, this year – I read them all, minus Crime and Punishment, in 2010.)

Perhaps such a list is valuable simply in the same way that a journal is valuable – in taking a little section of your life and putting it down on paper, and thereby preserving for posterity a chunk of ephemeral time. Next year by this time I will  likely have completely forgotten that I ever spent a few days in March of this year reading Othello (for the first time ever, if you can believe it!). But when I glance at this list perhaps I will remember those leisurely evenings lying in bed with the collected works of Shakespeare in my lap, acquainting myself with the machinations of Iago, the saintly virtue of Desdamona, the tragic gullability and lack of trust of Othello, and, of course, the rich poetry of Shakespeare.

Of the books that I read in 2011, probably none stands out more (to me at least) than I Believe in Love. It is a book I would recommend above all others. It is a book I have already read some ten times, and one that I will probably come back to time and again for the rest of my life. This slim, but powerful volume, is a distillation of the teachings of St. Therese of Lisieux. More than any other it cured me of the vestiges of puritanism that infected my spiritual life, encouraging me to cast aside an unproductive and ultimately servile fear of God, and to place in its stead a bold friendship with God based upon the Gospel’s assurances that God is Love itself.

Another highlight of the year was the weeks spent reading The Lord of the Rings. The last time I had read this series was when I was in my mid-teens, and it was a real pleasure to step back into this world of honor, courage, valor, friendship, and love. By temperament I incline towards some of the more tortured and “complex” works of realist authors, and I found it refreshing to step into the comparatively clear cut moral world of The Lord of the Rings.

However, I confess that the books did not move me as much as they did when I was a teenager, and likely it will be a few years before the books reappear on my reading list. As well, many diehard fans of LOTR will perhaps be appalled to hear that what surprised me most was that after finishing the books I was not, as I expected to be, hit with the realization of how poorly the movies measured up to the books, but, on the contrary, surprised by just how faithful they were, and how well they conveyed the spirit of the books. Of course, there are innumerable places where a movie simply cannot measure up to the magnificence of Middle Earth as conveyed by Tolkein, and there are obvious flaws with the movies (Legolas surfing being one of the most egregious examples that comes readily to mind) and yet, as far as movie adaptations of a book go, they’re really not bad.

Could anyone on planet Earth have made a better Gandalf than Ian McKellan? I think not.

Anyway, without further ado, here at the books that I read in 2011, each of them roughly ranked based upon a four-star scale (although I have been known to slip a fifth star in when something really stands out to me). What this list does not include is the poetry I have read this year, since I tend to read poetry not in terms of books or volumes, but in the form of a potluck, tasting one author here and another there: although John Keats is by far and away the dish for which I return for the most repeated helpings.

–       Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather –  January ***
–       The Bird in the Tree – Elizabeth Goudge – February – *
–       Othello – Shakespeare – March – ****
–       A Handful of Dust – Evelyn Waugh – April 4 – **
–       I Believe in Love – Fr. Jean D’Elbee – April 16 – *****
–       Poetic Meter & Poetic Form – Paul Fussell – April 16 – ****
–       This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald – April 25 – ***1/2
–       Your Memory: How it Works and How to Improve it – May 20 – **
–       Hamlet – Shakespeare – June – ****
–       Sword of Honour Trilogy – Evelyn Waugh – June 15 – **1/2
–       Some sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald – Matthew Bruccoli – ***1/2 – July 21, 2011
–       Genesis – August
–       Introduction to the Devout Life – Francis de Sales – Beginning of September
–       Exodus – September 10
–       With God in Russia – Fr. Walter Cizek – September – ****
–       He Leadeth Me (most of it) – Fr. Walter Cizek – September – ***
–       Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien – December 15 – ****
–       The Tenth Man – Graham Greene – December 17 – ***
–       The Father’s Tale – Michael O’Brien – December 29 – ***
–       Leviticus

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About John Jalsevac

I am a Master's student in theology at the University of Toronto.
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5 Responses to The books I read in 2011

  1. Annette says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more on “I Believe in Love.” Can you tell us a wee bit about “With God in Russia?” I’m really into all things Russian right now, reading the Gulag Archipelago for the second time.

    • Romulus says:

      With God in Russia is a very curious book. If you have read the Gulag Archipelago, then there won’t be anything “new” in it, at least in terms of surprising facts. I have read quite a bit of Solzhenitsyn, and in its essentials With God in Russia was a re-cap of everything I already knew, the regular pattern of the treatment of an innocent man at the hands of the KGB – the sudden arrest, the detainment in Lubyanka, the interrogations, the torture, the prison camps, the cold, the manual labor, the prisoner revolts, the meager food. All this was very familiar.

      The difference, of course, is that this was all experienced by a Catholic priest – and one that was most probably a saint to boot. And that, of course, is where the real fascination of the book comes in.

      What I found most especially interesting is in how detached a fashion Ciszek tells his story. There is very little personal reflection in this book: instead he simply relates the facts of his captivity in a completely straightforward fashion, without attempting to extract meaning or to even describe (with some exceptions) his own emotions about his experiences. And yet, what shines through so clearly is that here is a man who underwent immense suffering with heroic and uncanny fortitude, and who possessed nearly inexhaustible courage in the face of the constant threat of discovery and death.

      It is definitely highly recommended reading.

  2. Kelly Henson says:

    With God is Russia is beautiful–it made a huge impression on me when I first read it (late high-school/early college?) as an example of heroic virtue in the modern world.
    I’d love to read more Waugh beyond Brideshead (a perennial favorite)–thoughts on a Handful of Dust?

  3. Mary says:

    Did you really read The Father’s Tale in just over ten days? Whew! I really enjoyed reading your assessment. I have to agree that yes, the human drama is far more compelling than the conspiracy theory in Mr. O’Brien’s novels. Good writers always write about what they know best—the human heart, in the case of Michael O’Brien.

    • Romulus says:

      In the book list there is quite a bit of overlap, where I was reading more than one book at a time: the dates are simply the dates when I finished the work.

      That being said, it doesn’t really apply to The Father’s Tale. I started it right after reading The Tenth Man, and, yes, I did read it in 10 days. Which is probably a testament to how compelling the novel is (as well as the value of having vacation days after Christmas).

      Glad you enjoyed the review. There was so much more that could be said. But from what I understand blog posts usually shouldn’t exceed 2,000 words. Ha.

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