MY TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2019

10. ENCOUNTERS WITH SILENCE, Karl Rahner. (1999)  One of the greatest theological minds of the 20th century (and a hero of my father’s), Karl Rahner took on some of the most profound spiritual questions ever dreamed up by man - but in this collection of short meditations written directly to God in plainspoken but eloquent language, we discover that Rahner had the same struggles we all do, but he also had the courage to approach the Almighty and humbly place his questions at His feet. 

 

9. BRING UP THE BODIES, Hilary Mantel. (2012) The middle volume of one of the most remarkable historical fiction trilogies ever written (and the third volume isn’t even published yet!), Bring Up the Bodies is a challenging but rewarding account of Thomas Cromwell’s years advising England’s King Henry VIII on how to manage the scandal surrounding Anne Boleyn, his estranged second wife - but it’s also a searing study of power dynamics among human beings.  

 

8. THE BLUEST EYE, Toni Morrison. (1970) The tributes came rolling in when the Nobel Prize-winning Morrison died earlier this year, and when I read this stunning, beautifully-written debut novel about a small black girl who longs for blue eyes so that she will be noticed and loved by the world, I confirmed for myself that we lost a true American master.

 

7. OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, T.C. Boyle. (2019) Seventeen novels and eleven short stories in to his astonishing career, T.C. Boyle delivered one of his most penetrating and insightful novels yet about the early days of the LSD craze in the United States during the 60s, and what such hallucinogenic, scientific, and even spiritual experimentation reveals about the human animal. 

 

6. AS I LAY DYING, William Faulkner. (1930) Re-reading this groundbreaking, all-world masterpiece about a gaggle of relatives in rural Mississippi carting their grandmother’s corpse to her requested burial site reminded me afresh of how powerful, influential, funny, and ingenious William Faulkner’s writing really was.  

 

5. THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES, Siddhartha Mukherjee. (2010) A comprehensive, erudite, but surprisingly tender examination of the centuries-old battle between mankind and the “malignant proliferation of cells” we know as cancer - a book that thoroughly educated, impressed, and humbled me all at the same time.  

 

4. A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, Ursula K.  LeGuin. (1968)  The first volume of LeGuin’s renowned Earthsea fantasy cycle is an exhilirating chronicle of Ged, a.k.a. “Sparrowhawk,” and his early years as a wizard’s apprentice, his conflicts with other wizards, and his frightful quest to elude a demonic shadow creature unleashed by his own powerful magic - all rendered in crisp, sparkling prose and with stirring wit and wisdom. 

 

3. BORN TO RUN, Bruce Springsteen. (2016) It’s simple: Springsteen’s long-awaited autobiography is the best music memoir I’ve ever read - beautifully written (with no ghostwriter); stuffed full of love and respect for his forebears and his own family; brimming with fascinating tales about how the sausage was made in his legendary career; and brave enough to probe the artist’s own mental and even spiritual struggles. 

 

2. DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP, Willa Cather. (2017)  I truly loved and admired Willa Cather’s assured, expertly crafted historical novel, offering a fictional account of a courageous and humble priest’s lifelong attempt to evangelize and minister to the spiritual needs of Native Americans in the19th century’s rugged New Mexico.     

 

1. CLOUDSTREET, Tim Winton. (1991)  On paper, this sprawling novel from one of Australia’s modern masters is about two large families who move into and pass twenty years in the same large house in suburban Perth, Australia - but for me it was the most luminous and enchanting story of the year, containing a multitude of fascinating characters, all seasons of life, a talking pig, and a kind of sweep to the events described that lends the novel the weight of a Biblical epic. 

 

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

CHICAGO, David Mamet.

IT, Stephen King.

THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER’S INN, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky.

BORGES, Edwin Williamson.

 

 

“DOG OF THE YEAR”   

THE RESCUE, Joseph Conrad. (1920)  I took this novel on with high expectations because
of my esteem for Conrad, a man who proved capable of writing fiction in four languages,
and who gave us such classics as Heart of Darkness and The Nigger of the Narcissus. But
this late-career dud proves that even a master can deliver a barking mess. The “plot” involves a brawny, heroic sea captain who comes to the aid of a grounded yacht off the coast of a remote Pacific island, only to become infatuated with and rendered utterly useless by the presence of a married woman on board. Almost nothing else happens beyond that except for a meandering subplot about the island’s natives and their chief - one I couldn’t follow anyway - in this bloated, boring, and pointless misfire. WOOF! 

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