study break

Top 10 Reads of 2019

And the grand total is: 32 books read this year. That’s far too many for here, so I limited it to ten, in no particular order. Honestly, even the titles listed at the end were great too, as well as books I left off the list entirely . . . just ignore the word “top” in the title. I have problems selecting favorites.

  1. Idylls of the King
  2. The Tomb of Tutankhamen
  3. The Upanishads
  4. Complexity
  5. Lit!
  6. The Qur’an
  7. Redeeming Mathematics
  8. How to Read a Book
  9. A Hundred Poems from a Hundred Poets
  10. Ever Since Darwin

Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I recently watched Dorsey Armstrong’s King Arthur: History and Legend, and have since compiled a list of Arthuriana I want to read. Idylls of the King was the first to add to my list, and the charm of it was multiplied by the fact that I happened to find a 1910 edition, the cover adorned with purple flowers and silver filigree detail.

Tennyson’s blank verse shine with literary excellence and describe a world of drama, intrigue, high chivalry, inspirational virtue, and psychological struggles with sin and forgiveness in Camelot’s collapse. It’s very excessive – you’re combining Arthurian Code-of-Honor with Victorian hyperbole and romanticism, after all – and it’s overall just a very fun read.  

The Tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter

So. Carter (the archaeologist who unearthed Tutankhamen’s tomb early in the 20th century) didn’t actually write this – a ghost writer did. But at the very least, Carter chose his ghost well. If anything, read the chapter in which Carter actually opens and enters the tomb. The poetic description of that feeling – of entering halls untouched, inhaling air unbreathed for thousands of years, and finding everything from royal thrones to a pair of sandals you could buy in a Macy’s today – is absolutely breathtaking. This is why I love history museums: there’s still a wisp of that feeling, of contact between two people across thousands of years of human history. 

The Upanishads

A collection of ancient Hindu religious texts. It balances abstract philosophy with dozens of examples, depicting all kinds of students seeking advice from teachers. What is the purpose of man? Who is God? Where can we find inner peace? The Upanishads present the Hindu answers to questions that have weighed on human hearts since at least 700 BC, not the least of which is finding happiness in a world of ephemeral pleasures. (I used the Wordsworth Classics translation.)

Complexity by M. Mitchell Waldrop

Honestly, for me, the most interesting part of this book was seeing the spiritual reactions these scholars had, while working on subjects that captivated them, among a community of experts. Many of them described various moments – a new discovery, attending a seminar of like-minded scientists – as the closest they had come to a religious experience.

Lit! by Tony Reinke

A book encouraging its readers to read more. Which in retrospect, I apparently didn’t need.

The Qur’an

The first (Penguin Books) I picked up because I figured it was about time I read it. The second was a gift from a friend (Oxford World Classics). The first read was to get familiar with the text; this second read has been a compare-and-contrast between the Qur’an and the Bible. I’ve been cross-referencing Bible and Qur’an verses as I go and it’s been a really interesting study.

Redeeming Mathematics by Vern Poythress

A fascinating look at math from a Christian perspective – which I’m sure is a novel concept to many readers. Poythress opens with a fairly intimidating theology of mathematics, philosophical in nature. Then he moves into numbers, addition and subtraction, etc. – aka more familiar territory.  

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

Well it’s about time! I can finally say I know how to read.

Really though, this book is an absolute must for any writer, any college student – especially graduate students – any reader of the news, any student of logic, anyone desiring to improve their critical thinking skills about the world around them. If you’re in the classroom or consume any form of journalism, you need this in your life.

A Hundred Poems from A Hundred Poets: Being a Translation of the Ogura Hyaku-nin-isshiu

I found this fragile, papery-covered book of 13th century (and earlier) Japanese haikus, published by Seki Shoin and translated by H. H. Honda, at a book sale from my local library. I love it so much. I have since become obsessed with haikus and find them the most charming little morsels of literature.  

Ever Since Darwin by Stephen Jay Gould

I love Gould; I love his writing style, I love his sense of delight and awe in the natural world; I find his commentary on science and culture interesting and like to hear what he has to say. Gould writes from a humanist perspective, and his topics bounce throughout science and culture, across the modern and the old-fashioned, and often find stories behind commonplace things.

More Great Reads

  • The Two Towers and The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Tutankhamen by Bob Brier (a fangirl read; I love his lectures from The Great Courses)
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • Erec and Enide by Chrétien de Troyes (more Arthuriana)
  • The Bhagavad Gita
  • Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean Carroll (and I can’t resist to point you to this summary of evo devo, whether or not you end up reading the book)
  • Excellence by Andreas Kostenberger
  • Fizzics: The Science of Bubbles, Droplets, and Foam by Ronald Young

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