Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Joys of Reading

Recently, my esteemed colleague, Dr. Keith Huey, commented that in addition to the praise of television, video games, and film that I do here, I should comment on the effect that today's media-centered culture has on young people's writing ability. It is an interesting phenomenon. Kids today are actually writing more than ever before and probably reading more than ever before -- they are just not reading and writing literature. Everyday they are reading and writing webpages, email, blogs, text messages, chat room conversations. The good side of that is that they are reading and writing. The downside is that the content of what they read and write tends to be fragmentary, colloquial, and grammatically challenged.

Many students write the way they talk. Since so many today "talk" through email and text messages, those formats are beginning to effect the kinds of college papers they hand in. The result is that many young people, because they are not exercising all of their literary muscles, are losing the ability to follow a narrative thread for any distance or to engage a complex and multi-layered literary world

I spend a lot of time on this blog heralding good television and other contemporary forms of media. Much of the reason for that is that these media forms have often gotten a bad rap. Yet, what is really needed is a balanced diet of media -- one that includes a healthy portion of reading among the portions of games, television shows, and such.

As much as I love good television, video games, and movies, I love reading even more. I am sure that is because I grew up in a family of readers (and oddly enough, the one person who didn't read very much, my mother, owned a book store). In fact, my siblings and I have started an annual competition to see who can read the most in a year. My sister won last year and appears to be the front runner this year as well.

So I've decided that with the year coming to a close and everyone reflecting back, I will provide a short list of the ten best books I read this past year. I have tried to make the list diverse. I read several books by some authors like Barry Eisler, Stephen King, Lee Child and others, all of whom could have easily had more than one book on the list. As it is, the only person with more than one is Stephen King, because the second selection is a collection of short stories and so quite different from the other entry. Anyway, here's my list, for what it's worth. I hope you've read enough books this year to make your own top ten list. Happy Reading!

10. State of Fear by Michael Crichton

A controversial and intriguing study of global warming hysteria in the context of an action novel.

9. Chasing the Dime by Michael Connolly

A man moves into a new apartment and suddenly begins receiving phone calls for the apartment's former resident, a girl named Lilly. Intrigued, he sets off to learn more about her and as a result is drawn into a world of intrigue and murder.

8. The Narnian by Alan Jacobs

A solid and easily accessible biography of C. S. Lewis. Really helps one get inside Lewis' imagination.

7. The Store by Bentley Little

The Store, a transparent Wal-Mart clone, moves into a small town and begins to take over, slowly and insidiously. This book is part horror story, part social satire.

6. Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

I read the last three books in Stephen King's series The Dark Tower this past year, but this was my favorite of the three.

5. Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson

I've said a lot about this book already in other posts, so here I'll just reiterate that it is one of the best assessments of popular culture that I've read.

4. Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz

On the day of Jimmy Tock's birth, his dying grandfather predicts five terrible days in the life of his grandson -- and provides the specific dates. This set up sounds like a recipe for a dark and depressing book, but Koontz writes it with a humorous flair that carries the reader along for an entertaining ride.

3. Killing Floor by Lee Child

The first book in Lee Child's fabulous series about an ex-MP who constantly seems to find himself in new and dangerous situations. In this book, he makes an unplanned stop in Margrave, Georgia and almost immediately is arrested for murder.

2. Rain Fall by Barry Eisler

Likewise, this is the first book in Eisler's series about a half-American, half-Japanese assassin who specializes in making his kills look like accidents. Eisler writes with a captivating eye for detail.

1. Everything's Eventual by Stephen King

This is one of King's collections of short stories (fourteen in this volume, I believe). Usually such collections are hit and miss, but this one has surprisingly few duds and even includes one of the more unnerving haunted room stories you'll ever read, simply titled "1408."


At 3:03 PM, Blogger Barry said...

Caritas, I'm honored to be sandwiched between Lee Child and Stephen King, two writers I admire. Thank you and thanks for enjoying the Rain books!


At 11:08 PM, Blogger Laura Ware said...

Yep, after this, I have to pick out a top ten reading list of my own...
If I can pick 10... :-)

At 10:23 PM, Anonymous Josh said...


An accomplished theologian who reads a diversity of "genre"? This weeks sign that the apocalypse is upon us?

Seriously, do you think most religion scholars read such a wide array of literature?

Merry Christmas.

At 12:05 AM, Blogger Greg said...

I may be wrong, but my experience has been that most theologians do not read very widely outside of their discipline. And if they do, their choice of genre is quite limited.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Bill said...

May your knowledge and experience of the riches of God’s grace, abundantly lavished on us through the gift of His Son as our Savior and King, warm your souls and brighten your days through this holiday season. Merry Christmas! -bill

At 1:36 AM, Blogger Bruce said...

I read the Crichton book. Very good! This book may hold the record for footnotes for a fiction book. Crichton definitely presents the other side of the global warming argument. Would it ever get as much run as Al Gore's movie? His book on nanotechnology was better I thought. Has anyone read his new book yet? What is it about?

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Crichton's new book is about gene splicing, I believe. It's called "Next." I haven't read it yet, though.

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Frank Bellizzi said...

Greg, in my first year of teaching college classes, I learned what you're talking about the hard way. I knew just enough about the younger generation to realize that, when responding to short-answer questions, some of my students were im-ing me. I've had very few coherent responses to essay questions. And the term papers should be required reading at Gitmo. Seriously, what can teachers do to help correct this?

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Greg said...

I fear it may be quite an uphill battle and I'm not sure what the answer is. I do think that teachers need to impress upon students the importance of reading because it provides them with certain skills that they cannot get from other forms off media just as playing video games provides skills one cannot get from reading. Also, I think we need to teach them how to communicate in lengthier reasoned discourse because they often don't know how and don't realize they don't know. It used to be that they came to college with that skill in hand, but now we are having to take a step back. However, the good news is that they are a step ahead of what students used to be with respect to visual learning and other kinds of thought processes.

At 3:45 PM, Anonymous Patrick Mead said...

I'm a huge Barry Eisler and Lee Child fan. Recently, I became a Dean Koontz fan after reading all three "Brother Thomas" books along with a couple others. His newfound faith in Christ shows from time to time.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Yeah, many of Koontz's books have incorporated spiritual themes.


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