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Books Unreviewed: Fiction, History, Religion, and Time
I’ve Fallen Behind in My Reviews. Here’s a Look at What I’ve Skipped and a Bit about Why
The stated purpose behind Miller’s Book Review 📚 is to review every book I read in 2022, more or less. So far, I’ve reviewed sixteen books this year. But it’s confession time: I’ve actually read far more. I realized I was falling behind but didn’t know by quite how many until I tallied them up yesterday.
Twelve. And yikes! That seems like a lot to have left unreviewed so far.
What I’m also realizing is my available bandwidth to review all the books I’m reading is inadequate. I simply don’t have enough time to gather my thoughts on each book, whip them into publishable shape, and share them. Every week I’m falling further behind.
Am I bothered by that discovery? Honestly, no. I’ve still learned plenty and have captured some of the most important lessons from my reading in the reviews I’ve posted thus far. And sharing them with you has been fun; I hope you look forward to reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.
What about learnings beyond those reviews? I want to share some of those now, along with listing the books I’ve left unreviewed. Let’s start with the novels.
Here’s the reality: I find reviewing novels challenging. My review of Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility was easy because I could couch it in the context of her two prior novels. But around that time I also read T.C. Boyle’s newest, Talk to Me; Kirstin Valdez Quade’s The Five Wounds; and Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here.
Boyle first. I’ve loved his novels for years, but I’m not sure how I’d really review Talk to Me. I find reading novels more an event to experience than an object to dissect. And I enjoy rereading some novels, which I fear I’d ruin if I went to the trouble of reviewing them; that’s a cost I hadn’t counted when I decided to share these reviews.
That notwithstanding, could I say anything about it? Talk to Me reminded me a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful book, Klara and the Sun, in which we learn about being human by looking through the eyes of a robot. Boyle does that—and more—through the eyes of a chimpanzee. Like many (most?) Boyle novels, it’s zany, angry, and captivating. Every Boyle novel is a masterclass on interpersonal relationships and irresolvable conflict.
What about Valdez Quade’s Five Wounds and Wilson’s Nothing to See Here? Both are about dysfunctional families and, in their own ways, generational trauma. Five Wounds is hyper real, while Nothing to See Here is hyper surreal—children catch fire. Is it a plot device or a metaphor? Yes.
History is a bit easier to review, but I’m finding large, sweeping narratives tricky. They pose the challenge of what to highlight. Every time I sat down to review Marc Morris’s excellent chronicle, The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England, I felt as though I was choosing details at random.
Presenting a grab bag of data or anecdotes doesn’t interest me. A review essay must have a logic of its own for me. I like how that came together for the review of The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weudwen. In the case of The Anglo-Saxons, an outline was emerging for me as I tinkered, but I never made the time to fully sketch it out.
I can say that Morris’s treatment is riveting from beginning to end. So were three additional history books I read but ultimately chose not to review: Roderick Beaton’s The Greeks: A Global History, Barry Cunliffe’s The Scythians: Nomad Warriors of the Steppe and Matthew Gabriele and David M. Perry’s The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe.
I enjoyed all three but found the scope broader than I felt I could adequately share in less than, say, fifteen hundred words. I realize reviewers tackle this chore regularly, and it doesn’t mean I won’t tackle books like that in the future. But I can’t afford the time just now.
Jaroslav Pelikan’s Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture is a much different story. This wonderful treatment places the figure of Christ in historical context, particularly as that context has shifted over the years. I don’t want to review this just yet—or maybe ever. I want, instead, to read it again and again.
If we take Pelikan’s as the first in a minor trinity of religiously themed books, the second is Stephen De Young’s God Is a Man of War: The Problem of Violence in the Old Testament. It was a quick and fascinating read, but frankly, I don’t feel qualified to interact with the arguments. I’m still wrestling through my own thinking on the questions in play, and sharing that here feels premature.
A final entry in this minor trinity is Brant Hansen’s practical guide, The Men We Need: God’s Plan for the Manly Man, the Avid Indoorsman, or Any Man Willing to Show Up. I have thoughts about this one, most of them positive. But they belong in the conversations I plan on having with a few other men in my life.
Two final books left unreviewed are Marc Wittman’s Felt Time: The Science of How We Experience Time and Christopher Cox’s The Deadline Effect: How to Work Like It’s the Last Minute—Before the Last Minute. The first is more philosophical, the second practical. I’m still noodling. I just don’t have any thoughts formulated to share at this point.
Time, ironically, has proven a serious consideration in this project thus far; competing demands have shaped the effort more than I originally imagined. Sometimes it feels as though I’m a walking study in the planning fallacy.
So, what’s the plan going forward? From your end, I think the experience will remain largely unchanged. I’ll keep reviewing the majority of books I read and sharing occasional essays on aspects of readerly life. If enough unreviewed books stack up, I’ll share a list of those here as well.
In the meantime, thank you for your continued interest and engagement. I started this review at the top of the year, and we’re almost up to two hundred subscribers at this point—just three shy as of this morning. Thanks again! This is a joint undertaking, and it wouldn’t work without your involvement.
Finally, here’s a sneak peek for next week. I’m planning on reviewing Leonard Mlodinow’s latest, Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking.
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