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2018 Literary Life in Review

Note: Due to my increased devotion to reading and non-blogger writing at the end of 2018, I was not able to write up the surprise I had planned and mentioned in the second-to-last post of the year. As such, I will attempt to reveal it soon; in the meantime, I will use this in lieu of my customary “Preview” post. Enjoy!

*Also, all photos are from Amazon.

Hello everyone!

As any cursory glance at Defy Augury will indicate, books make up a large portion of my mental exercises and life in general. I enjoy plunging the depths of what others think, what I think about what they think, and then experimenting with the messages, attempting to reach the core of a writing without the direct help of the author. Analyzing life philosophically, the art of learning how to think beyond what we see, is a dying art these days. Combined with a solid Biblical worldview, I believe good literature can and does provide the primary antedote to the world’s lamentable condition in this area—which is why I have copied a full list of what I’ve read in 2018, with a review on the best book from each month, below. Enjoy!

Books I’ve Read in the Year 2018:

1. “I, Eliza Hamilton” by Susan Holloway Scott

2. “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” by Timothy Keller | I feel as if it would be more honest to highlight one of the Shakespeare plays as the best for the month, but I will talk about Timothy Keller since Shakespeare is situated in that untouchable level of greatness. As soon as I had finished it, I immediately deemed The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness as the modern Christian nonfiction key to understanding humility without self-deprecation, in addition to bearing the not-so-concealed—merely neglected—secret to our embarrasing overdose of arrogance in today’s culture. Whether you struggle to comprehend your worth or if your peers tire of your haughty words, this book is for you.
3. “Henry V” by William Shakespeare
4. “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

1. “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis
2. “Father Brown: Essential Tales” by G.K. Chesterton
3. “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw

4. “Selected Poems of Hannah More” by Hannah More |If I were to look to three women as my role models in how to balance a literary life with a strong Christian one, I would look to Hannah More, Agatha Christie, and Jane Austen. This was the first book I read by the former, and to this day she has given me the perfectest vision and embodiment of my aspirations as a poet.
5. “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

1. “No Pressure, Mr. President!” by Eric Metaxas
2. “100 Best-Loved Poems” edited by Philip Smith

Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot series Book 10) by [Christie, Agatha]

3. “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie | I spent so much time contemplating the message of this piece in 2018, twisting justice in my mind till I realized that the resolution to Poirot’s dilemma was not so obvious as it appeared to be upon the first cursory glance. With the help of Sir Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 film and a podcast episode from the Center for Lit team, I delved more deeply into the swirling, misty fathoms of justice than was in any sense comfortable—and gratefully broke the bubbling surface in awe of the utter, desperate inability of man.
4. “Letters from War” by Mark Schultz

1. “The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl, Diabetes, and the Discovery of Insulin” by Caroline Cox
2. “This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years” by Jaquelle Crowe
3. “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” by Agatha Christie
4. “Kept for the Master’s Use” by Frances Ridley Havergal
5. “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen

6. “Tactics” by Gregory Koukl | This book really helped me in the area I struggle with the most in sharing the Gospel—starting the conversation. The burning question of how a Christian can balance respect with an ardent conviction is the primary obstacle upon which sight Christians would rather hide from the world than light it, in which group I was long tempted to join. I now think otherwise, thanks to this beloved soldier of the cross. Because of his warm and friendly Tactics, Gregory Koukl has given me a firmer hope that such a tragic self-induced ostracism can at least be partially cured.

1. “Death on the Nile” by Agatha Christie
2. “101 Great American Poems”

3. “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen Northanger Abbey had to be one of the most hilarious and wittiest books I’d read this past year—and I’m going to read it in 2019, too! Somehow, upon reading it, I felt more of a kindred spirit in the person of Jane Austen that none of her previous works had—or very likely could have, in the case of the novels I have yet to read—ever impressed upon my bookish spirit. With the reading of Northanger Abbey and the previous knowledge I had of her more biographical side, I disovered with the most ardent of joy that unusual and, on the surface, self-contradictory blend of Gothic fascination and her strong Christian faith. With this early work, Miss Austen encouraged me to keep loving the worthwhile Gothic novel while to continue at the same time a keen awareness and satirical delight of its outrageous melodrama.

1. “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie
2. “A Caribbean Mystery” by Agatha Christie

3. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury \ This is the best dystopia I’ve read. I love the rhythm of Bradbury’s prose, the pensive and vigilant imagery of the final scene, the haunting last sentence, the observant and bookish joy of Clarisse, the startling correspondence to our modern reality…everything you could ever hope for in a classic dystopia lies in this “little” novel. (I would say 1984 is more intricate, but Fahrenheit 451 is relatively cleaner.)
4. “The Deerslayer” by James Fenimore Cooper
5. “Art and the Bible” by Francis Schaeffer

1. “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” by Agatha Christie

2. “How To Be Filled with the Holy Spirit” by A.W. Tozer | This was a practical yet unmethodical guide to the Holy Spirit—and the latter to its credit. It’s filled with godly advice and wisdom, but it also stresses the volitional pursuit of holiness by the believer. We see too few of these books nowadays.

1. “A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society” by Stephen Nichols
2. “William Wordsworth: Favorite Poems” by William Wordsworth

3. “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case” by Agatha Christie | From the very first pages of this novel, Christie gives her readers a profound sense of nostalgia, a feeling of a journey filled with hardship, yet also the conviction that our sweet and lovable mentor, the great Hercule Poirot, hasn’t changed in the least. That is, has he? Or are we bound to realize something we have never before noticed of him…even upon his deathbed?
4. “Love and Friendship” by Jane Austen

1. “Antigone” by Sophocles
2. “Shane” by Jack Schaefer




The Phantom of the Opera [Blu-ray]

3. “The Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston LeRoux | If I were to highlight the September book for styleSchaefer would indubitably steal the honor from LeRoux. However, I chose this book for the power of its story. The Phantom of the Opera has so many symbolic layers which I have not fathomed, and the 2004 Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler version of the Webber musical was certainly a highlight of my year. Please, for the love of Gothic beauty (Frankenstein, everyone!), and for an incredible message about discernment and redemption in love, read The Phantom of the Opera for me. 
4. “The Odyssey” by Homer
5. “A Gospel Primer for Christians” by Milton Vincent

1. “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles
2. “The Giver” by Lois Lowry

3. “Inferno” by Dante Alighieri | My favorite book of epic poetry for this year. The endlessly witty contrapasso, the romance of Dante and Beatrice, the struggling faithfulness of Dante…everything was so intensely, painfully beautiful. Read this post for more of my opinion.
4. “1984” by George Orwell

1. “God Is in the Manger” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
2. “Arsenic and Old Lace” by Joseph Kesselring
3. “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare

              Hamlet (1996)

4. “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare| I could and have said much about this story, the story after which I named this collection of my writing, after which I have derived my self-professed pseudonym, after which I could never read a non-divinely inspired work to exceed its beauty. Because, in another sense of the phrase, this work was completely inspired by the divine. Every time I read it, I am once again invariably compelled to behold the sweet grace and mercy of God in such a manner that no other earthly Christian art can replicate. My next post shall further explain, but suffice it to say that, when reading this piece, Shakespeare guarantees that you will be transformed along with the “sweet prince”, whether you expect such a transformation or no.
5. “Star over Bethlehem: Poems and Holiday Stories” by Agatha Christie

1. “A Little Book on the Christian Life” by John Calvin
2. “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
3. “Paradise Lost” by John Milton

4. “The Knowledge of the Holy” by A.W. Tozer | This has to be the absolute best book ever written on the attributes of God. In addition to Tozer’s innate ability to handle such a broad topic, though, I also greatly enjoyed and appreciated the analogy he used to explain the much-debated relationship between God’s will and the free will He has placed in man, in addition to the analogy he used to describe the transcendence of God’s existence over all of His creation. I most certainly will refer back to Tozer’s simple, Scripture-driven wisdom in times of doubt.

Total: 51

Have a great new year—and if you feel so inclined, please read a good book or two I’ve recommended from this list. You will not regret it.


~Sarah Merly

January 12, 2019

Isaiah 53