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I like lists (other than grocery lists), especially "best of", "worst of' and "favorites" lists. If you do as well, here is a short list of lists pertaining to 2004. It is not exhaustive or perhaps even "well-rounded" (whatever that might be), but I think it is sufficiently eclectic and opinionated to of some interest.

Favorite Books of the Year:

There are quite a few (and not all were published in 2004; just read in 2004), but I'll just mention a handful (or small shelf-ful):

Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions (Ignatius, 2004) by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Slow going, like eating an exquisite, expensive meal. All sorts of challenging, engaging thoughts about the relationship between Christianity and other religions, the problem of relativism, and what authentic inter-religious dialogue should be.

• Eats, Shoots & Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Gotham, 2003/4) by Lynne Truss. I knew that punctuation was important, but I didn't know it could be this much fun. Witty, entertaining, and educational.

• On The Road to Armageddon (Baker Academic, 2004) by Timothy P. Weber. The story of how Evangelical Protestants became Israel's best friend. Essential reading for those interested in the relationship between Israel and the United States and how theology can shape political policy.

• Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (Oxford, 2001) by Philip Jenkins. The most accessible overview of the controversies surrounding the "gnostic gospels," the formation of the New Testament canon, and the attempts of various academics to undermine a truthful reckoning of the early years of Christianity.

• Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality (Spence, 1998) by Philip G. Davis. A comprehensive, well-written history of goddess worship and roots of neo-paganism and radical feminism.

• Salvation Is From the Jews (Ignatius, 2003) by Roy H. Schoeman. A valuable contribution to lasting, meaningful dialogue between Jews and Catholics, written by a convert from Judaism to Catholicism.

• The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious Tradition (InterVarsity Press, 2003) by James A. Herrick. An impressive examination of the history of esoteric belief systems from the seventeenth century to the present.

• Darby, Dualism and the Decline of Dispensationalism (Fenestra Books, 2003) by Ronald M. Henzel. An Evangelical methodically dismantles the philosophical, theological, and exegetical underpinnings of the teachings of John Nelson Darby, the father of premillennial dispensationalism.

• Architects of the Culture of Death (Ignatius, 2004) by Donald De Marco and Benjamin Wiker. A popular, but also substantial, introduction to the lives and thinking of the men and women who have shaped the Culture of Death. Read more here.

• Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas (Crown Forum, 2004) by Daniel J. Flynn. A lively and devastating critique of the leading "isms" of our time: feminism, deconstructionism, environmentalism, and many more.

• The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde (Ignatius, 2004) by Joseph Pearce. This important account of the life of Wilde was rightly hailed by novelist Ron Hansen as "a brilliant interpretative biography."

• Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art (Encounter Books, 2004) by Roger Kimball. This is a deft and delightful expose of the nonsense that so often passes for serious scholarship in the world of art criticism.

• The Word, Church and Sacraments In Protestantism and Catholicism (Ignatius, 2004) by Rev. Louis Bouyer. A reprint of a slender classic by one of the finest Catholic theologians of the twentieth century.

Unfortunately, I didn't get much fiction reading done this year (except for some rotten fiction–see below); I hope to make up for that deficiency in my reading regimen during 2005.

Worst Book of the Year:

Glorious Appearing by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The overwhelming winner. Book #12 of the Left Behind series is so bad that after reading it you almost wish that the printing press had not been invented. Further thoughts about this foul work of fiction (including examples of said rotten writing) can be read in this article, "The 12th Coming of Less-Than-Glorious Fiction."

• Runner-up: Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The DaVinci [sic] Code (CDS Books, 2004), edited by Dan Burstein. A misleading and often laughable attempt to "seriously" examine the claims made in Dan Brown's bestselling novel. My full critique can be found here.

Favorite Music of 2004:

Here is a very short list, taken from dozens of candidates. I emphasize that these are my favorites. Yes, I also think these are among the best CDs of 2004, but since I haven't listened to the thousands of CDs released this past year, I'll stick with "favorite." (Notice that I draw no such distinction below in selecting movies. So much for a consistent approach.):

• "Buzz" by Ben Allison and Medicine Wheel. Worried that real jazz is dying? Fear no more.

• "Adrian James Croce" by A.J. Croce. The talented son of Jim Croce looks to jazz, blues, and the Beatles in this melodic, upbeat release.

• "Everything Is Never Quite Enough" by Wasis Diop. This greatest hits package of one of Africa's finest musical artists showcases Diop's rich voice and lush production.

• "In Praise of Dreams" by Jan Garbarek. Norwegian jazz/world music that is crisp and poignant.

• "The Out of Towners" by the Keith Jarrett Trio. One of the greatest jazz trios of all time produce yet another incredible set.

• "Hopes and Fears" by Keane. A melancholy cross between Queen and Radiohead. What's not to like?

• "Between Darkness and Wonder" by Lamb. Evocative electronica beauty.

• "Trouble" by Ray Lamontagne. Wonderful debut filled with shades of early Van Morrison.

• "Los Lonely Boys" by Los Lonely Boys. Young musicians who play, sing, write, honor musical tradition, and have their own style. Delightful.

• "Live in Tokyo" by Brad Mehldau. Brilliant jazz pianist in a lyrical, introspective solo set.

• "Universal United House of Prayer" by Buddy Miller. Raw country meets gospel in the living room of the singer/guitarist/producer Miller.

• "Be" by Pain of Salvation. Swedish progressive rock with touches of gospel, folk, jazz, and nearly everything else in a sprawling, ambitious concept album.

• "A Boot and a Shoe" by Sam Phillips. The former Leslie Phillips produces another quality disc of beguiling, lyrical songs.

• "Heartcore" by Kurt Rosenwinkel. Okay, it came out in 2003. But jazz this good is timeless.

• "Best, 1991-2004, Acoustic" by Seal. Seal + acoustic = incredible.

• "The World That We Drive Through" by The Tangent. Prog-rock with an ear for songs, not just solos.

• "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" by U2. The boys from Ireland deliver again.

• "Dwight's Used Records" by Dwight Yoakam. A compilation of far-flung songs, including great covers of "Wheels" and "Loco Motion."

Best Movie of the Year:

• "The Passion of the Christ". You saw that coming, didn't you? Honorable mentions go to "Collateral Damage," "The Bourne Supremacy," "Hero," and "Kill Bill, Vol. 2." If it had come out a bit later I would add "Return of the King." Yes, those are all violent movies. What does that mean? I'm not sure. Feel free to psychoanalyze. But keep in mind that I don't see many movies and I usually avoid comedies (because most of them stink), dramas (because most of them are pretentious and annoying), and documentaries (because they're all made by Michael Moore).

Worst Movie of the Year:

• "Fahrenheit 9/11". Runners-up include "Kinsey" and "Alexander the Great." Michael Moore's crockumentary wins hands-down because people actually saw it, whereas no one paid to see the other two movies. For the record, I haven't seen any of the three. But I've used a careful, scientific process in obtaining these completely trustworthy results. I won't give away the entire process, but it involves ascertaining whether or not Michael Moore or Oliver Stone was involved in making the movie in question. Also, anything with Julia Roberts or Richard Gere automatically gets bad marks; I hope the reasons for that are obvious (they are if you've ever seen their movies).

What are your choices for the "best of"/"worst of" 2004? Sent me your lists and maybe they'll get posted on the Insight Scoop web log. Until next time, happy reading, viewing, listening, and thinking.

Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com. He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California. Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com where you can see his endless lists of all-time favorite books and music.


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