“I can’t imag­ine a man real­ly enjoy­ing a book and read­ing it only once.”

– C.S. Lewis

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s lit­er­ary mas­ter­piece, “The Lord of the Rings,” Frodo Baggins, an unlike­ly hero, learns of the return of Sauron, an evil spir­it who is amass­ing a great army to rule the world.

The fate of Middle-earth depends on the lit­tle hobbit’s quest to ven­ture into the heart of Mordor and destroy in the fires of Mount Doom the ring of pow­er that has come into his pos­ses­sion, and with it, the pow­er of Sauron.

He is will­ing, but filled with doubt, and he con­fides in Gandalf the wizard.

“I wish it need not have hap­pened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I, said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is giv­en us.”

When I was in high school in the 1970s, some of my friends were read­ing Tolkien’s nov­els, but I couldn’t under­stand their fas­ci­na­tion with what I thought were children’s stories.

It wasn’t until 2001, when I vis­it­ed England and read news­pa­per sto­ries about Peter Jackson’s upcom­ing movie series based on “Lord of the Rings,” that I bought and devoured the three vol­umes of the 1,000-page nov­el, along with the com­pan­ion sto­ries, “The Hobbit” and “The Silmarillion,” and Humphrey Carpenter’s autho­rized biog­ra­phy of the author.

In 2021, I again read “The Lord of the Rings,” but with new eyes.

The first time I read the pas­sage quot­ed above, I thought of Gandalf’s advice as wise words of encour­age­ment to rise to the occa­sion in dif­fi­cult times. That was right after the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist attacks, so that’s how it made sense to me.

There also was some of that this year. These are try­ing times for peo­ple of good will. We are weary of a plague that has dis­rupt­ed our lives and killed mil­lions. We are still stunned by the attempt­ed vio­lent over­throw of our democ­ra­cy by a mad dem­a­gogue and his gullible fol­low­ers. We are alarmed by the threats posed by the return of tyran­ny in Russia and China and those nations’ expan­sion­ist designs.

But this time in read­ing the book, I also paid more atten­tion to the part that prophe­cy plays in the sto­ry, includ­ing the pre­or­dained pur­pose of the Ring-bear­er, who, despite the old sto­ries, is giv­en free will to choose whether he will play his role in the epic strug­gle of good against evil.

There are spir­i­tu­al and the­o­log­i­cal themes through­out the book that are easy to over­look on first reading.

At this time of year, many news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines con­tain com­men­taries list­ing jour­nal­ists’ choic­es of the best books of the year. This isn’t one of those. Instead, every year since I grad­u­at­ed from col­lege, I have kept a list of the books I’ve read that year, and for many years, I have writ­ten an end-of-the-year col­umn about them.

Of the 30 I read this year, 10 besides “The Lord of the Rings” were books I had read at least once before.

C.S. Lewis defined an “unlit­er­ary man” as one who reads a good book and doesn’t delve into it again because he thinks he has already got­ten every­thing it has to offer the first time through.

“I can’t imag­ine a man real­ly enjoy­ing a book and read­ing it only once,” he said.

Nor can I.

Here are the books, new and old, that I read and enjoyed in 2021:

  • A Promised Land – Barack Obama
  • Apeirogon – Colum McCann
  • The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography – Humphrey Carpenter
  • All About the Story: News, Power, Politics and The Washington Post – Leonard Downie Jr.
  • John Marshall: The Chief Justice Who Saved the Nation – Giles Harlow Unger
  • Henry Clay: America’s Greatest Statesman – Giles Harlow Unger
  • The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  • Boone: A Biography – Robert Morgan
  • Boonesborough Unearthed: Frontier Archaeology at a Revolutionary Fort – Nancy O’ Malley
  • On Juneteenth – Annette Gordon-Reed
  • Mayflies – Andrew O’ Hagan
  • Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind – Grace Olmstead
  • Emily’s Ghost – Denise Giardina
  • Clay’s Quilt – Silas House
  • Southernmost – Silas House
  • Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning – Alan Maimon
  • Paper Boy: Giving My Heart to Journalism – Don White
  • Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland – Patrick Radden Keefe
  • North – Seamus Heaney
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
  • Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA – Amaryllis Fox
  • This Country: My Life in Politics and History – Chris Matthews
  • Peril – Bob Woodward and Robert Costa
  • Our Town – Thornton Wilder
  • The Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany – Frederick Buechner
  • Wholehearted Faith – Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu
  • George W. Bush – James Mann
  • Goodness and Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas – edit­ed by Michael Leach, James Keane and Doris Goodnough
  • An Irish Country Yuletide – Patrick Taylor

  • Randy Patrick

    Randy Patrick is a deputy coun­ty clerk for elec­tions and vot­er reg­is­tra­tion and a for­mer reporter and edi­tor of The Winchester Sun.