Here’s my Top 11 Countdown
(Yeah, I know, top 11 sounds funny. I had a clean list of 10, but after writing the reviews, I remembered one and HAD to add it to the list. So Top 11 it is.)
11. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, by Wayne Muller – In order to be the best version of who we are, then we must honor our God-given limitations, and quit trying to skirt them (working around the clock, skimping on sleep, etc.). This book gives us permission to be human, and the ideas to do it well. Great perspective, and a book I plan revisit time and again.
10. Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger – As the popular saying goes, “You can’t choose what happens in life, but you can choose how you respond.” This story (and particularly the father in it) was an extended metaphor of that principle. By the end of the book, I was inspired to tears. A very rewarding read.
9. The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters, by Albert Mohler Jr. – This is a book about convictional leadership. But, the thing I liked best were Mohler’s helpful insights regarding how the leader can interface with reading, writing, and social media. My overall favorite quote was, and I paraphrase, “We often overestimate what we can accomplish in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.” In essence, if you want to have the greatest impact, aim for long-term impact.
8. Preaching and Preachers, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones – If you love preaching you can’t go wrong here. Lloyd-Jones is a bit stringent in some of his ways and views, but this book is not one to ignore. Nuggets embedded all the way through. This deserves multiple readings.
7. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe – It is what it is. A bit sappy, overtly patronizing, and boldly propagandist. It probably served as a precursor to the segregation that followed, but it is American history set to novel. And I found it fascinating. I have to admit, while “Uncle Tom” has been made into a slur for ‘the black man’ who kisses up to ‘the white establishment,’ I actually found the character to be quite endearing and noble (something I’m sure Stowe meant him to be). A sheep among wolves; Christ-like in many ways. The way Stowe captured the era was transporting for me, and one that gave me much to think about.
6. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London – Can I say mesmerizing? London’s ability to craft beautiful and descriptive language was amazing. Now I’m not one for stories about dogs, told by an omniscient third-person, but this was really something. I guess if you really know how to write, you can write just about anything and folks will sit spell bound. This book is a testament to the power of eloquence.
5. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain – Read this one with the kids and we had a hoot of a time. Twain was one clever and witty man.
4. Letter From Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King Jr. – When silenced, MLK, like all the greats, took up his pen, for, as they say, the pen is greater than the sword. And he railed against the social ills of segregation. The thing I love is that this man knew what he was about, and he inspires me to keep my soul large and given to the service of others. King was a student of the past, a servant of posterity, and a juggernaut of this time.
3. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri Nouwen – This here is a life changing book. Utterly stimulating. I might even have to read this on a yearly basis. Nouwen was one hungry individual. And his hunger for God oozes out of every page and paragraph. As I write this, it makes me want to go back and read it now. It was that good.
2. My Name Is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok – I consider Potok’s writing to be works of art. They are touching, without being frivolous or whimsical. They are beautiful, yet at the same time painfully honest. The main subject of this story was a painter, but it was the portrait, that Potok created that made me realize who the real artist was. A bold, vivid, and memorable work.
1. Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry – What a beautiful book, from start to finish. I absolutely loved it. Loved the insight, loved the tenderness. I don’t agree with what I take to be some of Berry’s conclusions, but MY GOODNESS, he deserves high praise for penning such a thoughtful piece of literature. This was music for the heart and nourishment to the soul. (For a fuller treatment, check out my review HERE.)
As can be seen from the list, my primary interest this year was fiction.
You know, it’s funny, when I started seminary (6 years ago), I didn’t have much patience for novels. I thought, “just give me the real stuff,” you know… history, philosophy, surveys, theology, didactic material, etc.
And I guess the thing that started me on this road of reading more fiction was, ironically, sitting in church history class. My professor, Marc Cortez, had such a great way of communicating. He was articulate and well spoken. In his office one time, I asked him, “how did you get such a command of language?” After chuckling a bit, he thought about it for a moment, and said that “I guess I like to read good fiction.”
Good fiction? I wasn’t expecting that.
He went on. “When you read good literature it has a formative effect on the way you talk.” That made a lot of sense, and served as a new thought to me.
I asked for a good recommendation and he suggested I read Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. I promptly took his advice, and from that point on, I was hooked.
For the last couple of years that’s the thing I’ve devoured the most. Good fiction. And you know what? It has all the history, philosophy, and theology you could ask for. Real stuff! But, not dissociated from real life. Fiction (and even poetry) is intensely intellectual, but deeply emotional, and I think that’s why I have enjoyed it so much. Good literature has a way of integrating matters of the mind and heart. It does a good job of catering to the whole man.
Other works of fiction I hope to get into soon:
- The Promise (Potok)
- The Road (McCarthy)
- Lila (Robinson)
- A Place in Time (Berry)
- Island of the World (O’Brien)
- The Once and Future King (White)
- The Things They Carried (O’Brien)