Favorite Books of 2015

top-10I love books and I love lists. So this is one of my favorite things to do — compile a top 10 list of my favorite reads of the year.

I should be honest, though, many of these books were not read, but listened to. I have an hour and a half commute everyday, and, honestly, I love it. Cause I get to work my way through some great literature on audio books. I’m come to the opinion that literature at its best was meant to be spoken. When a text is performed well… Mmm! there’s just few things on earth more pleasing.

So here ya have it, in order, my Top 10 of 2015:

#10

emilySelected Poems, by Emily Dickinson

I think Dickinson my be my favorite poet. But, that doesn’t mean I liked the whole thing. Of perhaps 300 poems, I marked about 30-40 that I liked. And they’re super good, even worth memorizing.

Overall, I like her style. Short, compact, and musical. Sure, she can be a bit morose, but she can also be incredibly playful and funny. She makes me ponder life and death, time and love, God and eternity. She hits all the big notes, in the softest of ways. Christina Rossetti, to me, would be her only rival.

 

 

 


 

#9

jane eyreJane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

I wasn’t extremely captivated by the story. The plot was fairly predictable. But, my goodness, the prose was terrific. I love American Literature. And Bronte was, no doubt, a master (mistress?) of the English prose. This is why I generally read fiction, just to hear the possibilities of language. How does it work? What is it capable of? A good story, to me, is almost secondary. But the psychological depth of this particular work may have been the best I’ve ever read. This would be worth a second reading. And I’d love to take a peak at Wuthering Heights some day soon, just to see if it compares. Amazing this kind of skill ran in the family.

 

 

 


 

#8

OldmanseaThe Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

This was great! Not only do you have a good story, well told, but you get instruction presented with such subtlety and art. This is why I love literature. Spare, vivid, and compelling. I’ve never read Hemingway before, but I’m interested to know if the rest of his works read similarly.

In terms of plot, it reminded me of Moby Dick. One obstinate man squaring off against one obstinate creature. Yet I would pick this book any day. Melville simply tried to do too much with his novel – the whole thing just weighed heavy and ran over the side. However, in my opinion, Hemingway kept his focus. There’s something to be said for brevity. I’d much rather have a pinch of salt, than a whole cupboard of seasoning. Just keep it simple. I’m interested to see if his longer works still maintain this quality. I think it is possible. And if he does, then wow, I’m sold.

 


 

#7

gantryElmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis

This was amazing. I will definitely need to explore other books by Sinclair Lewis. Wow. This man could WRITE! I don’t know much about Lewis, but he must have had some extensive exposure to the Christianity of his day. I found this very educational regarding the religious landscape of America during the turn of the century. Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Catholics, Mormons, New Thoughters are represented here with all their foibles and idiosyncrasies. A fascinating comparative study, to say the least; but, more prominently, a blistering rebuke on religious hypocrisy. Lewis set his cannons ablaze upon insincere Christianity. This story will make one stop dead-in-his-tracks before he tries to go into the ministry for status or prestige. Is ministry simply an opportunity for upward mobility? Does it stroke the ego? Does it place us in an admiring light? Is it a chance to garner influence? Do we enjoy flattery? Vie for authority? Do we yearn for greatness? If the answer is yes to any one of these, then Lewis is gunning for you.


 

#6

 

lament

Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff

I’m not sure how to categorize this one… Is it biography? Is it family? Is it life changers? Or is it poetry? Should it be ministry? Perhaps spirituality? Wellness? I think it’s all these things, and more.

This was good to read. Good for the soul. Healthy, I think would be the word for it. In this little book, Wolterstorff gives voice to his grief over losing a son to a tragic mountain climbing incident. He processes his pain via 67 short, yet hauntingly beautiful entries. And he calls them ‘love songs’ – done in honor of the one who was ripped out of his life. I think this would be a good thing to read on a regular basis, not because I ever plan to go through it, but because it helps me appreciate what I have. We just don’t realize what we have until we lose it. But, books like this help me realize while I still have it — while reminding me that what I have doesn’t really belong to me.

 


 

#5

nightNight, by Elie Wiesel

This book was truly something! How do you redeem such nonsensical tragedy and suffering? You turn and create art. And that’s what Elie Wiesel has done with this account. Such poignant honesty here. Almost reminds of me the Psalms of lament. Gritty, real, and poetic. So many thoughts here to ponder. Is God dead? Does He care? Why does He allow this? For some reason I don’t believe God would turn away such questions. Just like the Psalms, He countenances gut-level honesty.

And being a father myself… the father-son relationship here was an inspiration to me.

Definitely one to revisit on a regular basis.

 


 

#4

good earthThe Good Earth, by Pearl Buck

An incredible story. Not because it was happy, or even inspirational, but because it was instructional. Deeply instructional and fabulously written.

When I say it was instructional I mean that it was a negative parable. Here’s what not to do; here’s how not to live. Oh man, Wang Lung was deplorable, but I must say Wang Lung had much to desire. He was industrious and hard-working. He was thrifty and very relatable. Pearl Buck did a great job of talking the reader through his inner dialogue. And as a reader (or, in my case, listener), you can empathize with the character. But, the dude was heinous to the core – greedy, selfish, manipulative, petty, vain, the list can go on and on. Everything was ultimately about his land – the source of his life. It served him riches, but, ultimately it served him no peace. Wang Lung came to realize (or did he?) that riches comes with its corresponding sorrows. Wang Lung did attempt to honor those to whom honor was due, but in the end, they just used and manipulated him – except for his humble and faithful wife, O-Lan. She was, for me, the hero of the story, and somebody I will never forget.

 


 

#3

griefA Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

This was one of the greatest books I’ve read this year. Man! This was outstanding. Wow. I can’t say enough about the wisdom and insight embedded in these pages. I love short, pithy, and thoughtful works. Concentrated thought can go so far. Add a little water and it expands into a meal. There might be more here than in a book of a 1,000 pages.

My favorite writing of Lewis’ is his novel Till We Have Faces. TWHF is about the grief that follows loss, and in this story Lewis nails it in stunning fashion! TWHF was published in 1956, and later that year he suffered his own loss – the death of his wife. So I find it incredibly interesting that Lewis, after writing TWHF, should have to live it out in his own life.

Lament is a curious honor the Lord bequeaths upon us. That God should countenance such raw honesty is amazing. But, as we see in Scripture, he does! He even endorses it. And lament (the honesty) helps us to heal and wise up. Lewis goes from (it would seem) near blasphemy (at least, insult) to a clear-minded joy and praise of life and its maker. This, for sure, deserves multiple readings.

I love books that draw me close to God. And this one did.


 

#2

lotrThe Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is epic – unfettered imagination – highly compelling literature. Man alive, the descriptions in this book are super, super good. Tolkien must have been a very interesting man to have had such an active imagination.

I read this to my older children (11 and 9) and they loved it, the whole way through. This is not easy reading, so how can kids be totally engrossed, and on the edge of the seats? Because, I think, the characters and setting are as vivid as it gets. And Tolkien is a master of suspense.

There’s also some great morals to the story: courage, responsibility, loyalty, friendship (fellowship), discerning of good and evil, and overcoming temptation. There’s a lot of great talking points here.

And the characters… wow. The characters. Gollum is a fascinating critter. And in the book you get the background on what he’s all about.

And the drama of this story is unparalleled with anything I’ve ever read. “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” Whoa – that scene was intense. I was shouting, and my kids’ eyes were buggin’ out.

It took us awhile to get through this narrative (like 3 or 4 months) – but it was worth it. I told my kids – when we finished – ‘it’s the end of the book, but not the end of the story.’ I gave them a choice – ‘we can either take a break and read some other stuff or keep going with the series.’ Well, they wanted to start The Two Towers later that evening. I was a bit hesitant though – I think literature like this needs to digest every 400 pages or so.


 

#1

Team of RivalsTeam of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This was my favorite. Lincoln was an amazing man. Amazing. And Doris Kearns Goodwin took a fascinating angle on his life and presidency.

Here’s my main take away:
What do you do with competitors? People who want what you have? You out maneuver them, right? And then you dismiss them. Not Lincoln. He beat them and appointed them to his cabinet, and actually to his inner circle of friends! And many of these competitors were more respected and skilled than Lincoln. But that didn’t phase the president. He wasn’t going to deprive the country of their services, nor himself of their skill. He knew who he was. And, without a shred of insecurity or condescension, he took this team of rivals and transformed them into a band of brothers, all the while, guiding a nation through it’s darkest hour.

And as for the story, I honestly felt like I took a journey through his life. Goodwin did a great job of incarnating the man in such a way that he was real and you loved him. When she wrote about Lincoln’s body being trained back to Illinois you actually felt like you were alive in 1865 and the sorrow of the nation was almost palpable. Reading Walt Whitman’s, poem “O Captain, My Captain” simply confirms this sentiment. Lincoln acquired epic status the moment he died. Couple the manner of his death, with the manner of his life, and you see the stuff of legend. Lincoln was not perfect, by any means, and the aftermath of his family life was actually quite bleak and sad – as is the case for many towering figures. But, wow, just so much to digest here. I loved it the entire way through.

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2 comments

  1. You read some great books! I adore Night by Wiesel. Happy New Year:)

  2. […] (top books)Books to the Tea (top books)Brian Kaylor (top books)The Captive Reader (top books)Convergence (favorite books)Diary of an Eccentric (favorite books)Dr. Ruth (favorite books)Impressions […]

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