I read or listened to 75 books this year. About 1/4 were fiction, 3/4 nonfiction. I was definitely on a J. K. Rowling marathon. I read her Harry Potter series (7 books), A Casual Vacancy, and the Cormoran Strike series (4 books). My nonfiction reads took me into Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and various varieties of Protestantism. Some of my favorites didn’t fall into neat and tidy categories, such as Jordan Peterson and Richard Selzer. It was difficult to narrow the list down, but here are my 12 1/2 favorites of the year.
Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery by Richard Selzer
Insightful, creative, and written with prose that soars. I’d have nominated it for a Pulitzer. It’s that well written. If you happen to view life theologically, as I do, this book is a mine from which you’ll pull barrels of gold.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson
I don’t reread many books. Fewer still would I be willing to start rereading as soon as I finished them. This is one of those rarities. Combining religion, psychology, mythology, history, and commonsensical knowledge, Peterson offers a startlingly challenging viewpoint on how to live well on the borderline of chaos and order.
Maps and Meaning: Levitical Models for Contemporary Care by Nancy H. Wiener and Jo Hirschmann
If you’re looking for a fresh perspective on pastoral care, as well as Christians caring for other Christians, try this book. As it turns out, the ancient book of Leviticus, with its focus on the relationship between priests and those ‘’outside the camp’’ due to disease, offers a paradigm for our interactions today with those suffering outside our ‘’camps’’ due to illness, PTSD, and a host of other issues.
The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
In a church drunk on power, control, and political clout, muscling its influence around through the manipulation of every power structure available, riding the dragon while draped in the religious garb of the Lamb, this book is bound to make people angry. All the more reason to read it.
Exit 36: A Fictional Chronicle by Robert Farrar Capon
Is this a novel or a theological work, a narrative or a sermon? Yes, and more. Put suicide, ministry, adultery, eschatology, Gospel, Jesus, and curvy mistresses all onto the literary table, pour some wine, settle into your seat, and gaze in wonder at the feast that only Capon could prepare with such brilliance, wit, and profundity. Read my Foreword to the book here at Mockingbird.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
A blunt and eye-opening portrayal of how our society of affluence and technology (as wonderful as that can be) has helped create an individualistic society where unity is shattered, and we spend much of our energy attacking each other. I thought it was going to be about the struggles facing troops returning from combat (and that was part of the message) but it was about much more.
Unspoken Sermons: Series I, II, III by George MacDonald
I became acquainted with MacDonald through his fiction, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This was my first exploration of his theology, which is simultaneously challenging and encouraging. These are not sermons to lightly skim; they necessitate time and reflection and a willingness to question the veracity of one’s own beliefs. MacDonald is fierce and bold and compassionate, all at once. One can see why he was condemned in his day (and still today by many) as a theological outlaw. His rejection of all atonement theories, along with imputed righteousness, would land him outside the camp of orthodoxy. Hate him or love him, he is a theological force to be reckoned with. If you’re up for a challenge, look no further.
Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World by A. J. Swoboda
This book is both theological and practical. It beckons us back to the gift of the Sabbath and demonstrates how that looks in the life of a believer today. This work is a godsend to the bedraggled and a come-back-home call to the over-worked and under-rested church. This book was awarded Christianity Today’s Book of the Year in Spiritual Formation.
Scandalous Stories: A Sort of Commentary on the Parables by Daniel Emery Price and Erick Sorensen
The twelve parables that Daniel and Erick discuss are a helpful sampling of the wide range of stories that Jesus told about the kingdom of God. Everything from seeds sown all over the place, to outrageous debts forgiven, to a religious heretic serving as first responder to a half-dead mugging victim. What you will not find, however, is any inkling that these stories are about you. Rather, the focus throughout remains on Christ. If you’re looking for a book to guide you into the wild and scandalous stories that Jesus told, this is it.
Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin
This narrative of a man with four names, who seemed also to have lived four lives, transports us to medieval Russia. With him as a child, we learn the art of healing. With him as a young man, we weep at his love and loss and inconsolable grief. We travel with him to Jerusalem, to the monastery, into his twilight years. A moving, kaleidoscopic journey of a story. One I will certainly reread.
The Gulag Archipelago (3 volumes) by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
I listened to all 3 volumes over the past few months. No review can do it justice. Just read it. Shiver, weep, and reflect upon the horrors that reside in the human heart—in our hearts.
On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
This short book has had a long life. Written in the 4th century, it continues to speak wisdom and hope and life to the church of every age, including our own. This is my fourth or fifth time reading it. And won’t be my last. It is largely due to Athanasius that the church was rescued from the various and widely popular anti-trinitarian heresies of his day. He was said to be the man who stood against the world. If you’ve never read him, start here. You won’t stop.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
This is the half book of my 12 1/2 books this year—due to its relative brevity. The attraction of Brother Lawrence, and his life of prayerful contemplation of the presence of God, is its simplicity. Worship within the prescribed services of the monastery seep into his labor in the kitchen. His whole life becomes a liturgy—not with complicated acts of spiritual labor or elaborate prayers, but short petitions for mercy, repetitive moments of reflection on the love of God, and the awareness of always living and working in the presence of God.
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