Best Reads of 2013

Several years ago I began keeping an annotated list of every book I read each year. It has been a very useful discipline and resource for later. As part of my own review of this past year I will post here what have been the best books I have read this past year. Included in this list are only books I read all the way through. I am not addressing here commentaries or other reference books which might be consulted (my thoughts on the best new Bible reference works published in the last year can be found here).

Here are my top 10 for the year (in no specific order):

The Story of John G. Paton Told for Young folks, or Thirty Years among the South Sea Cannibals, ed. James Paton- Though the list is not in a particular order, this is probably the stand out book for me this year. I began reading this with my kids, but ended up reading it for myself. It is a true spiritual classic and was deeply moving and formative for me. The portrait of a loving, godly father and his impact on his son challenged me greatly (as well as moving me to tears). Then, the beautiful portraits of faith, devotion to Christ, perseverance, etc. in the life of John Paton powerfully impacted me. I was challenged in faith, rebuked of shallowness, enticed by the beauty of godliness, and encouraged to persevere.

Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry, Gregory Thornbury- I wanted to write a post on this book earlier but never got to it. This is a valuable and needed book for our times, particularly as it wholeheartedly affirms biblical inerrancy and calls for us to hold to the faith. I found myself shouting in affirmation at times while reading.

A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism: From Benedict Spinoza to Brevard Childs, Mark Gignilliat- This is a very helpful overview of how the Old Testament has been approached from the 17th century to today. Some will expect such a book to be dull, but Gignilliat writes well and, by focusing on seven key scholars, makes this a compelling read. I think I may have more qualms about Childs than Gignilliat does, but, I found this very helpful in understanding the currents you encounter in biblical interpretation today.

Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry- Having read several other of Berry’s Port William novels, I finally read this one, which I typically hear referred to as his best. I thought the book started out quite slow, and I was unsure it would live up to its reputation. However, in the end, I loved it. It contains the powerful, moving portraits of family, place, rootedness which I have so appreciated from Berry. This book also includes a very insightful portrait of the church.

Beast of Burden, Kirby Atkins- This story has been in the mind and heart of my friend, Kirby Atkins, for a long time. So, when he asked if I would be interested in reading a pre-publication copy of it, I jumped at the chance. It is a wonderful, beautifully written story which in its own way addresses the pain of life in a fallen world, the hope of redemption and the struggle to believe. It is one of the best original stories I have read in a long time. I wanted to comment on the book earlier this year, but could not due to all the processes with publishers, etc. I am delighted that I received permission to list the book and title here and just heard that the trailer for the movie will be out in February. This is one to watch for.

Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe- I finally got around to reading this one as it was part of our school work with my older boys. I was surprised by how deeply Christian the book is. I had been told it was and was aware of Defoe’s background, but still the depth of Christian conviction surprised me. This book contains profound theological & ethical deliberations, along with the adventure.

John Adams, David McCullough- This is another one I finally got to because it was part of our schooling. McCullough writes well and I’ve enjoyed several other of his books. John Adams  is full of comments and events which are fruitful for contemplation.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain- I came back to this one because it was a school assignment for my boys as well. I listened to the Audible edition with Elijah Woods reading. Woods was excellent! He brought dialect to life and captured the personalities very well. This is a very funny story and gave us many opportunities for significant reflection on race, humanity, truthfulness, adventure, humor.

What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, Jonathan V. Last- This is a timely book for our culture. With careful analysis of the data, Last details the economic and culture problems which are coming with the decline of birthrates around the world. He probes various reasons why people have become less interested in having children, reasons ranging from economic to cultural to personal. Jonathan Last has written a book full of data and statistics but still made it a “page turner”- quite an accomplishment!

Ethics and Moral Reasoning: A Student’s Guide, Ben Mitchell- This is a very helpful, brief introduction to the world of ethics and moral reasoning. Written in a very pastoral and accessible style, it is deeply rooted in the biblical text while conversant with the wide range of ethical theory and discussion today.


Honorable Mention:

The Lost World, Conan Doyle – This is a great story! I have read all the Sherlock Holmes stories as well as some other of Doyle’s writings so I was delighted to read this with my boys. As it deals with “missing link” discussions, it was a great venue for considering creation. It is a fun story with much to see in terms of character and worldview (here is a previous post on reading this book with my boys). [None of the movie adaptations, including the Jurassic Park ones, live up to this original story]

Wordsmithy: Hot Tips on the Writing Life, Douglas Wilson- Doug Wilson is one of the best writers of our day, so I was quite interested to read his thoughts on writing. It is vintage Wilson, entertaining and informative- a good book on writing, containing good writing.

Back on Murder (A Roland March Mystery Book #1), J. Mark Bertrand- This was a good, engaging story. I was hooked after a couple of pages and finished the book within 24 hours. Roland March is a homicide detective down on his luck who tackles a new case and encounters people of faith.

Goliath Catfish, Scott Gill- This is a nice story well told, in the tradition of Mark Twain. Set in Memphis in the 1940’s, this is a tale of adventure, courage, friendship, and perseverance as a poor white boy and a poor black boy become friends in pursuit of a great treasure. I liked how Elijah, though he couldn’t go to school, longed to do so and how his retelling of classic tales encouraged & strengthened Albert. On the downside, the use of profanity made it less suitable for kids.

Si-cology 101: Tales & Wisdom from Duck Dynasty’s Favorite Uncle, Si Robertson with Mark Schlabach- I asked for this book for Christmas, opened it on Christmas Day and finished it that day. It was hilarious, entertaining, encouraging, and inspiring. I also enjoyed Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and legacy as the Duck Commander, by Phil Robertson with Mark Schlabach though the writing was not as good as in Si’s book. In both cases the stories of redemption and family and the portrait of fathers and sons were meaningful to me.

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