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Best Reads of 2015

Each year I keep a list of the books I read all the way through, typically with brief notes, as a way of tracking my thoughts and a way to look back on each year and see some of what influenced me. So, in this post I have drawn from that list some of the best books I read this year with slightly edited versions of the notes I jotted down after reading them.

Though it was difficult, I selected a Top 10 from the books I read this year. These 10 aren’t listed in a particular order and they made this list for various reasons ranging from sheer enjoyment to level of impact on me. Following the Top 10 are some more books from my reading this year (in no particular order).

 

Top 10

  1. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Barbara Tuchman- Amazing in its scope and breadth as well as verve and nuance. Very helpful for getting a feel of the 14th century. It is easy to see the roots of the Reformation as well as the French revolution. It is true that “Dark Ages” is an unfair descriptor of the Middle Ages, but this account shows clearly the decay of the church at this time and the need for the Reformation.
  2. No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy- What a powerful story! Begins quickly with adventure and intrigue, and then the profound reflection begins. Deals significantly with the degeneration of our culture asking deep questions about what matters in life, questions about the value of war, importance of manners, how to hold a culture together.I have not seen the movie, but apparently it is significantly different from the book, missing, from what I can tell, the depth of the book. The sheriff can serve as a picture of pastoral ministry as he feels his responsibility to guard and care for his people.
  3. Soaring Higher: Itinerary of a Fifty Year Flight of Faith, Phil Eyster- I have long hoped Phil would write down these stories I have heard him tell for years. These are powerful, humorous, stirring, challenging stories. (See previous post)
  4. That Your Faith May Not Fail: Peter’s Sermon, Selah Helms- This is a powerful account of the labor and faith of a dear family caring for their severely injured son/brother. The Helms are dear friends and reading this account led me to weep and to long for God more. (See my previous post which includes the blurb I wrote for the book).
  5. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, Tom Reiss- Fascinating read. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite novels, but I had never heard this story before this book came out. The account of the French Revolution from this angle alone was interesting. The author is particularly interested in the place of race in the French Revolution, following the biracial father of Alexandre Dumas. I knew nothing of the emancipation program pursued by the revolutionary government and the reversal of these policies by Napoleon.
  6. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee- So good! I had never read this one before, but did so with my boys for school. It is a powerful story, engaging, wonderfully written. It would have been well worth reading if it only contained the humorous stories of Scout’s childhood in Alabama in 1930’s! Add to that the profound ethical deliberations, the portrait of courage, and the dealing with race relations and this is a truly great novel. It repays much contemplation as the author uses parallelism and foreshadowing in profound ways.I’m currently half way through the sequel, Go Set a Watchman and am loving it as well- despite all the criticism. Lee is a superb writer.
  7. Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield- Powerful. About so much more than homosexuality. Powerful portrayal of deep repentance. Challenged me to deeper attention to God and willingness to change, respond. Challenged me with the example of the pastor who reached out to her. Challenged me with the portrait of her family now- intentionality, outreach, faith
  8. Odyssey, Homer- I really enjoyed re-reading this with my boys. Many good points on courage, perseverance, faithfulness (though a double standard on this between men and women!). Fun observations on Greek. Striking contrasts with the Bible- esp. concerning the gods. Here you need the gods’ help but you also must beware lest they trick or seduce you. They are capricious. What a reminder of how good it is to know the true God is faithful and just! Penelope is a striking picture of Christ’s bride, the Church, awaiting the return of her Groom who has been gone a long time. She waits faithfully remaining true to him even though there are many suitors seeking to steal her affections (2 Cor 11:1-4). She gets close to giving up hope, yet she remains faithful. There are even statements of faith that the husband will return and judge those who have been wasting his house- “there will be blood.”
  9. The Histories, Herodotus- This work, often considered the first work of proper history is ripe with lessons for today. It has dull parts where lists of basic data are given, but also many amazing stories from man-eating ants, to flying snakes to the war between the Greeks and Persians. I hope to write a full post on observations from this book soon.
  10. Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton- Very good, rich & deep. Set in South Africa, I knew this novel dealt with racism but I was struck by how carefully nuanced and deeply Christian it is. Paton avoided easy answers and opportunities to place sweeping blame on any one group. Good portrait of a pastor as well- struggling faithful man. Honest.

 

Other Good Reads of the Year:

  1.  A Third Testament: A Modern Pilgrim Explores the Spiritual Wanderings of Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky, Malcolm Muggeridge- Muggeridge is a fascinating writer- if you like Chesterton, you’ll like Muggeridge. And, this are great vignettes on key Christians from various walks of life.
  2. Is God anti-gay? And other questions about Homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction, Sam Allberry- An excellent, concise treatment if this issue from a faithful man who knows this struggle.
  3. Othello, Shakespeare- A tale of the tragedy and power of jealousy. Painful in its portrayal of the power of slander and wicked connivance.
  4. The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1, A Conan Doyle- I enjoyed returning to these stories which I enjoyed as a child. The audio version linked here is really well done.
  5. The Temple, George Herbert (In his Complete English Poems, linked)- I have long enjoyed Herbert’s shorter poems, and enjoyed the chance to read this collection with my sons. Profound.
  6. Here I Stand, Roland Bainton- Another re-read with my sons. Bainton writes history well so this reads like a good story. A great place to begin on Luther.
  7. Tartuffe, Moliere- Read this play with my sons for school, & I really enjoyed it!- much better than Romeo & Juliet (see below, under disappointments). Great point (on hypocrisy) and great use of words (even in translation!). Many memorable lines.
  8. The Man who Was Greenmantle: A Biography of Aubrey Herbert, Margaret Fitzherbert- I was very interested in this because I enjoyed the novels of John Buchan (including Greenmantle)so much. This was a fascinating read. It was a bit slow in places, but great story of an amazing life and insight into the different world which was pre-WWI Europe. (See previous post)
  9. Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes- Another classic read with my boys. There were slow parts but a lot of humor and good reflection on motivation.
  10. Frederick the Wise, Sam Wellman- Fascinating information on the German prince who was Martin Luther’s protector (See previous post)
  11. 150 Questions about the Psalter, Bradley Johnston- Very helpful book in catechism form on the interpretation and use of the Psalms
  12. A. T. Robertson: A Biography, Everett Gill- Good, easy read. Hagiographic at times, but I’m really glad someone took down all this so soon after Robertson’s death. And I’m amazed there’s never been another biography
  13. A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion, Gary Burge- good, though the title is odd since the story covers more than a week. Nice way to learn some background information on the New Testament.
  14. The Inside of the Cup, Winston Churchill- Not that Winston Churchill, but the American novelist. This book was the bestselling book in the US in 1913. Slow in parts, I found the story compelling overall. It chronicles a pastor’s struggle with orthodox faith in the light of human suffering. The novel argues for tossing away orthodoxy, but you can see the errors that lead to this.
  15. Prayer, Tim Keller – Very good, drawing from the best of writings on prayer over the centuries. Very helpful.
  16. Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does), Scott Hahn- nice explication of the key texts and theology of Christmas. Even though his Catholic perspective leads him to places where I strongly disagree, this is a very helpful book.(See previous post)

 

Not so Good:

  1. Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare- I don’t think this is as good as Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello. I don’t like Romeo or Juliet as characters.
  2. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka- Really odd. I’m not sure what is all that compelling or interesting about the story. I suppose if you felt like you were a burden to your family because of some oddity the story might resonate. To me it just seemed weird, never drew me in and left me saying, “So what?”

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