My Year in Books: 2018
If you know me at all, you know that I am a deep lover of books. Just a few years back, I realized that the importance of reading books isn't that you are reading books, but rather what kind of books you are reading. I try my best to read books that I know will have some sort of impact on me - books that can actually change me.
As a pastor, of course I enjoy theological and Christian literature en mass. But engaging in novels, biographies, philosophy (etc.) outside of Christendom is not just worth your time - rather I'd go as far as saying you must. The human person is a complex entity, and all of the literature written can teach you much about us and about you. Reading widely will actually enhance your faith and add much depth to it - that is, if you are (mostly) reading the books that matter.
All to say, this is my top ten list for 2018. I hope that one or two of these may find their way into your reading list for 2019. I'll start at the bottom and work my way to the top.
10) MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING: VIKTOR E. FRANKL
Recommended to me by many pastor friends, and in speaking about with with a close friend who is a receiving his masters in social work (who in turn gifted me with the book), I was utterly shocked at its content. Frankl was a Jewish intellectucal psychologist who survived the horrors of the concentration camps. The first-hand accounts of what took place within them is worth reading alone. But, being the intellectucal he is, he actually took all the time he could find to interview fellow prisoners and study the search of finding meaning within such horrors. What drives someone to live in such conditions? What is the actualy meaning of life and how is it realted to the will to live? Fascinating book that I cannot recommend more.
9) ANNA KARENINA - LEO TOLSTOY
This one I began in 2017 and it bled into 2018 for obvious reasons. It's a long book. I'm not going to lie - I often considered putting it down. There could be a hunred pages of material where you are not quite sure if the plot has progressed. Sometimes Tolstoy devotes pages just describing someone's uniform and the shiny buttons it contains. Nevertheless, if you survive the dull periods, you will find yourself moved to tears by the high moments. Writing from (somewhat) of a Christian perspective, Tolsoy through this story is writing a scathing commentary on the elite of Russia during his lifetime. He is also exploring the big idea of the meaning of life - where is true life to be found? True joy? True pleasure? The book isn't only about Anna (who lived a life of passionate excess), but also about Levin. Their storys interact with each other, and by the end you realize the materpiece of literature that Tolstoy weaved together. Will I read it again? Probably not. But it's worth reading at least once.
8) THE SILMARILLION - J.R. TOLKIEN
OK, so I'll use my words carefully: this isn't the best book I've ever read. But, it could be the most amazing book I've ever read. To think that this (unfinished) life-work came from a single individual's mind is nearly incomprehensible. How do you create and arrange 5,000 years of mythological history through various made-up people groups, invent their languages, and intertwine them all into a coherent story? Tolkien at least attempted it. Yes, some of this book will bore you to tears (a whole chapter devoted to the geography of Middle Earth! Which admittingly I skipped). But some of the stories it contains are, without exaggeration, some of the best short-stories you will ever read (Beren and Luthien's story come to mind). Such much concerning the nature of good and evil so intelligently explored - even if you are not a Lord of the Rings fan, it's worth trying to read it. It's a beast. But do it.
7) DYNAMICS OF SPIRITUAL LIFE - An Evangelical Theology of Renewal: RICHARD LOVELACE
This unfortunately not well-known book feels simultaneously like a church history, a systematic theology, and a book on pastoral theology. It was continually recommended by pastor Tim Keller on his must-read lists, so I finally picked it up. I read it just as I was preparing to help lead a new church plant, and it has thoroughly influenced how I understand church and the reality of what it is. Spiritual renewal is the goal of the church. And Lovelace describes thoroughly how to understand spiritual renewal, the conditions of it, and practical steps to do create a culture where it can (possibly) happen, if the Spirit so desires it to. Great book that I have continually turned through after I read it.
6) A TALE OF TWO CITIES - CHARLES DICKENS
I did struggle a bit understanding the flow of this novel. Dickens really shows his style in full form as he writes this long story concerning the French Revolution. Really, though, this story is actually wrestling with the idea of resurrection - life in the midst of death. If you know anything about the French Revolution, there was an extreme amount of death. Yet Dickens, as a Christian, writes a story of hope and shows that hope doesn't always mean a happy ending. Hope can still be found in the midst of chaos. Isn't that the reality of the Gospel anyway? (Cheating note: I did use [I think] Sparknotes to help with some of the chapters. haha! His writing is very flowerly and at times you can get lost. But it's SO worth your time!)
5) THE INFERNO - DANTE
I had the pleasure of studying this in class at Knox Seminary beneath the lectures of Dr. Warren Gage. The saying goes that after you read Dante, you are now ready to read Dante. So I don't know if I can rightly comment on the Inferno - I'm an amateur. Yet, knowing his goal of church reform and the incredible depth of this book - even after a first read, I'm hungry for it again. His method of contrapasso (that is, showing a sin and giving it a just punishment according to his understanding) have much to say about the nature of humankind and the nature of the vices we struggle with. How does someone write such a book? I have no idea.
4) CENTER CHURCH - TIM KELLER
Incredibly comprehensive (some chapters containing hundreds of footnotes and sources alone), this book gives a vision for church in the 21st century and how to understand the Gospel and its interaction with modern culture. This is another book I've turned to numerous times after I read it. I don't agree with all of Keller's theology, nevertheless, every church leader should read through it today. It's indispensible.
3) OF MICE AND MEN - JOHN STEINBECK
It's an american classic. It's one that I should have read in high school, but I was too much of a bum. Maybe this doesn't belong at number three. But it's a rather shocking story concerning socioeconomics, mental illness, and provacative living. As usual with a Steinbeck novel, when you finish the book you don't have the happy-feels. But you have much to think about.
2) PARADISE LOST - JOHN MILTON
This book... this book... this book. I get goosebumps just remembering it. Again I had to study this for my current degree progam at Knox Seminary, and I contnually got lost in its pages. I love Milton's use of the English language. His retelling of the sin of Adam and Eve, the war in heaven, and Satan's interactions with the Garden and eventually with Eve was much more than just a theological-style narrative. Rather, as most writers were who attempted to write such incredible books, he was trying to bring about church reform within England after their bloody and terrible civil war. This work has permeated the English conscience in ways that could probably never be fully described. It's a must read. One that I am excited to read again in 2019.
1) THE ROOSEVELT TRILOGY - EDMUND MORRIS
Ok so I am aware this is a trilogy and not one book. Women might enjoy this book, but there is something about it that a man not only should read but needs to read. I don't know where to start, but this is a trilogy about a world traveler, taxidermist, amateur zoologist, Harvard Graduate, amateur boxer, New York assemblyman, cattle rancher, cowboy, a sheriff in the Wild West, professional big game hunter, candidate for NYC mayor, naval historian/scholar, accomplished writer of 15 books regularly studied in universities, Federal Civil Service Commissioner, NYC police commissioner, Assistant Secretary to the Navy, Colonel in the Spanish/American war, New York State Governor, Vice President of the USA and President of the USA - all before he was 42 years old.
After his time in the white house he later help cartographhers map out obscure regions of the Amazon region in Brazil by hiking through the jungle, nearly to this demise. There is so much to learn about courage and leadership, about good healthy habits to have in life and also bad examples of how not to be a husband and a father.
It'll challenge you to do hard things with your life. Or to be willing to try at least. But it also is a story about a man who truly did not understand limits, and died prematurely because of it. So there is wisdom to be found in how to do hard things, and when not to. Nevertheless... I miss reading these books. They were so good.
So those are my favorite books I've read in 2018. If you are looking for good books to read, books that have the potential to change you and alter you - now you have some ideas for 2019!