Top Reads of 2016: The Shortlist

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I’m a bit late to this game, but in case you’re looking for a few good books to add to your docket, I put together a shortlist of some favorites from 2016. These weren’t necessarily written last year; that’s just when I read them. In no particular order, here are my top 3 in non-fiction and fiction. Tolle lege!

NONFICTION

  1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This book is making waves, and it deserves its acclaim. Kalanithi was as skilled with words as with a surgeon’s knife. He writes of his ambition and incredible academic and career success without pomp or arrogance, and of his terminal cancer days with unflinching honesty. As his patients benefitted from his medical expertise, we too have benefitted from his personal story and reflections. Read it, and walk with him through the euphoric highs and bitter lows of his too-short life, and think hard about how we are living ours.

  1. A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

Pain turned into words. This is not the mind of the apologist, but the heart of the broken. I can’t agree with all of his theology, but I love his honesty and humanity. Yes, he questions if God is there, and if his faith is real at all. I don’t think Christians should balk so much at that: Lewis may have been a great Christian thinker, but he was also human, and writing in the face of heartbreak and loss. Our own faith shouldn’t rest on the strength of his faith or personal experience. I respect that he was not afraid to write hard and clear about what scares many of us.

  1. The Reason for God by Tim Keller

He’s called the modern day C.S. Lewis by some, and after reading this, I would actually choose The Reason for God over Mere Christianity as the book to give to my skeptical friends or seekers. Keller isn’t saying anything new, per se. Apologetics has been around for ages. But the way he addresses common objections—especially the most relevant ones of our times—and clearly presents the reasons for faith is top notch. He writes with sound logic, intellect, accessibility, and graciousness, all while standing firm on the Gospel truth.

FICTION

  1. Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

This might be cheating, because this is a series with seven full novels and a couple novellas. Chances are, you haven’t heard of it, because it’s not mainstream. I know, unknown Christian fantasy series… really? I actually can’t stand much of the Christian fiction genre—poor writing, heavy-handed, etc. And as a fantasy aficionado, I’ve progressively read less in the genre because it seems filled with copycats or gratuitous violence and sex. BUT this series was a delightful surprise. The world-building and characters are rich. There are definite Christian overtones, but it’s not preachy or forced, and Stengl isn’t afraid to get dark. There’s a fairy tale-like quality to the books, but its never shallow, and don’t expect the stories to wrap up with a bow and happily-ever-after.

Note: Personally, I think the first book is the weakest, but don’t let that turn you away. It gets better and better. Starflower (book 4) is probably my favorite. I would read them in order if you can, though!

  1. Winter by Marissa Meyer

For all the terrible finales to popular YA books we’ve seen (not naming any names), Marissa Meyer does her series a solid with this conclusion. Fairy tale retellings are not new; in fact, they’re kind of the rage now. The Lunar Chronicles takes it to the next level—fairy tales, space, dystopia, politics, etc. Meyer had quite a task tying up all the storylines she created, and she did not disappoint. It was epic and sweeping, with clever parallels to the original fairy tales. Imagine Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White (with upgraded IQs) falling in love with their respective men (who actually have some flaws) and fighting the evil queen of the moon. I mean, she did something right, cause I was sold.

  1. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

You have spies and suspense, but the heart of this story is sisterhood. The plot was clever, the emotions raw and genuine, and Wein plumbs the depth of a spectacular friendship between two girls, put to the ultimate test. So many props to her for writing a beautiful, intelligent, and historical YA drama. I’m not a feminist, but there is some legit girl power going here—I’m tired of both the whimpering, helpless damsel in distress and the unrealistic assassin lady who can take out armies singlehandedly. Wein’s characters are brave but broken, fierce but flawed. She proves that friendship is just as, if not more, potent than romance in storytelling.

Still Growing Up – Thoughts on “Go Set a Watchman”

Oh hey. I know I’ve vanished for the better part of a month – life changes, busyness, lack of inspiration, and all that jazz. But I’m back, and with a (long-winded, most likely) review of Go Set a Watchman, which I couldn’t resist buying early and devouring in the course of a day. I was apprehensive as some early reviews drifted into my purview – everything from the book being a shameless money grab, to Lee ruining one of the most beloved literary figures of all time – but I have an incurable sense of curiosity. And, in all honesty, I wasn’t going to not read a To Kill a Mockingbird sequel. Some spoilers ahead. 

CHILDHOOD, CAPTURED

Harper Lee has such as keen grasp of children, their nature and way of thinking. It was apparent in To Kill a Mockingbird, and she brings the same warmth and emotion to writing some significant flashback scenes in Watchman. This was one of my favorite parts of the book – finding new anecdotes of Scout’s early days in Maycomb, full of hilarity and moving character insights. There’s her, Jem and Dill reenacting a religious revival and Scout being caught naked by the reverend with her father; there’s Scout living with the terrible thought that she’s pregnant for nine months because of girlish rumors from school; and many more. Like Mockingbird, Lee continues to deal with some serious moral issues in her novel, but so much of her story is wrapped around simple tales of growing up in a small town with unforgettable characters, and how they leave a mark on you for life.

On a side note, I can understand why publishers wanted her to write Mockingbird and publish that instead because I found her flashback scenes to be the best part of Watchman, though they were scattered throughout in a much less structured plot than her first novel.

Did Harper Lee ruin Atticus?

This made me afraid of picking up the book, because Atticus is one of my favorite fictional characters, and if there was one unavoidable spoiler about Watchman, it was that Lee turned him into a racist. Maybe this made me brace for the very worst, because I thought she made him into some kind of a raving madman – but it was quite the contrary. I actually found him terribly consistent as a character. Still a gentleman through and through, with a sharp mind and opinions entirely his own. Yes, you can quote him from Mockingbird and quote him from Watchman and be horrified at some of these juxtapositions, but he is still Atticus. I won’t get into the politics and race relations (and I’m sure this has been and will continue to be one of the book’s most talked about aspects), but I will simply say this regarding his character: Atticus is human, and the philosophy and culture of his times inevitably will have their effect on him, just as they do on all of us. This isn’t to justify his views, but to understand him, and how Lee humanizes him.

The outrage over his character is mirrored in the outrage Scout feels as she tells the story. I wonder if it’s poetic in one sense – that we have “grown up” with Scout, we have idolized Atticus with her, and we have watched him fall, all through her eyes. Atticus is no longer the hero of this story, his daughter is. Lee uses his character’s evolution as a springboard for developing Scout – she would not have the passion and conviction she does if she wasn’t her father’s daughter, and she would not have shown it in Watchman if her father remained exactly the same.

Still Growing Up

One review I read put it this way: Mockingbird is about Scout discovering her father is a god; Watchman is about Scout discovering her father is not a god. My take on it is this: Mockingbird is about a young girl discovering the world and its people can be extraordinarily, irrationally cruel. Watchman is about a young woman discovering that even our heroes are human. It is another tale of growing up, another coming of age, but in a more nuanced and specific way. Haven’t we all experienced both? Isn’t the reality of our heroes’ flaws so much more painful than the reality of the world’s brokenness? Atticus was never perfect – but he was nearly that in Scout’s eyes for most her life. One story is about shedding some of childhood’s innocence, another is about coming more fully into adulthood.

Overall, Watchman was good. Compared to the average novel put out today, it’s very good. Compared to Mockingbird, it falls short. The narrative flow of Watchman is not as strong, and the emotional impact is heavily dependent on its predecessor – the blow Scout feels from Atticus is doubled if you know the Atticus of Mockingbird (though Lee brings a lot of that to light within her new book too). The scene with Cal is heartbreaking. Yet, her storytelling ability, sense of humor, and understanding of human nature is still excellent, uniquely hers, and reminiscent of her first classic.

I’ll admit, I breathed a sigh of relief when I closed the book still loving Scout and Atticus. And sure, someone’s in this for the marketing and money, but I had a good time too – so thanks for unearthing Watchman. 

Young, Reckless and Nonconformist – Religious Thoughts on “Blue Like Jazz”

BluelikejazzI finally read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, a few years behind its explosion onto the Christian book scene. I’m not very good at writing book reviews because I tend to get long-winded and dig a hole into one idea, but I felt compelled to share some thoughts. (For excellent and witty book insights, I recommend my friend Veronica!)

Miller is something of a controversial writer in Christian circles, often associated with the emergent church, but I believe he doesn’t consider himself party to that movement. His emphasis on feelings and experiences tend in that direction, though he holds to the depravity of man and the need for salvation. He speaks to an increasingly polarized culture and subcultures of Christianity, and for that I applaud the naked honesty and vulnerability in his writing, which inevitably garners critique from various groups. (And it has—I’ve skimmed the Goodreads reviews.) Needless to say, Blue Like Jazz comes with a host of strengths and weaknesses. I will say up front, though, that I don’t plan to rehash some of the widespread critiques I’ve already seen from many in the conservative, Reformed corner: he’s all about emotion, lacks a high view of Scripture, fuzzy on atonement, and on. I agree with a large part of the criticisms (not all), but at the same time, he’s writing more of a memoir, not a theological treatise. So I want to try to look at it as such.

What I Liked

He’s a good storyteller—humorous, compelling, honestly irreverent (which is sometimes refreshing, sometimes inappropriate), and surprisingly shrewd. Some reviews accuse the book of being nothing more than a meandering diary, but he manages to make that form engaging enough. I particularly liked his stories of living in Portland and attending Reed; it struck close to home for me, and he relates his tales in an up close, personal way, as if you were chatting over coffee in a hipster café.

Dying for something is easy because it is associated with glory. Living for something is the hard thing. Living for something extends beyond fashion, glory, or recognition. We live for what we believe.

He’s honest and real—in a way that can be scary and bold, as he gives a voice to universal but rarely spoken doubts, struggles, and desires. I do think he almost elevates the importance of self-expression and authenticity above objective Truth, but then again, the entire book is a product of his self-expression.

They are lonely. I’m not talking about lonely for a lover or a friend. I mean lonely in the universal sense, lonely inside the understanding that we are tiny people on a tiny little earth suspended in an endless void that echoes past stars and stars of stars. 

He has a sharp gaze into the human soul—I can’t quite compare him to C.S. Lewis, but I found some gems in the book that were reminiscent of Lewis’ insight. The unique edge Miller brings comes from the very different culture he grew up in, and how the severe rift between postmodern thought and conservative Christianity shaped his perspective. Having lived and breathed in both sorts of communities, his observations and struggles resonate with me (and I would guess, with many in our generation).

Somehow I had come to believe that because a person is in need, they are candidates for sympathy, not just charity. It was not that I wanted to buy her groceries, the government was already doing that. I wanted to buy her dignity. And yet, by judging her, I was the one taking her dignity away. 

The Self-Addiction Cycle

Early in the book, Miller expresses his belief in human depravity, and he describes coming to the realization in a personal way.

“Do I want social justice for the oppressed, or do I just want to be known as a socially active person? I spend 95 percent of my time thinking about myself anyway. I don’t have to watch the evening news to see that the world is bad, I only have to look at myself. I am not browbeating myself here; I am only saying that true change, true life-giving, God-honoring change would have to start with the individual. I was the very problem I had been protesting. I wanted to make a sign that read “I AM THE PROBLEM!”

He goes on to speak of our helpless, natural self-addiction many times over. He says, “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” I couldn’t help but find it somewhat ironic that the overall theme of the book radiates with an intense focus on self. He repeatedly writes about his opinions and views almost as if they were a law unto himself—his dissatisfaction with relationships, with churches, etc. It made me wonder, “So how did the Gospel rescue him from self-absorption?” He speaks of the inestimable value of love and sacrifice, and how he found beautiful examples of that in the world outside the church. Perhaps this is where our theology comes into play, because I don’t see how one can truly begin to overcome the depth of depravity apart from bringing the full Gospel to bear—Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sin, and His righteousness alone credited to those who believe. I get the sense Miller has a strong grasp of the Gospel’s core, yet his book blurs a lot of lines. It leads me to ask: If he believes in the fullness and centrality of the Gospel, wouldn’t his writing display it?

In short, he shows a keen sensitivity to our innate self-obsession and he speaks of the need to grow in Christlikeness. I can’t help but think of John 3:30 – “He must increase, but I must decrease.” As the outcome of Miller’s conclusions, I half-expected and half-hoped his memoir would naturally grow in speaking more of the glories of Christ and the Gospel and less of himself. Not because “that’s what you’re supposed to do in a Christian book” but because “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).” He believes that wonder is the best worship of God, yet what aspects of God command his awe, and where is his authority for the character of God? I’m sure he can give an answer, and I wish he had in the book.

The Division of Head and Heart

Miller brings a flavor of mysticism to his view of God, denying the need or ability to rationalize the spiritual. His story is an interesting case study of many drawn to postmodern, emergent breeds of thought—young, highly intellectual and educated people who seek to divorce intellect from spirituality. It’s an odd but strangely trendy phenomenon in our culture today.

While many flying the flag of Christianity over the centuries have sought to make faith viable by shutting down science, compromising to science, co-existing in supposed contradiction yet peace with science, etc., biblical faith never needs or seeks to do that. The Truth is able to appeal to the heart, mind, and soul and withstand the test of being embraced by our entire being, without turning a blind eye or fleeing from tough questions. False religions are the ones that latch onto one part of our faculties alone with an iron grip (e.g. science-as-religion that speaks to the intellect exclusively; spirituality that speaks to the heart and emotions exclusively).

And yet, we are sinners, imperfect in all our ways, and none of us achieve that right tension of loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Miller falls into the “heart and soul” camp more than the “mind,” but those on the opposite end of the spectrum can surely learn from his basking in the “pure and furious” love of God and compassion for the lost and needy. These things can be lost in a narrow focus on doctrine. At the same time, I think Miller’s love for and faith in the Gospel comes with the undeniable influence of postmodern thought, which favors experientialism over doctrinal conviction. But doctrine is not simply for intellect’s sake, and deep theology and knowledge of truth is the firmest foundation and fuel for abiding love. Love for the sake of love is meaningless in the end and will not hold up in the face of our sin and brokenness. I think Miller would agree with that.

In closing, I’d echo his own well-spoken belief:

“I don’t think any church has ever been relevant to culture, to the human struggle, unless it believed in Jesus and the power of His gospel.” – Blue Like Jazz

The Bibliophile’s Crime

I was 15% of the way through this book (I’m reading on a Kindle, hence the % instead of the page number), and for a 1,000 page tome, that meant over 100 pages. If I shelved it for now, I’d forget the plot and be forced to start from the beginning. Or I could trudge on and keep reading and hope that I’d fall in love in the next, oh, 900 pages. I hopped onto Goodreads and read raving reviews for encouragement.

But I decided to drop it. Goodbye, The Way of Kings.

Yes, this is The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, the epic opening to a ten-book fantasy series. (I’m ready – throw your tomatoes with abandon.) Maybe my expectations were too high. Everyone says this book keeps them up at night. It had rather the opposite effect on me. Maybe I’m not a real, true-blooded fantasy fan. Or at least, one who has “gotten with the times,” and moved on from the black and white, good vs. evil fantasy archetypes of Tolkien and Lewis’ day. To boil it down, I simply didn’t love it. Nothing about the book—prose, plot, characters, setting—sunk its talons in and really shook my world or stirred my soul. And I didn’t want to read 900 more pages to see if anything would.

But it got me thinking about The Bibliophile’s Crime (self-created term; apologies for the melodrama). Dropping a book midway through. Should you? Shouldn’t you? We all have a method for making the decision, whether it’s based on haphazard feelings, a stubbornness to finish any and every book opened, or some unspoken criteria. I tried to formalize mine, and though it is by no means definitive or comprehensive, perhaps it will provide some ideas to chew on.

First of all, not every book should be read. Some are plainly a waste of time, some are terrible literature, and some are worse – downright disturbing or twisted for the sake of glorifying darkness. The tough part comes when a book seems to boast some value, but you’re having trouble getting into it. I’ve stuck through a number of novels like that. Some, like Pride and Prejudice and To Kill a Mockingbird, grew into my all-time favorites. Others, I disliked even more by the end. So, to keep reading or not, that is the question … and I have 4 of them that I use informally to evaluate.

  1. Why are you reading it? We read for different purposes. Sometimes, it’s purely for enjoyment, and sometimes, it’s educational. I’m much more willing to drop a book I’m reading for fun on the sole basis of entertainment value. I mean, if the value I’m looking for most isn’t there, then why keep going? But if I’m reading to learn, I’m much more reluctant to give up. And educational isn’t just for school, and it’s not learning sapped of all enjoyment. I read theology to learn more of God, or classics to learn more of enduring stories, or certain authors to study their prose. If I’m getting something out of it, I’ll keep going.
  2. What do others say about it? This is always subjective, and you’ll hear things from every end of the spectrum. It takes time and scrutiny to cut through the noise. I dig through reviews looking mainly for a common thread of what the real, redeeming value of the book is. What is the work most known and praised for? (e.g., “the vivid portrait of human nature” or “omg the guy is way hawt”) If I also find it a worthy characteristic, I’ll give it a few more chances. On the flip side, I look at what it’s criticized for, and weigh that in my consideration too.
  3. Is it bearable? If I really can’t stand it, I quit. Reading should not be torture.
  4. How long is it? This may seem superficial, but time is a precious commodity. If I can breeze through it in the same amount of time that it’d take to evaluate whether or not to read it, I may as well just read it. But if it’s going to take weeks on end (not to mention endless sequels, which are all the rage now), I’d consider more carefully. Every book is an investment of time, a use of stewardship, so make sure it’s worth it.

[pc]

Resolved to Read

I don’t go about New Year resolutions in any orthodox way, and I write them more to inspire than to formulate a checklist. I ignore all the advice to make resolutions that are “achievable” and “measurable”. Psh. But to each his own, and there’s certainly wisdom in being realistic. I may be neither wise nor realistic – which would explain a lot.

For the first time in (I think) ever, I put together a reading list for 2015 as an addendum to one of my resolutions. Every reader says their book list is far too long to finish in a lifetime. I concur, though I’ve never actually had any sort of list. I picked up books to read haphazardly, often on impulse, and occasionally on recommendation, since everyone’s taste is so distinct. In December, I started thinking of ways I could live more intentionally in the coming year, and since books are a significant part of my life, it struck me that I could read more intentionally too.

So I wrote down a rather rough and vague resolution.

Read widely. Read all the works of one author. Read classics. Read Christian books that deepen my understanding of God and help me live for His glory. Read for the thrill of it.

And I put together a list of books to go along with this. Looking at it holistically, it’s actually a very random mix. Oh well. Variety is the spice of life.

 

C.S. Lewis

The Four Loves
The Abolition of Man
A Grief Observed
The Great Divorce
Surprised by Joy

* Yes, I’m trying to read all his (major) books. He’s written bucket loads, so the plus is that I’ve already read a good number. But I also picked him because the blend of his life journey, profession, faith and storytelling make for a fascinating thinker. I’ve already seen bits and pieces of how his theology and worldview weave in and out of his fiction and nonfiction alike, and how the trajectory of his perspective morphs over his lifetime.

 

Classics

The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoyevsky)
Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)

 

Christian

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Burroughs)
Assurance of Our Salvation (Lloyd-Jones)
The Promises of God (R.C. Sproul)
Jesus the Evangelist (Richard Phillips)
Surprised by Suffering (R.C. Sproul)
Orthodoxy (Chesterton)
One Perfect Life (MacArthur)
Alone with God (MacArthur)

* Confession: I snagged a lot of these from free Kindle book deals and they’ve been collecting digital dust. In case you were wondering how I decided on this list.

 

Fiction Fun

The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson)
Dune (Herbert)
Scarlet / Cress; Lunar Chronicles (Meyer)
The Sign of the Beaver (Speare)
Calico Captive (Speare)
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Konigsburg)
Flipped (Draanen)
I Am the Messenger (Zusak)
Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury)

As many new year resolutions go, they begin petering out towards the end of January. I admit, I’m slogging through Dostoyevsky right now. At my current rate, I may not get to a single other book in 2015. But now that I’ve posted this … I hope the public accountability kicks me into powering through. After all, murder and the meaning of life and all that good stuff – shouldn’t this be the sort of book that keeps you up at night?

(I know, who am I kidding?)

[photo cred]

Stories for Our Souls

stories, paris, france, inspiration

We live in a world of extreme sensory overload and nonstop schedules. Did you scroll through this post and decide it was too long of a read? I hope not, because it isn’t that long. Or maybe you just read the bolded, numbered items. Thanks for making my point – I hope you stay and read this now.

With social media, video games and TV shows on top of our life responsibilities, I think many of us lose sight of the value of good, old-fashioned reading. Remember books? Those things with paper and ink and grand stories? I encounter a lot of people who say, “I don’t have time to read.” But yes, you do! How much time do you spend on Facebook, or playing computer games? I’m not saying that those are bad things, or that you should assume a monkish lifestyle in a cave with only a library for company (as much as I love books, I’d die too). But there is time. If you make it a priority.

I have 4 simple reasons why I think we need to dust off our bookshelves and reclaim the art of reading. These aren’t coming from a highbrow literary scholar or a cynic scoffing at a generation of digital junkies. Yours truly is just an ordinary reader who finds a spark of magic beneath well-told tales and wants to share.

  1. It gets us inside other people’s heads

Well, that sounds creepy. But I mean it. Reading is one of the best mediums for getting inside people’s heads. Even when the story and characters are fictional, the thoughts and emotions reflect a piece of the author’s own mind. Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” A good author pours himself into his writing.

There is something thrilling and challenging in gaining access to such a full spectrum of intimate thought. It broadens our perspective. Growing up, my worldview was largely shaped by my family, friends and teachers – the people around me who spoke into my life. And it was shaped by books. We are not God, and we do not create ex nihilo, or out of nothing, in matter or in ideas. We are taught, molded by others, and even geniuses stand on the shoulders of giants. Books opened up my eyes to a richer and wider range of thoughts from people of vastly different cultures, eras and lifestyles. It challenges us too. What is in the mind of an adulterer? A murderer? A man single-mindedly bent on vengeance? As a Christian, I want to read with discernment and avoid garbage. But I don’t think we should shy away from the gritty realities of our fallen world. If nothing else, you will understand more deeply the depravity of man, and you may be forced to examine yourself as well, because we all have the capacity to fall far and hard, if not for the grace of God.

  1. It cultivates compassion

I was as selfish a child as they come and I had little tolerance for the shortcomings of others (I’m still working on this). Literature taught me to love flawed people, because all good characters are flawed. Of course, I don’t give all the credit to books – there was the selfless example of my parents, good friends and mentors I was blessed with, and above all, the grace of God. But I will say books taught me a great deal about loving the unlovable. Partly because I got into their heads and saw they weren’t all that unlovable once you understood them (few people are villains just for villainy’s sake) and partly because they held up a mirror to my own heart.

  1. It inspires us

Do you remember how Sam carried Frodo up Mount Doom when he just couldn’t make it himself? When we close a great book, we are awed that the world is still going on the way it was before when everything has changed. Simply because we have this new story living inside of us. Stories inspire us – not just to nod, assent that it was good, and move on – but they inspire us to action. We won’t all get to save our friend’s life behind enemy lines and run a blade through the monsters, but there are little things that make a difference. Be faithful where you are. Reach out a hand when you see a need. And you never know, greatness may be thrust upon you one day.

Sam was just a gardener before he was a hero.

  1. It teaches us about the Gospel

All good stories, though fictional, are echoes and dim reflections of the one Great Story. They are imperfect, because they are written by imperfect people, but they echo the themes of sacrificial love, the brokenness of sin, redemption, the ultimate triumph of good. I love reading quality fantasy. The worlds and people may not exist, but fantasy often echoes the truest themes loudest of all. It magnifies the things of the human heart that our daily lives minimize – the battle to do what is right, the value of loyalty and friendship – to an epic and grand scale. Like C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, it shows us a clearer picture of who humans really are: eternal souls that will either be glorified or damned.

Stories make me shun existentialist philosophies. They show me there is more to live for than man-made ideals and that our hearts are pressed with purpose and a desire for nobler things. We are stamped with the image of divinity, created for eternity, drawn to redemption, made for glory.

So tolle lege! Take up and read.

Books Worth Reading: Axes for Our Frozen Seas

Books, Book Recommendations, Library

photo cred

The “10 Books” Challenge has been making its rounds on social media, and I recently took part. But for someone who loves to read, pasting a list of (just) 10 books with no explanation is decidedly unsatisfying. So I created this, partly to indulge myself, partly to benefit you. I don’t know about you, but I find myself wanting to read extremely different genres depending on my strange and colorful spectrum of moods. If you’re looking for a good read of a specific nature, maybe something here will suit your fancy. Or you can tuck this away for future reference. Or you can skim my list, scoff, and move on with your life. But don’t tell me if you go with option 3.

The categories are relatively loose, and I defined them mostly after choosing the books. So don’t take the structure too seriously. There is a wide, wide range here. I can almost guarantee you won’t like every book – because you aren’t me. But I found something worthwhile in every single one, whether it was life changing, magnificently written, or simply a very good time. (My private, and secondary, ambition was that everyone would find at least one book on the list that they: have never heard of, are also totally enamored with, are severely opposed to, would add to their to-read list. Did I succeed?)

This isn’t a list of books you “must read before you die.” I don’t feel qualified to make one of those. But I will stand behind this as a list of worthy reads.

Tell me what you think. And what’s on your list?

  

For Your Soul

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis: Lewis holds up bravely in the face of existential and post-modern philosophies.

The Gospel According to Jesus, John MacArthur: Cut the sugarcoating. MacArthur will bring you face to face with the Jesus who said, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.

Heaven, Randy Alcorn: If you’re skeptical about this, so was I. But Alcorn is biblical, thoughtful, informative and enthusiastic about eternity in a contagious way.

The Truth of the Cross, R.C. Sproul: Sproul brings home the fullness, significance and depth of the cross. Appreciate grace all over again.

Saved in Eternity, Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Lloyd-Jones is an unparalleled expositor of Scripture – watch him tackle John 17, the High Priestly Prayer.

Outta This World

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien: If you can’t make it through the entire series – I get it. But if you do, I hope you understand why Peter Beagle calls Tolkien the colonizer of dreams. 

The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis: Don’t be like Eustace; read the right sort of books. Like these.

The Giver, Lois Lowry: What makes us human? Lowry paints a world that is almost seductive yet terrifying.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Matthew Stover: You would never guess that this brilliant, sweeping tragedy rose out of the ashes of that less-than-mediocre movie. I’d venture to say: not just for diehard fans (but I sort of was one, so take it with a grain of salt).

Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis: It’s weird, but profound. It’s haunting and Lewis touches something deep in us.

Rollicking, Good Adventures

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas: This is a crazy thrilling ride. It’s not lacking in depth either.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Emmuska Orczy: It’s like Batman during the French Revolution, sans Christopher Nolan’s dark makeover.

Mark of the Lion, Francine Rivers: Its historical Christian fiction and it comes with some common flaws of the genre. But on the whole, it’s a grand story that’ll take you back to the heyday of Rome and, I daresay, inspire you with its conviction and courage.

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones: Characters with quirk, wit, and warmth. The story is also tons of fun.

Watership Down, Richard Adams: Yes, it’s about rabbits, but it’s a better adventure story than many about humans.

Drama & Real Life

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee: It’s a timeless ode to childhood and growing up wrapped in something noble.

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini: He brings characters, in all their brokenness and feeble aspirations, to life. And I seriously envy his prose.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen: She understood a woman’s heart even better than the way Taylor Swift understands girls today. Lest you think it’s just the predecessor to empty-headed rom coms, Austen has plenty of social insights, satire, and highbrow humor.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak: It’s a simple story, but it will wrench your heart out.

The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom: True story, and a good one at that, about courage, faith and compassion.

Throwbacks

Nancy Drew, Carolyn Keene: When I refer to my detective novels phase back in the day, this is all I really mean.

Doctor Doolittle, Hugh Lofting: I definitely preferred talking animals to talking humans.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien: I have fond memories of this book. Writers have really done some magic with mice – Mrs. Frisby, Reepicheep, Hermux, Redwall… Yes, I wanted a pet one.

Cedar River Daydreams, Judy Baer: Warm and cozy books with an ensemble of lovable characters. Just remember to suspend your disbelief, because they’re not much like real high school kids.

The Chronicles of Prydain, Lloyd Alexander: Classic fantasy tropes based on Welsh mythology. The princess is named Eilonwy and there’s a magical pig. You should be sold.

 

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” – Franz Kafka