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.

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?)

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