At the start of 2015, I set out with the goal to read five books by the end of each month. This goal was achieved, but the extra time several months of sickness gave me, boosted the total number of books read up to 72. 72 books! That’s my record since I left school.
It’s March, long past the respectable window in which one can publish such lists. But several have asked for a list, and several more have asked for reading suggestions, so here at last is something. Before I dive in, I have three reflections on this year of reading:
1. Our reading time is precious. So there is nothing worse than looking back over several months of reading and realizing that nothing from that list was worth my time. How do you ensure the books you choose to read are worth reading? Some books fall into my life, others I seek out after receiving a recommendation. Coming to end of a year and having such a long list of memorable titles is a gift I can’t take for granted.
2. Douglas Wilson has a great article with tips on how to read more books. I was surprised by how many of these tricks I’ve already used to great effect. Keeping a list of books I finish was an early incentive for me to finish books. Having many different types of books on the go at once is also a big help. (I currently have 15 titles on my “actively reading” list.) Are there any tricks you deploy?
3. But with all this rapid reading, is there a place for settling into and slowly reading just a single book? Both a friend and my pastor have recently challenged me with this suggestion. How do you find a balance between reading many books and integrating what you read into your life?
Here then, is my list, my favourite titles followed by honourable mentions.
Cry, the Beloved Country
I listened to the Michael York’s audiobook narration of Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country. I had started this story while sick and looking for a story to listen that might help me fall asleep. As the narration began, I slowly started to sit up in bed, intently listening to every word. My eyes grew wide in the darkness. This was truly something different. The story, of an Anglican priest from a Zulu tribe on his way to Johannesburg in search of his lost son, is both gut wrenching and life affirming. The prose is laced with poetry that will make your heart break. And Michael York’s narration exceeds the quality of ever other audiobook I’ve listened to. This book shows Christ at work with an honesty that’s rarely seen.
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
Every month my pastor recommends a book for our church to read. The month of May was one of the toughest in my life, and this book, by the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs arrived at exactly the right moment. I wrote elsewhere about it’s impact. I doubt its cordial of medicine will remain bottled up on my shelf forever. I will need its council and wisdom again.
Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life
Makoto Fujumura is walking a path faithful to both the community of Christ and the professional art world. In this book, he outlines the theology and philosophy behind this balance, a new paradigm that seeks to care for what is good in the culture, rather than simply combatting what we don’t like. In a year of political division in both Canada and the US, this book is especially needed. It is theology and it is art, it is doctrine laced with imagination and example, both personal and historical. Seek it out.
I spent many happy hours on my summer vacation wandering the forests and sea cliffs of Hornby Island, taking pictures while listening to this book by Wendall Berry. Its story of a small-town barber, his private spiritual journey, and the public life of the community he lives amongst is a story to nestle amongst. Paul Michael’s recording gets the Kentucky accents just right.
Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert
I’ve always wanted to understand and appreciate the poetry of George Herbert, but it insisted on eluding my grasp. John Drury’s own Cambridge roots makes him the perfect biographer, but what I didn’t expect was also an illuminating guide to understanding Herbert’s poetry, which I now treasure. His story was also personally affecting, giving me much to ponder about the visible fruits of a man’s ministry.
The Book of the Dun Cow
A blurb on the book’s cover describes it as “ belonging on the same shelf as Animal Farm, Lord of the Rings, and Watership Down”. Walter Wangerin wove a terrifying and memorable fable filled with very real characters I won’t be forgetting soon. The audiobook recording is worth seeking out.
Ambition: Essays By Members of the Chrysostom Society
This year I wrestled with how to reckon with my ambitions as a humble and content Christ-follower. These essays by the members of the Chrysostom Society, gave me hope, reframing my perceptions, comforting me with their experiences, and challenging me in my contentment.
To Kill A Mockingbird
This is my sister’s favourite book. After confessing that I had never read it, I came home one night to find it on my pillow with a hand written note: “READ ME!”. My sister was right.
The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ
Another Calvary Grace Church “book of the month”, this volume by Ray Ortlund was as clarifying and refreshing as stumbling upon fresh spring of water amid a dry and weary land.
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
Tim Keller’s guide to prayer gave me a guideline and a handbook to what’s gradually changing from a mysterious to achievable process.
The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis
This collection of essays from one of the final Desiring God conferences contained a sentence that continues to direct my thoughts to this day. It came to mind even as I typed this blog post.
U2's Achtung Baby: Meditations on Love in the Shadow of the Fall by Stephen Catanzarite
Brendan by Frederick Buechner
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney
The Office of Assertion: An Art of Rhetoric for the Academic Essay by Scott F. Crider
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz
Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Revised Edition, 2011) by John Piper
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs
Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God by Dane C. Ortlund