A Life Amongst Books in 2017

I love reading. I love lists of books. I love looking back and making a record of the books that provided a texture of ideas and words to my life over the last year. My goal is always to finish each month with 5 books completed. This year I read 83, my record since high school. (I suppose that this rise in volumes could be attributed to the books I read for university.)

As usual, the following will include, in chronological order, the books that made the best impression, followed by a longer list of the other books I really enjoyed reading this year.

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

After being influenced by James K. A. Smith’s thinking for several years and with the release of his final volume in the Cultural Liturgies Trilogy this Autumn, it was finally time to tackle the series itself. I read this book in January and it’s insights have shaped me ever since. I think its concepts are key for understanding how the human heart and society works. Later in the year, I read the second volume (Imagining the Kingdom) and I’ve just started the final book: Awaiting the King.

Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands

I’ve enjoyed Michael Chabon’s fiction, but this book of essays on the imagination turned me, head-over-heels, into a fan. Being immersed in his active approach to such a diverse range of subjects is like taking a sniff of cayenne pepper to your imaginative senses – it reminds you of what wonders are possible in this world and then has you looking for what other concepts you might have missed in your previously your humdrum existence.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

This was doubtless the most entertaining audiobook I’ve listened to. Trever Noah narrates his experiences growing up in the dying embers of apartheid South Africa. It is simultaneously fascinating, side-splittingly hilarious, and harrowing. I don’t expect that I’ll soon forget the stories, accents, and insights of  this book.

Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties

As I’ve shared elsewhere, this was the year I made my way though everything Beatles. An online friend recommended this guide to every track they recorded, and I’m so glad I had it. It’s an insightful analysis into the brilliance and shortcomings of the band, while tracing the cultural forces of that indelible era that both shaped and was shaped by the lads from Liverpool. The story of The Beatles is a story of both the stunning potential of humanity and it’s irredeemable shortcomings. This book shows both of these traits.

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical

Tim Keller’s books are always insightful. In this volume, he sets out to provide a sort of prequel to his debut classic The Reason for God: an argument for the validity of belief in an age of skepticism. But the book becomes much more: a systematic, carefully researched understanding of our current era and the system of belief that undergirds it. It’s a heady book. It’s an important book. I want to reread it.

Holy the Firm

This slim volume is Annie Dillard at her most distilled. It is both simple and approachable, and complex and layered. It’s an age old narrative of why so much evil can exist amongst such vast goodness, but it is told in a simple story that is narrowly focused but encompasses so much. I read it twice in a row, and then wrote about it for school.

No Great Mischief

Some novels are page turners, but the writing itself is quickly forgotten (hello Ms. Rowling...). Others are beautifully written but take a fair bit of concentration to pick away at. This book is one of those rare combinations of being ripping yarn, while continuing beautiful writing on every page. It’s a perennial novel; one that I’m sure I will return to repeatedly, a novel for the ages that remains remarkably tied to a specific place.

Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen narrates his highly acclaimed memoir. The Boss’s voice is in your ears for 18 hours. What more can I say? Bruce Springsteen’s voice is a gift for the people. This audiobook is no different. It was fascinating, insightful, and through it, I’ve developed a great affection for The Boss. He is a gift we do not deserve, and so is this book.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

This vast book, tracing an alternative history where magic is the lost inheritance of the English, feels like it was written in the 18th century, a cross between Austin and Dickens. Ms Clarke has written a terrific yarn, with an ending that verges upon the eschatological. But what I appreciated most about this book was how the plot, while important, was not the main point. This is a story that loves its characters and its textures and wants us to enjoy them too. It’s a marvel that I’m almost ashamed I’ve missed up until now.


Honourable Mentions

This year the Book of Psalms was once again my guide and nourishment. I’ve thought back to C.S. Lewis’ small book of essays, The Weight of Glory, often, and enjoyed a recording by Malcolm Guite of Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. Francis Spufford’s A Child That Books Built was splendid. On Writing Well gets to the heart of good writing habits, and does so in a manner far more enjoyable (a sign itself of good writing) than any other I have read. Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage left a thread in my head that would later be picked up and Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship was both well written and insightful. Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction was terrific and the novel Station Eleven wove an interweaving story that I throughly enjoyed. I can’t wait to reread Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, even as I read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf yet again and loved it all the more. I would have been haunted by Benjamin Hertwig’s book of poetry, Slow War, even if he wasn’t my cousin and friend. Michael Chabon’s Moonglow is, I think, my favorite novel of his. Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder was insightful and convicting. Before We Get Started is Bret Lott being again incredibly human and humble. I fell in love again with The Wind in the Willows and with Tolkien’s best short stories – Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major and Leaf by Niggle. And Alan Jacob’s little How to Think was thought provoking in a year when I reflected a good deal on how to talk to those I disagree with.