Monday, January 17, 2011

Some Favorite Books from 2010

Here are a few books read in 2010 that you might enjoy reading in 2011. 

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyBonhoeffer - One reviewer said that Bonhoeffer was "the right man for the right time." This seems to be the right biography at the right time about a fascinating figure in church history. It is a well written story and definitely worth taking the time to read. There have been a number of helpful reviews written of the book (here and here). You can also read a few of my favorite quotes from the book here. I would have liked to have seen more footnotes in the book, but overall was very pleased. Reading this book made me want to read more of Bonhoeffer's works, an impression for which I'm thankful.

Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers - Malcolm Gladwell works to get at the reason why people rise to the top of their field of expertise. Bottom line: lots of hard work. He proposes a "10,000 hour" rule of thumb. An excellent reminder to keep gaining skills and knowledge in your field. Become an expert at something. And like investing, the earlier you start, the better (assuming you're investing in the right thing….). Reminds me of Proverbs 22:29, "Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men."

The Cost of DiscipleshipThe Cost of Discipleship - The Bonhoeffer biography was so enjoyable, it increased my interest in reading his own works, so I began with a few pages from this classic every morning. The book had been on my shelf since college, and oh, how I wish I would have read it earlier! In TCOD, Bonhoeffer deals with the issue of "cheap grace" vs. "costly grace," and important topic with much relevance for today's church. I've since acquired two more of his works: Act and Being - his second dissertation, written at 24 years old, and his 'crown jewel,' Ethics, both of which are part of Fortress Press' 16-volume re-publishing of Bonhoeffer's works. It is rather humbling to know he wrote enough to fill up 16 volumes, all before he was executed by the Nazis at 39 years old (for his role in a plot to kill Hitler). 

2,000 Years of Christ's Power, Vol 1. - This blog post was my introduction to these excellent volumes on Church History. I have a bit of a soft-spot for church history, though I recognize that not everyone else does, but this is quite readable and full of original source material (i.e. actual quotes from the church history figures). This volume deals with the age from the passing of the Apostles, up to Constantine (which is one of the more fascinating stages of church history). This is the first in a three volume series (with two more planned). You can purchase all three existing volumes together at a discount here. If you want something a bit more accessible and introductory, try Mark Knoll's excellent book Turning Points. He deals with 8 major events in the history of the church. Very helpful approach and covers the most important, influential, and well known eras in church history. Though a bit larger, my personal favorite one-volume church history (or, two volumes bound together) is Justo Gonzalez's The Story of Christianity and is available at a great price here. This is the most readable church history book I've run across - much better than the often used Church History in Plain Language (yes, it is plain language, so plain in fact that it approaches un-interesting). Plus many appreciate that Mr. Gonzalez does a good job of dealing outside of European church history alone.

What Are People For?: EssaysWhat are People for? - A friend of mine mentioned Wendell Berry this summer, he said "If you were to take every occurrence of the word 'community' in Berry's works and replace it with the word 'church,' it would revolutionize the way we do church today." This piqued my interest, as I had heard other speak highly of Berry, a farmer, author and poet from Northern Kentucky. His burden is to grow local communities and local culture with local solutions (rather than national, removed, corporate solutions). This book is a collection of his essays, dealing with topics like Feminism, personal responsibility, the joys of farm life, and my personal favorite, "Why I will never own a computer." Though he makes a compelling case for avoiding the human Pavlovian instrument, I wonder if it is even possible to entertain such an idea in our age. Knowing that McCullough still does all his writing from a typewriter sure sets one to thinking about it (though I'm guessing it is not the typewriter alone that allows one to write like Mr. McCullough).

Flannery O'Connor : Collected Works : Wise Blood / A Good Man Is Hard to Find / The Violent Bear It Away / Everything that Rises Must Converge / Essays & Letters (Library of America)Flannery O'Connor - Collected Works - A great assembly of her short stories and novels. Within this collection are two stories that have brought about the most laughter ("Good Country People") and the most tears ("The River") in all my reading (aside from the river of tears shed during a 4th grade hearing of Where the Red Fern Grows). O'Connor's writing violently exposes the oppressive ugliness of human nature, but in a way that causes one to relate to the ugliness. In her stories, one does not only identify with the hero of the story (because one is not often to be found) but also to the one who fails horribly. When I need a good heart check, and want to read excellent literature, when I need my inherent hypocrisy exposed, after Scripture, Flannery is the next best thing. This edition by The Library of America is printed on excellent paper and well bound. 

Colonel RooseveltColonel Roosevelt - This is the highly anticipated (at least by myself) third volume of three in a series on Roosevelt. Edmund Morris wrote the first of these in 1979, so he has given a few years of thought to the towering personality of TR. I picked up and read this volume with vigor as soon as it was released in November. If you've not read about TR, I'd recommend reading the first volume in the series before tackling this one (selected quotes and anecdotes from the first volume can be read here). Edmund Morris' three works are the finest I've seen on TR and worth the investment. You can buy all three volumes in a hard bound set at a reasonable price here. You can also listen to a brief interview with the author on NPR. 

Two for Kids 

The Crispin: Cross of LeadCrispin: Cross of Lead - Great story about a mid-evil boy trapped in the treachery of the feudal system. He meets a jolly man and begins to learn from a father-like figure he never had. Lots of good conversations about life and theology came out of this one as I read it to my son (the role of the church in daily life is often discussed between the main characters). A fun and engaging story as well. 

The Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the FaithThe Church History ABC's - of course the church history lover in me salivated over this one. It's a great introductory book for young and old, giving one page and one letter of the alphabet for each of the 26 church history figures highlighted in the book (i.e. "E is for Edwards", etc.). Many interesting facts are revealed about the various figures, and more information is offered in the back for those who want to go deeper. 

Two other Noteworthy Novels  

Just finished Gilead by Marilyn Robinson, a novel which uniquely combines a memoir and a work of theology (never read anything like it), yet somehow, even with the theological conversations, it won a Pulitzer prize (the writing is superb). I'm currently wrapping up Henry James' The Ambassadors. Written in the late 1800's, James writes an interesting exploration into human nature with the most descriptive dialogue I've encountered in any work of fiction (descriptive, yet still readable). I've never read a book that does such a detailed job of describing the mannerisms of those engaged in awkward conversations. Reminds me that body language is central in communication (and a good reminder to avoid email/phone when addressing a difficult issue).

1 comment:

Dan Julian said...

Great post--thanks for the recommendations. I have had Ms. O'Connor sitting on the shelf for too long. It's time to return to her work for a bit. (I'm a fan of the way she writes conversions--violent, terrible things, necessarily so because they involve the death of our old nature.)