Friday, January 8, 2016

Top Books of 2015

Some years reading is so-so, just plugging along or not going very deep. This year it seemed there was a greater than average variety of reading and some surprises along the way. Below are my top 9 books of 2015 in no particular order, except the last one was my favorite.

Sea Wolf by Jack London - One of my all time favorite books is Call of Wild, which I probably read the illustrated classic version over 100 times as kid. But I've not read much else by London and hardly any as an adult. Recently Ryan Holiday recommended Sea Wolf, so I picked it up, and I'm glad I did. Not only is it a fun read, but it's surprisingly thoughtful. The development of the two main characters and the criss-crossing arc of their character is both mesmerizing and maddening. It felt like a bit of a mash-up of Hemingway (in its bleakness) and Steinbeck (in its action). Definitely worth reading. And I'll for sure be reading more London this year. My daughter began asking me to read it aloud to her at night by the fire. I was so shocked because the language is not kid friendly. She even became very interested in the fate of Mr. Wolf. Go figure.

The Story of Christianity (Vol. 1 & Vol. 2) - These 2 volumes of church history are the best church history books I've read. Discussed them with a group of guys at the office this year and we had a rollicking good time (yes we did). Worth reading. Note that the Kindle version does not have page numbers. (Why oh why amazon can't you figure this out?)

Preaching by Keller - The beauty of this book is that it's not about how to preach, but how to think about communicating with an audience and connecting to their deeper heart issues. Important for every Christian to read if you want to know more about how the world thinks and how to bridge that gap to the message of Christ.

Junius and Albert's Adventure in the Confederacy - Two Union reporters are captured by the Confederacy after a battle on the Mississippi river. The book is the story of their prison stay, escape, and journey back to Union safety. The byline sums it up well, calling it a "Civil War Odyssey." A fascinating story in and of itself, but I also learned much about the war, especially the complexity of the warring allegiances in the southern states, which grew especially complicated in the mountains of Tennessee, where few slaves were owned due to the lack of plantations. So pro Union factions were fighting pro Confederacy groups, both of which were at odds with the "home guard" seeking to protect Tennessee's interests, and throw in fractured groups that just wanted to protect their isolated mountain freedom. Reminded me a bit of the complex political situation that developed in Italy during WWII, which I learned more about through the amazing novel, The Red Horse. If you like Civil War history, Junius and Albert is a great read. If you like WWII history and good literature, The Red Horse is a must read.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus - A former Muslims describes his journey from the faith of his family to following Christ. It's a powerful illustration of the enduring influence of friendship. It also calls all persons of faith to examine carefully their long held dogma, giving credence to fact over emotion. A great read to learn more about Islam and more about Christianity and the differences between the two.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up - I've always loved to keep things organized. This book gave more of the why behind the importance of keeping your home tidy. Primarily because of the joy it brings. She gives one very helpful pointer to determine if something is worth keeping or not: ask yourself, "Does this bring me joy?" Great read. Revolutionized my sock and T-shirt drawer. If that doesn't excite you, I don't know what will.

The Happiness of Pursuit - Loved the title. Picked it up because of how much I enjoyed the author's previous book, The Art of Non-Conformity. This book talks about having big goals in life (he traveled to every country in the world over a 10 year span) and how to get there. Also chocked full of stories of people who went after big goals. Conclusion: it's the pursuit of the goal that brings about the most joy and meaning in your life - even more than accomplishing it.

Fahrenheit 451 - One of the more haunting books I read in high school. For years I wouldn't even look at the cover in the bookstore. A book about burning books? Horror. But for some reason I overcame my fear and re-read it this year and I'm so glad I did. So much more depth here than I remembered, as we watch Montag question his occupation and moved by the sacrifices of those that would rather be burned with their books than live life without them. I used to think the book was condemning a society that would ban books. But I now see it was condemning a culture that grows so shallow in its thinking that they demand books be censured. Bradbury was more prophetic on this theme than I ever could have imagine. Here is evidence. (PS - I love the cover on this edition). I had my son read it, and I think I will re-read it every year.

JRR Tolkien bio - Of all the books read this year, this was hands down my favorite. I'll definitely be re-reading this in future years. His story was so incredibly inspiring. Made me want to quit my job and become a professor of middle-earth, I mean middle English. Fascinating person of great depth. My favorite part of the book was when he explained that he had to write LOTR/Hobbit so he could discover the back-story to the languages he had invented. Of course. Who wouldn't. I previously posted my notes from the book here. I picked up a collection of his letters by the same author and hope to read through those this year.

I'll soon publish a list of books I re-read this year. I rarely re-read books, so I was surprised when I looked back over this year's books to discover I had re-read quite a few from previous years. I also noticed that all of these books had significant importance for me. So keep an eye out for that list.

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