One of my goals in 2018 is to read 50 books. Part of this goal is church-related (a well read pastor is often a far better preacher). Part is self-improvement related (if I’m reading consistently, it’ll be hard to fit in mindless Internet surfing time). The rest is pure joy. Books are the best.
I can’t wait to learn what these authors have to say.
- The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge
One of the original founders of our church recommended this to me and I know him to be a man of deep wisdom and ridiculously good taste in books. This one’s at the top of my list for the new year.
2. Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah
With so many tragedies in the news it can feel hard to preach some Sundays. Do I acknowledge each one? Do I craft a new sermon late on a Saturday night when something terrible happened Saturday morning? There must be a deeper, more Biblical way to preach lament in a prophetic way. I’m hoping this book can help teach me how.
3. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs
Alan Jacobs was a former professor at my alma mater. I’ll read anything he writes because his theological and liturgical understanding of both writing and culture are almost unparalleled. He’s the real deal.
4. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
I’m a writer. I’ve never read this. I know, right? This is the year that gets remedied.
5. The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by Annie Dillard
I just love Annie Dillard. Her 1979 essay on a solar eclipse remains one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered. She’s only one of three authors to have two books on my list this year.
6. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place by Andy Crouch
Crouch covers everything from smartphones to digital assistants. As the mom of two young boys, I want to be proactive in making sure we keep use our technology without it using us.
7. Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
This guy knows how to write a biography, and I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
8. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: The Practices that Transform Us by Adele Calhoun
I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about spiritual practices lately. One reason is because I’m a young mom with verrrrry little time to herself. If spiritual practices are for all Christians, how do I practice them in this season of sleep-deprivation, pediatrician appointments, and toddlerdom?
Calhoun’s book was given to me a few years ago and I’ve only skimmed it. This is the year it gets a good, thoughtful read.
9. The Freedom of Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Tim Keller
I’m an over thinker. Always have been. I think when I should act. I overthink when speed would be much better. I stew over things I’ve said or done when God wants to forgive so I can move along. This book sounds like the antidote to my overthinkitis.
10. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion by NT Wright
I try to read a Wright book each year because he’s such a wise biblical scholar and I learn about eighty-seven things each time. We regularly use his “For Everyone” studies in our small group and his balance of wisdom, knowledge, and approachability is a wonderful thing to behold.
11. Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Bruggemann
Sabbath is such a forgotten concept it blows my mind. It’s the one commandment we all regularly, happily, willingly break. Yet the command to keep the Sabbath holy is for our good – it isn’t just a Puritanical law meant to spoil our fun, bankrupt our accounts, and make us miss out on all the fun.
Bruggemann argues that Sabbath goes even deeper than this – that it’s not only a command for our good, it’s a cultural revolution. I’m intrigued.
12. Untamed Hospitality: Welcoming God and Other Strangers by Elizabeth Newman
Newman, a seminary professor, tackles the misconceptions about hospitality (it’s not about dinner parties! who knew?) and digs down into its biblical roots. As an introvert who both wants to grow in home hospitality and be stretched in its more public forms, this one is going to be a challenge for me. And a gift.
13. Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect by Matthew Lieberman
I actually started this one in 2017, to use in a spring composition course, but I’m only a couple of chapters in and it’s great so far. Lieberman, a neuroscientist, describes the science behind our desires to socially engage and how social cues shape us much more than we might think (or even readily admit!).
14. Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I’m behind the 8-ball on this one, since it’s been out for a few years, but I can’t wait to pick it up. Coates has been one of my favorite writers on The Atlantic staff for years, and I’m glad his books are getting their due.
15. The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in the Pain by Scott Cairns
I love C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, but it’s time for some contemporary authors to update the subject for a postmodern context. Cairns, a poet by trade, suffered loss and began seeking God’s counsel amidst it. He also grew tired of platitudes in the face of grief and disaster. This book is his answer, along with some new questions.
16. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Another I meant to read last year that I couldn’t get my hands on. As someone who grew up and also pastored for a season in rural America, I have seen the ways small towns struggle when the pull of cities is too much for younger generations to resist.
Hopefully the library waiting list is shorter now, or I’ll just pick up a copy of my own.
17. As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by Eugene Peterson
Eugene Peterson is one of my pastors. Not because I’ve ever met him in person or listened to him preach, but because his books speak to my pastoral soul and convict, challenge, and inspire in ways few other authors do. This is his latest.
18. What Are People For? by Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry and I have a love/hate relationship. I love him because he’s just so right about so many things. I hate him because he convicts me of my dependence on technology, selfishness with time, and love of buying things more than caring for creation. In short: I need to read more Wendell Berry.
19. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches by Martin Luther King Jr.
I used Rev. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in my most recent college composition course and we spent several class periods on it because it is both a brilliant essay and a convicting call to action. I didn’t know before this semester that he wrote it in response to a letter written by area clergy urging patience and short-term peace (at the probable expense of justice and long-term solutions). Read in context, it’s even more moving.
I look forward to learning more from such an icon.
20. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith
Daryl and I are talking a lot about habits lately. What does it mean to cultivate Christian habits? Healthy habits? Habits that help us love God and our neighbor more fully? I know for a fact that I’ll eat carrots and celery if I cut them up and put them in the front of the fridge. If they’re in the crisper drawer, I’ll ignore them for days. Perhaps there are spiritual habits that can be formed just as simply, and have an even more lasting impact.
Plus, everyone who loved Tish Harrison Warren’s The Liturgy of the Ordinary (one of my top five reads of 2017) seemed to love this, too.
21. Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil
I began this one in 2017, reading it at the suggestion of our worship director, who brought it to the worship committee.
22. Cling by Karen Cash Tate
I love the premise of this book–that holding tightly to God is our life’s joy and goal.
23. Brave: A 40-Day Journey to the Life God Dreams for You by Kelly Ivey Johnson
This one will be my Lenten devotional, since it fits nicely within the 40-days of Lent. Kelly is a friend through a writing circle, and I’m beyond stoked for her since this book looks fabulous. Also: I could definitely use more courage.
24. I’d Like You Better if You Were More Like Me by John Ortberg
Even the title of this one is convicting. I love Ortberg’s stuff. He’s another person who’s been pastoring me for years, even though he doesn’t know it.
25. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I’ve had this recommended to me several times by people who read. I’m on it.
26. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I’ve checked this out of the library six or seven times and then gotten intimidated by its length. This is the year Infinite Jest goes down, because it doesn’t get much better than DFW and I am done being freaked out by its sheer number of pages.
27. and 28. Strangers and Sojourners (Children of the Last Days 1) and Eclipse of the Sun (Children of the Last Days 2) by Michael O’Brien
Our senior pastor first introduced me to this Canadian Catholic author whose take on faith, reason, community, and loyalty kept me up way too late turning pages. These are the first two in a series of seven. I can’t wait to read them all.
29. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Hamid’s Reluctant Fundamentalist helped me understand more about the pressures young men face in many Arab cultures. He’s also got a wickedly funny turn of phrase. Exit West was on hold at the local library for months and months, so I’m finally just going to buy it. Or borrow it. Anyone have it and want to loan it to me? 🙂
30. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
George Saunders is one of my favorite kooky cultural commentators. His Civilwarland in Bad Decline is a perennial reread, and I can’t wait to give this one its due.
31. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
I loved The Nightingale. I can’t imagine I won’t love this.
32. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
I reread Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia continually. This is my next up. If you haven’t read them STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND GO GET THEM RIGHT NOW. Start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, no matter what the numbers on the book’s spines tell you. Do it. I’ll wait.
33. Silence by Shusako Endo
I read this for the first time in 2014 and it wrecked me. I haven’t seen the movie (and I probably won’t – I find Adam Driver pretty insufferable), but this book is a masterpiece.
34. Kindred by Octavia Butler
Butler’s science fiction take on identity, violence, and salvation in The Parable of the Sower was one of my favorite parts of a literature course I took in seminary. This novel looks even better.
35. Short Trip to the Edge: A Pilgrimage to Prayer by Scott Cairns
Scott Cairns is a prophet, a visionary, a spot-on cultural analyst with the sensibilities of a Donald Hall, the humor of a Billy Collins, the soul of a Denise Levertov, and the brilliance of a Jane Kenyon. I love his work like I love almost no other poet, and I can’t wait to read more.
36. A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver gets it.
37. The Selected Poems of Donald Hall by Donald Hall
A few years ago I gave Daryl this essay by Donald Hall on our anniversary. (I know, I’m super romantic, aren’t I? I even printed it out from the Internet!) It’s a piece he wrote on having a “third thing” in a marriage – something two people can mutually love and appreciate that draws them closer together.
His marriage to Jane Kenyon, a poet whose vitality and wit cannot be overstated, is one of the reasons we thought we might be good co-pastors. If two poets can work together so seamlessly, each respecting the other’s craft while hashing out ideas across the dinner table, surely two pastors can, too.
38. Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon
Because you can’t really read Donald Hall without reading his better half. He might have been Poet Laureate, but only because he outlived her.
39. The Garbage Eater: Poems by Brett Foster
Brett Foster was a Wheaton College professor who died of cancer in his 40s just a couple of years ago. Before then he taught a gaggle of students who would have followed him to the moon if he’d asked. He was that faithful; that smart; that good.
I haven’t had a chance to pick up his book yet, but I’ve perused his poems online and they are hauntingly, achingly alluring. He writes of grief and celebration, nature and modernity, cancer and writing. I’m going to love this one. I might read it first.
40. Lines from the Provinces by David Wright
This is one of just three books I’m rereading. David Wright was one of my writing professors back at Wheaton, and I love this book. I just love it. I use his “What I Wish You’d Heard” poem on the first day of each of my college composition courses. I read Daryl “Making Confession” at least annually. “Notes on Retirement from Reading Lear” is one of the best poems on the end of a career I’ve ever encountered.
This books is out of print, which kills me, because it should be on everyone’s shelf. It’s the very best.
“But wait!” you might be saying. “That’s only 40!” That’s right. I’m 10 books short because I need suggestions from you!
What did you read in 2017 that knocked your socks off? What is on your list for the coming year? Let me know and I’ll add it to my list!
(And please help me, because the only book Daryl suggested was Phenomenology of Spirit by Hegel and I love him but NO.)