2015 was a GREAT year for reading. I’ve read so many excellent books that I simply feel compelled to compile my reading year into a post, if only for my own benefit. Not many of these books are actually books released in 2015. They are just books I’ve stumbled upon this year and found transformative. (Don’t worry… there are a bunch of good fiction picks at the end, too!) So, without further ado, my top 10(ish):
I declared back in March that Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey was my favorite book of all times. That is still true today. I’ve recommended it to countless friends and bought copies for any of my family members who expressed even a tiny amount of interest. Pearcey’s spot-on analysis of the contemporary mindset and her exploration of the way that the evolution of ideas has affected the way we view art, music, math, science, history, and politics was incredibly helpful. The book provided me a better sense of history and, most importantly, better categories to use when discussing ideas I see in commercials, movies, TV Shows, art, and music. Bottom Line: If you want to understand the Christian Worldview, I don’t think there’s a better place to start than this book.
The second-most recommended book I’ve passed around this year is The Supper of the Lamb, closely followed by A Meal with Jesus. Both of these books transformed the way I saw and appreciated the spiritual implications of the food I eat and prepare. This was not a topic I thought I was particularly interested in, but the sheer poetry of The Supper of the Lamb convinced me that there was more to this subject than I’d realized. Saving Leonardo + A Meal with Jesus = Getting addicted to Chef’s Table on Netflix. Paul and I had a lot of fun watching and discussing the way our worldview affects how we eat.
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”
Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me. “Where did you get that crap?”
I said, “Jesus Christ.”
And Troy said, “Oh.”
It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.
I am glad I finally convinced myself to finish this novel. I really had trouble connecting with Jayber Crow at the beginning of the book, but it is always worth the effort to spend time listening to the quiet and elegant wisdom of Wendell Berry. Though his stories always make me long for a way of life that seems impossible to find anymore… which leads me to my next three picks:
One of the new hobbies I discovered over the course of 2015 was reading about the way technology is affecting our public discourse and our personal thinking. No one is more astute than Neil Postman, who saw this all coming with almost eery clarity almost 30 years ago. Amusing Ourselves to Death ought to be required reading for the internet age. Sven Birkerts writes even more beautifully and personally about his own grief over losing the world that literature built in The Gutenberg Elegies. These essays really are elegies, sad songs of mourning as he watches the world change before his eyes. As a child who grew up in the world they both anticipated and feared, I found myself reflecting frequently on the ways in which I can fight back agains the aggressive affects of our highly connected and visual world. I guess fighting for my own attention span by reading is the best solution I can come up with. These books are an excellent place to start. (The Shallows is on my reading list for 2016).
Actually published in 2015, this accessibly work of philosophy was a complete surprise for me. Though I initially wasn’t sure how to rate this book on Goodreads, I’ve since realized that Crawford’s ideas in The World Beyond Your Head have permanently altered my own way of thinking and I’ve had to upgrade this book to 4 stars simply because of how influential it has been. His premise–that there is a world beyond our head–is only groundbreaking in a culture like ours where we see no reason why the physical world should impose any sort of restrictions on our hopes and dreams. Crawford reminds us of the beauty of refusing to be distracted and persisting in learning a physical, tangible skill. I’ve never read a more enchanting explanation of the thrills of riding a motorcycle, or a more memorable discussion on the downfall of the Mickey Mouse cartoons. (Or a more disgusting and eye-opening description of the paralysis caused by gambling addiction. Yikes. And it all comes together in his thesis, somehow.) I keep coming back to this book’s ideas, which is also true of the next book I’m going to recommend from this year.
This was actually a Christian apologetics book I re-read this year. I got a lot more out of it after reading Nancy Pearcey’s far clearer explanation of the fact/value split. Her categories helped me better understand C.S. Lewis’ argument that we are becoming less human and more animal as we celebrate giving in to our urges. My one sentence summary: “We need to be able to measure our feelings by some rational, transcendent standard of value in order to rule over our animal instincts and behave like humans.”
And in the category of “My Favorite Book No One Will Ever REALIZE They Really Want To Read” is Faith, Hope and Poetry by Malcolm Guite. I would lend it to you, but I can’t let it out of my sight. I refer frequently to its pages for the beautiful poetry and for Guite’s unparalleled insight into the ways that poetry does a better job of explaining meaning than any other form of inquiry or communication. This book is a tribute to the history of poetry. Guite’s thesis reminds me of what G.K. Chesterton once said of poetry: “Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain.” If you read this, I promise you won’t regret it. I think everyone should read it, but realize no one is likely to!
I don’t feel like I read as much fiction as I used to, but I do manage to read a handful of books each year. I’m very picky so I pretty much only read books I know I’m going to like. This year was no exception. I enjoyed all of the above, but I’d like to give a special shout-out to The Age of Miracles and When You Reach Me for taking me back to my Madeline L’Engle loving youth.