Monday, December 12, 2011

10 Best Books I Read This Year

These aren't all 2011 releases, as you will see, but they are the ten best books I read this year.

(Honorable Mention: Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I'm 2/3 of the way through it, and it would easily be on this list if I finish it before the end of the year.)

10. In the Woods by Tana French
When I first finished this novel, I wanted to throw it across the room. I tweeted what a ripoff it was and several other readers agreed with me. Then I couldn't stop thinking about it. And now I'm convinced that the thing I thought the book didn't reveal was actually revealed, only hiddenly in the book. In any event, no book this year has provoked such disgust in me and at the same time kept me hanging on, searching it out, chewing on it.

9. Reclaiming Adoption edited by Dan Cruver
Short, but comprehensive and powerful. This collection of essays by Cruver, John Piper, Scotty Smith, show us the shape of God's heart for us and the outline of the Christian heart for orphans.

8. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis
Not anywhere close to Lewis's best work, I nevertheless profited from his writing here as I always do. He is faithful to present with awe and insight the "anatomy of the soul" (Calvin) held in the biblical Psalms.

7. Future Men by Douglas Wilson
I don't have boys, but I really enjoyed this book on raising them. I used it off and on in our church men's group, and together we alternately fought with Wilson's ideas and nodded our heads in vigorous agreement with them. If I had boys, I'd find this book invaluable. And Wilson can flat-out write, of course.

6. The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington
The truth about the Christian life -- how the gospel works, how we work in the gospel -- put simply and succinctly. I would recommend this to every believer. It's like a hundred books on idolatry, gospel-centrality, and sanctification condensed into one readable little companion that replaces them all.

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I've read this classic twice before but wanted a refresher before the latest movie adaptation debuts next year. Fitzgerald at his coy, rhythmic, biting best. I also read his This Side of Paradise this year (for the first time) and found it dreadful -- dull and bothersome. I find it hard to believe, actually, that the same guy who wrote that navel-gazing tribute to ennui wrote this insightful indictment of (basically) idolatry. One of a few genuine American masterpieces.

4. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Speaking of American masterpieces, we could talk about the serious Huckleberry Finn, but I prefer the whimsical, engrossing Tom Sawyer. I've loved this book since I was a little boy and as I re-read it this year, I found myself transported not just to the Mississippian stomping grounds of scamps and scoundrels but to the floor of my boyhood home and the couch of my grandmother's house, two places I vividly remember drinking in the adventures of Tom, Huck, Polly, Becky Thatcher, Injun Joe, Muff Potter, and the whole gang. Twain plays on the frequency my imagination is tuned to.

3. Jonathan Edwards on Revival
This is actually the publication title given to this volume containing three of Edwards' works: "A Narrative of Surprising Conversions," "The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God," and "An Account of the Revival of Religion in Northampton 1740-1742." I first read this book while going for jury duty in Houston, Texas, in about 1995. At that time I was a youth minister for a Willow Creek model church; I was interested in theology and wanted to be interested in Edwards, but I had no mental nor spiritual framework for the material in this book. Nevertheless I have held on to it for all these years. Now I'm in New England and wondering what it might take for God to grant the favor of revival to this land again. Edwards' book is stirring for the desperate.

2. The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders
I consider it brilliance when someone says an old (but uncommon thing) in fresh ways, and this is what Sanders has done. For all those who believe in the Trinity but can't for the life of them see how it might be practical. And for those who think "making the Trinity practical" can't possibly come out to anything deeply theological. Oh, read the thing. It's fantastic. Read it in February and thought, "I won't read a better nonfiction book this year, I bet," and I was right.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My lands, y'all. To my shame, I'd never read this before. I laughed and cried. Literally. In public.


Bill Kinnon said...

"I laughed and cried. Literally."

Was that a pun? :-)

Jared said...

Literally. As opposed to literarily. ;-)

Josh Collins said...

To illustrate my bizzare reading history, Lewis' "Reflections on the Psalms" was the first complete book of his I ever read. His explanation of God as both a civil and criminal judge made a large portion of the Psalms make sense.

Josh Miller said...

When I read Doug Wilson's writings (even if I disagree with him on a point or two) I come away a very envious of his 'wordsmithery'

cjbooth85 said...

I'm reading "Gospel Wakefulness" by Jared Wilson. I like it.

Stacy Furlow said...

Imagine my pleasure at seeing one of my favorite authors of 2011 list my favorite novel of all time at the top of his list! If you haven't watched it yet, please do yourself the favor of the A&E version as it is far superior.

Congratulations on reading the finest discourse between men and women ever written, (excepting of course those spoken by Jesus). Now go tell you wife how you have been captivated by her fine eyes.

I will never forget grudgingly picking up the novel for an English Lit class at age 17. Within 2 days, the entire book had been read, my entire standard for a mate had been altered, and I promised myself that if time travel into fictional locations ever became possible that I would be the first to buy a ticket to Pemberley.

Jen said...

I read In The Woods last year, I think. I had much the same reaction - I was frustrated at the end, but could not stop thinking about it. It still pops into my head on occasion.

I read reviews of French's other novels before thinking about reading them and they didn't get as high marks as ITW, so I haven't read them.

LOVE Pride & Prejudice - if you and Becky want some good date night entertainment, for sure get the A&E miniseries. 8 hours of lovely P&P.

Beau and I read Lewis' Reflections...Psalms together when we were dating. I enjoyed it and appreciated how he opened my eyes to some insights that I had never considered when reading the Psalms.

Chris said...

Deep Things of God is a great book and on my short list of best books on the Trinity. Bookends of the Christian Life one of Bridges'best books.

salguod said...

As one father of girls to another, I highly recommend Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker. I read it 2-3 years ago and still find it coming back to me from time to time.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I have to ask, Jared, have you hit the chapter called "The Whiteness of the Whale" yet? Nobody who's read the unabridged Moby Dick ever forgets that chapter! Not everyone I met who read the book LIKED that chapter but everyone who read the unabridged book REMEMBERED it. :) Moby Dick is one of the greatest novels of all time for a lot of good reasons but Melville makes you work for it even more than Dostoevsky does.

Pride & Prejudice is an extremely funny book. It's a shame so many guys assume that reading Austen somehow damages their manhood and don't bother to read any of her work. It's also too bad she's considered a literary lightweight in a lot of academic circles.

Brian Fulton said...

Reading Deep Things of God now. I wanted to commit 3-4 months on studying the Trinity, in order to write more about it. While reading Deep Things of God, I thought, "Crap, I have nothing to write now."