Because life is a series of edits

Booklist 2009

In Books on December 12, 2009 at 10:43 am

As we're beginning to see the annual "best books" list from various websites, magazines, and newspapers, it seems time to throw my two cents concerning all things literary. The main difference, of course, between the "pros" and me is I don't have publicists sending me free new books every week to review (nor do I get paid to read), so my list is hardly representative of the current year; still, I did read some "new" books this year.

Looking through the list I didn't read nearly enough "significant" fiction this year, nor was my non-fiction all that diversified. Obviously, this has to do with the fact that I'm still technically a "student" and much of my reading had to accommodate those requirements, but that's too much of an excuse for me to expect much sympathy. The fact is, I just didn't keep pace with previous years (2008, 2007, 2006, etc.) in terms of total books read, and my list's lack of variety reflects that.

The good news is there are probably at least 4-5 books I started at various points during the year that I'm still working through; thus, what I don't finish by the end of the year should get me off to a good start in January, which makes me happy. But enough already with vain qualifications and justifications. Here's my 2009 booklist, complete with notes and rankings (10 is highest). Let me know any recommendations you might offer for 2010.

January (3)

  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton – wonderfully clever detective story with plenty of twists; not sure I fully understood the allegory, but enjoyed it regardless. (8)
  • The Ethics of Smuggling by Brother Andrew – a bit simplistic in justifying disobedience of governments for the sake of the gospel, but maybe boldness requires such simplicity at times. (4)
  • Home by Marilynne Robinson – great writing, but the story of an estranged son coming home to mend ways with his father and sister was just too circular; Gilead was better. (7)

February (3)

  • The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman – Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy (Spyglass is the third book) is a great example of a plot desperately in need of redemption, not only for the benefit of the characters involved, but for the basic prerequisite of crafting an understandable story. What a mess. (3)
  • God Our Teacher by Robert W. Pazmino – posits the Trinitarian nature of God as the model for Christian teaching and learning; redundant at times, but some really good ideas. (8)
  • The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis – explanation of modernist thought taken to its logical (and scary) extreme; give it 40 pages before you give up (reading Tim Keller’s The Reason for God for a more popular version of Lewis’ thoughts will help, too). (8)

March (3)

  • Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne – not sure how many times I’ve read this underground adventure, but I am very sure of the fact that I like Jules Verne. (8)
  • What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain – a well-written blend of theory and practice, with plenty of encouragement and examples toward how to be a better teacher; even better the second time around. (9)
  • Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would by Chad W. Thompson – a simple but helpful book that focuses less on statistics and more on stories to make the same points; good for homosexual and homophobe alike (as well as those of us who are neither). (7)

April (3)

  • On Teaching and Learning by Jane Vella – a treatise on dialogue education, Vella’s ideas are both sensible and strategic for teaching and learning that goes beyond the lecture format; lots of helpful planning examples. (8)
  • Safe at Home by Richard Doster – a first novel by an editorial acquaintance about baseball and race in the South in the fifties and sixties; enjoyed it well enough. (7)
  • Biblical Christian Ethics by David Jones – Dr. Jones’ life work in one volume; the man has forgotten more about ethics than most people (including myself) will ever know. (8)

May (2)

  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan – an engaging "tale of four meals" that made me think long and hard about what I eat, where it came from, and why it matters (or should). (9)
  • Glittering Images by Susan Howatch – one priest suffers the consequences of being consumed by revealing another priest’s sins; good characters, great dialogue. Whoa. (9)

June (0)

  • Okay, this is embarrassing. It wasn’t that I didn’t read anything; I actually started a bunch books but just didn’t finish anything. Nuts.

July (2)

  • Three Nights in August by Buzz Bizzinger – way overwritten by the same guy who wrote Friday Night Lights; still fun to listen to Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa think. (5)
  • Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch – first half took forever to read, but the story of a Church of England priest leaving the priesthood gained momentum…eventually. (7)

August (1)

  • Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis – more fiction than science, this first book in Lewis’ series still provides some deep thoughts about the nature of God and the nature of man wrapped, all wrapped in a story. (7)

September (2)

  • Perelandra by C.S. Lewis – didn’t like this one as much as the first in terms of storyline (way too little dialogue), but more good thoughts to think; just a bit slow. (6)
  • Pop Goes Religion by Terry Mattingly – Mattingly, a religion columnist is such an objective thinker/writer on the interaction of belief and entertainment that you wish the guy would write his column daily instead of bi-monthly. (7)

October (3)

  • The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, Marty Linksy – really great book on leadership that nails what goes on politically in organizations/groups and explains how to address needs via systems theory. (9)
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller – probably my new favorite Don Miller book, in particular because it's all about story (his, God’s, mine); good stuff. (8)
  • Changing Frontiers of Mission by Wilbert R. Shenk – helpful (but dry) reading on mission theology, history, and theory with a look at where Christianity is going (literally). (6)

November (4)

  • Planning Programs for Adult Learners by Rosemary S. Caffarella – not exactly a book you'd pick up to read for fun, but man, would this tome have been helpful back in my Glen Eyrie days in terms of program planning. For what it is, it's really good. (8)
  • Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller – timely and true, Keller’s book on our propensity to make gods/idols out of everything uses the recent economic meltdown as a prime case study. (9)
  • Celebrating the Law? by Hetty Lalleman – makes the case from a Reformed perspective for the ongoing importance of the Law in the Christian life, particularly in the area of ethics. (8)
  • The Leader’s Journey by Jim Herrington, Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor – applies systems theory and thinking to Christian leadership and ministry; helpful. (7)

December (1)

  • That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis – tried reading this installment of Lewis' Space Triology about a dozen times and gave it 100 pages before setting it aside; if you can choose what you read, don't waste time on something you don't enjoy (and I didn't enjoy this one). (1)
  1. I’ve been wanting to read Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday” ever since I read Frederick Buechner’s treatment of it in “Speak What We Feel.” I read Miller’s new book a few month’s back and it also became my favorite Miller book with “Through Painted Deserts” a close second.

  2. I liked The Man Who Was Thursday, but the ending was so weird, I had to downgrade it. I like Chesterton’s simple Father Brown mysteries better.
    Perelandra was my favorite from the space trilogy. I had chills through the second half of the book.
    I’m reading Salvation Belongs to Our God, by Christopher Wright. And I highly recommend it. It’s one of the best theology books I’ve ever read.

  3. Haven’t read Buechner’s treatment, Rob. Did it explain the ending? Not sure you can answer that if you haven’t read it yet.
    I agree, Nick, the second half of Perelandra was mind-boggling in many ways. Hoping to read That Hideous Strength over the break to finish out the trilogy.
    Love Wright (his Old Testament Ethics for the People of God is probably THE book that has helped me most in terms of my ethical teaching worldview).

  4. I don’t remember if he explained the ending; I read it several years ago. That particular book (“Speak What We Feel”) has Buechner discussing four of the books that has most influenced him.

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