I started this year with a goal of reading 52 books, the most I would have read in a single year since my years as a voracious pre-teen reader. While I didn’t reach my goal, I ended up reading roughly forty books, still the most I’ve read in a while, and I was immensely blessed, challenged and entertained by most of what I perused.
One of my favorite quotes about reading comes from John Piper, one of my favorite authors to read: “I have often said, ‘Books don’t change people, paragraphs do — sometimes sentences.'” I have found this to be true as well. Sometimes the whole point of reading a book – even if its 300+ pages – is to create the perfect context around which the author (or God) can fire off a sentence that is perfectly aimed at your heart and way of thinking. It is sentences, most often, that stick with you and shape your imagination and view of the world, and so I have included my favorite sentences from each of my favorite books.
Many of these books are valuable to me because they sharpened me in my walk with Christ; others, because they challenged me to see the world through different eyes; and others still, because they were just deliciously fun to tear through. I have created a list of my Top 12 books below, and included a list of all the other books I read at the end. Maybe you will find a book you would enjoy reading in 2017 or be able to recommend me some good books for the coming year.
Top 12 Books I Read in 2016
12. Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life – Douglas Wilson
A book on writing that is worth reading for how well-written it is.
Favorite Sentences:”Look at the world, and try not to look at yourself looking at the world” (14).
“Your deep interests should always have a dog-eared place on your nightstand” (24).
11. Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart – J.D. Greear
Probably the most helpful book I read this year, and it is under 100 pages. Greear explains how a Christian can have true assurance of salvation and how the sinner’s prayer approach adopted by most Evangelicals leads to a distorted view of how salvation and conversion actually work.
Favorite Sentence: “I’m simply saying that whenever you doubt your standing with God, the solution is the same: trust in the finished work of Jesus”.
10. Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman
One of the best books I read this year. Postman’s argument that “the medium matters” and that our television-obsessed culture has resulted in every facet of our culture being reduced to “entertainment” sounds more true than ever before in an era of flashy megachurches, lecture-less teaching and President Donald Trump.
Favorite Sentence: “[The 2nd commandment on image-making] is a strange injunction to include as part of an ethical system unless its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture.” (9)
9. Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates bluntly describes America – and reality – as he sees it, from the perspective of man with black skin. This was a necessary read, not because I buy all of his arguments, but because it constitutes the best possible way someone like men could ever see what so many other people in our nation claim to see. The book is also notable for its blatant hopelessness. I suppose if you believe human nature is all we have to work with, there’s not much reason to hope at all.
Favorite Sentence: “I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”
8. The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis
Lewis’ essay on how divesting education of Truth will lead to a heartless human – their “abolition” – is rich, powerful and essential.
Favorite Sentences: “They [moral relativists] are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what “Humanity” shall henceforth mean. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’, applied to them, are words without content: for it is from the them that content of these words is henceforward to be derived.” (3: The Abolition of Man).
“Man’s conquest of Nature, turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man” (3: The Abolition of Man).
7. The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown
The story of a group of boys – mainly, of one of them, named Joe – is epic despite being relatively mundane until the end. Joe’s story of grit, however, is a testmaent to human nature’s capabilities. A great insight into the character and personality of much of the America that would go to war in WWII.
Favorite Sentence: “Standing there, watching them, it occurred to me that when Hitler watched Joe and the boys fight their way back from the rear of the field to sweep ahead of Italy and Germany seventy-five years ago, he saw, but did not recognize, heralds of his doom. He could not have known that one day hundreds of thousands of boys just like them, boys who shared their essential natures—decent and unassuming, not privileged or favored by anything in particular, just loyal, committed, and perseverant—would return to Germany dressed in olive drab, hunting him down.” [Man, I love this sentence].
6. Jonathan Edwards: A Life – George M. Marsden
Jonathan Edwards thought and life, as well as the time he lived, was fascinating and complex. Marsden expertly surveys it all with nuance and equal portion of admiration and critique. His argument rings true: Edwards stood as the contrast to Benjamin Franklin as the man America could have modeled itself after; instead, they rejected the “self-renouncing man” for the “self-made man.” (333)
Favorite Sentences: “The starting point for unraveling the mysteries of the universe must be the shattering revelation of one’s total inadequacy and a recognition of God’s love in Jesus Christ.” (81)
“Nevertheless, anyone might do well to contemplate Edwards’ view of reality and its awesome implications. […] Edwards’ universe is essentially a universe of personal relationships. Reality is a communication of affections, ultimately of God’s love and creatures’ responses” (503).
5. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
My favorite novel of the year. A beautifully written, 1st-person account of a butler who is so committed to his job and to the principles of his personal mission that he becomes unable to notice the difference between men of great rank and great men.
Favorite Sentence: “I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?”
4. Heretics – G.K. Chesterton
A book with an equal amount of passages that enthralling and confuse. Chesterton’s short observations either punched me in the gut and heart harder than anything else I read this year or else went completely over my head; all of which is fine, because he left enough bruises to last a lifetime.
Favorite Sentence (of the Year!): “We do not merely love ourselves more than we love duty; we actually love ourselves more than we love joy.” (83)
3. The Things of the Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts- Joe Rigney
An invaluable companion to Piper’s seminal works. Rigney helpfully explores and answers the question of how we can love God with all our hearts, minds and souls while still heeding the call to view all good things as gifts from Him we are meant to enjoy while being careful to never fall in love with “the things of the Earth.” This is a book that will simultaneously increases your love and devotion to God while enhancing your delight in pizza, good movies and good friends.
Favorite Sentence: “[…]The first step in cultivating a generous and giving heart and life is to cultivate profound gratitude to God what he has provided. As one author puts it, grace begets giving, which begets gratitude, which begets more gratitude.” (196)
2. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from It’s Cultural Captivity- Nancy Pearcey
A profound book that I devoured and will return to often. This is essential reading for Christians, and especially for Christian students. Pearcey outlines how the Christian view of reality is the only one that connects all the dots of human experience and how it stands unshaken against the combative and destructive worldview of secularism.
Favorite Sentences: “We must never forget that going along with unbiblical practices is not only wrong, it is unloving. Acquiescing in an unjust situation typically stems not from love but from fear of possible negative repercussions. If we aspire to a godly, holy love for others, we must be willing to take the risk and practice loving confrontation.” (375).
“The best way to drive out a bad worldview is by offering a good one, and Christians need to move beyond criticizing culture to creating culture.”
1. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings – Philip and Carol Zaleski
My favorite book of the year. The Fellowship is an absolute delight to read, and one which highlights the different avenues men choose in life. By the end of this biography of a club, the grumpy, arrogant, perverted, heavy drinking and smoking former atheist ends up with the most joyous life and legacy. Even as their own stories captured the imaginations of millions with visions of a familiar world assaulted by glimmers of grace, the life of this group of curmudgeonly English men testified to similar themes. In keeping with the gracious irony, the books celebrates how the stories which most changed the world and culture were by a couple of Christians whose tales were about elves and lions and which were routinely dismissed by the elite of the time.
Favorite Sentence: “Yet although the Inklings were guilty of the heresy of the Happy Ending, they were not optimists; they were war writers who understood that sacrifices must be made and that not all wounds will be healed in this life. Their belief in the Happy Ending was compatible with considerable anguish and uncertainty here below. One may be as gloomy as Puddleglum or as convinced as Frodo that “All my choice provided ill” without losing hope in a final redemption” (511).
Every Book I Read in 2016
Here’s the full list. An asterisk means I enjoyed it and would strongly recommend.
- 1984 – George Orwell*
- Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman*
- Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer
- Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates*
- Building Great Sentences – Brooks Landon
- Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus – Jonathan Leeman*
- Everything Bad is Good for You – Steven Johnson
- God is the Gospel – John Piper*
- Good to Great – Jim Collins
- Heretics – G.K. Chesterton*
- Jonathan Edwards: A Life – George Marsden*
- Narrative of the Life of an American Slave – Frederick Douglass*
- Night – Elie Wiesel*
- Nimona – Noelle Stevenson [graphic novel]
- Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck*
- Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis
- Poems – C.S. Lewis*
- Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
- Sabriel – Garth Nix
- Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart – J.D. Greear*
- The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis*
- The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown*
- The Circle – Dave Eggers
- The End of Education – Neil Postman*
- The Fellowship: The Literary lives of the Inklings – Philip and Carolo Zaleski
- The Joy of Calvinism – Greg Forster
- The Knowledge of the Holy – A.W. Tozer*
- The Neon Bible – John Kennedy Toole
- The Prince – Machiavelli
- The Remains of the Day – Kashuo Ishiguro*
- The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis*
- The Things of the Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts – Joe Rigney*
- The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot
- Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from It’s Cultural Captivity – Nancy Pearcey
- Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God – Tim Challies & Josh Byers
- When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi*
- Why Pro-Life?: Caring for the Unborn and Their Mothers – Randy Alcorn*
- Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life – Douglas Wilson*
- [Finishing] Religious Affections – Jonathan Edwards*
- [Finishing] John Adams – David McCullough
Did you read any of these books and have strong reactions or opinions? Please share. Or did you read something that you think I absolutely have to get to next year? If so, let me know in the comments.
Here’s to another year of great books.