In the back of my journal, I keep a little list of the books I read. I don’t do this as a kind of score-keeping exercise; more as an aid to reflection. Here’s the list for 2016, in the order in which they were read:
Ursula K. LeGuin: The Farthest Shore
The Rule of St. Benedict
Daren Wride: DNA of a Christ-Follower
Dante: Divine Comedy Vol. 1: Inferno
C.S. Lewis: The Weight of Glory
Dante: Divine Comedy Volume 2: Purgatorio
Elsie H.R. Rempel: Please Pass the Faith
Richard Giles: Here I Am: Reflections on the Ordained Life
Dante: Divine Comedy Volume 3: Paradiso
Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and David Wright: Write, Publish, Repeat
John Clare: The Shepherd’s Calendar
Leah Kostamo: Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community
Dante: La Vita Nuova
Ursula K. LeGuin: Tehanu
Richard Foster: Celebration of Discipline
Ursula K. LeGuin: Tales from Earthsea
Ursula K. LeGuin: The Other Wind
John Goldingay: Joshua, Judges, and Ruth for Everyone
The Collected Poems of Oscar Wilde
Paul Torday: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Alan Jacobs: The Narnian
Dave Ferguson and John Ferguson: Finding Your Way Back to God
Mark D. Baker and Joel B. Green: Recovering the Scandal of the Cross:Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts
Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Denny J. Weaver: Becoming Anabaptist
Tony Hillerman: Skinwalkers
Stuart Murray: The Naked Anabaptist
Tony Hillerman: The Blessing Way
Bill Bryson: Shakespeare: The World as Stage
A.N. Wilson: The Elizabethans
Harold Percy: Your Church Can Thrive
John Grisham: Gray Mountain
Wendell Berry: The Way of Ignorance
Brian Zahnd: Water Into Wine: Some of My Story
Simon Winchester: The Map that Changed the World
Joel B. Green: Conversion in Luke/Acts
Jonathan Merritt: Jesus is Better Than You Imagined
Hilary Mantel: Bring Up the Bodies
Andy Weir: The Martian
John Goldingay: Jeremiah for Everyone
Alain de Botton: The Course of Love
W.O. Mitchell: Who Has Seen the Wind?
Walter Brueggemann: The Prophetic Imagination
C.C. Humphreys: Plague
Joel B. Green: Body, Soul, and Human Life
Robert E. Coleman: The Master Plan of Evangelism
Peter Dale: A Poetry of Place
John H. Walton: The Lost World of Genesis One
N.T. Wright: John for Everyone: Part 1
Karl Vaters: The Grasshopper Myth
Patrick O’Brien: Master and Commander
William Cowper: Selected Poetry and Prose
Ann Cleeves: Raven Black
Tobias Haller: Reasonable and Holy
Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See
Brother Andrew: God’s Smuggler
N.T. Wright: John for Everyone: Part 2
Ann Cleeves: White Nights
Timothy Keller: Making Sense of God
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Wendell Berry: A Small Porch
W.O. Mitchell: Jake and the Kid
Thomas Hardy: The Return of the Native
J.D. Vance: Hillbilly Elegy
Kent Haruf: Benediction
David Augsburger: Dissident Discipleship
W.O. Mitchell: The Kite
Thomas Hardy: Tess of the D’Urbervilles
C.S. Lewis: The Magician’s Nephew
Francis Spufford: Unapologetic
Holy Bible: New International Version (2011)
A few reflections in no particular order:
Most enjoyable read of the year? Definitely, hands down, with lots of space between it and the next-most-enjoyable, Dante’s Divine Comedy. In fact, I loved it so much I read it twice. My first time through I was using Mark Musa’s three volume, profusely annotated edition; I read each canto through once by itself, then re-read it, scrupulously reading every single footnote as well. The notes were enormously helpful; Dante is surprisingly earthed in the contemporary political/cultural/religious scene of his day, and he assumes a vast amount of knowledge of names and events, which Musa helpfully tracks down. But when I was done I re-read the whole thing without any footnotes in Musa’s one-volume edition (‘The Portable Dante’), which also includes Dante’s Vita Nuova – which I also enjoyed.
I loved Dante’s imagery (even though his cosmology is of course completely outmoded). Two theological points especially struck me. First, in the Inferno almost all of the punishments are in fact logical and natural consequences of the sins being punished. I think Dante’s point (or part of it) may be that sin is its own punishment. Second, Dante believed that sin is essentially loving the wrong things (I should explain that his concept of love is far closer to Eros than to the New Testament idea of Agape), and that our love-choices need to be educated by the light of reason and revelation.
His final canto in the Paradiso? I defy any Christian to read it without being overwhelmed by the beauty of what he is describing.
Honourable mention also of Andy Weir’s The Martian. I watched the movie on Netflix, really liked it, so bought the book and found it to be even better than the movie. I hope he writes some more good science fiction for us.
Least enjoyable read of the year? Definitely William Cowper’s Selected Poetry and Prose. I only have one word to describe these pieces: tedious.
The writings of Joel Green, especially his work in Body, Soul and Human Life which challenged a lot of my concepts of what a soul is (it turns out that it’s all in the brain and is intrinsically physical).
W.O. Mitchell. Oh my – why had I never read any of his stuff before? His descriptions of small town prairie life in the mid-twentieth century rang a lot of bells with my experience of Arborfield in the early 1980s (some of Mitchell’s heroes, had they been non-fictional characters, would have been the same age as our Arborfield old-timers when Marci and I first arrived there). Wonderful characters, superbly authentic dialogue, great storytelling – hugely enjoyable reads. I know I’ll read everything by him I can get my hands on.
J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy was as illuminating and disturbing as I had been led to believe it would be. Superb book; I highly recommend it.
Karl Vaters’ The Grasshopper Myth is an excellent book about small church ministry (Vaters defines ‘small church’ as less than 200 people). I don’t know that there was anything in it I didn’t instinctively know already, but it was very helpfully set out in a memorable way. I will re-read it regularly along with Dave Hansen’s The Art of Pastoring and Eugene Peterson’s books on pastoral ministry.
I read a good bit of poetry this year: Dante, John Clare, Oscar Wilde, Wendell Berry, William Cowper, Peter Dale. Later in the year I got snagged in the massive Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy, which I still haven’t finished (it’s 900 pages long). Hardy is brilliant, but he’s hard work and I find I can only take him in small doses.
Finally, I’m glad to say that I read the Bible all the way through again this year. I read the Bible daily, but I haven’t been very successful over the years in finding a Bible-reading plan and sticking to it. This year I chose the One Year Bible, and I picked the New International Version 2011 as my translation for the year. I really enjoyed the daily mix of Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, and by the end of the year I had definitely formed a habit. I’ll do it again this year, I know, possibly with the New Living Translation. (Note: there are now four translations of the Bible I’ve read all the way through: the Living Bible, the New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha, the King James Version with Apocrypha, and the NIV 2011).