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 2018, in the order in which they were read:
Palmer Becker, Anabaptist Essentials
Khaled Hosseini: And the Mountains Echoed
Matt Haig: Reasons to Stay Alive
Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie: The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity
Columba Stewart, OSB: Prayer and Community: the Benedictine Tradition
Esther DeWaal: Seeking God: the Way of St. Benedict
Joanna Trollope: Sense and Sensibility
William L. Lane: Hebrews: A Call to Commitment
Alexander McCall Smith: Emma: A Modern Retelling
Timothy Fry, Ed: The Rule of St. Benedict
James D.G. Dunn: Romans (The People’s Bible Commentary)
Jane Austen: Emma
Kate Bowler: Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved
Adam Shoalts: A History of Canada in Ten Maps
Michael Bond: A Bear Called Paddington
Sarah Ruden: Paul Among the People
David Hackett Fischer: Champlain’s Dream
Karl Vaters: Small Church Essentials
Chaim Potok: The Gift of Asher Lev
Gregory Alan Thornbury: Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock
Tom Wright: Mark for Everyone
Wendell Berry: Hannah Coulter
Mark D. Baker: Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross
John Grisham: The Last Juror
Karen Swallow Prior: Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More
Ariana Huffington: The Sleep Revolution
Bruce Hindmarsh: The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism: True Religion in a Modern World
John Goldingay: Psalms for Everyone, Part 1
Donald C. Posterski: True to You
Pat Barker: Regeneration
Winnfried Corduan: A Tapestry of Faiths
Pat Barker: The Eye in the Door
Pat Barker: The Ghost Road
Rudy Wiebe: Sweeter than All the World
Randy Ingmarson: How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method
Alexander Fullerton: Love for an Enemy
Alexander Fullerton: Submariner
Michael Frost: Keep Christianity Weird
Madeleine Thien: Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Jaron Lanier: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
Roger Coleman: New Light and Truth: The Making of the Revised English Bible
Dante Alighieri: The Portable Dante (translated by Mark Musa)
Stephen P. Dawes: 1 & 2 Kings (People’s Bible Commentary)
C.J. Sansom: Dissolution
Katharine Welby Roberts: I Thought There Would Be Cake
Richard Bauckham: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
C.J. Sansom: Tombland
Catherine Fox: Angels and Men
Alan Kreider: The Patient Ferment of the Early Church
Susan Pitchford: Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone
Catherine Fox: Acts and Omissions
Catherine Fox: Unseen Things Above
Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol
Catherine Fox: Realms of Glory
And now, as is my custom, a few reflections.
Most enjoyable read of the year? This was a tough one to choose this year, because I read many really good books. However, if pushed to select one, I’d go with Gregory Alan Thornbury‘s ‘Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?‘ I was a Larry Norman fan in the 1970s and 80s but lost touch with him after that. I heard stories about his failings, but was never really familiar with his story. So I was excited when I heard about this book, and it did not disappoint. Larry emerges from these pages as a real human being, one who struggles with weaknesses and failings as we all do. And yet, his influence on my life as a Christian and a musician was entirely positive, and I suspect thousands of others could say the same thing. I expected to think less highly of him after reading this book, but the opposite was the case. I now go back to the old records and listen to them again with more appreciation for the real human being who created them, and I gladly own up to being a Larry Norman fan. Five stars.
If I could add a second choice, I’d go with David Hackett Fischer‘s ‘Champlain’s Dream‘. I love Canadian history but my knowledge of it is heavily skewed toward the west. I knew very little about Samuel De Champlain, but this book has more than redressed the balance. Meticulously researched (there are 270 pages of appendices and notes) and beautifully written, it is one of the best historical biographies I have ever read. Also five stars.
Least enjoyable read of the year? Probably Alexander McCall Smith‘s Emma: A Modern Retelling. Maybe it’s asking too much of a modern writer to try to relocate a classic Jane Austen novel in the modern world. So many of Austen’s story lines depend on social conventions (regarding the roles of women, for instance) that just no longer apply today. This is one of the books in the so-called ‘Austen Project’, in which all of Austen’s novels get a modern makeover. I’ve read several of them and I have to say that only Joanna Trollope’s retake on Sense and Sensibility comes anywhere near success for me.
Catherine Fox. I didn’t enjoy her Angels and Men, and it took me a while to get into her Lindchester Series, but by the end of Acts and Omissions I was hooked, and I gobbled up Unseen Things Above and Realms of Glory. I would describe them as being part Barchester Towers, part Susan Howatch’s Church of England series, but much more lighthearted (though, paradoxically, there’s a real depth to them as well) and with a much broader range of brilliantly developed (and very honestly portrayed) characters. The omniscient narrator is not a style of writing I’m used to, nor is the present tense narrative, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying myself.
Karen Swallow Prior is another writer I’ve never come across before but I loved her biography of Hannah More, Fierce Convictions, and am looking forward to reading her newest book On Reading Well.
Bruce Hindmarsh is not exactly new to me as I read his book about John Newton some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. So I was looking forward to his book about eighteenth century evangelicalism and its interaction with the arts and sciences of its day, and I was not disappointed. I highly recommend The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism to anyone who suspects there’s a lot more to this movement than praise bands and Trumpian politics.
Finally, a new novel by C.J. Sansom is always a delight, and Tombland was excellent. I was not familiar with the historic incident the book is based on – the Norfolk rebellion in the reign of Edward VI – but the character of Matthew Shardlake was as compelling as ever and the historical research behind the novel is meticulous.
I was surprised to discover that the only poetry book I read this year was a re-read of The Portable Dante. It’s not that I haven’t read any poetry; I simply haven’t finished any collections! I’ll have to make a point of that this coming year, as I do find poetry hugely rewarding.
And now – on to 2019!