Below are books that I have read for 2008. As the year progresses I will add to this list and will share brief comments. Not all of the books are religious or spiritual. Not all of the books are good (although I do not go out of my way to intentionally read something that is bad!). Books, like other expressions of art, share a bit about the journey of both author and reader.
- A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor. First published about fifty years ago, I still enjoy reading O’Connor. She not only speaks to my rural Georgia heritage, but her fiction contains more theological and spiritual truth than most writers accomplish through non-fiction.
- The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard. A “literary novel” of a somewhat eccentric couple (aren’t we all) who grew together, then apart, and finally together again.
- A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, by Janna Levin. Levin creates an imaginary dialogue with two great mathematicians – Alan Turing and Kurt Godel. If you appreciate theoretical physics and the questions it elicits, especially that of free will verses determinism, then you will appreciate this fine book.
- The Pillars of Earth, by Ken Follett. I almost did not include this book because technically I did not finish. After more than 300 pages (out of 973) I put the book down. I did so for two reasons: 1) the story was wearying, and 2) the writing itself was fairly mediocre. I am learning that life is too short to bear through a bad book (even if Oprah did recommend it and it is a New York Times bestseller).
- The Sea, by John Banville. I don’t know why I have gravitated this year to books whose main characters are adults going through middle-age angst. I guess it could be that I am 42. Nonetheless this is a generous work of a man’s memory of love and loss and his coming to terms with it all. It is well written and a good story to read.
- Return to Good and Evil: Flannery O’Connor’s Response to Nihilism, by Henry T. Edmondson. While officially classified as American Literature and political philosophy, I found this book a wonderful companion when reading Flannery O’Connor. The author did a fine job articulating nihilism and nihilism’s proponents. He then demonstrates how O’Connor’s writings are a marked contrast to the moral ambiguities of nihilism.
- The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America , by Joe Posnaski. I read this book while down with the flu. Sick or not, it was an entertaining read. Posnanski, sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, spent a year on the road with the iconic Negro Leagues player and manager Buck O’Neil and whether or not you like baseball, you will enjoy this book.
- The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A.J. Jacobs. This book was loaned to me by one my fellow ministers. It was entertaining throughout and at times thought-provoking. Through his sincere and at times rather sever practices he illustrated beautifully how we all fall woefully short when it comes to literalism. Everyone interprets.
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard. While it is cliché to say so, I will say it anyway: this book is timeless as Dillard writes of her world around her, paying attention, listening and seeing. I could easily place this in the “Spirituality” category on the list.
- Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford. I read this while vacationing on St. George Island. This biography was based on the latest scholarship available. Genghis Khan and the Mongolian history was something I only knew by way of stereotype. I am glad to have an enlarged understanding on an intersting man and an interesting people.
- Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab, by Christine Montross. Montross, now a practicing Psychiatrist, has done a remarkable job reflecting on life, death and the human body. This book is not just for the mobidly curious (although I admit I am).
- Brother to a Dragon Fly, by Will Campbell. I recently re-read this book and I am glad that I did.
- The World Without Us, by Alan Weismann. This was an entertaining and informative book of what would happen if human beings suddenly disappeared. The author skillfully invites the opinions of various scientists and engineers as to how our structures would survive (more appropriately would not survive), how the climate would change and the overall environment or ecology would respond.
- Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants, Dennis Okholm. While I thought the author was at times a bit self-serving in promoting his own spiritual journey, it is nonetheless a very approachable and simple book on Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants, especially evangelical Protestants. I would, however, recommend other books such as those by Kathleen Norris, (especially Dakota Spirituality and The Cloister Walk).
- Original Blessing, by Matthew Fox. Any theologian silenced by the papacy gets my attention. Fox’s writings have been around a long time but I am just now getting around to reading him. His thoughts on the presence of God and creation spirituality have been refreshing and nourishing.
- No Man is An Island, by Thomas Merton. While New Seeds of Contemplation is still my favorite, this is very much a worth the time as Merton writes meditations on the contemplative life.
- After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are shaping the Future of American Religion, by Robert Wuthnow. If you care about how the “next” generation is going to be involved (or not) in the church, read this book. While it is packed with data, the author does a good job interpreting how we are to understand post-baby boomers.
- A Renegade’s Guide to God, by David Foster. This was a very readable book on one pastor’s reflection of living out the gospel beyond the walls of tradition. He wrote in the spirit and style of Leonard Sweet.
- Will Our Children Have Faith? by John H. Westerhoff. I read the revised version but still found the book dated in parts. Nonetheless, his challenges to the church regarding educating the next generation regarding faith formation continues and important dialogue among religious leaders.
- The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?, by Peter J. Gomes. While I still believe this is a good and important read for people of faith and people coming to faith, I did not, ironically enough, find it scandalous enough. While some will, no doubt, be offended by his “scandalous” suggestions, he uses both scripture and church tradition as a springboard of where the faith needs to take us.
- Otherwise, by Jane Kenyon. Kenyon, wife of former Poet Laureate Donald Hall, was a accomplished poet in her own right. Sadly she died in 1995 from leukemia. This book is a collection edited by her husband. “Let Evening Come” was one of my favorites in this beautiful collection.
- Narrow Road to the Interior, by Matsuo Basho. Everyone should read at least one 17th century Japanese poet. Basho did not invent the haiku, but he did elevate. This is a beautiful, eloquent, and timeless collection.