Friday, December 8, 2017

Books I read in 2017

I'm so proud of how much I've read this year!  I would love for this hobby to grow to a discipline, but I'm still so pleased that I was able to make the decision to value reading more often in 2017.  Celebrate the little things!

As is tradition for me, I've written up a collection of the new books I've read along with mini reviews.  Have you read any of these, too?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  You'll notice a good deal of spiritual books, but I was able to spend plenty of time with plain ole enjoyable books, too.  If you have any recommendations, I'm all ears!


The Space Trilogy Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

Instant favorites.  I've always loved The Chronicles of Narnia, but The Space Trilogy is a whole 'nother ball game.  The creativity, the wonder, the suspense, and the delicious storytelling had me on the edge of my seat.  I especially loved the realness of describing new worlds.  Reading Perelandra, especially, was a spiritual experience, and I'm so glad I got to share these books with Caleb.  These three books we read aloud together, and they made for a great joint reading adventure.

Redwall, Brian Jacques

Caleb read this one growing up as a kid, and he convinced me to add this to our joint summer reading list.  It was light fun, but I got on my soapbox when we got to the end when one of the female mice was given to a warrior as a reward (c'mon...).  We laughed a good deal at some of the silly kid parts and the out-of-nowhere gruesome rate death parts.  I thought it was okay, but Caleb kept insisting the book was great, and that middle school boys love this stuff.  In the end, Redwall ended up being a good exercise in the realities of gender differences and preferences.

Bread & Wine, Shauna Niequist
A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes

I started by borrowing this highly recommended book from my friend Tim, but just a few chapters in (at the risotto chapter, to be specific), I realized I had to have this book.  I relished the honesty, the mess, the moving forward, the feminine experience, and the food Shauna shared.  The chapters are easily digestible and don't follow a plot stream, so it's easy to pick up and put down as you need to.  This was a breath of fresh air to read, and it was a treat to spend time with Bread & Wine.

Finding God in the Waves, Mike McHargue
How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science

Another recommendation from Tim, I listened to this one in audio form this May, during the beginning of my faith deconstruction.  I appreciated Mike's transparency, his respect and care for people questioning God and faith, and his welcome to not having everything figured out.  He shared his own story of growing up Southern Baptist, finding baffling inconsistencies in the Bible, trying to hold onto his understanding of God, but coming to a heartbreaking realization that God didn't exist.  He plunged himself into science (neurology and astrophysics) for a few years before something happened that didn't fit into the boxes science gave him.  The final section of his book builds bridges toward God, the Bible, Jesus, prayer, and meditation, the same bridges he took on his way back to the God of the Bible.  This was a captivating read, and it brought me a lot of peace in my struggle.  I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in Christianity or suspicious of Christianity and also to Christians who would like to better understand unbelievers.

The Real North Korea, Andrei Lankov
Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia

I've just noticed this year that I've read a book about North Korea once a year three times in a row.  This one is the first nonfiction piece, and it is excellent.  If you're curious about North Korea, The Real North Korea does a great job of laying foundations for a solid understanding of the history of the country, the split, the government regime, the human rights violations, and what it might look like if the South and North were to reunify.  The author grew up in the USSR, studied abroad in North Korea, and has interviewed many North Koreans, both inside and outside the government.  Basically, he has a broad perspective that he shares very well.  He doesn't shy away from the heavy and hard topics, but his writing style makes it easy to understand.  It also makes for a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it.

Cult Insanity, Irene Spencer
A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement

I picked this one from the library shelf on a whim this summer.  Irene tells the story of living within a murderous polygamist Mormon cult in Mexico.  Very early in the book, I felt weird about reading it.  It reminded me of the times I felt guilty for being fascinated by the Holocaust.  I kept going, though, through the wild twists and shocking events.  Cult Insanity cautioned me to take my spiritual journey with care and discernment, and it shouts out a warning against taking people at their word.  It's also very easy to read and incredibly entertaining.

What Is the Bible?, Rob Bell
How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything

This book was the first step in restoring my relationship with the Bible and, probably, also with God.  Bell sheds so much light on so much context in the Bible, making it come to an entirely new life.  I wrote a bit more about this book here in the section about the Bible.  I think it should be more recommended to Christians than it is.

Sex God, Rob Bell
Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality

I figured hearing some more of what Rob Bell had to say would be interesting, and turns out he has a lot of beautiful insights about what sexuality and interacting with other humans is designed to look like.  The book is not about sex, by the way, but more about what Rob describes as sexuality: vulnerability, respect, intrinsic human value, intimacy, and love.  It's not the definition I would have used, but it works.  I wish I had read this book when I was growing up.  Instead, I read books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Preparing for Adolescence, which didn't cover topics like "Hey girl, you don't need no man to be valuable" or "Good sex is awesome, lust is real, you have carnal desires and the strength to make wise decisions about your body."  I wish this could be required reading for everyone, but especially adolescent Christians.

Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell
Repainting the Christian Faith

One more Bell book!  I was still trying to find a renewed connection with God when I picked this one up.  It was helpful in understanding a bit more about faith in general.  What does it look like, is it okay if I don't have answers to everything, what kind of ramifications does faith in Jesus have, what ramifications does it not have, things like that.  I was reading this book during an incredibly sore point in my job hunt, and providentially, the chapters I was in at the time were very encouraging and uplifting.  As always, Bell pulls from historical context, making faith and Jesus richer and more dazzling to me than they were before.  I love that.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible Eugene Ulrich

This is another book I reached for during my faith crisis, and it was a great follow up to What is the Bible?  This one is more technical and scholarly in nature, but was still incredibly interesting.  Turns out there are plenty of variations among the hundreds and hundreds of versions we have of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The author explains the kinds of differences (additions, absences, spelling and expositionary nuances) and why the scribes would have included these changes.  The story behind why is helpful to me as a hopeful Christian in need of more research.  There were plenty of parts in the book that went completely over my head, though, like the parts that were entirely in Hebrew.  There's plenty of jargon in the book, but I was able to glean a good deal of information, especially in the first 2-3 chapters, which I'd recommend to anyone interested in the Old Testament for any reason.

Honorable mentions: The Princess Bride, William Goldman and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

I'd read these two comedies before on my own, but Caleb and I read them together (his first time) this year, and they were both a total blast.  They made us laugh out loud, and I wanted to put these in the list in case you're interested in reading together with someone, too.  These are excellent candidates for lighthearted stories.  However, I'd forgotten what a terrible person Buttercup's character is... valued only for her looks, referred to as property and baggage, and dumb.  The author makes sure you know she's not at all smart.  I was very annoyed, but if you can swallow that for the duration of the book, you'll be great.  It was still a good time.


Next up for me is a fiction piece about a boy who becomes a monk, a collection of stories and sayings from the ancient desert mothers of Christianity, and Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James.  I'll probably need some more just-for-fun reads soon, so send them my way

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