With the encouragement of a friend and in response to a fantastic workshop on reading for preaching (thanks to the Center for Excellence in Preaching), I accomplished my goal to read 60 books last year. Before you think I accomplished some super-human feat, the 60-book total consisted of everything from children’s books to multi-volume trilogy novels. Some books were about leadership and some books were just straight up fiction. Variety of genre and length gave me the motivation and space to read 66 books instead of 60!
About five of the books I only read halfway (I know, that sounds like cheating). The books just didn’t capture me, and I won’t be returning to them. In that sense, I consider the book “read” just not finished. Tony Reinke says you should give every book up until [100 pages minus your age]. Once you’ve read to that page number, you can drop the book if it doesn’t grab you. Thankfully, only a handful of books were cast aside.
As part of celebrating my goal, I thought I’d share my top 5 reads of last year. This isn’t a list of the top books of 2016 because many of the books I read have been around for a while. I just got to them last year. I ranked the books on sheer enjoyment of the story + impact (how many times I talked about/referred to the books in conversation, sermons, etc.) + recommendations (how often I recommended the book to someone).
So without further delay, here’s my unofficial list of 2016.
5. The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu
If anyone can write a book on the journey of forgiveness, it’s this and his daughter. Using his own experience in the post-apartheid landscape of South Africa, Tutu outlines the importance of forgiveness and even how to truly forgive. The golden nugget of the book: the process of forgiveness is to tell your story; name the wrong; then choose to release or renew the relationship. That last part was eye-opening. Forgiveness doesn’t mean everything goes back to the way it was. It can even mean letting go of the relationship.
4. Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen
Nouwen attempts to describe the process of spiritual maturity along three unexpected expressions. From loneliness to solitude; hostility to hospitality; and illusion to prayer. The three expressions correspond to the inner life, relational life, and life with God. I found his description of true hospitality to impact the way I host, and I think it’s a must-read for anyone thinking about the role of community in the Christian life.
3. Rising Strong by Brene Brown
I believe Rising is the culmination of Brown’s journey into shame. There are so many places where she toes around the necessity of the gospel, but alas, she stops just short. Dr. Brown puts into words what so many of us experience. Whenever we come into a situation that could produce shame or make us feel uncomfortable, we write a story. This story takes the limited data we have and fills in the blank usually making the other person out as a villain and myself as a victim. Dr. Brown gives a way forward to identify these stories we write and to become more resilient in rewriting them. A must-read for understanding how and why we react to people the way we do.
2. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
If I could have lunch with one person in 2017, it would be Ms. DiCamillo. She is by far my favorite author in a long time, and I found myself devouring everything she’s written. The Tale has so many incredible scenes it’s hard to pick a must-read one. Roscuro’s first encounter with the light; the Princess’ experience of empathy; and the description of forgiveness made me stop reading at several points and reflect on what I had just read. Do yourself a favor and DO NOT watch the movie, but read this book with a loved one.
1. The Road to Character by David Brooks
Part biography-part sociological ethics, David Brooks identifies the shift that has occurred in our culture over the last 40-50 years. He describes the shift as the “Big Me”. In all honesty, his last chapter is worth the price of the book and would have put this book in my top 5 just by itself. Brooks outlines 10 ways to address the culture of the Big Me, and basically spells out the gospel. I so appreciated his presentation because the language he uses is intelligible to those outside the Church. For example, his definition of sin is one I’ll probably use for years to come. The biographical sketches of influential people from George C. Marshall to Augustine of Hippo is a thick icing on the cake.
What is the top book you read this year? Leave a comment below.
Remember, “no man is an island, but every book is a world.” Happy New Year!