My 5 Top Reads of 2017

Happy New Year!

This past year I made the goal of reading 36 books (I only got to 35, and that with binge reading the week between Christmas and New Year’s!) I stepped it down from 2016’s 60-book count because I had a hard time recalling many of the books that I had read. I didn’t want to just push through a booklist for a numerical goal and not remember the journey. If you read my list from last year, you know that I try to read broadly. I look for books that catch my curiosity, and no genre is off-limits (though my favorites are children’s/young adult books).

Here’s the list of my 5 favorites of 2017. Note: these are not books that were published in 2017, but books that I happened to have read this past year. I’ve also tried to give a little plug as to why I enjoyed it. 

Tracks of a Fellow Struggler by John R. Claypool. I actually read this book a few years ago, but re-reading it this year was such a different experience that I feel like I read it for the first time this year. In fact, I’ve re-read portions of this book several times since my dad passed away in Aug. This book is a short collection of four sermons given by Rev. Claypool as he journeyed through his daughter’s battle with leukemia. It is heartfelt, hopeful, gritty, and a must-read for anyone walking through the valley of grief.

The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch. Another short book makes the list. I’ve always enjoyed Andy Crouch’s insight and commentary. His books on power and culture have been principle-forming for so much of how I approach ministry. Crouch’s perspective on technology in the family is no less thoughtful. Without condemning technology, Crouch encourages us to consider its proper use in our homes and our family rhythms. From physical, feng-shui-like suggestions to more social interactions, I left with ideas, convictions, and new hope for how to safeguard the use of tech for greater purposes in my family. A must-read for parents.

Foolishness to the Greeks by Leslie Newbingen. This book is a bit more on the philosophical side. Newbingen is an astute missiologist and commentator, and he undertakes to examine what makes Western Culture tick. In less than 200 pages, Newbingen tackles questions of individualism, what can we know, the limitations of science, the dilemma of politics, and our identity as the church in the Post-Enlightenment, Post-Constantinian, (and post-Christian) West. I told you it was philosophical. While not for the faint of heart, you’ll find yourself saying over and over again, “so that’s why our culture is the way it is…”

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I was attracted to this book because Bryan was a speaker at Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit in August. Stevenson takes a no-punch held back look at America’s justice system with regards to race and juveniles. His stories are gripping, and his observations enraging. I had to put the book down several times because I was so angry over the gross injustices of a legal system that needs renovation. I was also deeply saddened by the continuing thorns produced by a narrative of slavery and racism that has not healed. I’m not sure what to do with the ideas presented, but I know that something in me has profoundly changed. It’s that good.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This was the last book I read in 2017. I regularly try to read Newberry Medal books, and The War won the award in 2016. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into as the story is about a severely abused girl, Ada. Ada and her brother are removed from their abusive mother by evacuation from London during WWII. She and her brother are unwanted and end up living with a single woman who reluctantly takes them in.The drama that unfolds through everyday life is heart-breaking. Bradley captures with dramatic simplicity the effects of abuse and not being wanted. Ada’s responses and self-protection drew me in to feel compassion and frustration towards her. Ultimately, Bradley illustrates the power of persistent and patient love – how it can heal both parties.

Honorable Mention

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. If you’re a wordsmith like me, you’ll love the play on words throughout this children’s book. Written in 1961, I found myself just giggling at the clever use of phrases and puns throughout the story. A sort of “Alice in Wonderland” meets Scrabble, even the plotline makes me chuckle. A young boy, Milo, must bring peace to the fractured relationship between the kingdoms of Digitopolis and Dictionopolis by bringing Rhyme and Reason (two princesses) back. Along the way, the young hero finds himself stranded on the Island of Conclusions (which he arrived at by jumping to it), and meets a lot of friends along the way. Clever, witty, and playful – they just don’t write books like this anymore. A classic.

I could have listed books like The Tale of Three Kings, The Liturgy of the Ordinary, Crenshaw, Work Rules, and Raymie Nightingale, among others, but I think the five I listed are ones that I’ll come back to in the coming year (and may even include in a sermon or two).

What about you? What books have left a lasting impression on you in 2017? Share your favorite in the comments.

6 thoughts on “My 5 Top Reads of 2017

  1. Unglued by Lysa Terkeurst and If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas are my top 2 for 2017, and I find myself referring back to them.
    Mitchel, your response to War has just put it on my must read list this year. It sounds like there may be a bit of personal challenge and encouragement for me in her story.

    • Tim Keller’s “Prayer”. A simple title for a complex subject, well addressed by the author. The subtitle provides motivation for considering this book: “Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God”.

  2. Thanks for these recommendations, Mitchel!

    I listened to Just Mercy on audio during my commutes to/from work. Most days I needed a moment to calm down from the stories of heartbreak and injustice before I could actually switch into work mode. Definitely challenged the way I view the justice system and those exploited by the corruption therein.

    Single, Dating, Engaged, Married by Ben Stuart has helped me understand more deeply the purpose and joy available in every season of life.

    Recently, I’ve been listening to the Anne of Green Gables series. I can feel imagination and the simple yet profound wonders of nature re-awakening in me!

  3. Bryan Stevenson’s work, and his book, are amazing and important. I listened to the audio book, which I think he narrates himself, while I was building a new front porch during the summer of 2016 with tears in my eyes at several parts of the book. Watch “13th” on netflix for more from Bryan and several other social activists.

    My daughter loved “The War that Saved My Life”. Now, I have to read it.

    “Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” by Richard Rohr and Paula D’Arcy was my favorite book “listened to” in 2017. We spend so much time on the first half of life (accumulating and achieving) and totally neglect the second half of life. We don’t know how to grow older, but the Bible has a lot to say.

    “What is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything” by Rob Bell has helped me get excited about peeling back the layers of meaning buried in the Bible.

  4. “Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul” by Hannah Anderson was a great read – convicting, thought provoking. Over the last few years of my life I’ve been recognizing the depths of pride in my life and this books addresses it so well. Anderson applies the humility of Christ to different areas of life (each chapter tied in with a different plant illustration) and really shows how humility is at the “root” of the gospel and how it applies in my life.

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