Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Favorite Books I read in 2012

1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (1955)
An epic novel that I finally got around to reading this year. I was afraid that it wouldn't be as good since I had already seen all the movies, but that wasn't a problem at all. There was obviously so much more depth and detail in the book that is much needed to fully appreciate the story. I loved following the characters again (but almost for the first time). Tolkien is so good at creating a world that seems familiar and developing characters that you want to know.

Good quote: “Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

2. The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman (1982)
One of my favorite books is "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Postman. He is such a prophetic voice for our generation obsessed with entertainment as he writes in the mid 80s. This book explains how childhood was basically an invention coming shortly after the printing press. Secrets were created by books and a sharp divide started to come between adults and children. Then, the telegraph started the demise of childhood as information became decontextualized and sent everywhere. Television, Postman argues, further erodes this distinction between the adult and child as information is presented without bias to anyone who can watch the screen. As a result, children are acting more like adults and adults are acting more like children.

Good quote: “Literature of all kinds…collects and keeps valuable secrets…In a literate world children must become adults. But in a non-literate world there is no need to distinguish sharply between the child and the adult, for there are few secrets, and the culture does not need to provide training in how to understand itself.”

3. The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry (1970)
This was my first book by Wendell Berry and it definitely won't be the last. Berry has been a farmer in Kentucky for the past forty years and has written over fifty works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This particular book is a nonfiction work about racism and the damage that it has brought to our country. He gives some personal experience of growing up on a farm with slaves and argues that the white community has received a hidden wound from their injustices towards the black community and that this wound needs to be looked at and talked about in order for the destruction from it to wane.

Good quote: "The white man preoccupied with the abstractions of the economic exploitation and ownership of the land, necessarily has lived on the country as a destructive force, an ecological catastrophe, because he assigned the hand labor, and in that the possibility of intimate knowledge of the land, to a people he considered racially inferior; in thus debasing labor, he destroyed the possibility of a meaningful contact with the earth."

4. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
A fascinating true story about the Louis Zamperini, a world class runner who ends up serving in World War II as a bombardier. He survives a plane crash, weeks in the ocean, and many brutal experiences in Japanese POW camps. Great story with a great ending.

Good quote: “On Kwajalein, Louie and Phil learned a dark truth known to the doomed in Hitler’s death camps, the slaves of the American South, and a hundred other generations of betrayed people. Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen.”

5. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (1940)
I read this earlier in the year and don't remember many of the details, so I'll let the Amazon description speak for me: "How does good spoil, and how can bad be redeemed? In his penetrating novel The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene explores corruption and atonement through a priest and the people he encounters. In the 1930s one Mexican state has outlawed the Church, naming it a source of greed and debauchery. The priests have been rounded up and shot by firing squad--save one, the whisky priest. On the run, and in a blur of alcohol and fear, this outlaw meets a dentist, a banana farmer, and a village woman he knew six years earlier...On the verge of reaching a safer region, the whisky priest is repeatedly held back by his vocation, even though he no longer feels fit to perform his rites. As his sins and dangers increase, the broken priest comes to confront the nature of piety and love. Still, when he is granted a reprieve, he feels himself sliding into the old arrogance, slipping it on like the black gloves he used to wear." (Amazon)

Good quote: "It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death. It was easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization -- it needed a god to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt."

6. Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World by John H. Yoder (1989)
Everyone loves Yoder at Fuller and with this book I found out why. It's really short and it looks at five New Testament practices: binding and loosing, baptism, eucharist, multiplicity of gifts, and open meeting. He explains that these were central to the life of the New Testament community and he gives some fresh perspective on what they might mean for the church today. He argues that "the full social, ethical, and communal meaning of the original practices has often been covered by centuries of ritual and interpretation" and he  "uncovers the original meaning of the five practices and shows why the recovery of these practices is so important for the social, economic, and political witness of the church today." (Amazon)

Good quote: "The people of God is called to be today what the world is called to be ultimately."

7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey (1989)
I was quite surprised by this book. I didn't think I liked books about leadership, especially with a certain number of steps to go through. But this book is about much more than leadership, which is I think why it has been just a high seller. Covey's principles are really helpful for all of life. What I really loved is that he didn't focus on actions but on motives and heart level change. I believe I'll be thinking about the concepts here for quite a long time.

Good quote: "The real beginning of influence comes as others sense you are being influenced by them--when they feel understood by you--that you have listened deeply and sincerely, and that you are open."

8. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (2002)
A true story about how Mitch finds out his favorite college professor is dying and then meets with him every Tuesday until Morrie passes away. It's a great story of friendship and reorienting one's life based on the perspective of someone who is at the end of his. I read this as a part of my "Grief, Loss, Death, and Dying" course at Fuller this past spring. Totally worth it.

Good quote: "So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong thing."

9. Letters to Children by CS Lewis (1985)
A collection of correspondance between Lewis and his younger readers. It's fascinating to see a man of such great intellect care for children and speak great truths in ways they can understand.

Good quote: "Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it's idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc) can do the journey on their own!"

10. Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff (1987)
This was another book I read for my grief & death class at Fuller. Wolterstoff, a brilliant philosopher teaching at Yale University, lost his 25 year old son to a climbing accident. In this book, he gives the reader a look into his grief and he honestly wrestles with how such a thing could happen. I highly recommend it for anyone who is dealing with any kind of significant loss.

Good quote: “God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart. Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God…"

Honorable Mentions: A Praying Life (Paul Miller), Hannah Coulter (Berry), Hunger Games series (Collins), The Ball and the Cross (Chesterton), Gilead (Robinson), Trauma and Recovery (Herman)

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