Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Favorite Books I Read in 2014

Like last year, I'm somewhat disappointed with the amount of books I was able to get to this year. My pile of "can't wait to read" seems to get higher with each passing year. However, out of the ten books I got around to reading, I thought eight were good enough to mention on this list of my favorites. Hopefully that means I'm getting more efficient.

As is normally the case for my end of the year book list, the books below were all written before this year began. I rarely read current books as I feel that there are centuries of books yet to be explored. So here are my favorite books I read this year:

1. Common Ground by Gordon Bals (2012)

This is hands down the best marriage book I've ever read. When Lauren and I were in a difficult place in our marriage a couple of months into marriage, a counselor friend of mine recommended that we read this book. Time and time again, it proved to be so incredibly helpful as it laid out exactly what we were going through. In the book, Bals lays out a lot of wisdom about the lies we are tempted to believe, the unique struggles we face in the roles of husband and wife, and the unique ways we are called to love one another. I cannot recommend this book highly, to those of you are married, facing difficulty in relating to one another, but even to those who aren't.

Quote: "God burdened Adam with futility to frustrate his desire to have impact...He burdened Eve with disappointment in relationships to frustrate her desire to be connected...The burden of Genesis makes clear that the marriage relationship will be more vexing for the wife…The marital relationship is easier for the husband than it is for the wife...Marriage is more tenuous for a wife because she longs for more in marriage than her husband does, and she is wounded more deeply by marital pain.”

2. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry (2001)

This is my fourth Berry book and my second that is written about the fictional town of Port William, a town loosely based on where Berry has lived for the past fifty years. This one is about the man who would become the barber of Port William. I love the way Berry writes and how he draws you in to the beauty of the rural life, a simple life centered around farming and community. It's hard to read this book and not want to give up on the hustle and bustle of our technology-saturated lives, to be immersed in a more restful existence, where "getting ahead" is rarely considered and where thoughts and experiences are real and important even though they aren't shared with the world.

Quote: "He was lonely because he could imagine himself as anything but himself and as anywhere but where he was. His competitiveness and self-centeredness cut him off from any thought of shared life. He wanted to have more because he thought that having more would make him able to live more, and he was lonely because he never thought of the sources, the places, where he was going to get what he wanted to have, or of what his having it might cost others."

3. Desire by John Eldredge (2007)

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed and resonated with what was in this book. Eldredge's main point is that we are generally scared to listen to and live out of our deep desires. It's easier to distract ourselves than to feel and be let down. However, desire is a key part of the Christian life as it humbles us and causes us to admit how desperate our situation really is.

Quote: “There is a secret within each of our hearts. It often goes unnoticed, we rarely can put words to it, and yet it guides us throughout the days of our lives. This secret remains hidden for the most part in our deepest selves. It is the desire for life as it was meant to be...The greatest human tragedy is to give up the search."

4. Men of Courage by Larry Crabb (2013)

This is an updated and expanded edition of Crabb's, The Silence of Adam, which I had never read. It's a great book for understanding the struggles men face and what our calling is. On one of the hardest nights my wife and I faced this year, as we struggled to believe truth two months into our marriage, I remember reading the quote below out loud with tears in my eyes. It nailed me and my desire to run away from conflict. Although, I'm sure I felt some shame in that moment, the tears seemed to come more from a place of hope, a hope that God had indeed called me to more and promised to give me strength to become more.

Quote: "Since Adam, every man has had a natural inclination to remain silent when he should speak. A man is most comfortable in situations in which he knows exactly what to do. When things get confusing and scary, his insides tighten and he backs away. When life frustrates him with its maddening unpredictability, he feels the anger rise within him. And then filled with terror and rage, he forgets God’s truth and looks out for himself. From then on, everything goes wrong. Committed only to himself, he scrambles to make his own life work.”

5. David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell (2013)

An interesting read from a great writer. Gladwell's basic premise is that weaknesses and disadvantages often create better situations than first imagined. He illustrates this through nine different stories that are intriguing and entertaining.

Quote: "There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources - and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.” 

6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

In my quest for reading more and more classics, I knew I eventually needed to tackle this one. It was difficult at times, as I would sometimes grow tired of learning about the intricate details of the whale's anatomy, but overall, it was an interesting story, full of fascinating sentences like the quote below.

Quote: "All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it."

7. The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr (2001)

I picked up this book in the summer of 2013 when I began to become interested in this model of personality based on nine types called the Enneagram. The book gives some history to personality models in general and some history to the Enneagram specifically. The bulk of the book is a break down of each of the nine personality types (1-9). One of the reasons I enjoyed this book and profited from learning more about my type (which is 9), is that I so identified with my type, and Rohr's description gave voice to the unique ways I struggle in life. It helped me know that I am not alone in those unique struggles and that there are unique ways that God is calling me to persevere and mature in light of those struggles.

Quote: "The Enneagram is more about 'unbelieving' the disguise that we all are. Ernest Becker called it 'our vital lie.' Merton called it the false self. The Enneagram gets right to the point and calls it our sin."

8. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (2007)

This book is a nonfiction account of Dillard's year of retreat in Virginia's Roanoke Valley. I wonder if it would have been higher on the list if I had read it outdoors during the day, instead of in small 20 minutes chunks right before I went to bed. So much of her writing is beautiful and poetic. She spends a lot of time observing nature at a particular creek, and she often describes in detail what she is learning.

Quote: "I remember what the city has to offer: human companionship, major-league baseball, and a clatter of quickening stimulus like a rush from strong drugs that leaves you drained. I remember how you bide your time in the city, and think, if you stop to think, 'next year…I’ll start living; next year…I’ll start my life.' Innocence is a better world."

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