Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favorite Books I Read in 2017

While this blog now stays dormant most of the year, I resurrect it at the end of each year for a couple of lists, one of which is always my favorite, this summary of my favorite books of the year. I love compiling and listing for myself, to reflect on the year, but I also love curating this list for any of you who might be reading, in hopes that you might pick one or two of them and enjoy them as much as I did. 

With that, below are my favorite books I read this year:

1. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (2014)

This is a riveting, well-written book about the countless encounters Stevenson has had with the wrongly accused and excessively punished in this country. From death row to juvenile facilities, he shows the injustice prevailing within our justice system and it is often maddening. Stevenson summarizes the book this way, "this book is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America. It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us." 

Quote: “Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” 

In 2009, Keller wrote the best seller, The Reason for God. In it, he provides a case for belief in God and Christianity. Making Sense of God is a sort of prequel, starting further back in the journey of spiritual exploration as it addresses Christianity's relevance in modern times. Keller also addresses the assumption that the world is getting more secular and the assumptions that many of us wrongly hold about the foundations of what true Christianity is. As always, Keller draws on many philosophical, literary, and cultural sources and lays his argument out in a compelling and easy to read way.

Quotes: “Actually, it is quite natural to human beings to move toward belief in God. As humanities scholar Mark Lilla has written: 'To most humans, curiosity about higher things comes naturally, it’s indifference to them that must be learned.' Strict secularism holds that people are only physical entities without souls, that when loved ones die they simply cease to exist, that sensations of love and beauty are just neurological-chemical events, that there is no right or wrong outside of what we in our minds determine and choose. Those positions are at the very least deeply counterintuitive for nearly all people, and large swaths of humanity will continue to simply reject them as impossible to believe.” 

3. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (1987)

This was my first Stegner novel, and I highly doubt it will be my last. It was the last novel of this Pulitzer prize winner's life. It is an excellent story about the lives of the Morgans and the Langs, two couples spending life together between work in Madison, WI and vacations in Vermont. Nothing overly spectacular happens in the story, but it is captivating nonetheless. It's mostly about friendship, marriage, and caring for one another, both in the day to day and in the face of terminal illness. 

Quote: “You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine.” 

4. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)

I almost didn't finish this book. After slowly making my way up to the halfway point, I looked at the remaining 400 pages and considering calling it quits. However, my wife convinced me to continue, so I did. And it was worth it. Though I think the story takes a little while to develop and the older English language can be tiring at times, by the end of the book, you have a great cast of characters that I found quite intriguing. This book (mild spoilers ahead) is about a boy who gets orphaned early in life, sent to boarding school by his abusive step-dad, and spends the rest of the story wandering around England, developing rich friendships. David makes a lot of mistakes throughout the novel, trusting those who would take advantage of him and falling in love with the wrong girl, but ultimately, he does develop into a wise man and finally awakens to the reality of Agnes as his true love.

Quote: 'Whenever I have not had you, Agnes, to advise and approve in the beginning, I have seemed to go wild, and to get into all sorts of difficulty. When I have come to you, at last (as I have always done), I have come to peace and happiness. I come home, now, like a tired traveller, and find such a blessed sense of rest!' I felt so deeply what I said, it affected me so sincerely, that my voice failed, and I covered my face with my hand, and broke into tears. I write the truth. Whatever contradictions and inconsistencies there were within me, as there are within so many of us; whatever might have been so different, and so much better; whatever I had done, in which I had perversely wandered away from the voice of my own heart; I knew nothing of. I only knew that I was fervently in earnest, when I felt the rest and peace of having Agnes near me.

This review by Tim Keller first got me interested in this book: "Not only is Ross Douthat's account of orthodox Christianity's decline provocative, but his critique of today's ascendant heresies is compelling. This volume is a sustained proof of Chesterton's thesis that when people turn from God, 'they don't believe in nothing--they believe in anything.' Everyone who is interested in why the church is faring as it is in U.S. culture today needs to get this book." It's definitely an interesting look at the history and current state of pseudo-Christianity movements in this country. 

Quote: “America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place.”

6. In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson (2012)

This was my third book by Larson (Others = Dead Wake & Devil in the White City), and though it was my third favorite, it was still quite engaging. Larson centers this work of historical fiction on the U.S. ambassador to Germany (William Dodd) during the mid 1930s and his family. He shows how the horrific thoughts and practices of the Nazis slowly took over the country, in a way that many seemed unaffected by the atrocities going on around them. Dodd tried to be a voice of reason among the madness.

Quote: Throughout that first year in Germany, Dodd had been struck again and again by the strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest. It was as if he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended. He wrote to his friend Roper, “I could not have imagined the outbreak against the Jews when everybody was suffering, one way or another, from declining commerce. Nor could one have imagined that such a terroristic performance as that of June 30* would have been permitted in modern times.”

*June 30, 1934 - The Night of the Long Knives

7. The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes (1934)

This is a collection of short stories that mostly looks at the racism and dynamics of race relations in the early 20th century.

Quote: "Bow down and pray in fear and trembling, go way back in the dark afraid; or work harder and harder; or stumble and learn; or raise up your fist and strike-but once the idea comes into your head you’ll never be the same again. Oh, test tube of life! Crucible of the South, find the right powder and you’ll never be the same again-the cotton will blaze and the cabins will burn and the chains will be broken and men, all of a sudden, will shakes hands, black men and white men, like steel meeting steel!” 

Stats: 10 books (3,562 pages) read

Lists from past years:


No comments:

Post a Comment