2014 Books: Annual Report (List and Stats)

I read 36 books in 2014, up one from last year’s 35, but still well shy of my record of 53 set in 2012. Last year’s trend of reading more fiction continued into this year, and I was successful in addressing last year’s trend of reading fewer old books and biographies. I also consciously read fewer books published in 2014, especially ones centering on passing theological trends and/or controversies. Life’s too short. Similarly, a greater proportion of the “theology” books I read were of practical nature compared to years past. Each quarter, I publish brief thoughts on the books I read during that season; you can find the four 2014 lists here: one, two, three, four. After the alphabetical list of 2014 books below you can find some statistical analysis.

  1. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture – Ken Myers (1989); Print
  2. The Bondage of the Will – Martin Luther (1525); Print
  3. Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food – Wendell Berry (2009); Print
  4. Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us – Murray Carpenter (2014); Print
  5. The Christian’s Great Interest – William Guthrie (1668); Print
  6. The Closer: My Story – Mariano Rivera (2014); Library
  7. The Complete Short Stories – Flannery O’Connor (1971); Print
  8. The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1937); Audio
  9. Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money – Dave Ramsey (2012); Kindle
  10. Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss (2006); Print
  11. Empire of Bones – N.D. Wilson (2013); Print
  12. The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family – Martha Peace & Stuart Scott (2010); Print
  13. God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World – David F. Wells (2014); Print
  14. The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis (1945); Print
  15. The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-blood of the Christian – David McIntyre (1913); Audio
  16. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902); Print
  17. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison (1952); Library
  18. J.C. Ryle: That Man of GraniteEric Russell (2008); Print
  19. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened – Craig Evans & N.T. Wright (2009); Print
  20. The Last Gentleman: A Novel – Walker Percy (1966); Print
  21. Letting Go of Legacy Services: Library Case Studies – M. Evangelist & K. Furlong (eds., 2014); Library
  22. The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage – Paul Elie (2004); Library
  23. Money, Possessions, and Eternity – Randy Alcorn (2003); Kindle
  24. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens (1838); Print
  25. Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis (1938); Print
  26. Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship – Robbie Castleman (2013); Print
  27. Perelandra – C.S. Lewis (1943); Print
  28. Picadilly Jim – P.G. Wodehouse (1918); Kindle
  29. Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope – Keith Mathison (1999); Print
  30. Reflections on the Psalms – C.S. Lewis (1958); Print
  31. Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life – R.C. Sproul (2009); Kindle
  32. A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997 – Wendell Berry (1999); Print
  33. True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia – Jerry Bridges (2012); Kindle
  34. The Truth of the Cross – R.C. Sproul (2007); Kindle
  35. War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles – Paul David Tripp (2007); Print
  36. Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education – Doug Wilson (2013); Print

Books by year:
0-1899: 3
1900-1949: 7
1950-1999: 7
2000-2013: 15
2014: 4

Books by genre:
Modern theology: 11
Fiction: 10
Nonfiction: 5
Biography: 3
Classic theology: 3
Marriage & family: 3
Poetry: 1

Books by format:
Print: 23
Kindle: 6
Library: 5
Audio: 2

Most popular authors:
C.S. Lewis: 4
Wendell Berry: 2
R.C. Sproul: 2
All others: 1

Books also read in previous years:
All God’s Children (2006, 2011)
The Great Divorce (2007)
Out of the Silent Planet (2008)
Perelandra (2008)

2014 Books: 4Q

Books read from October through December. Next reading list viewable by clicking here. Running yearly count: 36.

The Christian’s Great Interest – William Guthrie (1668); Print // This little Puritan gem is an encouraging and pastoral work on assurance. Any stereotypes of the Puritans as harsh and cold are thrown out the window after reading this. Far from endorsing an overly-introspective method (contra Edwards), Guthrie’s work is saturated in Scripture and gracious exhortations to “close with Christ” and to work out our salvation.

The Complete Short Stories – Flannery O’Connor (1971); Print // O’Connor’s fiction work proved darker and more macabre than I expected, but not necessarily in a bad way. Her stories often revolve around a stranger, a misfit, or a “freak,” often with unsettling or surprising results. Enjoyable, but definitely not a light or easy read.

The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis (1945); Print // Another Lewis re-read this year, and better than I remember. Though he meant it as an allegorical/fictional work, it has proved very thought provoking and influential in my eschatological thinking. Lewis flips the stereotypical view of heaven as disembodied spirits playing harps on clouds on its head, instead (and I think rightly) portraying heaven as a world more real, more physical, more solid than our own. His view of hell is a little sketchy, but otherwise an incredible work.

Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison (1952); Library // Powerful, gut wrenching, and brilliantly written work of fiction centering around the meteoric rising, falling, and enlightening of an educated and ambitious young black man in mid-twentieth century America.

Money, Possessions, and Eternity – Randy Alcorn (2003); Kindle // Very good book (though a bit long/repetitive) on the Christian’s view of money. Criticizes both wealth-hungry and ascetic views in a well-balanced perspective. He purposely avoids practical advice, but the thoughts throughout the book on on giving and generosity as eternal investments were great, and the brief sections on insurance and investing were also good.

Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life – R.C. Sproul (2009); Kindle // Sproul discusses the interesting perspective of both suffering and death as vocations, and, quite helpfully, justice in light of Job, Ecclesiastes, and the gospels. He spends much of the book on death and the afterlife, and I wish he spent more time unpacking the role of suffering in the Christian life.

2014 Books: 3Q

Books read from July through September. Next reading list viewable by clicking here. Running yearly count: 30.

  • The Bondage of the Will – Martin Luther (1525); Print // I honestly put this one down less than halfway through. Between Luther not being the most gifted writer and this being a verbose response to an Erasmus work I have no interest in reading, I just didn’t want to waste the time and effort it would take for this.
  • Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food – Wendell Berry (2009); Print // Many of these essays were over my head because of technical descriptions of farming processes, but interspersed were reflections on the philosophy of farming and agricultural principles applicable to all of life. Great to also read an essay centering on the Lapp farm in Lancaster, PA.
  • The Closer: My Story – Mariano Rivera (2014); Library // Very glad I read this autobiography of the greatest closers ever, who built an incredible career off of one accidental pitch. A faithful Christian, Mo is incredibly humble throughout, though I also enjoyed his more candid discussions of A-rod and other problems in his career.
  • The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family – Martha Peace & Stuart Scott (2010); Print // Not bad, though there are much better and less baptistic child rearing books out there (Tripp, Wilson). Impoverished view of covenant children left much to be desired.
  • The Last Gentleman: A Novel – Walker Percy (1966); Print // A typical Percy discovery/existential novel, though still packed with his typical wit, philosophical insight, and twists. Not my favorite Percy work, namely because of an odd but jarring change in protagonist two-thirds through the book.
  • Perelandra – C.S. Lewis (1943); Print // A re-read, and a favorite of mine; the gem of Lewis’ unheralded but very enjoyable Space Trilogy. Takes place at the creation of Venus and its creation’s subsequent temptation.
  • True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia – Jerry Bridges (2012); Kindle // Bridges challenges the Christianese buzzwords of “fellowship” and “community” as more than merely baptized terms for hanging out. He examines their true meanings in Scripture: sharing (especially possessions), partnering, co-laboring, serving, and even suffering together. Well done.
  • Picadilly Jim – P.G. Wodehouse (1918); Kindle // A rollicking good story of mistaken identity. A little more heady and reflective than the typical Wodehouse.
  • The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1937); Audio // Better than expected. Bonhoeffer’s impassioned plea to the church to stop peddling cheap grace and truly die to self.
  • Letting Go of Legacy Services: Library Case Studies – M. Evangelist & K. Furlong (eds., 2014); Library // Very helpful treatment of the prevalent problem of “legacy” practices in libraries: practices frequently clung to from a bygone era.
  • The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage – Paul Elie (2004); Library // Biography/light criticism of 20th century Catholic writers Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor. Less than halfway through I ended up skipping the sections on Day and Merton. Not bad, but verbose and betrays a haloed perspective of 20th century American Catholicism.

(Face)Book Challenge

There is a chain-letter-esque “book challenge” going around on Facebook, and since I haven’t posted in a long while, I thought I would register my protest of chain letters here. Ten books that have “stayed with you in some way,” complete with brief commentary.

  1. Book of Sorrows – Walter Wangerin, Jr. Incredibly emotional, potent, allegorical, moving; a work of art. The sequel to the almost equally powerful Book of the Dun Cow.
  2. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley. Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 were thisclose to bumping Huxley out, but I went with Huxley since he was the most accurate, prophetically speaking (see: Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death).
  3. Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky. You haven’t lived until you’ve read Russian fiction. Or something like that. Dostoevsky’s insights into human nature are beyond profound.
  4. Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis. Short parable on the afterlife; very influential for me.
  5. Heidelberg Catechism – Ursinus, et al. Beautiful, concise, and intimately personal, especially compared with the precise and verbose Westminster catechisms.
  6. Love in the Ruins – Walker Percy. What does it say about me that my favorite author is a Southern Catholic existentialist? This was my first, and is still my favorite, Percy work.
  7. Reforming Marriage – Doug Wilson. Great insights on a biblical view on marriage. Concepts and ideas, if not specifics, have shaped and continue to inform our marriage.
  8. Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection – Robert Farrar Capon. I’d love to be able to think and write like Capon. His artistic writings on hospitality, food, and life are invaluable.
  9. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology – Neil Postman. Postman has had a profound influence on my life and thought, though probably not as much lately. Time to read more Postman!
  10. Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World – James Jordan. I don’t remember too many specifics about this one, but the biblical typologies were mind blowing and definitely changed the way I read scripture.

2014 Books: 2Q

Seems as if the blogging well has run dry lately. But even if I move, start a new job, welcome a new baby, and embark on a house hunt, the quarterly book list still must be posted! I read the following books from April through June. My next quarterly reading list is available by clicking here. Running yearly count: 19.

All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture – Ken Myers (1989); Print // This was my third (fourth?) time reading this gem, as I read it with friends for a discussion group. Dated, but the general principles and applications are sound and challenging. Myers has said that he can’t simply revise this work because it require an entire new book. Well, Ken, we’re waiting.

Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us – Murray Carpenter (2014); Print // Well written journalistic look at the world’s most used and (one of the) most addictive drugs. Carpenter travels from China to Columbia and everywhere in between in his journey to discover more about this ancient, mysterious white powder present in chocolate, coffee, tea, and energy bars. Fun and interesting.

God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World – David F. Wells (2014); Print // Wells’ magnificent heavily-researched trilogy and subsequent mainstream overview were absolutely fantastic. I did not find this latest work nearly as engaging, helpful, or tightly argued. The final two chapters on the necessity of recovering God-centered worship and Christian service were very good, but the first seven chapters were a non-cohesive fluctuation between biblical theology, cultural criticism, and general introduction.

The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-blood of the Christian – David McIntyre (1913); Audio // A pleasure to listen to, due to the robust vocabulary and writing style employed by an early-20th century Scot. I just wish it was read by a Scot. Also a pleasure to listen to a practical, biblical, and encouraging challenge to develop a robust prayer life.

Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened – Craig Evans & N.T. Wright (2009); Print // Short, accessible, and convincing introduction to the history and reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you don’t have time for Wright’s magisterial The Resurrection of the Son of God (I sure don’t), this is like a very short Cliff’s Notes version (though I’d recommend the larger Cliff’s Notes version Surprised By Hope more).

Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens (1838); Print // Before reading Great Expectations in 2012, I never thought I would ever admit to being a Dickens fan. Now that I’ve read and enjoyed two of his novels, I can safely say that I am on the road to fandom. An excellent work of fiction.

The Truth of the Cross – R.C. Sproul (2007); Kindle // Sproul at his best: explaining and illuminating theological truths concisely, accessibly, precisely, and passionately. This book focuses on the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the eternal covenant and plan of God, and the necessity of the atonement.

War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles – Paul David Tripp (2007); Print // Really helpful book about how the gospel can and should transform our talk and communication. After laying the theological foundation, Tripp turns to the practical side in the later chapters. He repeatedly hammers home the point that without gospel transformation and application, one’s communication problems (indeed, all relational problems) cannot be solved. One to revisit through the years.

2014 Books: 1Q

Here are the books I read from January through March. My next quarterly reading list is available by clicking here.

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss (2006); Print // Fun, insightful look at the history and usage of punctuation. Less a user’s manual and more an interesting collection of reflections on colons, commas, dashes, semi-colons, periods, and all other punctuation marks. My only gripe was her lack of respect for the Oxford comma.

Empire of Bones – N.D. Wilson (2013); Print // Third installment of the Ashtown Burials series, and possibly the best of the three. Loads of fun, suspense, action, and bravery. Here’s to hoping there’s a fourth!

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902); Print // Read mainly because of our obsession with BBC’s Sherlock series, and it’s about time I read Doyle. Very enjoyable, witty, and smart. Wish I had read him sooner.

J.C. Ryle: That Man of GraniteEric Russell (2008); Print // Decent biography, if a bit long winded. Heavy on facts, light on analysis or engaging storytelling, unfortunately. Good to learn about Ryle’s life and ministry, but this was on the dry side.

Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis (1938); Print // A re-read for “book club;” Lewis’ Space Trilogy is still among my all time favorite series. Looking forward to reading the next two this year also. Interesting that Lewis thought this series was among his worst writings, though Tolkien liked them. I’m with Tolkien.

Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship – Robbie Castleman (2013); Print // I was hoping for more, though my high expectations were perhaps a bit unfair. The principles and theory discussed were good, but I was really hoping for more practical insight. Where’s the easy fix for my kids when I need it?!

Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope – Keith Mathison (1999); Print // Very good, and now my go-to recommendation for a defense of postmillennialism. It is balanced, biblical, fair, thorough, and engaging. He helpfully devotes many pages to arguing for an early dating of the writing of Revelation, which further bolsters the preterist aspect of his arguments. I’m honestly not sure how a Christian could not be postmillennial after reading this, but that’s easy for me to say.

Reflections on the Psalms – C.S. Lewis (1958); Print // Glad I finally got around to reading this. Lewis explains that he wrote this collection of essays as an amateur writing to other amateurs. In that regard, it was very good. Chapters on praise and prophecy in the psalms were especially insightful. Some of Lewis’ slightly unorthodox leanings are evident, but not troublesome for me.

A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997 – Wendell Berry (1999); Print // Excellent collection of poetry by Berry. A collection that spans such a long period of time is fascinating, as it gives a glimpse into Berry’s ongoing maturity as a poet and thinker. He does not claim to be a professional poet, but merely an amateur writing these poems in conjunction with his weekly Sunday walks. Earthy, profound, understandable, and really, really enjoyable.

Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education – Doug Wilson (2013); Print // Short, almost pamphlet-sized work defending a Christian education for Christian kids. Goes to the foundational reasons for a Christian education rather than refuting the surface/practical arguments of the other side. In that regard, it was very helpful.

The Field is Tilled and Left to Grace

beetsIn light of winter’s slowly loosening grip, I’ve been reading Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems (collected in A Timbered Choir). Poem X of 1979 (p. 18) is especially beautiful :

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

I have always liked to think that there is something magical about gardening and farming, but Berry describes this magic in a more romantic way: the field is tilled and left to grace. Isn’t there also something magical, fantastical, about grace? Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3, one plants, another waters, but God gives the grace for growth, and we are God’s field. Like Jesus says in Matthew 13, seed is sown in faith, but in God’s mysterious providence the good soil is all that produces good fruit. It’s not surprising that Paul and Jesus use agricultural pictures for the gospel. The hand aches and the face sweats as the Word is sown and hearts are tilled, watered, and ultimately left to grace. That we may reap, great work is done while we’re asleep.

Magic is all around us. Whether it’s in God’s special grace or common grace, it is inescapable. To relate it to another recent read of mine, this was one of C.S. Lewis’ purposes with his space trilogy: there should be an aspect of romance and magic in science. Lewis’ work in part was a criticism of the cold, hard, distant scientism of his day, which has only since strengthened. Science isn’t (or shouldn’t be) cold and hard; because it is sustained and ordained by a personal, loving God it is warm and wonderful and and magical. Like Robert Farrar Capon described the magic and grace of wine: “Sugar in the grape and yeast on the skins is a divine idea, not a human one. Man’s part in the process consists of honest and prudent management of the work that God has begun.”

Berry views the science of agriculture from a different viewpoint than magic: that of grace. Grace can be magical, but grace trumps magic because grace comes from somewhere, Someone.