Right now I have on my reading stack a book by N. T. Wright called Simply Jesus and one by Edward Oakes entitled, remarkably, Infinity Dwindled to Infancy - subtitled A Catholic and Evangelical Christology. I am reading them together and thinking about a Sunday School class in 2012. Both are very good so far.... Also my daughter in law, Jess, was raving about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and when she raves I take notice and it will be on my best books of 2011 list when I am finished! But what kind of a reading year has 2011 been up to now? Interestingly, of all the books I read this year, about 1/3 of them were on my kindle! I still have a love-hate relationship with the thing. I love the convenience of it, and Marcia loves the fact there are fewer stacks of books around the house, but I hate what it's doing to the book stores around the country. There's nothing better than a day spent at a great bookstore like Powell's in Portland (although my wife would never let me stay that long - it is big enough to get lost in for quite a while though!). Our local bookstore is going out of business and the owner sited Amazon and Kindle as two of the main reasons. It causes me great pain knowing how I am contributing to the demise of the local bookstores I love. Not enough pain, apparently, to keep me from buying on Amazon and reading on my kindle! So here are some of my favorites this past year:
If you ever wondered how deep the riches of Bible reading are, read Deep Exegesis by Peter Leithart. An amazing book about learning or relearning how to read Scripture.
In the Bible field, too, I read a new commentary on Jonah by Philip Cary which led to many new insights on this overlooked but significant Old Testament prophet.
Eugene Peterson's memoir, entitled simply Pastor, was a personal choice for book of the year. I love Peterson and have read everything he has written. As I have said before, I would not (still) be a pastor today without Peterson. I never would have made it. Loved this book.
In history, I read in some big chunks. After reading Uncle Tom's Cabin for the first time I wanted to know more about the fascinating family of Harriet Beecher Stowe so I read a new history of the family and the book by David Reynolds called Mightier Than the Sword and new biography of Harriet's brother, Henry Beecher Stowe called The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate. Henry Stowe was one of the first mega church pastors leading a church in NYC. He was also one of the first whose fame proved to be his undoing.
I discovered Tony Horowitz who I would call a popular historian. He is not an academically trained historian but he researches his subjects by getting out there and experiencing his subjects firsthand and writing about why the history matters today. In Confederates in the Attic he joins up with some civil war reenactors to tell how the civil is still being fought today. In A Voyage Long and Strange and Blue Latitudes he traces the routes of the early European explorers to discover how their "discoveries" are still impacting the "new world" today.
I find anything Adam Hochschild writes to be worth reading. This year I read his story of the very unpopular anti-war movement during World War 1.
In fiction, I liked Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, and John Irving's Last Night at Twisted Creek.
Carlos Eire was one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba in 1962. He was 11 years old. The first volume of his memoir tells the story about how life in Cuba changed when Castro took over and his second volume tells the amazing story of his journey toward a new life in America as a refugee. He was on his own! His parents who he thought would be following him to America never did (his father never did, his mother did years later). The books are: Waiting for Snow in Havana and Waiting to Die in Miami.
Always up for a good theological conversation, I liked Rob Bell's Love Wins although admitting that fact can get you tossed out of the Evangelical Church. Bell's writing is engaging and provocative. He likes to stir things up and pick fights but that is not all he is doing. He is asking the questions our culture is asking of the Church today. The witness of the Church is in real trouble. It is perceived as isolationist, intolerant, and anti just about everything. How will we have a witness if no one is listening or cares anymore what the Church is saying. We may have quarrels with the answers Bell comes up with but we have to deal with the questions if our witness is going to be credible today. It is amazing how much fear and anxiety within the Evangelical Church his book prompted. Seems we would rather excommunicate the messenger than listen to the message - which was, hey, real people are wondering about this stuff - how are we going to deal with it?
The witness of the Church needs to make a difference in society. Daniel Walker in God in a Brothel raises the issue of sex trafficking and how the Church can make a difference there. Bob Lupton who has ministered among the poor in Atlanta has written a very wise book about how the Church can help people and not harm them with their charity and good works. Good book to read for any Christians who want to "serve" others. It's called Toxic Charity.
Steve Jobs had more of an impact on us than maybe anyone else in the past 50 years. Everyone, it seems, carries around some device Jobs had a hand in creating. Some of us can hardly be without his inventions. They are shaping our lives: how we work and how we play. At a recent holiday gathering everyone was ipodding, or iphoning, or ipadding at various times. Out of town family members were present on the screen of the imac pro. Our grandchildren are more literate in the use of "I" devices than anything else. It's the brave new world of Steve Jobs. He was a brilliant, innovator whose passion for technology found a hunger in the marketplace for the same. In fact, his genius was to know what we wanted before we knew what we wanted and then make us want it. His biography, Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson is important for many reasons. Not only for the impact Jobs has on our lives but for the impact technology has on our lives. Jobs was famously relationally challenged. He had a hard time relating to anyone. His book is an attempt to let his children know who he was. He was a rude, insensitive and obnoxious boss. He had few friends and he was not known for loyalty to them. He had no faith other than in himself. His book tells the story of a life that was phenomenally successful in the business world and tragically unsuccessful in the relational world of family, friends and faith. It is a story of our times. There really is a disconnect between technology and people, things and relationships. We all deal with it every day. We all have to make choices. There is only so much time in every day. What do we want to be good at? What will last? What really matters? We need to keep asking ourselves those questions in an increasingly "I" world.