Some of the best books I read this year, in no particular order.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
I read McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses earlier this year and was wrecked by it, and this was no different. Don’t be thrown by the fact that it’s an Oprah pick–this is no ladies’ luncheon read. It’s apocalyptic, eerie, and almost unbearably sad, but with an ending that more than makes up for it.
A Sacred Sorrow, Michael Card
Michael has become a good friend, but that’s not why I recommend this. His last album, The Hidden Face of God was a record about lament, and he paid me the biggest honor one songwriter can pay another by recording one of my songs for it (“The Silence of God”). I traveled with Michael several times last year, and each night while he taught the audience about the lost language of lament, I hung on every word. I felt the same way when I read this book. One of my favorite Card quotes: “Nowhere in all of scripture does God ever say, ‘How dare you talk to me like that.'” He can handle our complaints, and our tears are the pathway to worship. Look for this one in the Rabbit Room store later this year (I hope).
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Not just one of my favorite books of the year, but of my life. Thanks to Jonathan Rogers for the hearty recommendation over a cheeseburger at lunch. For a fuller discussion, read the Rabbit Room review here.
Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
One part fascinating history of one of my favorite cities (Chicago) and one part murder mystery. I have worn the Captains Courageous out talking about this book. I’m a fan of creative nonfiction (books like The Perfect Storm, Into the Wild, Under the Banner of Heaven), and this is one of the best I’ve read. I just finished another Erik Larson book, Thunderstruck, which I also really liked.
Window Poems, Wendell Berry
I’m not one for poetry. I know I’m supposed to like it, but it usually leaves me wondering what the big deal is. I’m a fan of Tennyson and, of course, the poet laureate of my generation, Shel Silverstein. Because of my affection for his novels, I took to reading Berry’s poems on airplanes, and occasionally on the front porch here at the Warren. I learned that you can’t breeze through a poem and expect to get it. You have to read it aloud, and you have to read it more than once. Better yet, memorize it. Window Poems looks and feels like a book of Wendell Berry poems should. It’s illustrated, the poems aren’t dense or abstruse, so it’s the perfect short book of poems for a person who doesn’t get poetry. Best read in the woods with a pipe.
The Father Brown Omnibus, G.K. Chesterton
Another gift from Jason Gray. The book is old and is about four inches thick. It smells like a used book store, which next to pot roast is the best smell on earth. If you have a hankering for the crime-ridden, cobbled streets of foggy London, then let the priest/detective Father Brown be your guide. Chesterton spins a great story, and he surprises with glimmers of wisdom that make me feel like the kind old gentleman is winking at me through his monocle.
No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
More detective goodness from Jason Gray. I razzed him about this one because it sounds like another one of those Oprah books. But I read this one and the next one in quick succession. They’re short reads, charming, wholesome, and again, full of wisdom.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
This one has been discussed here too. Rowling’s over-blabbing about the books notwithstanding, I still think this epic story will stand the test of time. I read the first Harry Potter book before it was controversial or cool to read Harry Potter, and I looked eagerly forward to each next episode, wondering all the while what all the fuss from the church was about. Having now written the first of a fantasy series, I’m all the more amazed by Rowling’s gift. It’s not an easy thing to do, writing a book–let alone writing a book knowing that literally millions of people will be reading it, griping about it, scrutinizing it, demonizing it, or over-spiritualizing it. The real feat was that she pulled it off. The last book wasn’t perfect, but the finale was for me extremely satisfying. Read the Rabbit Room discussion here. And you can read the post Outing Dumbledore here.
Life of Pi, Yann Martel
Another great story. Read the Rabbit Room discussion here.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
I didn’t want to read this one. It was hard for me to get excited about kites in Afghanistan. Needless to say, that’s not what the book was about, really. I hope you find time to read this before you see the movie. I’m doubtful that the story will translate well to film, as I’m doubtful about most such adaptations.
The Dangerous Book for Boys, Conn and Hal Iggulden
I bought this for my sons, and they have since learned how to make a paper airplane that flies way farther than any of the ones I made out of old church bulletins when I was a kid. They also know how to make real arrows, how to play poker (but don’t tell their mom), and how to build a tree house. I wish I’d had this when I was a kid.
Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey
Really good book. I got two song ideas from it for the new record (All Things New and Invisible God). Much obliged, Yancey.
Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton
I don’t even know what to say about this one. I’m pretty sure I read it last year, but it was so earth-shaking I had to include it. It begs to be read more than once. Not five minutes after I read the last page I started over, partly because the ideas are so rich they need to be read again, and partly because the prose is so stirring. Like The Great Divorce by Lewis, it’s a great book with a lame title. Don’t be thrown off by it. Chesterton and Lewis were both masters at making complex ideas easy for us boneheads.