It is now spring and I find myself somewhat overwhelmed on many tasks and behinds on many duties. In fact, I am now facing the ever quickly approaching end of the school year. Where has time gone?
Normally, I post the best books of the (previous) year in January. And here I am making this post in May. There was a problem with my old blog site, and that entailed many efforts trying to revive that blog. The end result was starting a new blog—this one. Other delays occurred here and there, and I actually forgot for a time. But I must keep the tradition going, even if late.
The winner for best book of 2012 is
1. Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson. When I first learned of this book, I was quite excited. It lived up to and even surpassed my expectations. It deserves a full blog article or even a series. Ferguson is one of the best historians of our time. His defense of Christianity, which seems to be based on history rather than personal convictions, was worth the price of the book. This would be a book worth reading, teaching, rereading, and thinking of often.
2. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate and The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power by Robert Caro.
I read the first volume of Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson over 25 years ago. Then I read the second one some time in the distant past. It was about 10 years before I got out the third volume to read. The reason: The fourth volume was out. Read them both and am convinced that volume 3 is likely the most important book on political history I have ever read. Johnson was a political genius. If anyone wants to be a political philosopher, read Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, the Federalist Papers, and so on. If anyone wants to get into politics, read Caro’s still unfinished Years of Lyndon Johnson.
3. Twenty Five Books that Changed America by Thomas Foster.
This book was simply too much fun to read, as are Foster’s other books, How to Read Literature Like a Professor and How to Read a Novel Like a Professor. If I had my life to live over again, I would become a really smart teacher with a sense of humor like Foster’s. Even the chapter titles are a hoot, for example, the chapter on Moby Dick is titled “I’ve Been Working on the Whale Road” and the one on Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses is titled “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Cousin.” I would not enter an American literature classroom again without this book.
4. Bret Lott. In this case, it is an author and not just a title. For the third year, Bret Lott has reached the top ten, and I am certain that he was disappointed last year to come in second. But placing on my list for three years in a row is quite a feat. And, if he did not win the top honor this year, he has this honor: I read more books by him than by any other author. And, I have a few more waiting to be read.
The Man Who Owned Vermont. A good story of a man whose life has broken down and who is trying to recover. Lott writes about ordinary folks, and he writes about sinners. Life for sinners is filled with graces that hint of Grace.
The Difference Between Men and Women: Stories. Short stories are often puzzling to me, but this collection is rewarding. Lott’s story that spins off of Faulkner’s story “A Rose for Emily” is brilliant.
The Hunt Club . This novel is filled with murder, danger, suspense, and revelations. Quite a compelling book. It introduces one of the most likable characters ever–Huger Dillard and another amazing character, his “uncle,” Leland Dillard. Don’t read this one if you are looking for a calm read.
Dead Low Tide. This is a sequel to The Hunt Club. This is another edge-of-the-seat read.
Fathers, Sons, and Brothers . This book is autobiographical. It is a pleasant, calm read. You will learn or be reminded of a lot about being a father and a son or a brother. This book was just too short.
Jewel. This is, perhaps, Lott’s best book. It is quite powerful and beautiful. If you want to understand southern life and culture, read this book. But its focus is not the South. It is a testimony of a mother’s love, a love that endures and creates pain and struggles. Jewel’s daughter is a Down’s Syndrome child.
5. The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson. Thanks to Jeff Bruce and George Grant for calling my attention to the writings of Eugene Peterson. Peterson is a bit off the straight and narrow path of orthodoxy I adhere to, but he is close enough to my convictions and good enough as a writer to instruct me often and a lot. Peterson’s literary style is a delight, even when his content (occasionally) strays. This is an autobiography that could be read and enjoyed by any reader, but it contains much that is helpful and practical for a pastor.
6. The Meaning of Marriage and The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. Keller has become another favorite writer. I think he is one of the best Christian writers and thinkers around today. I know, I know, I know that he has said this and that thing that is unacceptable, off base, confusing, etc. My library is full of flawed preachers, theologians, and writers. The Prodigal God could be reread weekly with profit. It is a really helpful discussion of the parable. The Meaning of Marriage, co-authored with Mrs. Keller, is one I need to read often.
7. 1 Timothy by Philip Graham Ryken. This series of sermons was the best help for me in preaching through 1 Timothy. Great devotional, theological, pastoral writing. This volume is part of P & R Books series called Reformed, Expository Commentaries. I wish I had all of the series and all of Ryken’s books. He is, by the way, the president of Wheaton College.
8. Young, Restless, Reformed by Collin Hansen. I really loved this book. It fits my hopes and prayers for what I can not just read about, but experience. I recently reviewed this book, along with Letters to a Young Calvinist by James K. A. Smith and Killing Calvinism by Greg Dutcher. This book is a travelogue of a journalist who surveys the current and growing trends among Reformed and Calvinistic types.
9. Here is another case of an author winning a slot for multiple books. I got to know Pat Conroy this year by read four of his books.
My Losing Season. This is an enjoyable and frustrating account of Conroy’s basketball career at the Citadel. Lots of rough language. Really enjoyable story at points. My biggest frustration was that Conroy’s basketball struggles all look great from the viewpoint of an unathletic person.
The Lords of Discipline. A page turner, read in a week, mostly at night until I got to the last third. Rough, too rough, language. Powerful story.
The Water is Wide. This was one of Conroy’s first books and it shows. This is an account of his year of teaching on Yamacraw Island off the coast of South Carolina.
My Reading Life. I read and savored this book slowly, a little here and there. This is, overall, a great book about books by a man who knows books from the reader’s and writer’s angle.
10. The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. This book was so good that I read it in October and again in November. I wish I had a box of copies to give away.