A Year in Review(s)

In the past couple of weeks the blogosphere has been full of ‘best of list’ as we’ve looked back on 2013. Here is are some of my personal favorite books that I read in 2013 (some are published earlier).  I restricted myself to books I have read cover to cover (so Paul & the Faithfulness of God does not make this list). If I have shared my review on this blog in the past, I have included a link to my review. Here is my list:

Best Fiction: Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgul

 Englewood Review of Books named Doug Worgul’s Thin Blue Smoke the best novel of 2012. Set in Kansas City, Thin Blue Smoke tells the story of ex-baseball player Laverne Williams, who operates “Smoke Meat,” a downtown barbecue joint. Laverne, his employees and patrons are broken people. The novel is a story of healing and redemption, but it is not focused solely on Laverne. One of the most poignant characters is Ferguson Glenn, a semi-famous Episcopalian priest who wrote a book in the 1960’s everyone with a social conscious read. However, he is also an alcoholic with only a smattering of faith left in him.

I can’t say too many good things about this book. It made me laugh and cry. Plus most of the action happens in a Barbecue restaurant. This book will make you crave good smoked meat. Or even vinegar pie.

Get this book from Burnside Books or Amazon.

Favorite Book on the PsalmsThe Case For the Psalms by N.T. Wright

I love the Psalms and read several books on the Psalms every year. I also am a huge fan of N.T. Wright. However I wasn’t convinced that I would love this book. Wright is a New Testament guy and a prolific author. Can everything he writes really be that goodYes. Yes, it can.

Wright’s case for the Psalms, is his way of advocating for the use of the Psalms in corporate worship and daily prayers. As an Anglican, this has been his practice and this book shares some of Wrights devotional practice and theology of worship.

However Wright argues that for us to inhabit the psalms, we need to accommodate ourselves to them and learn to mark time, space, and matter differently than we do in post-enlightenment Western culture. As always Wright is a perceptive guide.

But I guess what I love about this book is hearing Wright’s own experience of the Psalms and the ways they have been meaningful to him. Perhaps I am just a fan boy, but this seriously good stuff! And I will likely read it again soon.

Available from HarperOne or Amazon.

Favorite Graphic Novel: Essex County: Collected by Jeff Lemire

Essex County by Jeff Lemire tells the stories of several characters in Essex County, Ontario whose lives overlap: a young orphan now being raised by his uncle: two estranged brothers: a middle-aged nurse who cares for the community. This graphic novel inhabits Essex and tells of the complicated history of its residents.

I love the art, the ink, the story and the characters. If you think comics are just  for kids, you are depriving yourself of some great literature. Great piece of Canadiana too!

Available from Top Shelf Comix and Amazon.

Favorite General Non-Fiction Book: Quiet by Susan Cain

Susan Cain’s exploration of introversion reveals many of the gifts that introverts bring to the table. While Extroverts privilege action, introverts thoughtfully weigh evidence before acting. While I am personally more of an extrovert, this book made me appreciate the introverted parts of myself (no-one is pure introvert or extrovert). Cain also provides a thoughtful look at the Asian American experience and the implicit conflict between two cultures, one which idealizes extroversion and one that does not. The tension is felt most acutely in second generation Asian Americans. Fascinating look at human temperament!

Available from Random House and Amazon.

Click here to read my review.

Favorite Memoir:  Soil and Sacrament by Fred Bahnson

I absolutely love memoirs, especially when they describe a faith journey. Fred Bahnson’s Soil & Sacrament describes Bahnson’s life in crisis. He had dedicated four years of his life to fostering the Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, North Carolina, but Bahnson was burnt out. So he embarks on a  year-long journey to four communal farms where he rediscovers his spiritual center, his vocation and his commitment to creation care. The stories of his year are intermixed with reminiscence of his own journey up to that point.

This is a great book for anyone interested in organic farming (I live in the Pacific Northwest and this describes everyone I know), Creation Care and meaningful vocation.

Available through Simon & Schuster and Amazon.

Click here to read my full review.

Favorite ‘Practical’ Theology: The Relational Pastor by Andrew Root

Embodiment. Presence. Relationship. Place.  Incarnation. Sometimes these things are spoken of by ministers as tools for exerting influence on others for salvation. Andrew Root gives us an alternate way of thinking about ministry and mission: Ministry is about curating a space for mutual sharing. Ministry is not about manipulating others for their good.

This book will help us ministers overcome the temptation of technique. The Incarnation is not a model for us to copy wholesale to achieve our desired results (i.e. saved souls, bigger churches, etc.) The Incarnation is God’s self-sharing and through it, we participate with Christ in the life of the Triune God. This means pastoral ministry is less ‘managerial’ and more about life-sharing. This book is a game changer, because ministry is not a game: it’s a relationship.

This book is available from InterVarsity Press and Amazon.

Here is my full review.

Favorite Preaching Book: One Year to Better Preaching by Daniel Overdorf

There are lots of books on preaching which help preachers hone skills. Other preaching books focus on helping us develop our content, making sure we have something worth saying. Some books encourage preachers to pray and have people pray with and for us. One Year to Better Preaching does this and more! Overdorf has 52 weeks worth of exercises which focus on developing a particular aspect of preaching (i.e. exegesis, sermon writing, presentation, prayer, sermon forms, etc.).  While I would not use this book as a weekly guide for sermon writing, it is possible to use this book to focus on particular growing edges with your preaching. Great resource!

This book is available from Kregel Publications and is also available at Amazon.

Click to read my review.

Favorite Book on Prayer: A Guidebook to Prayer by Mary Kate Morse

Mary Kate Morse calls us to pray twenty four different ways. What I liked about this book is that Morse has some great suggestions for praying individually, with a partner or in a group setting. Each chapter ends with several suggestions. And Morse has such grace in her presentation. Many books on the spiritual life make you feel guilty about the ways you don’t pray (or read, or do stuff). This book is not a guilt trip but a warm invitation to participate in the life of God.

I read this in 2013, but my wife and I are using it  as we start 2014!

Available from InterVarsity Press and Amazon.

Here is my review.

Favorite book of Monastic Wisdom: Echoes of the Word by Enzo Bianchi

 It is always a pleasure to discover a new author. Bianchi founded the Eccumenical, Bose Community in Italy in 1965 (just after Vatican II). As prior of the community, he is sought after for advice on the spiritual life. This book shares insights born in the crucible of community.  Bianchi draws heavily on the Western Monastic tradition, especially the Benedictines and the Desert Fathers.

This book is available from Paraclete Press and on Amazon.

Here is a link to my review.

Favorite Book About Community: The Intentional Christian Community Handbook by David Janzen

Janzen discusses the inner dynamics of life in intentional Christian community: forming a community, growing pains and interpersonal dynamics, maturing communities. As a man who has lived for decades in intentional community, Janzen has lots of wisdom to offer. However he also synthesizes the insights of several practitioners and communities. A lot of food for thought here for anyone who feels the pull towards deeper community.

Here is a link to my review

You can find this book at Paraclete Press and Amazon.

Honorable Mentions:

I limited myself to 10 categories and it makes me sad that I left some really great books out. Because of the overarching theme of this blog, I restricted these to ministry or theological resources:

Youth Ministry from the Outside In by Brandon McKoy (IVP Academic)

Practicing Care in Rural Congregations and Communities by Jeanne Hoeff, L. Shannon Jung and Joretta Marshall (Fortress Press)

Recovering the Full Mission of God by Dean Flemming (IVP Academic)

Preaching?: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching by Alec Motyer (Christian Focus)

Dinosaur vs. the Potty by Bob Shea (Hyperion)

Intergenerational Christian Formation by Holly Catterton Allen (IVP Academic)

Prototype by Jonathan Martin (Tyndale)

Miracle Work by Jordon Seng (IVP)

Partnering with the King by John Hiigel (Paraclete Press)

The Psalter Reclaimed and The Psalms as Torah by Gordon Wenham (Crossway and Baker Academic)

I could go on. . .this was a good year for books! What are some of your favorites?

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2 thoughts on “A Year in Review(s)”

  1. I really liked Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber. If you like memoirs, then hers is one you might want to read. I don’t know how else to describer her writing style but “beautiful”, but then again I suppose it helps that she is an English professor.

    I also liked Changing Signs of Truth by Crystal Downing, which I started in 2012 and finished earlier this year. It may seem a little impractical to read a book on the semiotics of communication, but she covers a lot of ground and just reading her examples is well worth the book. She covers things from the changing views of Christmas to how having a sun tan used to be a symbol of the lower, working classes as opposed to today’s elite and wealthy.

    Finally, for fiction, I’m slowly working my way through the Cork O’Connor series by William Kent Krueger. It’s really good and although it’s not explicitly Christian, Krueger does seem to be somewhat open toward the Catholic faith. Plus, because I suspect Krueger is a person of faith himself, it strikes a nice balance between having a good style (something a lot of Christian fiction seems to lack) while steering clear of excessive use of offensive material. Basically, it’s down-to-earth in that the characters are real but not in the Patricia Cornwell sense of having a swear word every 5-10 words.

    1. Thanks for the recommendations! I hear ya on the lack of ‘Christian fiction’ style. I’ve said before, I love fiction that is by Christians, but I am suspicious of Christian fiction. Carolyn Weber and Crystal Downing both sound interesting. I’ll check them out! Thanks!

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