I read about 70 books this year, including a little over 50 new books. Most of the new books were non-fiction (for my PhD studies), while the majority of my re-reads were fiction (e.g. Narnia, LOTR, Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice, the Brothers Karamazov).
After a year spent sifting through words, here are the four books that stood out in 2014.
Book that Made Me Think the Most:
When God Talks Back by Tanya Luhrmann
This was one of the first books I read this year, a book on evangelical spirituality by a non-Christian sociologist. If you’ve ever wondered how a “relationship with God” looks like to a sympathetic outsider who embeds herself deeply in evangelical culture, this is the book to read. While reading Luhrmann’s account, I often felt an ache in my stomach. Occasionally I felt patronized, but more often I felt known, as if I was reading my own story. I have written a full review here.
Best Work of Fiction: Lilith by George MacDonald
MacDonald is best known as the writer who “baptized” C.S. Lewis’ imagination, and Lewis’ guide to heaven in The Great Divorce. Thus most people come to MacDonald through Lewis, who is simultaneously MacDonald’s greatest advocate and greatest albatross. Lilith is MacDonald’s greatest work; it is The Great Divorce on steroids. While Lewis’s preference is to lead readers along with his clear and incisive prose, MacDonald plunges the reader into a fantastical world with all the haziness and poignancy of a dream. The final pages brought me to tears and stirred my hope as few books have ever done.
How (Not) to Be Secular by Jamie Smith
Smith’s book is a synopsis of a much larger book, Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. That book is IMHO the most important book for understanding modern secularity, but is so dense and imposing that few will read it. Thankfully, in just over 100 pages, Smith has managed to make Taylor accessible for a wider audience. While no substitute for reading Taylor, Smith offers the very next best thing. I have recommended it countless times and we are using it for a class I’m assisting with in January. Essential reading, especially for those in ministry.
Death by Living by N.D. Wilson
Having loved Wilson’s earlier Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, I set out to read Wilson’s newer volume last year. I set it down, but when I picked it up again halfway through the year, I could not put it down. The subtitle summarizes its argument: “Life is meant to be spent.”It it will be particularly meaningful for people who are over 30 and who feel like life is moving too quickly. Chapter eight, The (Blessed) Lash of Time, is worth the price of the book; reading that chapter was a numinous experience.
In 2015, I’m hoping to read more new fiction. I also am planning to take my major comprehensive PhD exams, so it may be a banner year for books!
What was the best book you read this year?