Friday, December 15, 2017

2017 Books

Over my my other blog at the church website, I recently posted my top 10 books of the year that challenged me spiritually.  Of course, I read other books this year that didn't necessarily challenge me spiritually but that I found enjoyable.  I figured I'd do a second top 10 list here.  Some books appear on both lists, but there's a good amount of diversity.  This is a list of the 10 (and a half - more on that in a minute) books I found most enjoyable or most appreciated this year.  Click on the thumbnails to find the books on Amazon.

10.5 - Tyranny of the Urgent by Charles E. Hummel.  The first book on this list doesn't count as a full book (hence, it's #10.5) because it's very short - actually it's only a booklet.  This is an important book.  It was recommended to me just last month, and since it's very short it's very easy to read.  The book(let) is important because most people find themselves too short on time.  And being a pastor, I know firsthand that when people are short on time, the first thing they usually sacrifice is church involvement.  It doesn't have to be that way, though.  And in fact, as this book explains, you don't even have to be short on time at all.  You need to learn to budget and use the time God has given you wisely and well.  This very short book will help you do that.

10. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  When the school year began, my son started reading this book for school.  He loved it, and he recommended that I read it too, so I did.  He kept telling me that it had an unbelievable ending, and it does.  It seems that fiction I read and really enjoy tends to be young adult fiction (go figure).  One of the things I liked about this book was what seemed, to me at least, to be the old fashioned style of writing and dialogue used.  It doesn't shy away from difficult vocabulary.  And although the setting of the book is modern times, it almost feels like it was written 50 years ago.  It's a fun, low-key adventure story (by the way, I'm currently reading through the second installment in this series, and enjoying it).

9. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi.  We go from the young adult fiction of the entry above, to the horror of a mass murder scene by the infamous and now deceased Charles Manson.  This book was recommended to me by a Facebook friend about how circumstantial evidence is worthwhile evidence and can be used to form conclusions.  That's definitely the case with this book.  The book details the murders of the so-called "Manson Family" and the court case that sent most of them to jail for life.  This book is not for the faint of heart, as it does describe the mass-murders that took place at the end of the 60's, but the process of walking through the trial and hearing how the evidence was presented is fascinating. (Reader beware: this book obviously contains depictions of graphic violence, murder, and contains foul language.)

8. Lucky Bastard by Joe Buck.  Let me start by apologizing for the title, which was, in fact, enough to scare me away from this book for a long time.  It turns out that the title is actually very descriptive of Joe Buck's life.  And like it or not (I, for one, do not), Joe Buck is a mainstay in professional sports, especially Major League Baseball, if for no other reason than that he rides the coattails of his now deceased and legendary father, Jack Buck.  I don't really like Joe Buck.  I think his play-by-play announcing style - especially for baseball - is awful.  As I listen to him, it is obvious to me that he is calling the game in such a way so as to set himself up for a really catchy or observant statement when a big play develops.  It's ridiculous (plus, he's obviously biased for big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox).  Anyway, none of that has anything to do with the book.  The book tells his story, all the way from being born out of wedlock - the result of an adulterous affair his father had with another woman - to the advancement he received in baseball announcing due to, well, luck.  As I implied earlier, I hesitated to read this book mostly because of the vulgar title, and also because it was Joe Buck's life story.  But I was actually taken in by his descriptions of growing up around the game of baseball, and what it's like to be an announcer. (For some reason, I have a deep fascination with play-by-play baseball announcing.  Most of my childhood baseball memories are narrated in my mind by Herb Carneal and John Gordon.)  If you like baseball - and even if, like me, you don't like Joe Buck very much - you'll enjoy this book. (Reader beware: this book contains plenty of foul language and irreverent humor.)

7. The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan.  This book was recommended by a somewhat high profile preacher that I follow on Facebook.  The book is the memoir of Andrew Klavan, who was born and raised a secular Jew.  The book details the account of his spiritual journey and ultimate awakening to the truth of the gospel.  It's a fantastic journey to see how God can intersect the life of anyone he chooses, no matter their circumstances or surroundings, and tear down the most prideful of hearts.  Plus, Klavan is a great writer and narrator, if you decide to get the audiobook.  I definitely had some theological and practical differences with Klavan along the way, but his story is encouraging and a worthwhile read.  

6. The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe.  The Kingdom of Speech is perhaps the most interesting book I read in 2017.  It argues against the evolutionary hypothesis as a legitimate explanation of the origin of life, and it does so in a fascinating and entertaining way.  The basic premise of the book is that evolution cannot account for the creation of human speech.  A layman's look at the field of linguistics simply yet comprehensively demonstrates that the gift of speech could not have evolved.  Plus, it's a rather short read.  (Reader beware: there is some brief foul language.)

5. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  This book has been on a lot of Top 10 lists across the internet, and created quite a buzz earlier in the year.  It's a gripping true story about a young boy's growth into adulthood in "hillbilly" culture and turbulent relationships he has along the way with his parents, grandparents, and his culture in general.  At times the tale is tragic, and at times, funny.  The book is almost too complex to describe here.  Although not written from a Christian perspective, you will be challenged to think long, hard, and biblically about poverty, justice, social classes and stigmas, human nature, personal responsibility, sin, family relationships, and a host of other issues.  (Reader beware: this book contains plenty of foul language and depictions of drug and alcohol abuse.)

4. Dodge City by Tom Clavin.  I am fascinated by the old west, whether in book, movie, or TV form (I think my favorite fill of all time is "3:10 to Yuma").  Dodge City tells the story of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, the two lawmen who attempted to tame the "wickedest town in the American west."  It was fascinating to be able to separate the fact from legend when it came to Earp, and to learn more about Masterson - someone whom I knew virtually nothing about before the reading of the book.  Much to my delight, the book also contained biographic information about Doc Holliday and even an historical recounting of the gunfight at the OK Corral.  There is a ton of historical information in this book that I ate up, and you will too if you're even remotely interested in the old west. (Reader beware: this historical book contains descriptions of violence, gunfights, prostitution, and other morally suspect activities that were common parts of early American life.)

3. Silence by Shusaku Endo.  Although written in the mid-20th century, earlier this year a movie of the same title was released, and I began to learn about the story of Silence.  I did not see the movie, however, but instead decided to read the novel.  Considered to be one of the best novels of the 20th century, I found it very interesting, very engaging, and a good look at suffering for Christ, albeit from a Roman Catholic perspective.  The novel tells the story of a 16th century young Portuguese priest who goes on a missionary journey to Japan to see the oppression that Catholic missionaries and Japanese Christians have suffered at the hands of Japanese persecutors.  What he finds is the barbaric treatment of priests and Japanese Christians, and even suffers the same himself.  The title of the novel is derived from the central question of the story: "If God can see the evil that happens, why does he remain silent?"  Unfortunately, Endo offers no answer to the question, and perhaps there is not one from the Catholic perspective.  We do have answers, however, and that's what I found frustrating about this book: I wanted to shout out to the characters and encourage them with truth as they struggle with the difficult questions of life.  This book caused me to think a lot, however, which is what good books do.  (Reader beware: this book contains mild depictions of torture and violence.)

2. Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton.  Also written in the mid-20th century is this biography of Martin Luther.  2017 was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and so it seemed appropriate to me to read about the principle figure of the Reformation.  Bainton's biography was recommended to me as the standard of Luther biographies, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Martin Luther is a complicated character, and it was an enjoyable and educational process to read more about the man's life, ministry, and role in history and western culture.  As Bainton correctly asserts in the book, Luther remains one of the top-five culture-shaping characters in all of human history.  (Here I Stand is available in the Riverview Library)

1. The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson.  The Wingfeather Saga is yet another young adult fiction entry on this list and is, I think, the best thing I read all year.  To be fair, this is not just one book, but a series of four books, and I was taken in by each one.  So much so that as soon as I finished the books on my own, I began reading them from the beginning to my children.  Currently, we're working our way through the fourth book.  The books tell the story of one family - the Wingfeathers - and particularly the children: Janner, Kalmar, and Leelee, and the adventures they have as they discover their true identities and the implications it has for the world in which they live as they battle against the Fangs of Dang and their master, Gnag the Nameless.  An appreciation for fantasy literature is certainly helpful, but definitely not required.  There are fascinating and excellent examples of good biblical character traits in these books, including heroism, sacrifice, courage, bravery, and countless other noble and biblical virtues.  And Peterson brilliantly creates a whole new world filled with unique creatures and challenges.   It's a great series for kids, and especially for boys, with perhaps one of the best endings I've ever read in a series of novels.  The series begins slowly in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and continues with North! Or Be Eaten and then becomes mysterious with Monster in the Hollows and concludes fantastically with The Warden and the Wolf King.  Don't let the fact that this series is young adult fiction discourage you from reading it.  I can't recommend this series highly enough for children and adults alike.  (The Wingfeather Saga is available in the Riverview Library.)

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