January 1, 2008

Books I Enjoyed Most in 2007

Category: Literature :: Permalink

As is my custom on this blog, here’s a list of the books I particularly enjoyed this past year.  The list is in alphabetical order.

* Edward Ardizzone, Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain.  This is a great children’s story, which I’ve read to Aletheia … well, I read the whole thing through only once and I’m pretty sure I was the only one awake at the end.  I’ve read the start of it to her several times, but she’s usually asleep by the first few pages (or maybe even before I begin), which suits me just fine.  Still, I’ve enjoyed the story and the art a lot.  Great stuff!

* Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.  I’ve read this one before, but this time I’m reading Austen in connection with Peter Leithart’s excellent Miniatures and Morals.  And in case you’re wondering, real men do read Austen, which is the title of Leithart’s introduction.  I blogged about it here.

* Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.  Bancroft argues forcefully and persuasively against a number of views about why men become abusive, many of which are likely views you’ve heard.  He has worked extensively with abusive men, and so he has good insight into their behavior.  Bancroft argues that abusiveness has nothing to do with “losing control” or an inability to communicate well.  Instead, he says that the roots of abuse are possessiveness and a desire to control someone else.  In other words, the problem is not losing control of himself; the problem is trying to gain control of someone else.  Bancroft isn’t writing from a biblical perspective, but his work is helpful pastorally (not to mention personally) because he doesn’t soft-pedal sin or put up with excuses, especially ones clothed in psychobabble.

* Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound and The Long-Legged House.  Very thoughtful essays, the first focusing on racism and its impact, not so much on the black community but on the whites who perpetuated it, and the second mainly on the importance of place.

* Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes.  A great novel for the end of October.  At times, Bradbury’s language may be overly rich; you can overdose on the purple prose.  But it’s a magical novel all the same.

* John Buchan, Huntingtower.  This novel is always associated in my mind with a rather dark period in my life when I was feeling lethargic and depressed.  Huntingtower was springtime and light and a return to joy for me.  It’s still a bracing book.

* Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely.  The second of Chandler’s novels about Philip Marlowe, the private investigator.  The plot is good, but the metaphors are gloriously fun. 

* Joy Chant, Red Moon and Black Mountain.  A fantasy novel that starts out as a children’s novel (one might think) but rapidly becomes much more grown-up.  There were elements I didn’t care for and parts of the book that seemed a little slow to me, but on the whole it’s a good book.

* Agatha Christie, The A. B. C. Murders.  I thought I knew, from a previous reading, how this book ended.  Some time back, I started a different Agatha Christie novel only to discover that the twist I had thought belonged to The A. B. C. Murders actually took place in this other novel.  Which meant that I had no idea how The A. B. C. Murders actually turned out.  Well, it turned out to be one of the most interesting Christie novels I’ve read recently and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

* Jack DeJong, ed.  Bound Yet Free: Readings in Reformed Church Polity.  This isn’t the most exciting read and not all the essays are well written (or, perhaps, well translated).  Still, it’s the only thing out there that collects important writings in the church polity of the Doleantie and I found several of the essays stimulating.

* Brian Doyle, Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies.  A very fun collection of essays.  See my comments about this book elsewhere on the blog, specifically here and here.

* Glenn Greenwald, How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok.  The most disturbing book I read this year.  Greenwald points out how President Bush deliberately instructed the NSA to ignore the laws passed by congress concerning eavesdropping and then digs into the philosophy that undergirds that disregard for the law, namely the view that the president is above the law.  Along the way, Greenwald also talks about US involvement in torture and about the practice of detaining US citizens suspected of terrorist involvement for indefinite periods of time without charges or the chance of a trial.

* Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change.  A very interesting collection of essays.  I was particularly struck by … well, several things, some of which I’ve blogged.  But one of the things that I didn’t blog about was this: Hoffer points out how, in some cultures, especially in the past, inventions and technological developments were seen as toys.  The Chinese had gunpowder, for instance, but they didn’t use it for anything productive; they used it for fireworks.  Often creativity starts out as play, it seems, and only later settles down to productive use.

* Peter Hopkirk, Like Hidden Fire: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire.  I’ve read John Buchan’s novel Greenmantle more than once, and probably thought that it was entirely fictional.  When I included Greenmantle on my list of favorite books a couple years ago, Paul Baxter told me I should read this one.  Like Hidden Fire is the true story underlying Greenmantle, the story of how the Germans in World War I tried to unite the Muslim world against the British.  A very enjoyable read, with characters here that could have come straight from Buchan.

* Thomas Howard, Hallowed Be This House.  If you’ve read Doug Wilson’s My Life for Yours, you may remember that he says he got the idea for his book from this one.  In fact, he got the title from this one, too.  Howard goes through the house and meditates on the various things that make up a house, the doors, the front hall, the living room, the kitchen, and so on, frequently stressing, in the line that became Wilson’s title, that our lives are meant to be lived sacrificially, that we are to pour ourselves out for one another, and that even the structure of our homes bears witness to this purpose.  Well worth reading.

* James B. Jordan, Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future and Trees and Thorns: Studies in Genesis 2-4.  The first of these two books is a short booklet, but don’t let its size fool you.  Crisis says a lot in a few pages.  Along the way, Jordan talks about the progress from Father to Son/Brother to Spirit in Scripture, about the development in Western Civilization from tribes to kingdoms to empires, about the church’s calling in the present day, and a whole lot more.  Mind-stretching stuff.

No less important is Trees and Thorns, which is a collection of essays, originally sent out monthly to supporters of Biblical Horizons, on Genesis 2-4.  There are load and loads (and loads!) of important insight into these passages of Scripture here.  I preached on Genesis 1-4 this past year, and owe many of the things that I said to Jordan.

* Garret Keizer, A Dresser of Sycamore Trees: The Finding of a Ministry.  An often fascinating book by a laypastor in Vermon about his calling and his work.  There were a number of points where I disagreed with his views on things, but I found myself challenged and encouraged by so many things in this book that it made my list of favorites.

* Ursula K. LeGuin, Planet of Exile.  This is the first (and only) LeGuin book I’ve read, and it’s probably not her best.  Still, I found her writing compelling and beautiful and I’ll be reading more by her in the future.

* Peter J. Leithart, A Great Mystery: Fourteen Wedding Sermons.  This is a great collection of wedding sermons, including the sermon that Leithart preached for my own wedding.  But don’t be misled.  These aren’t your simple “Love each other” sermons.  There’s a lot of meat here, a lot of things worth pondering.  And the one he preached for Moriah and me is probably the only wedding sermon you’ve ever encountered that referred to cannibalism.  There.  Now you have to read it.

* Peter J. Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church.  I reread this book a few months ago and was surprised to see how many things I thought were just coming into discussion now were already published here years ago.  There wasn’t a lot that was new to me this time through, but I did very much appreciate the whole book.

* C. S. Lewis, Perelandra and A Preface to Paradise Lost.  I read Preface first, and I’ve been quoting it on this blog ever since.  Don’t assume that you have to be interested in Paradise Lost to appreciate this book; there’s a lot of stuff here about worship, reverence, respect, hierarchy, nobility, and a host of other subjects that you don’t want to miss.  Perelandra is related in some ways to Paradise Lost, being a story about a paradise which isn’t lost yet, and I was interested to see how some of the themes in Preface were worked out in story form here.  This is the second of Lewis’s science fiction-ish novels.

* C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.  I read this early in the year and loved it.  There are profound things on every page and often in every paragraph.  I’ve quoted a few on this blog, but the temptation is to keep quoting and quoting.  To satisfy that impulse, I’ve been reading a couple of these letters each week at our Bible study, a practice I highly recommend.

* Arnold Lobel, Days with Frog and Toad and Frog and Toad Together.  More books I’ve read to Aletheia.  In fact, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read these.  The other two books about Frog and Toad are good, too, but they don’t quite come up to the level of these ones. The story “Cookies” in Frog and Toad Together is simply outstanding, as is “Alone” in Days with Frog and Toad.

* Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade.  Who would have thought that a bunch of essays by an undertaker would be so interesting?  Not me, but I’m glad that I saw this author mentioned (by Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds) and picked the book up.

* Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran.  Maybe this doesn’t look like something you’d be interested in.  After all, the title refers to a novel that you may view with suspicion (Lolita) and the book is about a book club.  Ho hum?

Well, the book certainly isn’t for everyone, but I enjoyed it a lot.  I very much appreciated Nafisi’s discussion of Lolita, Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, and a few other novels, and her discussion of Lolita may overturn whatever ideas you had about the novel.  But even more important was her description of the changes that took place in Iran after the Islamic Revolution and how they affected people, and women in particular.

* Patrick O’Brian, The Mauritius Command.  Another in O’Brian’s wonderful series about Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin.  Brilliant writing, a great plot, lots of humor mixed with some sorrow.  Beautiful.

* Brendan O’Donnell, Rain from a Rainless Sky: A Work of Theological Botany.  This was Brendan’s thesis at New St. Andrews, and it’s well worth perusing.  All of creation is symbolic; all of it is designed by God to teach us something.  So what are we to learn from sagebrush?

* Stormie Omartian, The Power of a Praying Husband.  “What?” you say.  “I see this book and all the variants of it (Power of a Praying Wife, Power of a Praying Mother, Power of a Praying Parent, Power of a Praying Dog-sitter … oh, I just made that up) all over the place.  It’s some charismatic book, isn’t it?  What’s it doing on your list of best books?”

But it really was one of the best things I read this year.  I picked it up because a friend of mine, Rich Bledsoe, recommended it as one of the most helpful things for a marriage.  Which is simply to say that thoughtful prayer is one of the most helpful things for a marriage.  Most of us, however, aren’t good at thoughtful prayer.  If I were to ask you what your wife needs prayer for, you could probably think of a few things.  But what Omartian has done is think of a lot of things, grouped into twenty categories.  She provides some discussion, a few Bible verses, and sample prayers.

Yes, there’s some stuff here that seems weird to me.  At times, in the middle of the prayer, she has the pray-er addressing his wife (“And to my wife, I say…”), which seems very strange to me in the context of a prayer to God and which strikes me as something I’ve encountered only in charismatic circles.  But ignore that.  Ignore all the weird stuff here.  The book is still worthwhile simply because it will help you pray for areas of your wife’s life and for needs your wife has that you have never noticed or thought about.  And that’s valuable.

Sure, you could have written a similar book if you’d thought of it.  Sure, someone like Doug Wilson might have been able to write an even better book of prayers.  But you didn’t and neither did Doug.  Stormie Omartian did (and a host of similar books which are all probably just as helpful), and so we should say “Thank you.”

* Gervase Phinn, The Other Side of the Dale.  Fun stuff.  Like James Herriot, only about a school inspector in England.

* Walker Percy, The Second Coming.  What can I say about this one?  I enjoyed this novel, understood large parts of it, and need to read it again sometime.

* J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  The last three of the series.  Darker than the previous volumes, these books show that the series is definitely not (or not just) “kid’s fiction.”  They also make clear what Rowling hinted at from the beginning, namely that she was writing with a Christian framework in mind.  I enjoyed them very, very much.

* Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, I Am An Impure Thinker.  Dense, challenging, and fascinating essays.  They’ll change your whole way of thinking.

* Gene Wolfe, The Wizard Knight (published as The Knight and The Wizard).  Great fantasy novels which are, at the same time, schools of wisdom, all about maturation and what it takes to be a man, a knight, and a king.  Wolfe is one of my favorite writers.  Worth reading again and again.

* N. D. Wilson, Leepike Ridge.  A fun adventure novel.

* Sara Zarr, Story of a Girl.  An excellent young adult novel by a Christian writer.  Moriah and I both read this in one weekend and we talked and talked about it afterwards.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:55 pm | Discuss (11)

11 Responses to “Books I Enjoyed Most in 2007”

  1. michael Says:

    Thanks, John. I enjoy these yearly literary recollections.

  2. Callie Says:

    Thank you for your thoughts. I was reminded of some old favorites and got some new books to add to my list to read. (By the way, Cookies is also my favorite Frog and Toad story. Have you seen the 1970ish clay animated production of these stories? They are worth looking for. )

  3. Paul B Says:

    Thanks for this, John.

    You note, regarding Stormie Omartian’s book, that “At times, in the middle of the prayer, she has the pray-er addressing his wife (”And to my wife, I say…”)…”

    I noted the same thing, and it seemed strange to me, too. And yet the psalms do something similar, as in Ps 130: “O Lord, if you should mark iniquities … O Israel, hope in the Lord.” On the other hand, I guess you could say that Ps 130 would be prayed/sung within earshot of other Israelites, while Stormie’s prayers probably wouldn’t be prayed in the presence of one’s wife. Though come to think of it, why not?

    Anyway, I enjoyed the book, as you know. Rich liked her more recent book on thanksgiving, The Prayer That Changes Everything, as well.

  4. Gabe Martini Says:

    I also enjoyed Nafisi’s book.

  5. John Barach Says:

    I haven’t seen the Frog and Toad animations. Thanks for the recommendation, Callie, and welcome to the blog!

  6. Gabe Martini Says:


    If you liked “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” you should check out “Persepolis.” It is pretty interesting. There’s a movie that just came out about it, as well.

  7. Kathleen Says:

    You have some unusual and very interesting sounding books on this list. Thank you for posting it. I’m always on the lookout for good and challenging books.

    I read a couple of Wendell Berry books last year, both novels, and loved them. I plan to read some of his essays this year, too. Also, an excellent idea to reread Screwtape every year. Always good stuff in there. And thanks for the blurb on Reading Lolita…I was wondering about that.

  8. Callie Says:

    Thank you for the welcome. I have enjoyed reading your blog when I get the chance. I appreciate the diversity of topics.

    I got a laugh out of your mention of your unusual wedding sermon. My husband and I also had a different sort of sermon. My pastor ( Rev. Burke Shade, whom you may know) spoke about the rights of a concubine. A number of extended family members were scratching there heads about that one. =)

  9. Elliot Says:

    Thanks for this, I found it interesting.

  10. Matt Says:

    Planning to collect a fair amount of Amazon.com referral fees, aren’t you? 😉

  11. Emeth Hesed Says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I have to go back and dig up some old books and add some to my wishlist.

    Btw, all the links are made wrong…. When you click on one it just sends you to the main blog page.

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