Well – I’m no Al Mohler, and I certainly wouldn’t qualify for Tim Challies’ “obsessed” category on his Reading Challenge…but I read more books this year than I thought possible. Shout out to Tony Reinke, whose book Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books spurred me on to do so!
My husband and I decided to set aside other activities (ahem, television) in favor of reading. While “obsessed” may not be the right word, we are certainly more hungry than ever to research good titles, put together a hearty stack of reads, refine our note-taking process, and then mull over and discuss our thoughts about each book upon its completion.
If one of the main purposes of books is to make the reader think, then these are the ones I’d say made me think most deeply, curiously, and enthusiastically this year. (I’ve chosen a first prize and a runner-up for each genre.) I hope these thoughts might sway you to read a few of these titles, yourself!
First Prize: The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer
Tozer’s stunning title about the known attributes of God is worth an annual read. This was the second time I’ve read Knowledge of the Holy, and it only gets better with greater familiarity. As our Almighty God is endlessly unsearchable while remaining intimately near to us, so Tozer’s accessible book could be combed for decades upon decades, mined for its glorious truths that are rooted in Scripture and revealed in the gospel.
Many a Christian mind will be stirred and a heart quickened to love God more because of Knowledge of the Holy. Each chapter is brief (2-5 pages) but is overflowing with glorious truth, giving the reader heavenly thoughts to ponder and a prayer to respond back to God in worship.
Runner-Up: The True Vine by Andrew Murray
Andrew Murray’s daily devotional is a wonderful testimony to how endless is the wisdom and depth of God’s Word. He focuses his content on John 15, as the reader is drawn into a fuller understanding of what it means to draw our life from Christ. These readings are also short and accessible, a fantastic read for the breakfast table as the Christian readies his or her mind and heart for another day of dependence on the Lord.
First Prize: A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter by Miriam Huffman Rockness
Lily Trotter was a missionary in Algiers, and its surrounding deserts, for most of her life. Though she suffered with heart problems, which kept her away from the field at times, her tenacity for gospel ministry and love for the lost motivated her to press on in her missionary work. Lily was also a gifted artist, and I learned from her story what it means to use artistic gifts to the glory of God, not the glory of man.
To my challenge and delight, this biography provided more opportunities for personal application than most usually do. Any person who is seeking to understand how they might exert themselves for God’s gospel work will do well to read Passion for the Impossible; I couldn’t put it down and finished it in four days.
Runner-Up: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
Unfolding the life of former president James A. Garfield, author Candace Millard uncovers treasures of U.S. history that both surprise and sober the reader. The interesting theme of early U.S. cultural Christianity offers food for thought, especially for the Christian reader; Garfield seemed to be a man of belief in God whose character will forever be known in the presidential archives as upstanding and unmatched in kindness and integrity.
The story of his assassination by Charles Guiteau, including the simultaneous account of the crazed shooter’s life and motives, make the book that much more fascinating. A page-turner, this is another accessible read that is hard to put down.
First Prize: From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel by Christine Hoover
I think I recommended this book to about ten women this year and will continue to in the future! By far the most gospel-applicable Christian living book I’ve read in a long time, From Good to Grace helpfully navigates the heart’s tendency to earn God’s favor, while beautifully displaying the freeing gospel of grace to the reader. Hoover addresses the question, “Why is it that we are saved by grace through faith…yet we live the Christian life as though our works will earn God’s applause and approval?”
To continue living by faith, while being freed by the gospel to pursue good works, has been one of my greatest personal challenges. I’m naturally very hard on myself, which I’ve tended to assume is my Father’s way, too. Before reading this book, I struggled with feeling discouraged and defeated every time I did my daily Bible reading and prayer, thinking I had somehow failed and disappointed God. But Christine Hoover gently opened my eyes to see that I was actually living by the “goodness gospel,” rather than by the gospel of grace. Read this book!
Runner-Up: Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross by Colin S. Smith
Pastor Colin Smith tells the incredible story of the thief on the cross from Luke 23, as he hung next to Jesus at Calvary and heard the precious Savior’s words, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Exploring the history of Roman rule, the Jewish temple, and a fictional account of the thief’s life, Colin Smith stays faithful to Scripture while weaving an engaging backstory to the thief’s indictment and crucifixion.
Most important is the potential for this book to be gifted to and read by unbelievers. It presents the unabashed biblical teaching on salvation by grace alone through faith alone. After all, the thief’s hands were nailed to the cross when he believed; he had no opportunity to do good works or earn his way to heaven. I would encourage believers to read this book and be thinking of who they might loan it to, with the hope of a follow-up discussion about heaven.
Vocation & Learning
First Prize: Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke
I’ve already given Reinke’s book one shout-out, but it certainly deserves two. Lit! is the resource that inspired my devouring more books in the first place, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the perspective it provided on the use of my time, mental capacity, and evaluative skills in reading. Reinke encourages the enjoyment of many different genres, all of which have value when read through a gospel-lens.
I used to feel guilty when reading fiction or biographies, thinking these two genres were a waste of my time because they didn’t seem “mentally engaging” or immediately applicable. I’ve learned this year that quite the opposite is true. The beauty of a well-written story, even the story of a real person’s life, has the potential to stir our senses, put ourselves in another’s shoes, and thank God for the good gift of creative writing as a resource for rest and imagination.
Runner-Up: On Writing Well by William Zinsser
For any writer who wants to grow in nuance, storytelling, grammar, humor, critique, and more, William Zinsser’s book is the one for you. What’s fantastic is that Zinsser practices what he preaches, his writing being fresh, interesting, compelling, and clear the whole way through.
The readers learns through writing samples along with Zinsser’s clear teaching, let alone by observing Zinsser’s own writing throughout his chapters. He has a witty way of integrating all that he teaches in many paragraphs, sentences, and phrases. A gold mine for both the aspiring and experienced writer!
First Prize: Otherworld by Jared C. Wilson
Otherworld stands in a “world” of its own; I’ve never read anything quite like it! A fictional commentary akin to “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” from Ephesians 6, this story is a gripping, page-turning thriller, stirring for both the senses and the mind. It would be fair to say that no novel has made me think as deeply about biblical, spiritual realities as Otherworld, and for this reason alone, I’d recommend it for any believer’s book stack.
A word of caution: Do not read Otherworld if violent content makes you squeamish. I tend to struggle with that at times, so certain chapters were difficult to read…though the “squeam” was fully worth it in the end. Otherworld is truly a work of art — and an eternally significant one at that.
Runner-Up: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
You might be wondering why Crime and Punishment did not win for this genre and, if I’m honest, I’m embarrassed to admit that it didn’t! But if I’m evaluating books based on the degree to which they propelled my thinking, Dostoevsky’s classic definitely came after Wilson’s stand-out thriller.
The longest book of my year, Crime and Punishment is a tale of human nature and familial nurture, love and loss, and the hope that is found in the cross of Christ to save even the most unstable mind and wayward soul. This is a novel that everyone should venture to read at least once in their lifetime, while taking a generous period of post-reading analysis to process its depths.