The saying is true: Less is indeed more.
Or shall I say fewer? I chose to read fewer books this year, with the goal of comprehending and enjoying them more. And it worked! Rather than pressuring myself to read 50 books in haste, I didn’t set a goal; I simply read. I chose one or two books at a time and relished their messages (instead of five or six at a time, rushing through them to meet my goal).
In fact, I’m not even going to tell you how many books I read. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how many you read—just that you read, and engaged the mind, imagination, and heart God gave you. (If you read one book and grew because of it, good for you! If you didn’t read any, set a goal to read at least one great book in 2018. You won’t be sorry!)
So, yes, 2017 was another year of great books. The titles I’m sharing with you below were my favorites, and they follow the criteria I first used in 2015’s Reading Favorites article:
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: None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) (Jen Wilkin)
There’s a reason Jen’s book on the incommunicable attributes of God has been so highly recommended by many Christians. It’s theologically solid to the core, written in Jen’s lovable, personal tone, and fresh in application. I’ve so appreciated Jen’s Bible teaching over the years, and my appreciation only deepened because of this book. See how God’s infinitude, power, knowledge and many of his other attributes affect your Christian life, for your good and his glory. Read this solo or study it with a group.
Runner-Up: The Mystery of Providence (John Flavel)
While his book could’ve been a few chapters shorter, Flavel lifted my gaze to how kind and wise our God is. He unpacks “providence,” which he describes as the gracious plans and promises of God through salvation, upbringing, vocation, even suffering and sin. I’d never considered all the angles through which God delights to bring about his purposes for his children, so this book spurred me on to remembrance and thankfulness.
Biography, Memoir, & Historical Fiction
First Prize: When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi)
Death is universal, and you will stare death in the face through this gripping memoir. I couldn’t put it down and finished Kalanithi’s book in a day. It’s the story of a brain surgeon’s battle with cancer, along with the existential questions such a battle raises: Is there life after death? What is the purpose of life? Who am I? If you want to be moved to tears and freshly thankful for your earthly life and eternal hope, read this book.
Is love the greatest good? What happens when the person you love the most changes? In his memoir, Vanauken asks these questions and more, as he unfolds the story of how he met his wife, their mutual assent to agnosticism, and their journey to faith in Christ while living at Oxford, England. C.S. Lewis made a significant impact on both Vanauken and his wife, and so makes multiple appearances in this book. Most of all, I appreciated Vanauken’s honesty about his theological struggles, as well as his compelling ability to tell a good, true story. He had me in tears by the end.
First Prize: Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (John Piper)
No book impacted me more this year than Piper’s latest, on reading the Bible by the strength and power God supplies. I’d imagine people were sick of me talking about it during our women’s summer Bible study…because I couldn’t! Piper so helpfully draws out the goal of our Bible reading, and then practically paints the Spirit-led discipline behind it through acronyms like APTAT and IOUS (memorable and simple tools I now use during my reading/prayer time). I’ll read this one again and highly encourage you to!
Runner-Up: Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God (Rankin Wilbourne)
The question of knowing God is often on my mind: Do I know about God, or do I know him? Do I walk intimately with him? If you’ve asked similar questions, then you’ll appreciate Wilbourne’s book, which dives into the doctrine of union with Christ, and how this affects our communion with him. What I appreciated most was Wilbourne’s ability to handle complex doctrine through accessible illustrations, great applications, and simple, faithful language.
Vocation & Learning
First Prize: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Stephen King)
As I got partway through this book, I wondered if I should continue; King tends to use crass language throughout, and some of his memoirs are rough (you’ve been warned!). But if you can look past these, you’ll find some valuable insights and lessons on writing, along with humorous tales—an enjoyable read overall. There’s a reason this guy is a bestselling writer, so he’s worth listening to. Glean what’s helpful; toss the rest. (That’s actually what he’d tell you to do!)
Runner-Up: How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times (Roy Peter Clark)
The description for this book reads, “Roy Peter Clark turns his attention to the art of painting a thousand pictures with just a few words…in this ever-changing Internet age, short-form writing has become an essential skill.” I’d never thought about writing in this way before, how much more important it is in our present age of abbreviation; I now appreciate email, text messages, and social media writing all the more and pay closer attention to my craft in these mediums. The end of each chapter also has enjoyable, challenging writing exercises for the reader to complete.
First Prize: A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)
The fascinating story of a Russian noble under house arrest (or shall I say “hotel arrest”?), A Gentleman in Moscow progresses through the decades of Count Alexander Rostov’s life in the Hotel Metropol, where he’s been indefinitely confined for treason. Towles balances lightheartedness with intensity in this heartwarming story, which focuses on themes of identity, love, suffering, and purpose.
Runner-Up: The Book Thief (Markus Zusak
What if Death could tell your tale? In Zusak’s World War II narrative, Death is the storyteller, following the days and decades of a German foster girl, her neighbors and family, and the Jewish refugee living in her basement. I was fascinated by Death’s perspective here, especially in processing it through the truths of the Christian faith.
I hope these suggestions prompt you to read great books in 2018. Any suggestions for the books you enjoyed this year? Leave titles in the comments, as I’m always looking for great ones.