My goal is to read 40 books a year in addition to journals, articles, and commentaries. Here is my 5-star rating for the books I read in 2014. By the by, other than giving a ranking, the books are not listed in any further order. Mostly, they’re listed in the order that I finished them. If there’s a hyperlink it will take you to my earlier posts on the book. At the end of this post, you can find a list of “Books Read” posts for previous years.
Five Stars ttttt
Them by Jon Ronson (audiobook). Ronson is always fun. In Them, he writes about his time with conspiracy theorists and extremist groups. Let him read it to you via the audio version.
Season to Taste by Molly Birnbaum. The aspiring chef lost her sense of smell and taste after an accident. Her account will make you grateful for something we tend to take for granted.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. “I couldn’t ever remember being so easily liked.” Now, isn’t that a great way to describe one character’s relationship with another character? Wonderful book.
The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr. Fascinating account of a polymath who’s challenging the reigning theory of smell.
A Kind Man by Susan Hill (audiobook). What would you do if you suddenly found you had the gift of healing?
3 Theories of Everything by Ellis Potter. Good book to read with a seeking friend.
Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey (audiobook).
Soul-Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg. The author reflects on what he learned from the writings and friendship of Dallas Willard.
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, by NT Wright. With nearly 1700 pages, Wright maintains that “Paul’s gospel was a Jewish message for a non-Jewish world.” This one probably can be appreciated only by seminary grads, though. Reflections here, here
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (audiobook). An entertaining look at Australia, narrated by the author.
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, by Tim Keller
Four Stars tttt
A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. I should probably give this five stars, but hearing people say Martin was this generation’s JRR Tolkien set my expectations too high. A fun read, but this generation’s Tolkien? Nerd, please.
Lila, by Marilynne Robinson. Beautifully-written, as always, and it probably deserves five stars. But it didn’t resonate with me as powerfully as Robinson’s Gilead. Caution: Robinson channels her universalism through Lila. As one reviewer put it, “It’s possible to read Lila as, in part, a pretty conventional brief for universalism. The title character spends much of the book pondering over the eternal fate of people she knew in her troubled life, including some who took good care of her when she sorely needed it but who also rejected Christianity. In the end, she concludes that because there is ‘goodness at the center of things,’ her friends must be in Heaven—a conclusion seemingly sanctioned by her husband, the pastor John Ames.” Here’s an appreciative review, and here John Piper expresses both appreciation and caution—both deserved.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Intriguing take on reincarnation.
The Enemy, by Lee Child (audiobook). My first Jack Reacher novel was an entertaining way to pass the time.
One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation, by Marcus Peter Johnson. Excellent explanation of our union with Christ. The last chapter, on the “real presence” of Christ in preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper was not persuasive, though. It’s notable how the exegesis of scripture, so central to the earlier chapters, diminished here, replaced with largely a lament that we’re not following the Reformers.
7 Men by Eric Metaxas. A quick read through seven biographical sketches. I led a book club through it in our church.
Innocence by Dean Koontz (audiobook). Koontz has a strong sense of good and evil. However, he seems to portray the influence of the demonic in only the most disturbing instances. Are we OK, then, if we have only those seemingly “common” and socially-acceptable sins (i.e., pride, jealousy, bitterness)?
Recovering Biblical Sensuousness, William Phipps.
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.
Reading for Preaching by Cornelius Plantiga, Jr.
Raylan by Elmore Leonard
Prayer and Modern Man, by Jaques Ellul
Help, Thanks, Wow, by Anne Lamott
Too Busy Not to Pray, by Bill Hybels (audiobook)
Was the Tomb Empty? by Graeme Smith. I was asked to write a review of this book for the latest edition of the Biblical Illustrator (only available in print).
Death by Living by ND Wilson
The World I Live In, by Helen Keller
The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, James Emery White. Very few recommendations that he hasn’t already made in the last 20 years. Of course, this may be what still works, but it would have been helpful for him to acknowledge that he isn’t really doing anything different in his strategy.
The Man Who Loved China, by Simon Winchester (audiobook). About Joseph Needham, the Brit who introduced China to the West, and who explored but could not answer “The Needham Question”–how did a brilliant early nation devolve into the backward nation Needham explored? I listened to this on my trip to China in the Fall.
How (Not) to Be Secular, by James K. A. Smith. A brief introduction to Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age.
Puzzling Portraits: Seeing the Old Testament’s Confusing Characters as Ethical Models, A.J. Culp, M. Daniel Carroll. How should readers draw ethics from the conflicted lives of Old Testament characters?
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (audiobook).
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson (audiobook).
Three Stars ttt
When Your Adult Child Breaks Your Heart: Coping with Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, and the Problems that Tear Families Apart. Joel Young with Christine Adamec
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I read a bunch of Bradbury way back in ninth grade. A lot of the magic was still there reading these many decades later. But sadly, this book didn’t age well for me. Laughing at death is Bradbury’s answer to bravely facing death? Not satisfactory. And what’s with the father’s near-Shakespearean dialogue?
The Scent Trail: How One Woman’s Quest for the Perfect Perfume Took Her Around the World, by Celia Lyttelton
A Perfect Spy by John le Carre (audiobook)
So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Leif Enger. I enjoyed Enger’s first book but his sophomore effort fell short.
The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre (audiobook)
Countdown City (The Last Policeman, Book 2) by Ben Winters. I gave Book One five stars last year, but this one was so-so. Hopefully, the trilogy will wrap up in a more satisfying book.
Decoded by Mai Jia. One of China’s most popular authors. I read it during my trip to China in the Fall.
Two Stars tt
Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Conner. (audiobook). I’d give this book one star but credentialed critics have always spoken highly of her work so I’ll add another star. I tried to be impressed with her but I just don’t get why she is an Important Author. She’s caustic, foul-mouthed, anti-Protestant, with a relentlessly cynical take on all things Southern. Maybe that was Important and Profound in the 60s but it just doesn’t sit well with this Southern boy in 2014.
One Star t
The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale. The author decided to tell this as a 12-year0old boy but back in 1933 I doubt adults would talk so frankly about such grisly rapes and murders with a 12 year-old boy.
Light of the World, by James Lee Burke. Got 80% thru and just decided I really had no emotional investment in the characters or the plot. Life’s too short and my book list is too long to put up with that.
Kinder Than Solitude, by Yiyun Li (audiobook). Thankful for the 1.5 speed option on my Audible app.