Year in review: books
Last year at this time, I made a New Years resolution to read one book each month. I made a few other resolutions, but since I can’t even remember them, I obviously can’t report any improvement on their account. I’m not really a very disciplined person so it doesn’t really phase me that I wasn’t able to keep the forgotten resolutions, but it does phase me, in a very positive way, that I was able to complete the reading commitment. Below, you will find the twelve books that I read this year (and a 13th that I have just recently started thanks to Christmas gifts) and maybe a few brief thoughts.
1. Prayer, Richard Foster (January)
This was by far the best book on prayer that I have read. It was a wonderful way to start the year of reading. Foster feels so warm and wise and comforting and uplifting when you read his thoughts and experiences with different kinds of prayer. Each chapter explores a different way to pray. I thought this was a very helpful way to write this book because, like me, I think many Christians get stuck in praying in only one, maybe two capacities and we don’t realize that prayer is so much more than what we let it be. I think also, we are in danger of thinking that certain ways to pray are better than others, but with each chapter, Foster edifies all types of prayer as acceptable to our Lord. Just to whet the whistle, these were a few of Foster’s 21 chapters: Simple Prayer, Covenant Prayer, Unceasing Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Petitionary Prayer, and Intercessory Prayer.
2. In Constant Prayer, Robert Benson (January II)
As I was interested in prayer in January, I read a second book in this month (just in case, I might slip behind during other times of the year…) about prayer. This book is part of a series called The Ancient Practices, which explores many of the church traditions that faded from the many of the various protestant practices after the reformation. This book looked at a tradition that I had never heard of called “praying the hours” which is are set prayers that are read or memorized (so one can pray them without needing to follow along in a book) at certain points of the day similar (but perhaps not as intense) to a monastic life: Lauds, Prime, Terce, None, Sext, Vespers, and Compline. Benson recommends cutting it down to four times a day, once at each meal and then before retiring in the evening. Overall I thought the information very interesting, especially since Christians, and before Christians, Jews have been doing some form of this since before Jesus walked on this earth.
3. Tell it Slant, Eugene Peterson (February)
I have lent this book out and haven’t gotten it back yet, so I can’t very easily pull it back out of my bookshelf to remember in better detail what this book was about, but I know Eugene looked at the language that Jesus used in his prayers and parables and explored deeper insight based on that. I remember thinking that I liked the idea of this book, but something about the language that Eugene used to write this book, maybe it was exceptionally artistic and elegant and beautiful, but hard to naturally comprehend. I’m not sure, but for whatever reason, the information didn’t settle in my brain.
4. The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister (March)
This book was also part of The Ancient Practices series. It was about the ancient church’s feasts and festivals and fasts and how they all aligned in the calendar. I thought parts of it were interesting, but overall was a little bored.
I loved this book. And, because it was nearly 400 pages and slightly text book-ish, I also felt very accomplished after finishing this book. In each chapter of this book, Bailey exegetically explores parts of Jesus’ life in a way that brought so much more meaning to my shallow understanding of Jesus while he was physically walking about some two thousand years ago. I learned a lot while reading this book, all of which was highly significant to how I respect and relate to Jesus now. I highly recommend this book, even though it might look a little intimidating!
6. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (May)
I also loved this book and equally highly recommend, especially for those who prefer novels (and if you read a lot of novels, you might have already read this book because its fairly popular). Set in Afghanistan, this story follows two best friends through some very emotional pain, prejudice, war, and humiliation; life. It is exceptionally redemptive in a very admirable and artistic way, which was my favorite part.
Well, obviously I had to read this book next. It is not a sequal, but a similar story about different characters set in the same war torn country. This time, the main characters are two female friends. This story is just as emotional as The Kite Runner, but I would say that it didn’t have the same masterful redemptive ending. Mostly I think this is because the characters we are attached to in this book are women which means that the conflict in this book is abuse done two these women living under the rule of the taliban. In The Kite Runner, much of the conflict is done between the two friends, therefore this is a great deal of personal guilt that is then redeemed in the end. The conflict in A Thousand Splendid Suns is more about perseverance and wisdom fighting against oppression. Again, an amazing story.
I already wrote a decent blog about my thoughts on this book. This book was quite significant to me so I didn’t want to wait until December to write my thoughts about it in this collective blog.
9. Prayer, Phillip Yancey (August)
This book was ok… I thought that since I had already Foster’s book on Prayer in January, I might want to see how another author approached the subject. Like I said, I thought Yancey was just ok. I felt that most of the book was kind of directionless. There were things along the way that I appreciated, especially in a chapter entitled: “Wrestling Match” about Jacob’s interaction with God, but overall, if you’re just going to read one book on prayer, I would recommend Foster’s more than any other I have read. Just my opinion.
10. Bittersweet, Shauna Niequist (September)
Overall, I appreciated Shauna’s perspective about going through trying times. The way she described her responses to difficult life changes were funny, honest, and real and that is refreshing. She talked a lot about food, fellowship with friends, and her love of being a mom (which was frustrating to me). As I read about Shauna’s experience with pain: losing a job, having her husband lose a job, miscarrying a few times, and feeling alone. Certain times, I felt that I was reading about a woman who had lead a pretty comfortable (maybe naive?) life up until she lost her job (when it started to go downhill). I felt that I was watching her change because of these seasons of heartache. There were times when I didn’t think too highly of her, but other times when I could really sense a great deal of maturity and new understanding. By the end of the book I was able to empathize with her a little more and I was able to come to terms with the fact that I, too, (although I never had the benefits of being the daughter of a pastor known and respected globally) had lead a pretty comfortable (as in pain-free) life up until the last few years and so who was I to cast judgment. Like beauty, pain and suffering are in the eye of the beholder and ultimately I respected and enjoyed Shauna’s honest perspective.
11. A Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster (October)
I read this book because I enjoyed Foster when I read him before. I liked this book as well, but still liked Prayer better because it explored a narrower topic. Each chapter of this book is about a certain spiritual discipline: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, Study, Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, Service, Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration. It could easily be read all together or if you’re interested in just one or two of these, the chapters read individually as well.
12. A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren (November)
The Sub-title of this book is nearly a paragraph: “Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystic/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.” I loved it. This was the first book by Brian McLaren that I have ever read and I found his writing style sassy, entertaining, and relate-able. I particularly enjoyed his insight on why he is biblical, especially in the midst of noting that historically and presently, Christians have done much harm and abuse at the pretense of being “biblical” and so “being biblical” has some strong connotations for those who fall on either side of the abuse.
13. Currently reading, will be reading into the new year, a bridge if you will; Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown and Hampton Sides
So I just started this book (because I just got it for Christmas, thanks Cara!) and although I’m enjoying it, it is always sobering to read about how your country has severely mistreated others, especially in the name of patriotism or Christianity. It makes me think twice about pretending that I may be a victim of anything. Also, I just finished a chapter about Little Crow, Wabasha, Shakopee, and some others leading the Souix in Minnesota against the oppression. Now I know that Shakopee is not just the home of Vally Fair.