Here are ten books I read in the past year. They are not a top ten ( I don’t think I read enough books to make a top ten), but simply ten books I read which I found interesting or which made me think. Without further ado, here they are:
Animal Farm – George Orwell
This classic was sitting on my shelf for awhile and I finally picked it up and gave it read. It is not a long book, and it moves briskly, but it packs a lot of punch. Orwell’s fictional tale of barnyard revolution is eerily accurate to real life and the failed attempt of the animals to create a utopian world captures well the depravity of mankind and our own futility at living up to our ideals.
“They had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.“
Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America – John Charles Chasteen
If I learned anything in school of Latin American history, apart from Christopher Columbus, I forget most of it. This book was an excellent introduction to the subject and helped me understand the complex twist of factors that have made Latin America, including Mexico, the place it is today. I’ve often been fascinated by the question of why North America and Latin America developed into two very different places, and Born in Blood and Fire certainly provided some answers.
“One way or the other, the original sin of Latin American history – the festering social injustice at the core – had done its durable damage. How would more equitable, more inclusive communities ever emerge from the smoking ruins of conquest? The next step, systematic colonization, the creation of entire social systems geared to serve the interests of distant masters in Europe, only made matters worse.“
The Omnivores Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals – Michael Pollan
In this book author Michael Pollan takes us on a historical journey of four meals, beginning with their origins on the farms of America and ending on the dinner plate of the consumer. As Pollan guides us along the food chain he is seeking to answer the question: What should we eat? What is healthy for us bodies, our land, our economy, our society? How do our food choices have reverberating effects on all aspects of life?
“Much of our food system depends on our not knowing much about it, beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner; cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it’s a short way from not knowing who’s at the other end of your food chain to not caring–to the carelessness of both producers and consumers that characterizes our economy today. Of course, the global economy couldn’t very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds.”
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church – Mark Dever
I was pretty familiar with the work of 9 Marks the ministry, so the content of this book was not new for me. Yet, it was a helpful refresher, and being in Mexico and seeing how different churches function, made it all the more relevant. There are a lot of church practices that are more or less neutral, but good church leaders should not simply be asking what is permissible, but rather, what is most beneficial, and biblical, for a healthy church?
“A healthy church is not a church that’s perfect and without sin. It has not figured everything out. Rather, it’s a church that continually strives to take God’s side in the battle against the ungodly desires and deceits of the world, our flesh, and the devil. It’s a church that continually seeks to conform itself to God’s Word.”
Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life – Tish Harrison Warren
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what it means to be a Christian and what is means to live a life pleasing to God? I found this book touched on a lot of those types of questions and I found myself underlining a lot of memorable sentences. Tish Harrison Warren argues that to live a sanctified, transformed life we need to begin in the ordinary, boring stuff of everyday life. I think that is true. In many ways moving to a different country to bring the gospel is a lot easier than changing how I react to my kids disobedience or how I change my smartphone habits.
“I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you can’t get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.”
Teaching the Gospel of John: Unlocking the Gospel of John for the Expositor – Dick Lucas & William Philip
I picked this book up for a dollar at a thrift store and what a little gem it is. The authors propose that the key to interpreting the gospel of John is the three interlocking themes of evidence, belief, and life. If we are looking for those themes in John’s writing we will see them show up everywhere and they will help us understand why John writes what he writes and how we can communicate his message to others.
“When you look at these two verses (20:30-31), the simple order is as follows: first evidence, then belief, and then life. So, life is the ultimate goal; John’s is a Gospel of life. But the only road to this life eternal is through faith in Jesus as God’s only Son. And the only way to genuine Christian belief is through the first hand testimony of the apostles to their Lord and Saviour recorded in the sacred writings, the Scriptures.”
A Burning in my Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson, Translator of The Message – Winn Collier
I’ve read a few of Eugene Peterson’s books and I always enjoy them. What I enjoy is his ability to state deep theological truths in simple, beautiful and down-to-earth ways. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Peterson for precise, well-formulated theology, but if you need to get pulled out of the ruts of theological clichés and church jargon, he is immensely helpful. He’s also implanted in me the idea of aiming for congruency in life, so that what I say about myself matches up with what I do and how I live. Winn Collier’s biography of Peterson certainly paints a picture of a man who was trying to do exactly that. I did finish the book feeling a bit unsatisfied, not because of the book itself, but because Peterson was someone who understood well what it means to live a life close to God, and yet on many crucial issues (most famously homosexuality) he was content to sit on the fence or remain vague on his position. With that being said I think there are important lessons to learn from his life and this autobiography does a excellent job of providing an realistic picture of who Eugene Peterson was.
“This hunger for something radical—something so true that it burned in his bones—was a constant in Eugene’s life. His longing for God ignited a ferocity in his soul.”
Lost in the Barrens – Farley Mowat
I started this book not expecting much. Although I knew Farley Mowat was a celebrated writer I didn’t think the story would be all that interesting. However, it didn’t take long for me to be drawn in by the adventure of a two young men/boys, a Canadian and a Cree, trying to survive the harsh wilderness of Canada. A very enjoyable read!
“Awasin smiled. ‘The Crees used to say: Courage comes not from a strong heart, but from a full stomach! So we should be pretty brave!’ He was silent for a moment. ‘We’ll need all the courage we can find,’ he added. Awasin was staring out over the darkening plains, and he was no longer smiling.”
A Little Book on the Christian Life – John Calvin
As you can tell from the above picture, I read this book in Spanish. And as you can tell from the English title of the book, it is a little book. But it is packed full of wisdom for the Christian life and touches on the themes of calling, self-denial, suffering, eternal life, and the proper use of earthly goods. I’ve not read enough of John Calvin so this book was a small attempt at rectifying that.
“To what purpose did God pull us out of the wickedness and pollution of the world—wickedness and pollution in which we were submerged—if we allow ourselves to wallow in such wickedness and pollution for the rest of our lives.“
Right Ho Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse
P.G. Wodehouse knows how to write a sentence. Furthermore, he knows how to make one laugh with said sentence. I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud from reading a book, but this book had me in fits on multiple occasions as my wife can attest to. That alone makes it worthy of a read.
“Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror.”