I may not have traveled physically much this year, but I have certainly visited many different times and lands in my reading life!
I spent a lot of time in medieval Norway with Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter and one day (by far enough!) with the remarkable Ivan Denisovich. I traveled across Central Asia with Daniel Nayeri’s Samir, the Seller of Dreams, and wandered throughout the Mideast as William Dalrymple traced the path the priest John Moschos walked visiting churches and monasteries in 587 AD.
I enjoyed a trip back in time (in 1962, I was a sophomore in high school) traveling across the United States with John Steinbeck and his poodle Charley in search of America and found his observations fascinating. I travelled around the world with Gulliver, discovering that he encountered a lot more than little people (while also discovering this book is definitely not a children’s story!). And not only did I travel around this world, I expanded my travels to include Mars and Venus with C. S. Lewis’s wonderful Space Trilogy and then returned to earth for the climatic last volume That Hideous Strength, struck again by Lewis’s ability to see where modern post-Christian thought was taking the world.
As C. S. Lewis said so well in An Experiment in Criticism:
“But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”
Probably the most surprising aspect of my “reading” list this year is how many books I listened to…and yes, I did finally give in and get an Audible subscription. I didn’t initially realize that the subscription would let me listen to many classic works for free, and I made good use of this option by listening to 20 classic works of fiction or 25 if you include the five fiction works of C. S. Lewis. I’ve discovered that my afternoon walks are far better and a little longer if I have a good book as a companion.
I think my favorite audiobook was To Kill a Mockingbird wonderfully read by Sissy Spacek. I know I must have read this book at some point long ago, but it is definitely worth a reread. A close second in the audio category was The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. The author is not writing as a Christian, but the marvelous detailed descriptions of how trees communicate, protect themselves, and nurture their young often brought me to worshipful tears at the revelation of the beautiful mind of the Maker of trees. This is definitely a book to read while walking on tree-shadowed paths, like this one in the Dallas City Park.
Biographies were another popular category for me. I read 21 biographies mostly of various missionaries and Christian leaders from George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon, to Tim Keller and Elisabeth Elliot. I loved learning about Spurgeon’s church and how many ways the church contributed to the life of the city and especially his emphasis on prayer. Here are a couple of quotes from Dallimore’s book.
Spurgeon did not make the gathering of a crowd his first interest. In view of the spiritual warfare in which the Christian is placed, he was concerned first of all that his people learn truly to pray.
When someone once asked Spurgeon the secret of his success, he replied: “My people pray for me.”
Collin Hansen’s description of the intellectual and spiritual formation of Tim Keller was also especially meaningful to me since he was impacted by many of the same spiritual influences as I have been. This book also led me to read some of Keller’s favorite authors including works of Alec Motyer. Reading this book about Keller reminded me of how much some of his insights have affected me over the years, especially his focus on Jesus as the hero of the Bible, not us:
Is David and Goliath basically about you and how you can be like David? Or is the story basically about Jesus, the one who really took on the only giants that can really kill us and whose victory is imputed to us? Who’s it really about? That’s the fundamental question. And when that happens, then you start to read the Bible anew.
Over this year, I read 35 books related to the study of the Bible, devotional thoughts on Scripture, and the Christian life. Three by Motyer were especially impactful: his study of David’s Psalms (Treasures of the King), and his studies of the books of Amos and Exodus. Here is a brief quote from his discussion about Israel’s time in the wilderness that encouraged me in the importance of meeting with and waiting on the Lord:
The example of Israel in the wilderness lays down a great fundamental principle. Israel did not “seek” guidance, they waited for it, because the directive will of God was expressed to them by the movement of the cloud (40:36–38). For them, guidance was a matter of waiting and watching. So also for Jesus: as foreseen in Isaiah 50:4–5, the will of God was made known to him in the daily discipline and privilege of meeting with the Lord and waiting upon him “morning by morning” for his word.
In the “just for fun” category, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery gets first spot. It was lovely to listen to and as a finishing touch, I watched the 1986 TV series with my daughter during Christmas vacation and we both reveled in the sorrows and delights of Green Gables.
I also really enjoyed The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge, which explores the unlikely friendship between a high Anglican churchman and the man who cares for his watch. This is a story of redeeming grace found in surprising places. I also found a similar redemptive story in Silas Marner by George Elliot.
I hope that you too have had many adventures in reading this last year. Let me know what you recommend!