For the past few years, I have followed the example of others in listing my top ten reads for the year. This year has been different. I feel like I have been on an adventure, seeking new ways of reading, and new reasons to read. So instead of a list, I am going to describe my adventure and hope this incites an interest in some new ways of reading for you.
So let the adventure begin…starting with the Bible, always the best place to start.
This year I discovered Dale Ralph Davis. His Scripture studies became my companions as I read the stories of Abraham and Jacob, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, and the Gospel of Luke. His writing combines deep insight with lively illustrations that kept me wanting to read further.
Two other Bible study series that I enjoyed this year are The Bible Speaks Today series edited by John Stott and God’s Word for You series from the Good Book Company. Both of these series are accessible, full of insight, and application. I buy most of my books when they are heavily discounted on Kindle so I am praying for lots more good discounts in the coming year!
Another discovery this year was on-line reading groups. I had been struggling to find fiction that was worth the time investment. Jessica Hooten Wilson opened up new possibilities when I read The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints (read my review here). She includes a wide range of fiction in her discussion of how stories can make us better. As she says in the introduction:
The best stories are read not to escape our world but to better prepare us for living in our world. They shape our imagination.
One of her suggestions was In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alverez. This novel brings to life the story of the Mirabal sisters who grow up in the Dominican Republic during the rise of the Trujillo dictatorship and, in 1960, were murdered for their part in a plot to overthrow the government. For me this was an unfamiliar incident and time, but I was transported through Alverez’s words into the struggles of these women to live with integrity.
Encouraged by this experience, I began looking for other groups that valued literature for similar reasons. After reading Andrew Peterson’s wonderful God of the Garden, I was led to The Rabbit Room, a space that fosters artistic imagination ranging from music to visual arts to books. Here I selected Rembrandt is in the Wind by Russ Ramsey, and was drawn into Ramsey’s love of art and artists. I now find myself looking forward to visiting an art museum with fresh enthusiasm, unexpected good fruit!
Based on the Rabbit Room’s appreciation and love for Walter Wangerin, I read or rather listened to The Book of the Dun Cow. Nothing about this book sounded appealing to me, other than the praise from people I trusted. I cannot explain how deeply this book moved me, as I wept with Chanticleer the rooster as evil assaults his beloved flock. This “fantasy” book was far more real to me than some of the biographies I read.
In the Rabbit Room, I also discovered Malcolm Guite, a poet and Anglican priest that really must be listened to as well as read. I loved reading Waiting on the Word, a collection of poems with his commentary for Advent through Epiphany…and also Word in the Wilderness, a similar collection for Lent and Easter. Since then I’ve listened to several of his conference discussions on poetic imagination such as this one at the Trinity Forum and look forward to exploring more of his books.
After I reread the beloved Narnia Chronicles by C. S. Lewis with a group of friends, I decided that I was indeed “old enough to start rereading fairy tales” and went on to listen to the Princess and the Goblin and the Princess and Curdie, two fairy tales by George Macdonald. These wonderful stories really need to be read aloud. You can almost hear Macdonald telling them to his children, filling their imaginations with vivid pictures of God’s providence, of faith, and trust.
I read other children’s stories after that with mixed results. I loved Heidi, which is a deeply Christian story, but found The Secret Garden, while charming in its portrayal of nature, lacking in any understanding of the source of the beauty it admires. The Wind in the Willows was almost a shock to me; the portrayal of Toad’s addiction to cars and its cost to his friends was a little too realistic to enjoy.
This year I also began listening to the Close Reads podcast and following the discussion in the corresponding Facebook group. Here I discovered serious readers who were excited about books and offering many thoughtful recommendations. I caught up with them at the end of the year by reading My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. This book centers on an artistically gifted boy growing up in Manhattan as part of a strict Jewish sect that doesn’t believe in visual arts. The conflict between Asher’s gift and the demands of his family is in many ways more intense than reading a thriller. The Podcast discussion added valuable insight and I am sure I will be reading more books with them next year.
Following the theme of books that prompt appreciation for art, I have to mention Andrew Klavan’s book The Truth and Beauty: How the Lives and Works of England’s Greatest Poets Point the Way to a Deeper Understanding of the Words of Jesus. I read The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, Klavan’s conversion story, a few years ago and discovered he was a neighbor for a period in Santa Barbara, CA. His background in crime fiction and political commentary is so unusual that I was intrigued to see what he had to say about Jesus and the romantic poets: and he has a lot of good things to say! I listened to the audio version, which Klavan reads himself, and felt like we were having a rich extended conversation. I highly recommend this book also.
I’ve saved one final reading adventure for last: Everything Sad is Untrue. I have seen this book on a number of “Best of 2022” lists this year and for good reason. Collin Hansen says he “hasn’t read anything like it before” in a Gospel Coalition interview with the author Daniel Nayeri. Amazon says it is for readers age 9-12, but don’t pay attention to that. Though written from the point of view of a 10-year-old boy, it requires a lot of life experience to even begin to understand the patchwork life of this Iranian immigrant and the faith of his mother that drives the story.
It has been a good year for reading and I am thankful for those who read books along with me, multiplying the experience for all of us.
An Honorable Mention: