Mid-Year Best Books

Categories: Book Reviews

Typically, best book lists come at the end of the year. But because everyone (including me) is spending more time at home and possibly more time reading, I thought I would share some of the books that have blessed me over the last six months.

 

Yours Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis by C. S. Lewis

Your’s Jack includes a subset of the many letters C. S. Lewis wrote each day in response to the letters he received; he felt it was a God-given responsibility to provide a personal response to each. (The full collected letters is 3 large volumes!) I have read many of the books that Lewis wrote and also read several biographies of him. But as I slowly read through these letters, I felt that I really grew to know him as a person in a fresh and deeper way. For all his imaginative grace in the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis could be very down-to-earth in dealing with the day-to-day problems presented to him by readers, and also incredibly patient. This book needs to be read slowly and savored; I read a few pages every day over a period of months and was sad when it came to an end.

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘ real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”

 

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K. A. Smith

This book was a surprise to me. I only decided to read it because it was recommended on several lists of people I respect and because I had finally read the Confessions of Saint Augustine last year so I felt suitably close to the subject. I found the author’s commentary on Augustine and his relevance to our current cultural context to be very helpful. Augustine, says Smith, is the patron saint of restless hearts—I think we are all familiar with Augustine’s well-known quote: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Smith brings this quote and much about Augustine to life in this excellent book.

“Joy is another name for the rest we find when we give ourselves over to the One who, for the joy that was set before him, gave himself for us. We find joy when we look for the satisfaction of our hungers in the Triune God who will never leave us or forsake us, when we find our enjoyment in an immortal God whose love is unfailing.”

 

Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey

This is an updated version of a book that was first published 30 years ago by Dr. Brand and Phillip Yancey. I was drawn to read this new version because I has recently read biographies of Paul Brand’s mother (Granny Brand) and of Paul Brand himself (Ten Fingers for God) by Dorothy Clarke Wilson. These books gave me a fresh appreciation for the sacrifice and Godly heritage that led to Dr. Brand’s groundbreaking work with leprosy patients both in India and the US. While reading Fearfully and Wonderfully, I found myself frequently holding the book and staring into space as I considered the intricacies and connections of the physical and spiritual life. This is especially true of his discussion of pain.

“Pain, so often viewed as an enemy, is actually the sensation most dedicated to keeping us healthy. If I had the power to choose one gift for my leprosy patients, I would choose the gift of pain.”

 

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson

You may not know his name but you likely have been singing his worship songs. One that we sing often is Is He Worthy. This is an honest, open, sometimes funny, and sometimes heartbreaking account of the life of a versatile Christian artist who believes in the value of community. Peterson has authored children’s books, in involved in teaching writing, and is a well-loved song writer and musician. A revealing quote:

“I began to understand the peril of asking God to let you write songs that would comfort the lonely and brokenhearted—peril, because the only way to do that is to walk through the dark forest of loneliness and heartbreak”

 

Let Justice Roll Down  by John M. Perkins

Given the tragic events of June, I felt compelled to read this book, which had been on my shelf for a while. I was familiar with Perkins as an honored figure in the civil rights movement, and had heard enough about his story to know he was beaten and tortured by Mississippi highway patrolmen and local police, so I somewhat dreaded reading it. But the experience of getting to know the whole story was actually encouraging. From a childhood of poverty in rural Mississippi, Perkins moved to California, married, served in the army, and began building a family and successful life. Then he was drawn to the Lord when his little son insisted he go to his Bible class with him. The Lord led him to give up personal pursuits and return to Mississippi to invest himself in building up the local black community. Perkins’ approach demonstrates the best of wholistic ministry, and his ability to forgive his tormentors and move on into more and more successful leadership is a testimony to the power of God’s grace in his life.

“Yielding to God’s will can be hard. And sometimes, it really hurts. But it always brings peace.”

 

Suffering is Never for Nothing by Elizabeth Elliot

Elizabeth Elliot died in 2015 so it seemed odd to find a new book by her published in 2018. This book is actually based on six CDs recorded at a women’s retreat of Elizabeth teaching. I listened to the audio book and each of the six chapters is about an hour long, perfect for my afternoon walk. I felt like I was walking with Elizabeth herself, the messages are so real and personal. Elizabeth can speak about walking with faith through suffering with more authority than most, yet despite her dramatic missionary story, these chapters are full of straightforward woman-to-woman encouragement and bracing Biblical truth.

“We are not adrift in chaos. To me that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know about anything in the universe. Every time that things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things that do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts. He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance.”