Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The 2013 "Books I Read" Awards

At the beginning of 2013 I made a goal to try to discipline myself to average reading one book a week. I averaged slightly higher than that, reading 53 books this year. I have tried to read widely, as one must be disciplined to keep educating oneself after finishing school. On top of that, I am trying to avoid becoming a cookie-cutter of what I read, as often happens with ministers. While I give lip service to that, I admittedly say that I have a tendency to bias myself towards C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller. Nevertheless, I did not read more than four books by any one author. I tried to include new books and old books, fiction and non-fiction, classics and obscure, and Christian and non-fiction, as well as books that it was time for me to re-read. I have provided the list of books at the bottom and given awards out to some of my favorites. What do these books win? Nothing but the pride of being mentioned. Nevertheless, feel free to leave your comments and disagree with me, especially my heretical opinions concerning Charles Dickens.

Best Fiction Book

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

This Category was a tough call, but in the end The Kite Runner just edged out The Age of Innocence  (where else other than this blog could those two be in competition?). I really appreciated Wharton’s descriptions of this era in New York society and the way she honored traditional marriage, but I absolutely couldn’t put The Kite Runner down. I could easily relate to the real and appropriate feelings of guilt that the protagonist was plagued with and was touched about the way he found some relief in being able to love. While certainly not a Christian book, there are many places this could be bridged to the gospel. It is a great read.

2nd place: The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
Honorable mentions: Sanctuary, William Faulkner; The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

Best Re-Read

Recalling the Hope of Glory, Allen Ross

This is kind of an odd category, but some books simply must be re-read. Given my love of C.S. Lewis, many of the books that qualify for this award belong to him. This fact, however, may have hurt his prospects of winning it, as it would be hard to choose which one. Mere Christianity, for example, is one of my all-time favorites and has probably influenced me more than any book other than the Bible. I read it every year, and this year I read it in French (Les Fondements du Christianisme). It is also a difficult category, as every book I would re-read I obviously liked.

That being said, the award goes to Allen Ross’ Recalling the Hope of Glory. Ross is a professor at Beeson Divinity School, of which I am an alumni. This was his textbook for his class on Worship Leadership. He has a brilliant Old Testament mind and he leads the reader through all the Bible has to say about worship. He makes difficult concepts concerning Israel’s traditions very accessible and easy to apply to the modern worshipper. This book is an absolute must read for the pastor who wants his congregation have a deeper understanding of worship than whatever the new Chris Tomlin CD says (with all due respect to Mr. Tomlin). Here is a little nugget from the book to entice you to read it: “Holiness is not one of many descriptions of God; it is the summary designation of all that God is and is known to be in contrast to all creation.”

2nd Place - Les Trois Mousquetaires, Alexandre Dumas (The Three Muskateers, read it in French this time)
Honorable Mention – The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis; Notes Freom the Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Best Christian Nonfiction

The Insanity of God, by Nik Ripken

I absolutely loved this book. In fact, I loved it so much that I wrote a review of it, which you can see here: http://parkerwindle.blogspot.fr/2013/08/the-insanity-of-god-by-nik-ripken-review.html  . In short, I loved the tough questions it asks about suffering and persecution in the Christian life, as well as the struggles of a missionary who wants to bring people to faith in Christ while observing the dangers that this prospect would bring. Ripken is humble in his questions and thorough in his attempts to answer them. I found this book extremely edifying and would recommend it.

2nd place: Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath
Honorable Mention: Preaching to a Post Everything Word, Zack Eswine; The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller; Bloodlines, John Piper

Best Scholarly

The Age of Reform:1250-1550, Steven Ozment

If this seems like a bizarre category, then know that I pretty much made it up so I could say how much I liked this book. Steven Ozment, a professor at Harvard, writes a terrific introduction to the study of the Reformation. He gives great background on the Monastic and Scholastic movements which really help to understand the mindsets of figures like Luther and Calvin when they hit the scene. Ozment is also a good writer, and I enjoyed his work so much that I also read his When Father’s Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe. If you are interested in going deep into the Reformation, this one is a must read.

2nd Place: Christ and Culture, H. Richard Neibuhr
Honorable mention: When Father’s Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe, Steven Ozment

Biggest Disappointment

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

This year I made my second attempt to try to get through this one, and, though it was grueling and sometimes excruciating, I finally made it. Put me in the camp with those who don’t understand why Dickens is heralded as such a genius. Sure, there are flashes of brilliance, but unfortunately those flashes are hidden within hundreds of pages of boredom. The one book of his that I do love, A Tale of Two Cities, I only really loved after I had finished it. While I did enjoy the tension of the tragic misplaced love of Pip for Estella, I had a hard time caring about the characters or the story as a whole. This is a classic, and Dickens is widely renowned as a genius, so I am sure he will survive my criticism here. Assuredly I will discipline myself to read another big Dickens novel sometime (note I said discipline myself), but I am not looking forward to it.

2nd place: The Book of Acts, Frank Stagg
Honorable Mention: Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy; God on Sex, Danny Akin

Book of the Year

Center Church, by Tim Keller

This book stands way above and beyond any other book I read this year, and it is perhaps the best book I have read since I have gotten out of school. If you are a missionary and/or pastor in an urban setting, or need to be convinced of the necessity of gospel witness to cities, this book is an absolute must read. A consistent theme in the book is that the church/Christian ought to seek to stay balanced, or in the center, regarding the different questions that surround urban churches. The gospel ought to be
seed by which all ministry grows out of and flame through which all theological convictions are purged. Keller, as always, presents well-researched, scholarly material in ways that are accessible to the average layman, and he provides insightful wisdom that comes from years of experience. Refreshingly, he does not offer quick fixes or a step by step program; rather, he provides questions by which we can evaluate how we do things and what is appropriate for our contexts. The book is divided into 8 parts, which can be purchased separately on Kindle. I particularly enjoyed the sections on contextualization and cultural engagement.

2nd place: The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
Honorable Mention: The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken; Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

Book list:

Eyes Wide Open, Steve Dewitt
Jonathan Edwards: Lover of God, Douglas Sweeney
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis (Reread)
Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand
Louis XIV, Makers of History, John Abbot
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis (reread)
Recalling the Hope of Glory, Allen Ross (reread)
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Wittgenstein in 90 Minutes, Paul Strathern
Heidegger in 90 Minutes, Paul Strathern
The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT, by F.F. Bruce
The Praise of Folly, Erasmus
Notes From the Underground, Dostoyevsky (reread)
When I don't Desire God, John Piper
The Kreutxer Sonata, Tolstoy
The Book of Acts, Frank Stagg
Young, Restless, and Reformed, Collin Hansen
How Should I Live in This World, RC Sproul
The Empire of Austria: Its Rise and Present Power, John S.C. Abbott
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller
Selections From the Table Talk of Martin Luther, Martin Luther
Les Trois Mousquetaires, Alexandre Dumas (reread)
Christ and Culture, H. Richard Neibuhr
Letters to a Young Pastor, Calvin Miller
The Man with Two Left Feet, and Other Stories, P.G. Wodehouse
The Power of Suffering, John MacArther
Sanctuary, William Faulkner
Surprised By Joy, C.S. Lewis (reread)
The Age of Reform:1250-1550, Steven Ozment
The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken
The Story of the Amulet, Edith Nesbit
God on Sex, Danny Akin
Les Fondements du Christianisme, C.S. Lewis (reread)
Bloodlines, John Piper
Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Thmas Hardy
Worldviews in Conflict, Ronald Nash (reread)
The Happy Prince and Other Tales, Oscar Wilde
The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art, Abraham Kuyper
A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
L'humanite de Calvin, Richard Stauffer
Free Grace Broadcaster: Babies, multiple authors
Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath
C is for Christmas, Warren Wiersbe
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Center Church, Tim Keller
When Father's Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe, Steven Ozment
Preaching to a Post Everything Word, Zack Eswine
Derrida in 90 Minutes, Paul Strathern


  1. You should read Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I enjoyed it (liked the BBC adaptation as well). I haven't read the full-length Great Expectations, so I can't comment on it. I liked The Tale of Two Cities, but I tended to skip parts of it. The only books on your list that I've read are The Screwtape Letters and Farenheit 451, both of which I really liked. I've read part of The Great Divorce, but find it hard to finish, though it is good. It takes a lot of thought to read, and I don't like to see the people in the story making the devastating choices they make.

  2. I'm right behind you this year with 50 books, but I'm not as good as you at diversifying. They were mostly British mysteries with a smattering of classics and biographies. My favorite category was Biggest Disappointment. And you know, you're kind of right about Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities is his best. I'm taking away a challenge to discipline myself to read a little more widely this year.

  3. Congratulations, Parker. That is amazing. I read a lot but nothing like you! I have read a number of "simple" Christian novels this year--to relax. The best ones were by Elizabeth Musser, an American missionary to France--especially the 3 books starting with "Two Crosses" and the 3 books starting with Healing Stones.
    I am currently reading Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse de Lisieux for a course. It is long and rambling so not fantastic, but it has some gems hidden in it as she finds God's grace in the middle of a church culture that saw God as demanding and harsh. A better book on Thérèse is "La voie de la confiance et de l'amour" by Jacques Philippe, which is a high-level condensation of Thérèse's gems.

  4. PS. Using a Kindle or related e-reader reduces the cost of books! And you can order and receive them in 2 minutes!

  5. Thanks, I am going to take a Divkens break, doubt I read him in 2014, but I will remember that. Lynn, I probably should read more British mysteries myself:)

    Carolyn, a lot of my book choices were based on what was free on kindle. You see no Hemingway, Steinbeck, etc because their stuff isn't free

  6. I am so puzzled by your affection for The Age of Innocence. I read it and did a term paper on it in 12th grade and hated every minute of it. This makes me want to revisit it and figure out what I missed. I'm reading the Insanity of God now and The Kite Runner is definitely going on my list.

    I didn't do a great job of keeping up with what I read last year, and I hope to do a better job of that with goodreads this year. But, the book that lingered in my mind the longest was In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCord.