I like to read books. And although I’m in a profession where reading is somewhat of a requirement (beware the preacher who doesn’t read!), I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find a good deal of sheer pleasure in taking up a book and working through its pages. Yes, I read so that I can learn and grow and stretch my mind. But at the most basic level, I read because I like to.
So with that in mind, I thought I would take a few moments to reflect upon the books I read this past year and see if I could pick out the ones that I most enjoyed having my nose stuck in. I have no interest in compiling a pretentious “best books of the year” list, where I claim objective certainty and enough knowledge of the current publishing world to speak with any level of authority. My project here is something much less ambitious. Think of it as me simply saying “thank you” to a few friends who happened to be really good company over the course of the last 12 months.
After a year of great books, many of which deserve recognition in their own right, here are the six that I most enjoyed reading (in the order that I read them):
1. Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain (Charles R. Cross)
I’m a wee bit too young to consider myself part of the Kurt Cobain generation. But I still managed to grow up in a world that had been indelibly shaped by this man and his music. Reading this gripping biography was equal parts fascinating and heart-wrenching. I literally cried at the end of it, grieving the tragedy of a life that had been hijacked by an array of deep-seated insecurities and the numerous destructive attempts to escape them.
2. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing (Andy Crouch)
I’ve always had a sour attitude toward “Christian leadership” books. I think most of them are pretty useless. But insofar as Andy Crouch’s newest book can be called a “Christian leadership” book, it completely redeems the genre. His skill as a writer is on full display, making it a joy to consider his winsome insights into what it looks like to lead at the intersection of authority and vulnerability. My motto, “If Andy Crouch writes a book, read it!” remains very much true after this one.
3. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Michael Reeves)
Confession: When I ordered a stack of books on the Trinity this summer, I didn’t expect to enjoy them. I expected to learn a lot. I expected to be confused. But I didn’t expect to get carried away in wonder. Enter Michael Reeves and his incredibly accessible (and downright fun) book on the Trinity. This totally threw me for a loop. In fact, it was so enjoyable, that I wouldn’t be surprised if I read it again in 2017, just because.
4. Drunks and Monks (John H. Carmichael)
This is one of those strange, obscure books I never would have discovered if not for the genius who wrote the code (or algorithm or whatever the heck it is) that allows Amazon to effortlessly recommend me unknown titles with bizarre cover art that just so happen to turn out to be incredible autobiographies of alcoholics-turned-Catholics who find redemption and meaning in life through ancient rituals of the Christian faith. This was riveting, amusing, theologically questionable, and really fun to read!
5. Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)
I’m late to the Malcolm Gladwell bandwagon, but better late than never, right? I’m snobbish enough that I tend to be skeptical of popular books. But this one certainly lived up to the hype for me. Although I found the points to be a wee bit redundant, Gladwell honestly could have written 1,000 more pages and still held my attention. His ability to tell a story is breathtaking. And now I need to go read everything else he’s written.
6. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (James K.A. Smith)
Have you ever read a book where you start highlighting your favorite passages, only to find that you might as well just break your highlighter in half and dump fluorescent ink all over the entire thing? Yeah, that’s the kind of book this is. I still don’t know what I think about certain parts of it (in terms of whether or not I agree), but that’s beside the point. This book was provocative and delightful and thoroughly engaging.
Here’s to hoping a few books as enjoyable as these will cross my path in 2017…