My Top Books for 2017

Before this year ends, let me toss in a few of my favorite books from 2017.

1. Best fiction
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

When I learned about this book, I didn’t think I’d be interested. It isn’t exactly historical fiction, and the topic is painful. But the book was riveting. It helped me understand the American black experience better, even though I have a long way to go. To be sure it is disturbing at times, but that’s part of its power.

Honorable mentions: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ichiguro, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

2. Best poetry
The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins

I have to admit: the first poem by Collins I read was “Grand Central” … and yes I read it on a subway poster. But I was enthralled and had to read more. This collection was excellent, at times playful, at times poignant. One of my favorites is “Helium,” a reflection on the day after one’s death.

3. Best biography
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meachum

Meachum’s television commentary during the 2016 presidential election compelled me to read three or four of his books this year. His treatment of Bush 41 was superb. Neither hagiographical nor harsh, he brings the reader into the mind of one of the most important people of the twentieth century.

Honorable mention: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

4. Best theology
The Liberating Image by J. Richard Middleton

Middleton’s book (as well as his subsequent treatments of the imago dei) was immensely helpful as I preached this fall on what it means to be human from Genesis 1–3. The author writes with both exegetical precision and existential relief. That is, the reader discovers that Middleton has found rest for his own soul in his exegesis of Scripture. The book is a bit eggheady, so if it seems a bit daunting, you can skip Part 2.

Honorable mention: Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright

5. Best resource for pastors
Show and Tell by Dan Roam

Pastor friends, this book will take you less than thirty minutes to read—and it might save you, and your parishioners, a lot of heartache. Dan Roam is not a pastor; I’m not even sure he’s a believer. But he offers here an amazingly simple method for figuring out what you need to say, why you need to say it, and how you can do it most effectively. A game changer for me as a preacher.

Honorable mentions: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (yes, I know, but it fits here too)

6. Best resource for spiritual growth
Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch

As the title suggests, this book is about depression, and it is written both for those battling depression and for those who are helping people suffering under it. But the book is much more. It’s a conversation with a skillful counselor about issues of the heart, unanswered questions, and what God is doing in the darkness. And it leads the reader to Jesus our hope. The Spirit granted me a number of light-bulb moments while reading it, and I trust he’ll do the same for you.

Honorable mention: You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith

If you know me, you know how much I love You Are What You Love—and how highly I must think of Ed Welch’s book to recommend it before this one.

7. Best reread
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Cried reading it. Again. Achingly beautiful. I love the last twenty-five pages. I could read them again and again. But they won’t make sense without the first seven hundred.

Honorable mention: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

Cried reading it. Again.

 

 

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