This is the time of year when every review magazine (and blog!) releases its Best of 2014 book lists. Since I follow a number of these, I’ve seen many of these lists and gotten some interesting ideas of books to read for the future. One of the most amazing is a free download from Publishers Weekly with all their starred reviews for the year.
Most lists focus around books published in 2014 which makes sense for these outlets. Mine is a little different. I’m a reader first, and at best, an amateur book reviewer. I started writing reviews mostly to remember what was salient in the books I read, and I choose the books to read because of my own interests at the time. So my list includes both books published in the last year, and older books I’ve finally gotten around to reading which I think especially worthwhile to commend. So without further ado, here is the list, not in any particular order since I thought all outstanding. All of these are linked to my full reviews of the book.
1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. This best-selling book argues that introverts are simply different, not inferior or superior but rather offering unique gifts to the world that arise from their temperament. Contradicting what I wrote above, this would probably be my “best” book of the year. She nails what it means to be an introvert without being whiny.
2. Journey Toward Justice, by Nicholas Wolterstorff. In short chapters Wolterstorff shares both his own ideas about justice and the personal encounters with victims of injustice in South Africa, Palestine, and the Honduras. And he contends that it was the personal encounters with those whose dignity was impaired and whose inherent rights were denied that informed his theory of justice centering around human dignity and inherent rights.
3. Destiny of the Republic, by Candice Millard. The author renders a fascinating account of the life, assassination attempt against, and subsequent death of James A Garfield, interwoven with sketches of his deluded assassin and benighted physician, James Bliss, whose methods introduced infection and probably were the real cause of Garfield’s death.
4. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life, by Nancy Koester. Stowe did far more than just write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She was a pioneer among women authors, the daughter and spouse of New School Calvinist pastors who moved away from these theological roots while not moving away from Christ, and contributed far more to the abolition of slavery than simply her novel. An outstanding biography.
5. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, by Samantha Power. From the story of Rafael Lemkin who gave us the word “genocide” to the tragedy of Rwanda, and our first real steps to intervene in the Balkans, Power tells a story of America’s studied avoidance for the most part, of using its power to prevent genocide, even while piously saying “never again” after the Holocaust.
6. Both-And: Living the Christ-Centered Life in an Either-Or World, by Rich Nathan with Insoo Kim. Pastors Nathan and Kim describe and narrate the vision of Vineyard Columbus to live as a both-and church that is both evangelical and charismatic, both united and racially diverse, both showing mercy and pursuing justice, and more. I chose this not simply because these were “home town favorites” but because they articulate a “Third Way” vision that transcends the polarities and divisiveness of our society.
7. To Change the World, by James Davison Hunter. Many organizations and movements in Christian circles have used the language of changing the world but have not been cognizant to the deeper dynamics of culture change nor its double-edged character. Hunter explores what is really involved in culture change and thinks Christians best achieve this through “faithful presence” throughout society.
8. Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri. This Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories by Bengali Indian Lahiri explores the intersection of traditional Bengali values with modernity, particularly in negotiating the immigrant experience. A number of the stories are set in Boston, where Lahiri was educated.
9. American Gods, Neil Gaiman. Shadow, a released prisoner gets caught up in a war between the old and new gods with which Gaiman populates the American landscape, and discovers his own identity in the process. This is something of a classic, but one that I think explores well the “gods” (idols?) of the American landscape.
10. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris. This is the first of a three volume biography on the life of Teddy Roosevelt, tracing his adventures from sickly childhood through young rancher, civil servant to the fateful day he learns he has become President at the death of McKinley. All of the volumes of this biography are a delight, but this one most of all in covering a period of Roosevelt’s life that is less familiar to most and which reveals his character in both its strengths and flaws.
These books afforded hours of good reading this year that amused, informed, and challenged me. I hope one or more of these might do the same for you. And if you missed these books when I first reviewed them, I’d encourage you to follow me either on WordPress or via emails delivered to your inbox whenever I post.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s from Bob on Books!