Bob on Books Best of 2017

culture-care

If you follow book and publishing sites, this is the time where they post their best books of 2017. I suspect part of the idea is to aid those shopping for their bibliophile friends in choosing just the right gift. Here are my own “best books.” A few caveats. I read some fiction but not a great deal. My selection is an older work many of you have already heard of or perhaps read, but which I enjoyed. Many but not all of the books listed were indeed published in 2017, but some earlier, and I’ve just gotten around to reading them and considered them among my “best” of the year. So without further ado, here is the list:

culture-care

Best of the Year: Culture CareMakoto Fujimura. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Here’s what I wrote in my review of the book:

“To read this book was a moving experience for me, one about which I wrote (“Culture Care Instead of Culture War“) while reading the book. I found a voice that resonated deeply with my longing for alternatives to the banal, rancorous and ugly expressions of culture around us. Fujimura invites us to care for our culture rather than engage in war over it, to give our selves to a common pursuit of beauty to sustain and renew our common life.”  (Full Review)

caring-for-words

Best book not published in 2017: Caring for Words in a Culture of LiesMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. I found this an eloquent book by an author who cares for words and truth, and utterly relevant to our present time. (Full Review)

temple-and-tabernacle

Best book in Biblical Studies: The Temple and the Tabernacle, J. Daniel Hays. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A rich, and richly illustrated, study of how God encountered and dwelled among his people and how this anticipated the coming of Christ. (Full Review)

engaging-the-doctrine-of-creation

Best Theological Work: Engaging the Doctrine of CreationMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. The doctrine of creation is foundational to so much else in Christian theology and anthropology and I thought Levering engaged this well. I wrote, “I would consider this a sterling example of excellent theological writing. Levering is not content to engage the writers of the last ten or fifty years, but roots his work in biblical teaching, the work of the church fathers, as well as major teachers of the church like Thomas Aquinas.” (Full Review)

kingfishers

Best Sermon Collection: As Kingfishers Catch FireEugene H. Peterson. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2017. Peterson’s valedictory work that captures so many of the themes of his writing and serves as an example of skillful pastoral work. (Full Review)

single-gay-christian

Best Christian Memoir: Single, Gay, ChristianGregory Coles. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. I easily could have chosen this as my overall best book. I’ve read several narratives this year of LGBT persons coming to terms with their faith and sexual identity. I appreciated the combination of conviction and modesty in this narrative and his longing for a better conversation that moves beyond the binary “side A/side B” discussion. (Full Review)

evicted

Best Book on a Contemporary Issue: EvictedMatthew Desmond. New York: Broadway Books, 2017. Matthew Desmond’s powerful book studying the impact of eviction, how it perpetuates poverty, and his incarnational research approach merit the Pulitzer Prize awarded this book. (Full Review)

the-last-lion

Best History or Biography: The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965William Manchester and Paul Reid. New York: Bantam Publishing, 2013. I had long awaited the final installment of this three volume biography by Manchester completed posthumously by Paul Reid. Flawed as all humans are, we nevertheless see the incomparable greatness of Churchill. (Full Review)

astrophysics-for-people-in-a-hurry

Best Science and Technology:  Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2017. Tyson explains complex phenomena in understandable terms, and also explores the wonder and haunting questions that face all of us as we consider the cosmos of which we are a part. (Full Review)

wolf-hall

Best Fiction WorkWolf Hall, Hilary Mantel. New York: Picador, 2010. This historical fiction account of Thomas Cromwell explores what it was like to be this powerful and competent figure, serving at the pleasure of Henry VIII. (Full Review)

No two best books lists are alike. All I can say for this one is that it reflects what I have read (at least so far) in 2017. Had I more time, I suspect Ron Chernow’s new book on Grant would probably be on the list, and no doubt some others. Many others just missed my very arbitrary “cut.” I’d love to hear about some of your best books of this year!

Bob on Books in 2017

happy-new-yearIt is always perilous to make New Year’s resolutions. Many don’t last past January 2. So, you might consider some of my thoughts on the direction of this blog in 2017 to be aspirations rather than resolutions. There are a few things I can clearly say I will keep doing:

  • I will keep reviewing both new and classic works on subjects of faith as well as fiction and literature, history, biography, science, as well as a few good baseball books–and an occasional book off the beaten path of my usual reading. I would contend that any of us who want to keep growing intellectually and in our awareness of the world throughout life, read deeply in the area of our vocational life and widely to see how our work and life fits into the bigger picture of God’s incredibly beautiful, diverse, and complex world.
  • I will keep posting about the world of books and reading. When I get the chance, I will write about bookstores I visit, resources for readers, and more. I did not get to do this beyond a review of a book on debates among librarians, but this year I want to explore more of the changes in technology shaping libraries and how libraries continue to promote literacy as well as serving other information and media needs for patrons.
  • I will keep writing about Youngstown as long as I keep coming up with ideas and memories about my hometown. I’m open to ideas from my Youngstown friends as well.
  • A continuing concern for me is how, in our divided society, we foster better conversations, and relations. The alternative is not pretty! I also am concerned with how our faith perspectives, which are important in so many of our lives, can be part of those conversations rather than being relegated to private life, or dismissed or discounted. I do believe those of faith need to speak with conviction, cogency, and charity, hopefully in a context that welcomes, if not always agrees with that kind of discourse.

And some aspirations for 2017

  • I want to explore the idea of what Peter Berger has called “mediating structures” which stand between individuals and political structure. It seems to me that in our mass media age, we focus so much on “big government” that we overlook the importance of mediating structures–everything from churches, neighborhood associations, leagues, and hobbyist groups to advocacy groups.
  • Inspired by C. Christopher Smith’s Reading for the Common Good, I want to explore how books and shared reading might strengthen mediating structures, the real communities many of us are a part of.
  • I want to explore some of the places beyond books where we go to read, on and off the net. Related to this, I am particularly interested in how we find reliable information sources and how we sustain them. Two of my favorite journals, Conversations Journal and Books and Culture ceased publishing at the end of the past year. Thankfully others, like The New York Times, have seen a growth in their subscriber base as people realize we need reliable news sources in this “post-truth” era.

The demise of Books and Culture leaves, it seems to me, a great void in connecting Christians (and other literate fellow travelers!) with great writing on books and culture informed by a faith perspective. At the same time, I’ve wondered about whether some form of curated platform for blogs that are attempting to do this kind of work might go a significant way toward filling this void. While none of us has the expertise or bandwidth to fill that void on our own, might there be a way that in the aggregate we could, giving our work a wider audience, and serving a wider network of “mediating structures” by connecting them with the best that is being thought and written? It’s an idea I want to explore–for all I know someone else is already doing this somewhere!

I so appreciate all who follow this blog, and all the comments you share that help me grow in the writing of it. Bob on Books is now in its fourth year, having launched in August 2013. I hope you will keep pressing me to be a better writer and I would love to hear your ideas about what I’m doing here.