Bob on Books Best of 2015

Not to be outdone by all the other “best of 2015” lists coming out, I give you Bob on Books Best of 2015! This is different from many of the lists which just list books from 2015. This is the book blog of a reader who happens to review, and so some of my best books of the year weren’t actually published this year, and I’ve just gotten around to reading them.  I happen to think there are a number of really good books out there, and they weren’t all published this year!

One other thing I’ve done this year is segment my list into fiction, non-fiction, and Christian. I do read a number of Christian titles, which connects to my work in collegiate ministry, and I think my choices are worthy reads, but skip over this if it is not your cup of tea!

I should also mention that the weblinks here are to my full reviews. Those reviews include full publication information and a link to the publisher’s website, if this was available at the time of the review.

Fiction: 

All the Light We Cannot SeeDun CowBel CantoBrendanbeowulf

  1. All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr. Hands down my Book of the Year. Incredibly beautiful writing, finely drawn plot that brings together a blind French girl and a German orphan become soldier during the invasion of St. Malo. Written by an Ohioan!
  2. The Book of the Dun Cow, Walter Wangerin, Jr. A contest between good and evil in a barnyard, a modern animal fable.
  3. Bel Canto, Ann Patchett. A dinner party held hostage in a Latin American embassy and the relationships that emerge. Patchett’s best.
  4. Brendan, Frederick Buechner. An account of the life of St Brendan the Navigator as he confronts both external and internal limits.
  5. Beowulf, unknown, translated by Seamus Heaney.  I’ve read but not reviewed this yet. Heaney’s translation of this classic work brings it to light in all its power and pathos.

Non-fiction:

The Wright BrothersThe Road to CharacterThe FellowshipBuffalo for a Broken HeartBully Pulpit

  1. The Wright Brothers, David McCullough. Outstanding account that highlighted their engineering and experimental skills honed through bike-building, and their work ethic.
  2. The Road to Character, David Brooks. An effort to initiate a conversation about “moral ecology” by exploring the quests for character of a diverse group from Augustine to Bayard Rustin.
  3. The Fellowship, Philip and Carol Zaleski. A fourfold biography of the literary lives and influence of the four principal Inklings.
  4. Buffalo for the Broken Heart, Dan O’Brien. Part memoir, part nature writing on restoring life to a Black Hills ranch by converting to herding buffalo.
  5. The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin. Not only great for accounts of Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft and their relationship, but also the “muckraking” journalists brought together by Sam McClure.

Christian:

17293092 (1)A Glorious DarkSufferingSpiritual Friendshipslow church

  1. Playing GodAndy Crouch. An important book that looks at power, considering not only the possibility of corruption, but also the redemptive uses of power, which we cannot help but wield in some measure, as creatures in the image of God.
  2. A Glorious DarkA. J. Swoboda. A marvelous set of reflections on the darknesses of life and our glorious hope organized around the Triduum of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
  3. Suffering and the Search for MeaningRichard Rice. A concise, clear, and pastoral exploration of some of the ways Christians attempt to address evil and suffering.
  4. Spiritual FriendshipWesley Hill. This books seeks to restore to the church a high view of friendship, and its importance for those seeking to live single and chaste lives.
  5. Slow Church, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison. Modeled after the “slow food” movement, the authors call for an embrace an ethic of quality, an ecology of reconciliation, and an economy of abundance.

Those were my “best of the best”. Since this medium is interactive, I’d enjoy hearing what yours were. That might give each of us all some good ideas of something we’d like to read in 2016!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Bob on Books!

Review: Works of Love

Works of Love
Works of Love by Søren Kierkegaard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Works of Love is a searching exploration of the distinctive and demanding character of Christian love. It is not a “feel good” book but one that might leave you wondering whether you really have loved at all, or loved well.

Kierkegaard begins with the paradox of love’s character as both hidden and yet bearing fruit in works of love. He then explores the great command to love neighbor as oneself. He plumbs the challenges of loving a neighbor in all the ways we love ourselves, and the fact that it is the neighbor we are to love, literally anyone, and not just the friend or the lover.

He then considers how love is the fulfillment of the law, seen most fully in how Christ fulfilled the law. The law is always indeterminate–we can never know if we’ve met all its demands, but if we love as Christ, we can be sure of this. He also introduces here an idea also found in Bonhoeffer that God is the middle term between us and the person we love. We love others in God and to God. And so also, this is how we love with a clear conscience. We first are transparent with God, and so then with the neighbor we love.

Perhaps even more challenging is to love those we see. We are not to look for those who are lovable but to love those in our sight apart from anything “deserving in them”. But it doesn’t stop there. Kierkegaard’s chapter on the debt of love argues that this is a debt that is never discharged toward another person as long as we live. We can never say we have loved “enough”.

He turns to 1 Corinthians 13 and takes this phrase by phrase. He talks about love building up and, in this, love presupposes the love of the other, that is we upbuild others by presupposing the best in them. Love believes all things, that is it believes, and persists in believing the best of others. It isn’t self protective and thus never truly deceived. Similarly, love hopes all things, is always hopeful of the good in another. Love never seeks its own because there is no “mine” in love. Love hides a multiplicity of sins because this is not what it is looking for, and even when this is unavoidable responds in forgiveness. Love abides and never knows the breaking of a relationship because love keeps loving.

His concluding chapters explore the character of mercy, the nature of reconciliation, and something I’ve never seen before, an exploration of love in the remembering of the dead, a love that cannot be reciprocated and is therefore the freest love. His concluding chapter truly sums everything up in the idea of “like unto like”. We love and we believe we are loved, we forgive (or not) as we believe we are forgiven. We either live in a world of judgment where we judge others and live under the fearsome judgment of God, or we believe the God of love and forgiveness in Christ and live in that love and forgiveness toward others. Hence, the works of love really are an expression of faith.

If this summary of the book seems a bit ‘dense’ or even perplexing, this probably reflects the book’s character. Kierkegard leaves no stone unturned in his exploration of love. This is a book to be read slowly and perhaps repeatedly and only if one is willing to wrestle with the uncomfortable challenge of what it truly means to practice Christian love. Perhaps this is implicit in Kierkegaard but all this is fact an impossibility apart from Christ’s indwelling fullness. This isn’t simply a more demanding ethic, but one that leads us first to repentance of how poorly we have loved and casts us back onto the empowering presence of God’s Spirit. In every sense then, this is a hard book, but because of that, all the more worthwhile.

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