Between all of the activities of the Christmas season and the busy-ness of starting the second semester, I have not posted anything in nearly a month! What better way to kick off a new year of blogging than by giving my annual overview of the books I read last year. As always, this will be a quick run-down, not an exhaustive review of any books. I was, once again, able to meet my goal of reading at least fifty books a year, finishing with fifty-seven.
The first book I finished in 2014 was Sarah Palin’s Glad Tidings and Great Joy. I was not entirely sure what to expect from this book, but I found it a pleasant read. Palin included a number of family stories, traditions and photos throughout the book (as well as a few recipes), intertwined amongst examples of the attack on Christianity in general and Christmas in particular around America. More than likely, anyone who likes Sarah Palin will like this book, and anyone who does not like Sarah Palin will not.
For the most part, I am going to break down the other books I read by genre rather than by date. R W Glenn’s Crucifying Morality was a short look at what the Beatitudes are really all about–and what they are not all about. Max Lucado’s 3:16 The Numbers of Hope and David Jeremiah’s God Loves You are both excellent looks at God’s love–and how incredible that love truly is. Lucado’s book is, of course, written in his usual style. Rebecca Friedlander’s The Potter and His Clay is a fascinating look into the biblical comparisons of God to a potter and us to the clay. Friedlander is a gifted potter and artist, and if you have the opportunity to see her live Potter’s Wheel presentation you should definitely avail yourself of the chance. Strange Fire, by John MacArthur, is a thorough examination of the charismatic movement and the many misinterpretations and outright abuses of Scripture that have characterized the movement through the years. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is Nabeel Qureshi’s autobiographical account of how a devout follower of Islam came to accept Christ. For anyone interested in knowing more about what Islam teaches and the challenges associated with leading a Muslim to Christ would do well to read this book. Anthony Carter’s Blood Work is an examination of why the blood of Christ is so incredibly important and what it accomplished. Carter interweaves stanzas of classic hymns throughout. Christena Cleveland is social psychologist and college professor who wrote a thought-provoking look at the way Christians tend to segregate themselves within the body of Christ–for all kinds of reasons. Disunity in Christ is an excellent read, but do not read it if you have sensitive toes!
Darren Dochuk’s From the Bible Belt to Sunbelt is a study of how the evangelical movement in California was transplanted from the deep south. The book includes many names that will be familiar to believers, as well as details and contexts that likely are not so familiar. It also reveals that an incredible number of today’s hot-button issues are not new problems for the evangelical community. Douglas Bond’s The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts is a short, easy-to-read and fascinating look at the life of this prolific hymn writer. Lauren Drain’s Banished is an autobiographical account of her experiences as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. The book often left me wondering “how can anyone believe that?” It is a truly sad commentary of what some people believe the Bible teaches.
Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch is a monster of a book at 775 pages. And while there were a few times I found myself thinking she could have left out a few details without hurting the story any, I found the book a delightful read overall. As with many great works of fiction there are a few “twists of fate” that seem entirely too convenient and unlikely, but these are forgivable. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a difficult book to like yet worth reading. It is thought provoking, and in turns caused me to be angry, irritated and even sick, amidst other emotions. It is a book I would recommend, but selectively. It is certainly not for everyone. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is a tale any booklover will enjoy and a classic telling of doomed love. Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale is an easy like for any bibliophile, and was an intriguing look into both the transforming power of romantic love and the incredible power of bitter rivalry. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is a well-crafted story about the healing power of true love of the non-romantic variety. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, provided some of the most well-written sentences I have read in a long time. The entire book is letters written between the tale’s characters–a unique approach that worked surprisingly well.
As I usually do, I also attempted to add a few “classics” to my have-read list. Jane Eyre was recommended by a colleague and I found myself liking it much more than I anticipated I would. There was one incredibly unlikely and unbelievable twist in the book that soured me a bit, but it was well worth reading. It could generate some very interesting discussions about marriage in a discussion group setting. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye would probably be my “Banned Book” for the year. I can see why parents would object to it being in a high school reading list, but it would surely prompt fascinating conversations about racial relations, both between races and within them. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is worthy of being a classic, and the story is all the more fascinating because of when it was written. Cry, the Beloved Country is a book I have read before, and it is still a book I will recommend to anyone who asks. While it contains some of the same unlikely twists that irked me in Jane Eyre, they are not nearly so irksome in Alan Paton’s classic work set in South Africa. The novel presents perseverance and forgiveness in a way seldom seen. I finally got around to reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, too. James McBride’s The Color of Water is another very interesting look into race relations, as well as an endearing glimpse into the love of son for mother. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a creative and captivating retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel, and I would recommend it. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace was pure drudgery, and I would not recommend it.
In the contemporary fiction category I read Camron Wright’s The Rent Collector; A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash; The Absence of Mercy by John Burley; Be Careful What You Wish For–the latest installment of Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles; David Baldacci’s The Target; James Patterson’s Private: LA, Invisible and Burn; Marcia Clark’s Guilt By Association; and John Grisham’s Gray Mountain.
In history, I read Lawrence Denton’s A Southern Star for Maryland, an interesting look at what was going on Maryland during the Civil War; Edward Behr’s Prohibition, an overview of that part of U.S. history; Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, a riveting account of the Chicago World’s Fair and a murderer preying on women in the city at the same time that reads like a novel; The Black Count by Tom Reiss, an incredible true-life account of Alex Dumas; John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Scientists; and Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, an engaging look at four women who assumed roles in the Civil War far more often reserved for men.
George W. Bush’s 41 was an enjoyable read. It was not the book I had anticipated, but he politely warned me in the preface that it would not be. Captive in Iran, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh’s account of their time in Iran’s Evin Prison, is an incredible story.
There are a few I did not mention here, but I’m sure you’re ready to go do something else anyway. Check back next year to see where this year takes me!