Friday, December 12, 2008

2008 Book Superlatives

Last year I started my fav. books that I've read in the past year. I had many people comment (more in person than on here) on how much they liked that post. I don't have time to review each and every book that I read throughout the year, so this is a good time to at least let people see what some of my favorites have been, and also to give me feedback about books they have read and perhaps suggest I read. I am only counting books in here that I completed (there are many that I have started that came out this year and I have not gotten all of the way through (I'm too eager when I receive new books sometimes), so some that came out this year will prob. make next year's list! Enjoy!!!

Most Challenging Book
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.

I listened to this book for over 4 months (it's long, but I was also that involved with it). I read essays on the book, and almost nightly, would go back and reread sections of the book that I had listened to that caught my attention. This was a book that has a great plot, but is philosophically motivated. Rand is quite blatant about her love for Capitalism, but it is an idealistic form of Capitalism. However, in the year that has transpired economically, this book is a huge challenge to our current philosophy of consumerist theory. Not just that, but from someone who believes in the driving power of the middle class, and doesn't believe that poverty is always a result of lack of effort and drive in America, this book challenged me on a philosophical, political, and spiritual level. It was my favorite fiction book of this year, and will continue to challenge me in years to come. If you have not read this book, PICK IT UP!

Best Book Involving War, Alien Abduction, and Becoming Unstuck in Time
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut was another author (like Rand) that I was not exposed to in HS or College yet should have been. I read this book in one sitting and then turned around and read it again. I've had some great conversations with others who love this book, and have recommended it to many people. This was my gateway into what I refer to now as the "Vonnegut drug". His dark humor came to me at a time where pessimism ran rampant in my life, and rather than bring me down further it actually lifted me up. His plots are ridiculous, yet so enticing and insightful that they become a window into our very souls. Vonnegut can pull out the worst of humanity and show us how ridiculous we can be. Another must-read for anyone who can read!

Most Refreshing Book
The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?, by Peter J. Gomes
This book is a no-nonsense book where the author (Harvard Divinity School and Harvard University's Memorial Church) speaks about how the Church has devolved itself into a place of fear and control. He compares his arguments about what the Church is to the subversive ministry and message of Christ. He proclaims, in short, that the Church today (not all churches, just the Church universal in general), like the religious institution in Christ's time, would be the very thing that his message and ministry opposed. This book is a gut-check to any minister, and a wake-up call to the Church proper. Gomes has put in the time and notoriety to be able to call it like he sees it. A challenging book that tops my favorite "spiritual books" of this year!

Most Scandalous Book
The Shack, by William P. Young
Yes, the most "scandalous" book this year did not have the word in the title. In fact, it was not meant to be scandalous at all, just an honest work of fiction that expressed the authors new understanding of God based on his own experiences (that are not represented in the plot of the book). This book has caused a LOT of controversy in the Church world this year. Just last week a family member was telling me that his pastor (who had not read the book, but seemed to have purchased it simply to wave it about on stage) spoke of the "evils" the book held. Even the most hit Christian reviewer, Tim Challies, has tried to turn Christians away from the "heretical theology"

With that being said, this book, for many others, has been a breath of fresh air. My Bible Study group spent 3 weeks discussing the book (and could have spent many more) and it has been some of the best discussion our group has had. We challenged the book and allowed it to challenge us. I think that this book is great for all Christians, and agree with it or not, it can challenge your beliefs as well as make many feel like they're finally not alone in some of the understandings of God that they have. Best Read and Discussed in a small group or with friends!

Best Use of Words/Coolest Cover
Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile , By Rob Bell
Bell uses his gift at word-crafting to bring together several approaches to the Bible and Christianity that have been around for a while in the academic world. This in and of itself is great, but he does what he does best: makes them applicable to everyone in some of the most beautiful prose on the shelves. This book will not be anything new to some people, and to others it will be very eye-opening. It levels the playing field, so to say, between these academic understandings and the mission and ministry of the laity. We lack people in the Christian faith that can bridge that gap, and Bell is one of the best. The last part of the book is beautifully written, and can take your breath away. Inspiring, encouraging, and informative. very different from his other books, but still worth the read! Oh, and the cover is clever and gets everyone!

Best Series I Just Discovered
A Song Of Fire And Ice (Starting with book 1: A Game of Thrones), by George R. R. Martin
I began this series after several friends told me to pick it up. Now, I'm not one that spends much time in the Fantasy Genera, although I do like Tolkien. However, after much pestering I picked up A Game of Thrones and couldn't put it down. It has very little of what is usually thought of in the Fantasy isle, but is more of a book of medieval life, war, and the most brutal politics I've read.

Martin is famous for penning the TV series Beauty and the Beast, and returned to novels in this on-going series. Beyond the very complex storyline, he has a huge cast of characters that are unforgettable. You learn to both love and loathe his characters, and each are believably flawed individuals. I've read the first 3 of 4 books available (I think there will eventually be 7) in the series, and can't wait to pick it up again. Give this a chance, you won't be disappointed.

Best Book About Building a Cathedral
The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
I know, that superlative title doesn't sound interesting. Well it is! The Cathedral they are building actually becomes one of the characters in the book as alive and challenging as any of the ones made of flesh and bone. Spanning 3 generations in time, the struggles for the main characters to see the dream of the Cathedral being built and the life that it would bring to the monetary is epic. A historical fiction Chronicles the tough decisions that 12th century people have to make and the hard lives they had to face. This is all made tougher by the political and Ecclesial power struggles that persist. The characters are beautifully crafted and believable, and I truly see some parallels between then and today. This was on Oprah's book club for a reason. A fantastic book, and I can't wait to read the sequel.

Most Soul-Searching Book
Prayers for a Privileged People, by Walter Brueggemann
This book is beautifully crafted with some of the best written prayers I've ever seen. My on-going struggle with being a "have" while there are so many "have-nots" in the world was brought up-close and personal in this book. Although not by any means wealthy, I still live a life of greater wealth than much of the worlds population. These are truly prayers for privileged, and in no way diminishes or makes you feel bad about that. These prayers are earnest, yet still challenging in asking "what would you, God, have me do as a privileged individual?" Prayers for almost any situation and occasion, one of my favorite authors has crafted a book that I will continue to return to the rest of my life. Powerful, prophetic, and poetic... One of the most awe-inspiring books this year!

Favorite New Bible
The Voice, Thomas Nelson (Pub.)
Though only the New Testament at this point (oh please release a full OT and NT of this), the voice is a beautiful composition and compilation. By merging gifted writers in various media with the academic translators, what has been produced is what I consider to be the most beautiful and engaging translation of the NT to date. A dynamic translation, I like this far better than The Message and the NLT which are paraphrases. I promote this translation here and here (for more info). I know that the big Bible that many are drooling over this year is the new ESV Study Bible. However, after reading through it I find it slanted and still stiff in it's translation. The Voice is a new approach and tries to maintain the integrity of the translational process. This is the Bible that you will actually want to read with insightful commentary and creative approaches to reading the Bible. This Bible attempts to be balanced theologically (and succeeds well I think), while being an exciting and fresh new entry into the massive amounts of Bibles available today!

Best Book Filling The Harry Potter Hole In My Life
or Best Young Adult Read
Brisingr (Inheritance, Book 3), by Christopher Paolini
Book 3 of the Inheritance Cycle turned out to be a great book. The first book, Eragon, was great. The Second book, Eldest, drug a bit. But Brisinger was back to what made Eragon such a good read. Paolini began this series when he was only 15, and although it sometimes feels like it's ripping straight out of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, Paolini is becoming quite an author with a great imagination. As mentioned above, not a huge fan of this genera, this series is proving to be enticing and epic. Written and marketed for young adults, like Harry Potter, this series is smart and can appeal to older crowds who simply want a good adventure story to grab on to!

Most Likely To Make You Uncomfortable
Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, by Frank Viola and George Barna
Like the subtitle says, this book is about exploring all of the Christian "traditions" most of us face every Sunday. From Steeple, to sermons, this book explores where these things come from that we claim are "rooted in scripture", as well as our tendency to habitualize them and raise them up to some sort of "sacred" level. But deeper still is something else entirely. It is a book that attempts to "unplug" Christians from these things that we get hung up on in our Christianity and to take a step back to see the bigger picture. One step further; to get involved with the bigger picture. A great book that can unsteady you, make you ask some good questions, wear flip-flops to church, and engage others in your faith community about why we do some of the things we do, and what should we be doing instead that is rooted in scripture, and thus, truly more "sacred".

Other Notables
Below are other books that have made a great impact on me this year, and I'm just running out of space. I promise, all of these books are worth your time.
In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis, by Karen Armstrong
Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, by Brian D. McLaren
Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day

Hope you enjoy, leave me some of your fav. '08 books, or your feedback on any of these you've read


  1. Sadly, school prevented me from reading enough to even MAKE a top 10 list...but yours gave me a few more to add to my list of things to read.

  2. anything I can do to add to your ever-growing "books I WANT to read" list. The one it seems you may never get to:)

    Wishing you the best!