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The 5 Best Books I Read This Year (and 27 More)

Here’s a list of the books I read in 2015, some highly recommended, many worth a look, and a few disappointments. Have you read any of these too? What did you think? And what are you reading now that others should know about? Do tell. (You can read my best reads of 2014 here and 2013 here)

Particularly Recommended

Leading-Lives-that-MatterLeading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Become by Dorothy Bass and Mark Schwehn. This 500+ page reader draws together essays, readings, stories and reflections from some of the world’s greatest minds (Schweitzer, Lewis, Bonheffer, Heschel and Sayers included) on what it means to live a significant life. Exploring questions like ‘Are some lives more significant than others?’ ‘Should my job be my primary source of identity?’ ‘Should I follow my talents as I decide what to do to earn a living?’ and ‘How should I tell the story of life?’ this is a deep read that rewards the time spent in it.

Simply Good NewsSimply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good by Tom Wright. In this important book, Tom Wright reminds us that the gospel isn’t primarily good advice (which is how most of us understand it) but first and foremost news about something that has happened (Jesus’ resurrection) and something that will happen (Jesus’ transformation of the world), which changes everything now (calling for a response from us to take part). Wright left some questions unanswered for me, but that restatement of the gospel as news about an historical event is crucial.

 

Vanishing GraceVanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News? by Philip Yancey. What a gift to the world Yancey is. Always well researched, thoughtful, empathetic. Vanishing Grace is one part plea to the American church to recover grace and one part apologetic, giving reasons why Jesus fulfils the spiritual thirst of the world. My critique: the apologetic chapters felt a little out of place at times (or else the book’s title wasn’t the best choice). But my real bugbear is personal: in Vanishing Grace Yancey has written on themes I’ve been working on for years for my own book. Oh well, I guess there are other things to write about :). Excellent work.

Second JourneySecond Journey: Spiritual Awareness and the Mid-Life Crisis by Gerald O’Collins. Written in 1978, there is much wisdom in this slim volume despite its understandably dated sections. O’Collins maps out the inner experience of those who find their lives unexpected derailed (whatever their age), with the accompanying loss of identity, sense of failure and feelings of loneliness, while holding out hope that this crisis moment can be a time of profound growth. Did Richard Rohr draw on The Second Journey for his popular 2012 book Falling Upward? The similarities are significant, although O’Collins isn’t mentioned in Rohr’s footnotes. My advice: read this book instead.

Discernment - NouwenDiscernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen. Written posthumously from Nouwen’s journals and unpublished writings, Discernment is a book on hearing God’s guidance through books, nature, people and events. Michael Christensen and Rebecca Laird have done an excellent job of maintaining Nouwen’s graceful tone of voice here. A very helpful little book.

 

 

Books I Endorsed

I wrote fewer commendations this year, mainly due to time commitments (busyness prevented me writing one for Amy Boucher-Pye’s Finding Myself in Britain but I would’ve – an excellent, fun read). These titles are all worth your time.

Reasons to Believe by Dennis Moles (ed)

Digging for Diamonds by Cathy Madavan

The Whole of Life for Christ by Antony Billington and Mark Greene

Other Books Read in 2015

Fiction

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard (a deep, poetic exploration of love)

The Pearl by John Steinbech (a parable on greed)

Falscastra by Peter Baade (children’s fantasy worth the wait for publication)

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy (mortality influences morality)

The Road by Cormack McCarthy (ghoulish in places but compelling)

Non-Fiction

Scary Close by Donald Miller (a memoir about finding intimacy)

Raggamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (passionate teaching on grace)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (incredibly brilliant, incredibly dense)

Entrepreneurs of Life by Os Guinness (a reader on living with purpose)

Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott (disappointing in places but humorous)

Longing for Home by Frederick Buechner (first chapters are the best)

Night be Elie Wiesel (powerful, haunting Auschwitz experiences)

Moments of Reprieve by Primo Levi (a ‘lighter’ side of Auschwitz)

A School of Love by Basil Penninington (Cistercian thoughts on holiness)

Living the Sermon on the Mount by Glen Stassen (I’ll post a longer list of helpful books on the Sermon on the Mount later)

On Writing

Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker (a helpful book on narrative)

Inventing the Truth by William Zinsser (ed) (excellent reflections on memoir)

Disappointing or I Just Didn’t Finish Them

Falling Upward by Richard Rohr (can’t quite understand the chatter about this book. As mentioned above, Second Journey explores similar ground with more clarity)

A Life at Work by Thomas Moore (just didn’t grab me)

Journey of the Prodigal by Brennan Manning (poorly edited and a bit syrupy)

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Question: What are you reading that others should know about? Tell me in the comments below

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  • David Pascoe

    I look forward to reading these from Tom Wright and Philip Yancey next year when I get through my unread list from this year …. 🙂

  • hodge publishing

    So agree with you rejections – that Rohr is beyond me …as is Thomas Moore. However, can also see that my taste is way different to yours and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is as beyond me as the Rohr – I find myself wondering at a lot of books others find compelling, especially ones which are supposed to help us along the spiritual road..

    • I found Pilgrim at Tinker Creek a thoroughly difficult read. As I mentioned above, it’s definitely clever but dense. There’s some incredible insight there int the natural world – and particularly in learning to see the world more deeply – but it comes at a price!

      • hodge publishing

        Yes … sometimes I think about these books which ‘everyone’ raves about and recommends, when I look inside, that I just forget what I’ve read there once I’ve read it, OR, I have had the thoughts already … which, second thing, sounds arrogant, but may possibly be because I just happened to learn those things while other people were learning other stuff … or because, without arrogance, I do see the world more deeply (and often wish I didn’t since it comes with a price as well, part of the price being that one is hardly ever in step with the majority be they Christian or not.) And it can lead to depression, self-doubt, and many other uncomfortable things.

  • Ben van der Merwe

    Thanks Sheridan for your list. I recommend The Insanity of God by Nik Ripkin as it provided such encourage that faith can overcome in the most difficult places and that those discouraged in ministry can be renewed. I’d also recommend Redeeming Sex by Debra Hirsch as it challenges the church to show grace and not fear or condemnation to those that are not aligned with our beliefs.

    • Debra’s book looks so good. I’ve been meaning to take a read since I saw it released. Will look out for Nik’s book too. Thanks Ben.

  • Allen Browne

    Re Wright’s “Simply Good News”, you wrote:
    “Wright left some questions unanswered for me, but that restatement of the gospel as news about an historical event is crucial.”
    Agreed that Wright’s reminder is timely and well-focused: the gospel is staggeringly good news for the earth about what Jesus has done and will do. It’s worth pursuing those unanswered questions about the implications of the gospel. It’s of the highest importance.

    Re Yancey’s “Vanishing Grace”, you wrote:
    “My critique: the apologetic chapters felt a little out of place at times (or else the book’s title wasn’t the best choice).”
    I loved this book too, but mostly as a critique of us, i.e. that people need to discover grace in us (God’s people). I felt (and agreed with) that important emphasis, but I didn’t get much help from Yancey on how to do that. Perhaps another author can help us with that.