31 December 2013

My Ten Favorite Books of 2013

These books are listed in no particular order.  Really.  I couldn't rank them in any sort of order even if I tried.  Links are to the versions of the books I enjoyed - audio when I listened, Kindle when I bought eBook, hardcover when I got that.  Happy 2014 reading!
I wish I had read Failure of Nerve during seminary or in my first year or two out of seminary.  In ten years of ordained ministry, I've had a pretty smooth go of things compared to some of my colleagues, but all of us face bumps along the way.  Failure of Nerve has nothing to say about how to smooth those bumps or avoid them completely, but it has plenty to say about why people react the way they do to strong leadership and how a competent leader can function in the midst of anxiety, bad functioning, and fear.  This is one I will likely read and re-read as I go, to remind myself why things happen the way they do and what the likely outcomes are when, as a leader of a religious community, I feel as though God is calling us to strike out in a new direction.  

This wonderful little collection of parables by Peter Rollins is a great opportunity to let parables do what they do to us:  turn our expectations on their heads so we see the world differently for a while.  Parables are not fables.  There is often not a "moral to the story" in parables.  What is there is wisdom that comes from living in a messy creation that often does not value order or "karma" but instead just is.  

Of all the books I've read this year, this is the one I've recommended the most.  I'm so proud of Nadia and the way she proclaims the gospel that has claimed so many of us ELCA Lutherans.  She has become a prophet to us and to the world, reminding us that God's vision for our church is far bigger than what we've allowed it to be.  She's coming to Cedar Falls for a book signing in January and I'm excited to go!

I've been pretty critical of some of Stephen King's work the last few years.  But Doctor Sleep is one of the best of his novels since Bag of Bones.  A return to a familiar, well-loved character with new towns, new villains and a completely original storyline.  It's King at his narrative best.  I gobbled it up in just a day or so, which is always a good sign.  It's not on the level of It or The Stand, but it's miles better than Dreamcatcher or Under the Dome.  Hoping his next few books are this good.

This is a really disturbing novel.  I can't go into details without ruining any one of several major plot points, but it's not a particularly flattering look at any kind of human relationship.  But it's a novel I listened to on audio, and I constantly found myself inventing other tasks after a workout or cleaning house so I could keep listening to find out what happened next.  That means something.  Not for the faint of heart, but an incredibly engrossing story.

Possibly the most interesting concept of any book I read this year - at least even with Cloud Atlas.  Sure, I got this one because the movie came out this year.  I'm surprised I'd never heard of it before, but everybody misses a good story or two.  I think I'm most thankful that the movie and the book are almost two completely different entities.  There's no way you could fit this novel into a 3-hour movie experience.  You could possibly serialize it, as HBO has done with Game of Thrones, but maybe it's okay in this case to let the movie take a major departure from the book while both of them stand on their own as excellent, if tangentially related.  The audio production of this novel was superb - well-known actors & actresses playing their parts very, very well.  Another audiobook that drove me to do more stuff around the house.  Can't believe Beloved complains when I plug in my earphones & get to work - if the book is good I get lots of stuff done!  :-)

*Note:  somehow I listened to the abridged version of this novel.  I try as hard as I can not to do this.  Abridging usually means altering the author's vision of the work.  But I did link to the Audible version of what I heard, since that's what I'm reviewing here.  It appears an unabridged audio version is not available at this time.

I know this list is in no particular order, but this might be the best book I read all year.  Goodwin's analysis of Lincoln's career is as magnificent as the man himself.  This book goes far beyond the grade school mythology most of us carry around as our "history" of Abraham Lincoln and looks into what made him the most successful president in American history (in my opinion).  Yes, it's long - the audiobook version is 41 hours.  But it was the best 41 hours of the year for me.  This is just an incredible literary achievement.  

I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did.  Didn't know a thing about it except that, like World War Z, it came from the Fantasy/SciFi genre and was being made into a major motion picture.  The story itself is a chiasm - structured A-B-C-D-Ci-Bi-Ai so that each vignette is interrupted, moves to the next vignette, then comes back out from the middle of the plot.  A fascinating way to tell the story and carried out incredibly well by David Mitchell.  Great structure, great characters, and the movie was also well done.  This was just a fun, fun story to read and enjoy - one I'll likely revisit in years to come.

I became an Apple convert shortly after purchasing my first MacBook in 2009.  Reading Steve Jobs helped me understand why I loved my Apple products so much.  If you want to understand the basic differences between Gates and Jobs, PC and Apple, Windows and iOS, this is the book for you.  I think church professionals like myself would benefit from reading this biography:  it gives us a chance to look at our communities as systems, what our goals are, how to eliminate things that don't contribute toward achieving those goals, focusing our vision and improving our product, and most of all the importance of beauty and aesthetics (far too often overlooked).  Those are good qualities toward which we should all endeavor.  And this biography serves as a cautionary tale also; it's important to have people around us who are strong enough to call us on our bullshit when it needs calling out.  

I tried Scalzi on the recommendation of Clint Schnekloth, and loved this book.  Just a fun little look at the life of the characters I've always called "Ensign Johnson" - you know, the redshirted crew member on every Star Trek away team who is always the poor bugger to get gunned down by some new alien.  Great story.  Huge laughs.  A wonderful introduction to a good writer.  Old Man's War is also worth a read.  

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