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What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though. – J.D. Salinger

It is always popular with me to ask what others are reading. One learns something about a person in knowing what sort of pages they’re turning. Not that we should make many presumptions; I know some people who read everything in sight, but can scarcely hold a conversation, and others who read only children’s books over and over, or nothing at all, and are among the most fascinating, beautiful people I know.

It proved a fun exercise for me to keep a list of books I read in 2014. I’m not sure what it might tell you about me, and am possibly afraid it will tell you nothing good at all, but still it is interesting.

I read 27 books this year. There were others I started but could not finish – Infinite Jest defeated me again after 100 pages.

Fifteen of the books were written this millennium, eight in the last five years alone. Ten were from the 20th century, and only two were written prior to 1900.

Twenty-two were written by Americans, three by Brits, and a couple by Arabs.

In a sharp departure from previous years, I read mostly nonfiction, 15 in all, along with nine works of fiction, a couple books of essays, one of poetry, and a unique arrangement of the New Testament. Ten books were on Christianity, three were on business, two were YA, two biographical, and one was historical. Most of the fiction was literary in nature.

The list, 2014

  1. The Bible Made Impossible, Christian Smith
  2. The Attributes of God, A.W. Pink
  3. World War Z, Max Brooks
  4. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  5. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  6. Choke, Chuck Palahniuk
  7. Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville
  8. Sex and Dating, Mindy Meier
  9. The Kickstarter Handbook, Don Steinberg
  10. Essentialism, Greg McKeown
  11. Profitable eCommerce, Andrew Youderian
  12. The Most Eligible Christian Bachelor, Brian Kammerzelt
  13. From the Library of C.S. Lewis, compiled by James Stuart Bell
  14. The Orthodox Church, Timothy Ware
  15. Rabbit Redux, John Updike
  16. The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert E. Coleman
  17. Jesus is ________, Judah Smith
  18. The Lost Years of Jesus, Elizabeth Clare Prophet
  19. The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn
  20. Pincher Martin, William Golding
  21. The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis
  22. Black Elk Speaks, Black Elk
  23. The Prophet, Khalil Gibran
  24. The Books of the Bible, a manuscript-style arrangement of the New Testament
  25. Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris
  26. The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, James Weldon Smith
  27. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins

Now for some rankings:

Best fiction

  1. Rabbit Reduxrabbitredux
  2. White Teeth
  3. The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man
  4. The Fault in Our Stars
  5. Choke

Rabbit Redux is a brilliant family drama. John Updike is, it seems, Jonathan Franzen before Jonathan Franzen (he wouldn’t like me saying that). A brilliant reflection and prophecy of the culture, politically, racially, personally. And the writing is terrific. White Teeth is excellent literary fiction, with immigrant, international flair: a bit long, but you won’t regret reading it. The Fault in Our Stars was a wonderful story, though the writing style was a bit too facebook-y for me. Choke was captivating, an edgy and provocative page-turner, but beware, Palahniuk is not exactly rated G. Pretty crude, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to get out of it, if anything.

Best nonfiction

  1. The Master Plan of Evangelismmasterplan
  2. The Most Eligible Christian Bachelor
  3. Black Elk Speaks
  4. Holidays on Ice
  5. The Books of the Bible

I’ve never read a better, more biblical book on evangelism and discipleship than Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism. It’s a bestseller, but I’d never heard of it before. My go-to for Bible-based witnessing from now on. The Most Eligible Christian Bachelor is really just a long essay about Christian dating: really thought-provoking and helpful. Holidays on Ice is Dave Sedaris’ compilation of funny essays (the main essay, “SantaLand Diaries”, as well as “Six to Eight Black Men” are so funny!). It’s definitely humorous, but don’t listen to Sedaris read it; his reading is not funny, and at times, hardly bearable. The Books of the Bible is simply a different arrangement of the New Testament, without verses or chapter titles. It’s always good to be in the Word, and this was a unique, helpful way to approach it anew.

Worst books

  1. Pincher Martinpinchermartin
  2. The Lost Years of Jesus
  3. The Kickstarter Handbook

Lord of the Flies is be one of my favorite books, and I also liked Golding’s The Spire. Pincher Martin, however, was a slog. Almost no dialogue or, for that matter, action – just a painful description of suffering and survival on a deserted island. I picked up The Lost Years of Jesus out of plain curiosity. It’s an intriguing (though very problematic) cultish book about Jesus’ alleged 17 years in Tibet and India. It includes a sort of pseudo-gospel that accounts for his birth, his time in India and Tibet learning from Buddhists and Hindus, and then his return to Jerusalem where he was killed (with a much more antagonistic view of Pilate, and a kinder view of the Jewish authorities). It was pretty fascinating, but ultimately unevidenced except for claims of a few secret manuscripts that say Jesus visited South and East Asia. The Kickstarter Handbook was okay, but all the valuable information could have been written in a brochure instead of a book.

Most thought-provoking

  1. The Bible Made Impossiblemadeimpossible
  2. Black Elk Speaks
  3. The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man
  4. The Most Eligible Christian Bachelor
  5. From the Library of C.S. Lewis

The Bible Made Impossible brought to light a lot of issues I – and the culture – have with the way too many Christians read scripture. It raises good points, and effectively illustrates problems with the some interpretations, but I think in places it does go too far. Black Elk Speaks is a beautiful, heartbreaking telling of Black Elk’s life at the dusk of Native American civilization in the 19th-century West. The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured man is a fictional biography, but still rings very true in its description of a young African American boy coming of age on the East Coast in the early 1900s. From the Library of C.S. Lewis is simply a compilation of excerpts from Lewis’ own library, ranging from church fathers to Renaissance writers and Lewis’ contemporary apologists. Pick it up; you can’t go wrong.

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