Living and speaking for Jesus

Tag: books

Top five secular books of 2012

  1. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell. I read this for the first time years ago, but it’s still probably the best novel I’ve read all year. It’s a book about humanity’s lust for power with a unique narrative structure: six stories nested inside one another, Russian doll-like. Each of the stories (the genres as varied as 19th-century travelogues, 1970s pulp fiction and post-apocalyptic fantasy) would work on its own as a novella, yet combined they are greater than the sum of their parts. How they’ve managed to make it into a film I have no idea, but it’s been done, and enough critics like it for me to think that it could be good.
  2. The Shallows – Nicholas Carr. The only non-fiction on this list, The Shallows is unlike any book I’ve read. Carr jumps from the development of the printing press to modern developments in neuroscience, yet you never feel disoriented by the cognitive leap. His thesis in a nutshell is that the rise of the internet is affecting the way that we think, through training our minds to prefer shorter bursts of information to sustained argument, and by using electronic aids to find information rather than absorbing it and remembering it. I found this book scary because of how true to life I found it. This is essential reading for those who find they can’t read books as well as they used to, who struggle to remember anything without a search engine, and whose days are constantly interrupted by email and social networking.
  3. Hamlet – William Shakespeare. I’ve never read a Shakespearean tragedy before, though I’ve seen a couple on stage. You don’t need me to say that Shakespeare’s a brilliant playwright, but reading Hamlet gave me a far deeper appreciation of his genius. The early scenes where he mourns his father’s death are particularly moving, and I loved the colourful (not in that sense) language throughout.
  4. Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis. A quintessentially British and highly sophisticated farce about a young academic historian in a “new” university. The characterisation is laugh-out-loud in its exuberance, and I felt physical pain contemplating some of the awkward situations the title character finds himself in. (Trying to cover up cigarette burns in his hostess’s sheets by cutting off the edges is an early highlight.) I should have read this years ago.
  5. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald writes beautiful sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. There are parts of this book that left me revelling in his deft use of language (though there were others that left me searching for definitions in a dictionary). The story unfolds slowly, but in a good way, allowing you to enjoy the view as you travel to your destination, as it were. You’ll notice I’ve not even touched on the plot – that of a rich man living in Long Island luxury, but obsessively in love with the wrong woman. A great introduction to modern American literature, and I’m excited to see the new film when it finally arrives in the UK.

Top five Christian books of 2012

Here’s what are probably the best Christian books I’ve read this year. Honourable mentions go to Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho and Steve Levy’s Bible Overview for getting me thinking about the Old Testament more.

  1. The Good God – Michael Reeves. This seems to have been many people’s pick of the year, and with good reason. Mike’s introduction to the Trinity shows clearly how the life of God as Father, Son and Spirit is an overflowing goodness that brings light and life to us and the whole world. He writes such lively prose that you can’t help but imagine him chuckling to himself with joy as he writes. It’s a book about delighting in the Trinity that is itself delightful.
  2. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness – Tim Keller. I reviewed this for 10ofthose back in January, where I said it left me convicted about my pride, convinced of the joy that “thinking of ourselves less” brings, and rejoicing in the power of the gospel to transform lives. My small group are getting copies of this as (belated) Christmas presents. It’s short, cheap, and packs a gospelicious punch far above its size and price.
  3. A New Name – Emma Scrivener. Emma’s wonderfully honest and witty blog has probably given me more articles to email to friends than any other website, so I was very excited to get hold of this book. Her auto-biography is a remarkable testimony to the grace of God through the ordeal of anorexia, and should be required reading for anyone whose friends struggle with eating disorders, negative body image, depression, OCD, or sin (so that’s everyone, then).
  4. Thoughts for Young Men – J. C. Ryle. Ryle was a bishop in the 19th century, but he could have written this book directly to young men in the 21st. A sterling call for young men to turn to Christ, and not be ensnared by the world. I want to study this book with other young men so that we can exhort each other as Ryle exhorts his readers. Short, simple and wonderful to read.
  5. The Meaning of Marriage – Tim and Kathy Keller. There are many books on marriage that single people either shouldn’t or don’t need to read. This is not one of them. I can’t speak for marrieds, but this is highly recommended for singles – particularly those who view marriage with rose-tinted glasses, or who are looking for a perfect partner, or simply wondering what marriage is all about.

Fiction and other books here.

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