Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best books of 2009

I love making lists. And I love reading. This list includes the books that most impacted me in 2009, in no particular order.

The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright (2005): The sub-title, “Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” helps explain why I love this book. It successfully links three of my favorite things. (Can you picture Julie Andrews singing that last sentence?) This book has encouraged me as a writer to draw water more deeply from my own well and to trust the creative process.

Carta a los Efesios: Comentario para exegesis y traducción by Mariano Ávila Arteaga (2008): It isn’t often that I’d put a Bible commentary in a list of favorite books, but my friend Mariano has done a splendid job of uniting academic integrity with love and worship around Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, all from the perspective of a Latin American theologian. I’ve actually been reading it devotionally.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880): This re-reading of the Russian classic is impacting me, not only with the brilliance of the author’s insights into human nature, but the with book’s similarities to Latin American telenovelas (the continent’s version of soap operas). Talk about dysfunctional families and melodrama—it’s all there and more!

Maud: The Life of L. M. Montgomery by Harry Bruce (1994): The publicity blurb for this book says that it’s for adolescents age 12 and over, but I sometimes find books for young people worth reading. (And it did give me a mental break after Dostoevsky!) At any rate, I love reading biographies and memoirs of writers, and this account of the creator of the Anne of Green Gables books fascinated me. I was especially interested in Montgomery’s struggles overcoming prejudices against women in higher education and as professional writers. Her life is a case study in persistence and discipline.

These Tunes, This Circle (2008) and Searching for a White Crow (2009), both by Quaker poet William Jolliff: Bill and I both read poetry at a gathering during North West Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions in August. I loved his poem, “The Second Million Miles,” about parenting, coming of age, and life transitions. After the reading I asked Bill where I could buy his books, and he graciously gave me the two copies he had brought. I’ve been savoring them ever since.

The River Between by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (1965): The Kenyan novelist paints a discordant picture of life during the early days of white settlement, including a scathing description of the negative effects of Christian mission on the Kikuyu tribe. This was a painful book to read and it certainly underscores the need for a wise contextualization of the gospel among the people groups of the world. Near the end of the novel, the protagonist (who has resisted Christian conversion) reflects: “He knew that not all the ways of the white man were bad. Even his religion was not essentially bad. Some good, some truth shone through it. But the religion, the faith, needed washing, cleaning away all the dirt, leaving only the eternal. And that eternal that was the truth had to be reconciled to the traditions of the people. A people’s traditions could not be swept away overnight…. A religion that took no count of a people’s way of life, a religion that did not recognize spots of beauty and truths in their way of life, was useless.” While painful reading, this is good missiology.

Libro de la passion by José Miguel Ibáñez Langlois (1986): Ibáñez Langlois, a Catholic priest serving in Santiago, Chile, is one of the best Latin American Christian poets, but this work was actually my introduction to him. A gift from one of my doctoral students, a Chilean and a poet himself, the book chronicles the Passion Week of Christ in short narrative poems from the perspective of the different participants. Some of the scenes seem to take place, not in Jerusalem, but in Santiago. I’m impacted by the poet’s own passion, and am made able to enter into the story through the power of his insights and the beauty of the words. This is a gift.

Songs from the Slums by Toyohiko Kagawa (English translation, 1935): Like Thomas Kelley’s A Testament of Devotion, this is a book I read once a year. These poems from Kagawa’s years of living among the poor of Kobe move me every time I read them. This year I read the poems alongside a biography of Kagawa written by Cyril Davey in 1960, shortly after Kagawa’s death. Kagawa models for me an integration of academic discipline, poetic sensitivity, a passion for social justice, and a missionary heart.

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative by Christopher J. H. Wright (2006): In this very scholarly but readable book, Wright traces the theme of the missio Dei, God’s missional purposes in the world, through the whole of Scripture. I found it strongly motivating me to go deeper into Scripture and then be present more authentically in the world.

A series of three books by Northwest novelist Jane Kirkpatrick: A Name of Her Own, Every Fixed Star, and Hold Tight the Thread: Hal and I are reading these aloud in the evenings. Based on historical characters, the narrative traces the intertwined lives of native Indians and the French and American pioneers and trappers who settled the Northwest in the early 19th century. The central protagonist, an Ioway Indian named Marie, gives the books their principal point of view. We see history unfold from Marie’s perspective. Kirkpatrick is a good story teller. She came to Newberg this spring, and we enjoyed hearing about her life and art.

I read many other books this year, including several I’ve already blogged about. I’m thankful that part of the goodness of life includes reading, that I can share in the experiences and glean from the wisdom of people as diverse as Toyohiko Kagawa, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Jane Kirkpatrick.

1 comment:

  1. Mary Thiessen NationJanuary 1, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    I read Strangers and Sojourners by Michael O'Brian (Ignatius Press) these past two days. You would love it. The blurbs compare O'Brian's writing to Dostoevsky. I was moved and encouraged, I smiled and relaxed--I'm not crazy. Life is as complex as I have begun to believe it is. Despair and hope are every bit as intertwined and intricate as I have learned. Please read it and let me know what you think. Happy New Year! Mary