Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Best books of 2010

Hal gave me a Kindle for Christmas. We had been discussing whether or not to take the plunge with this new technology, and now we’ve done it. I’m trying to get used to it, and I can already see that this will never replace the feel of a real book in my hands. But it has its advantages. This will definitely allow us to travel lighter, and we travel a lot. And I appreciate how gently the larger print treats my eyes. The first book I uploaded was a free copy (imagine that!) of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, a book I’ve been meaning to re-read, and I feel like I’m flying through it, partly because my eyes don’t burn. A detail, but an important detail for my future with books.

But now, a look at the past: 2010. I love reading other people’s list of favorite books and movies, and their recommendations lead me down exciting paths. So, here’s my list. The year 2010 refers to the books I read last year, not books that were published during the year. These are not in any particular order.

Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (1996) and Children of God (1998): Fiction. I read these novels at the recommendation of my friend, David Gilmore, and was delighted at the quirky coming together of science fiction and mission theory. These chronicle the improbable missionary adventures of Father Emilio Sanchez (and company) as he attempts to spread the gospel among the alien population of a distant planet. The books treat serious issues, such as how to communicate the gospel and plant churches while respecting the culture of the recipients. They also deal with the redemptive suffering of God’s servants. Plus, the story itself is gripping.

Geraldine Brook, March (2005): Fiction. The other side of Little Women, this story follows the father of the March girls to the Civil War and gives an inside view of the horrors of war.

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Gurnesy Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2009). Fiction. Another insider view of war, this novel in letter form narrates life during the German occupation of Gurnesy, an island in the English Chanel. It also shows the power of great literature to give insight and meaning to life in difficult times. This was one of my favorite books last year.

Alan Patton, Cry the Beloved Country (1942): Fiction. One of my all time favorite books, I again wept at this story of a family in the throes of cultural upheaval, a story of suffering, loyalty, love and transformation.

George MacDonald, The Tutor’s First Love and The Lady’s Confession: Fiction. Hal and I read these aloud, enjoying the simple old-fashioned tales and MacDonald’s insights into how the fruits of the Spirit are fleshed out in God’s sons and daughters.

Greg Mortenson, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2009): Non-fiction. Again we found ourselves moved by Mortenson’s quiet, behind-the-scene attempts to build peace through education in this difficult place.

Evelyn Underhill, Concerning the Inner Life (1926): Devotional. This is a book I want to read at least once a year. Underhill beautifully integrates contemplative and intercessory prayer, showing how our loving worship of God leads to missional involvement with God’s purposes in the world.

Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation of Growing Up in Christ (2010): Theology, spirituality. An encouraging journey through the book of Ephesians, unfolding a spiritual theology of the church. Peterson gives me courage to stick it out, to see the glorious Reality of the church behind all the disturbing realities of whatever local congregation we happen to be involved in. A key insight is that the local church is God’s chief means for bringing transformation, both on the personal and on the broader cultural levels.

Luis Cruz Villalobos, Brevemente y más (2010): Poetry, Spanish. Luis Cruz Villalobos of Chile is becoming one of my favorite Latin American poets. Chile has produced some of the best poets (Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, José Miguel Ibáñez), so Luis stands in good company. This is his first published volume as a “real book,” although he has published widely on the Internet (http://www.benditapoesia.webs.com/).

Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems (1979-1997): Poetry. Wendell Berry always feeds my spirit. I’ve put a line from one of these poems by my desk: “When we work well, a Sabbath mood/ Rests on our day, and finds it good.”

Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (2001): Theology, spirituality. A profound study that finds Paul’s spirituality and missiology to be rooted in the cross, both as exemplified in Christ and as lived out in Christ’s servants today. Gorman presents a missional spirituality of suffering and service that is paradoxically joyful. My Mennonite friends Mark and Mary Thiessen Nation recommended this book.

Dave Eggers, What Is the What (2006). Autobiography/Fiction. I picked this out in an airport bookstore and was not disappointed, although it’s definitely not easy reading. It’s the fictionalized true story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the “lost boys” of Darfur. It’s impactful because it gives a human face to the suffering in the Sudan.

I read many other books in 2010, and I’m sure that after I post this, I’ll think of another one that should be on the favorites list. I blogged about some of these earlier in the year (eg.,Children of Fate, The Peaceable Kingdom, The Essentials of Orthodox Spirituality, The Unbearable Lightness of Being). I would love to hear about your favorites.


  1. My immediate response to this list is "I love Nancy. I love how she shares her life. I love how the books she lists teach me about what sustains her spirit over the long haul, during the long haul, and when the long haul seems endless."

  2. Hello, Nancy! Welcome to the Kindle world. I've started taking long articles I come across on the Internet and converting them into eye-friendly PDFs that I can put on my Kindle. One article approximately equals one bus ride between Yalagin Street and Fabrika Pechati. I'll send you a sample or two, if you like.

    I'm eventually going to choose my favorite book of 2010. I've not done it yet, but I know that the very top group will include David Grossman's To the End of the Land, and Stanley Hauerwas's autobiography, Hannah's Child. I totally agree with you about the Potato Peel Pie Society. In the realm of "lighter" fiction I enjoyed a couple of Alan Furst novels (I can't resist atmospheric books about WWII Europe) and Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked. Finally, I highly recommend this delightful glimpse into a tribe that I at least partly belong to: The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, by Elif Batuman.

  3. Thank you, dear anonymous (yes, I know your name) for your encouraging words. And thank you, Johan, for your preliminary list of favorites. Yes, please send me sample of PDF files for kindle. I'm still learning how to use this little machine and this will be helpful.

  4. Hi Nancy! Thanks a lot for this magnificent list.