‘Of making many [lists of] books, there is no end.’(Ecclesiastes-ish 12:12)
It’s the end of the year, so every Christian with a blog is posting a list of the things they read over the past twelve months. I figured I might as well follow suit.
I started plenty of books this year, and finished only about half of them. Some of the unfinished ones will remain that way – I’m trying to let go of my need to complete every book I start! – and others will probably be completed early next year to give me a head start on my 2022 reading challenge!
Here are a few categories of books I’ve read in 2021, with some thoughts and recommendations.
I read half a dozen pieces of fiction this year. This included novels by two of my old faithful favourite authors (Don DeLillo’s The Silence and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty – neither of which were my favourites of their catalogues, but still very strong). Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice was a lighthearted, easy-to-read murder mystery; more cogent and honed than his first, and perfect for a quick read on a weekend away. I really enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles for its humour and warm characterisation. And since we’ve moved to Oxford, we also introduced our daughter to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
But my favourite novel this year was Piranesi by Suzanna Clarke. It’s a short, but tightly written, fantasy novel about solitude, exploration and identity set in a labyrinthine ‘House’. I think I would do it a disservice to try and describe it much more than that – it is strange and mysterious, disturbing and reverent, and it kept me guessing. I’m already looking forward to re-reading it.
I did a bit of a dive into Exodus and the life of Moses for a class I taught in November, so I read a few books on those themes, including The God Who Makes Himself Known by W. Ross Blackburn, Bearing God’s Name by Carmen Joy Imes, and Echoes of Exodus by Andrew Wilson and Alastair Roberts, all of which were great.
The most impactful book I read was Exodus Old and New by L. Michael Morales, which traced the theme of exodus throughout Scripture, and highlighted a whole load of details and connections I’d never seen. This is part of a new series of Essential Studies in Biblical Theology, from which I’ve also started another book by Benjamin L. Gladd. I think it’s shaping up to be a really helpful series, and I’m looking forward to reading more.
Even though this isn’t strictly on Exodus, it seems as good a place as any to mention Richard Bauckham’s brilliant little book Who is God? This short volume looks at four key revelations of God’s character: His self-revelation to Jacob at Bethel, to Moses at the burning bush and at Sinai, and then three moments in Mark’s gospel which help us understand the Trinity. This is a rich and insightful book, which I certainly need to re-read. Every sentence is full of distilled wisdom, but it somehow still manages to be devotional in nature. Highly recommended.
I’ve read a few books this year, which I’ve broadly labelled pastoral, since they cover themes of a challenging pastoral nature. Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer’s A Church Called Tov is a challenging and hopeful book about healthy and unhealthy church cultures. I’ve reviewed it more fully here, but I really appreciated this book for giving me categories for understanding and naming unhealthy dynamics in leadership and church culture. A great pairing with the podcast series The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.
I learnt loads from Preston Sprinkle’s two books People to be Loved and Embodied. The former addresses homosexuality, and the latter transgender, and both are similar in tone and approach. seeking to show what the Bible says on these tricky subjects, but expressing it with compassion, and with a real emphasis on people rather than issues. Preston is brilliant at distilling down complex (and fast-evolving) ideas in accessible ways. Whatever your personal experience, and whether or not you agree with him on every point, I think you’ll find these books well-worth reading.
But perhaps my favourite pastoral book that I read this year was Kelly Kapic’s Embodied Hope. This is a brilliant reflection on pain and suffering, written out of the personal experience of supporting his wife through prolonged physical pain. Often I find that books on suffering can miss the mark for someone who is actually suffering, by either treating it as primarily an academic problem, or by striking too cold a tone. I’ve also found that a lot of books don’t quite land for those whose suffering is long term, chronic, and perhaps invisible to those around them. There are certain dynamics to that kind of suffering that are hard to articulate and often misunderstood, and this book explored aspects of suffering that I’ve not seen unpacked anywhere else. It’s not the lightest of reads, but it does take pain seriously, and gives compassionate, practical guidance to help you lament and trust God through your pain and suffering.
A few other honourable mentions (which is not to say that any books I’ve fail to mention are for dishonourable reasons!)
The God of All Things is classic Wilson. Short, bite-sized chapters, distilling down big ideas in accessible ways that make you want to worship! This would be a great devotional book to work through, one theme a day. But I devoured it too greedily for that.
Esau McCaulley’s Reading While Black is a fantastic introduction to Black ecclesial interpretation, and is an important read, whether for Black Christians who wonder how the Bible speaks to their experience and concerns, or for white Christians, like myself, who want to get better at hearing and conveying the ways in which Scripture speaks to people whose experience and perspective differs vastly to my own. I posted more thoughts here.
Next year I hope to finish a few books I’ve got on the go, including some long ones that I’ve been slowly plodding through – Bruce Waltke’s Old Testament Theology and Richard Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels – and some shorter ones I’ve not yet completed. You can see all the books I’m ‘currently reading’ on Goodreads if you’re interested.
I’m looking forward to working through James Hamilton’s new Psalms commentary, and I’m wondering about a pattern for chewing over a Psalm each week, alongside my normal Bible reading.
I want to continue digging into the Old Testament a bit more, in particular Leviticus and the prophets, so I will no doubt read some books to help me in those areas. And I’m also keen to spend a lot more time in the gospels.
And I’ve not read a really good fiction series for a while; one where I can’t wait to pick up the next instalment. I’ve heard great things about the Wingfeather Saga series, so maybe I’ll reconnect with my inner teen-fiction fan and give that a go. But any recommendations are gratefully received.
Update: I discovered the fiction I was looking for and squeezed in an extra five books between posting this and the end of the year. The Alex Rider series are fun, silly, teen novels full of implausible action and awful puns that would give Bond a run for his money. I enjoyed books 1-5 and the two new series on Amazon Prime.
Full List of books completed in 2021
* indicates re-read
- Bauckham, Richard – Who is God?
- Blackburn, W. Ross – The God Who Makes Himself Known
- Clarke, Suzanna – Piranesi
- DeLillo, Don – The Silence
- Horowitz, Anthony – Alex Rider books 1-5
- Imes, Carmen Joy – Bearing God’s Name
- Kapic, Kelly M. – Embodied Hope
- * Lewis, C.S. – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- McCaulley, Esau – Reading While Black
- McKnight, Scot, and Barringer, Laura – A Church Called Tov
- Morales, L. Michael – Exodus Old and New
- Osman, Richard – The Man Who Died Twice
- Pennington, Jonathan – Jesus the Great Philosopher
- Reeves, Michael – Rejoice and Tremble
- Sayers, Mark – Reappearing Church
- Smith, Zadie – On Beauty
- * Sprinkle, Preston – People to be Loved
- Sprinkle, Preston – Embodied
- Towles, Amor – A Gentleman in Moscow
- Virgo, Terry – God’s Treasured Possession
- Walton, John – The Lost World of Genesis One
- Wilson, Andrew – The God of all Things
- Wilson, Andrew and Roberts, Alastair – Echoes of Exodus
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