My Favorite Books – 2022

This was a weird book-reading year for me. My life felt so full that much of my reading felt perfunctory (reading for work, reading for school, etc). My reading lacked the kind of spontaneity and randomness that I cherish—I did a lot less bookshelf browsing and a lot more reading what I had to read. To quote Dean Wormer, that’s no way to go through life. As a result, many of the best books I read were new—lots more recent titles than in years past. Let’s hope 2023 will be a more spontaneous and pleasurable reading year.

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis (1961)

This book is so interesting. It reminds me, now that I think of it, of a scene from Steven Spielberg’s recent semi-autobiographical movie The Fabelmans. It depicts the divorce of the Spielberg character’s parents, and in the midst of a heated argument, he envisions himself directing the scene. It shows how his love of movies crowds in an infects the rest of his life, such that he cannot experience even his parents’ divorce unless it is through a lens. Lewis does something similar here. Of course, he is dealing with grief, but he is doing so in service of some of the most beautiful prose I have read. It’s a very helpful read, but it must have been quite the burden writing it.

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My Favorite Books – 2021

Looking back through the years, I have noticed that these lists keep getting longer. There are simply too many good books to read. Here are my favorites from this year—the ones that most affected me and caused me to think.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl R. Trueman (2020)

Most books like this are polemics, which tend to be quite useless. Trueman certainly disagrees with the dominant view of the self (which he describes as the reality that one’s identity has been psychologized, then sexualized, then politicized), but he writes in order to pass off greater understanding, not simple opprobrium. In particular, Trueman shows the importance of our language: All too often, orthodox Christians criticize the outcomes of the dominant culture while using the very vocabulary and ways of thinking that lead to such outcomes. It’s no wonder that the church continues to drift.

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Prototrinitarianism in the Thought of Ignatius of Antioch

Belief in the doctrine of the Trinity has fallen on hard times of late. Many people, in thrall to a still-potent modernist philosophical bent, deny the divinity of Christ even while upholding his teaching: when New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asked Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, “For someone like myself who is drawn to Jesus’ teaching but doesn’t believe in the virgin birth or the physical resurrection, what am I? Am I a Christian?” Jones responded, “Well, you sound an awful lot like me, and I’m a Christian minister.” Millions of people in the global Oneness or Apostolic Pentecostal movement reject Nicene trinitarianism, which they claim is rooted in Hellenistic philosophy and Roman paganism rather than the teachings of the Bible, asserting instead that God manifests himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even within conservative Protestantism, trinitarian theology, while perhaps publicly professed, has not exactly made its way from the pulpit to the pews. According to a recent survey of evangelical thought, while almost all agree that there is one God in three persons, nearly one-third believe that “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God,” nearly two-thirds agree that he “is the first and greatest being created by God,” and almost half call the Holy Spirit “a force” rather than a personal being.

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My Favorite Books in 2020

The Silmarillion (1977); The Hobbit (1937); The Lord of the Rings (1954-55); The Children of Hurin (2007) by J. R. R. Tolkien (and let us not forget Christopher Tolkien, R. I. P.)

I declared 2020 to be my Year of Tolkien. While it will bleed into 2021 (I still need to read Beren and Luthien, The Fall of Gondolin, and Tolkien’s translations of Sir Gawain and Beowulf, along with collections of his essays and lectures), it was completely satisfying. I found The Silmarillion to be the most uneven of the bunch, but, for lack of a better word, it read to me like reading a Scripture of some long lost civilization. This was my first reread of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings—on my first read through, I preferred the simple adventure of The Hobbit, but this time I was swept up in the grand narrative Tolkien was telling in LOTR. I don’t know if there has been a created world that has been more immersive than Tolkien’s Middle Earth. To top it off, Children of Hurin is a moving, tragic tale which calls to mind the Greek and Norse myths of old. Tolkien was a master.

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Some election day thoughts

Our country is polarized, and that is nothing new. What is new—or, rather, what feels new—is the extent to which this polarization affects our everyday lives and relationships. According to Pew, overwhelming majorities of Trump and Biden supporters claim to have no more than a few close friends who disagree with them politically. Making it worse, however, are the not-insignificant numbers of people who have had relationships destroyed over politics—or, more specifically, over one’s opinion on Donald Trump. This Reuters article paints a particularly grim picture of this reality: divorce; the estrangement of grandchildren from their grandparents; the alienation of brother and sister, to the point that one did not find out their mother died until only after the fact. All over Trump!

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How should the church address social issues?

A few bullet-point thoughts:

  • Chance the Rapper put the question well in a recent tweet: “I’m sure I’m gonna get replies from nonbelievers, but I’d like to ask my Christian followers out there: Why don’t we as a church explicitly address White Supremacy and racism on Sundays? Why don’t we engage the truths of America and how its values are antithetical to the Gospel?”
  • It’s a good question. How ought we address issues like these on Sunday?

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The Sovereign God of Esther

The Book of Esther is marked by many things: its use of irony, its humor, its well-drawn characters, its salience with modern life. But what is perhaps most noticeable is what is absent from the story—namely, any mention of the name of God. There is evidence that this was problematic for many early readers. It was famously not among those scrolls found among the Dead Sea community of Qumran (the only book of the Hebrew Bible not to be found). The editors of the Septuagint, perhaps sensing this problem, included a preface and afterword which make any implication of divine intervention explicit. Statements written by rabbis in the third and fourth centuries A.D. also seemed to question the book’s canonicity. As Lewis Bayles Paton has written, expressing both the thoughts and fears of many, “Alone of all the books in the OT he ascribes deliverance to men instead of God.”

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The Best Books I Read in 2019

Confessions: A New Translation by Sarah Ruden (397; 2017) by Augustine

Confessions: A New Translation by Henry Chadwick (397; 2009) by Augustine

This is one of the most transformative books I have ever read. It is both absolutely foreign, separated from us by almost two millennia, and utterly contemporary, dealing with issues that are inherent to our age—all at the same time. Both translations are good, but I’m slightly partial to the Chadwick, with one exception—Ruden’s cover: a pear with a bite taken from it.

Hamlet (1602) by William Shakespeare

Every year, I resolve to read a ton of Shakespeare, and end up reading only a couple plays. Hamlet, however, deserves a reading every year—and it rewards the reread.

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The 15 Best Books I Read in 2018

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything (2016) by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

If you are a fan of Seinfeld, you have no choice but to read this book. And then rewatch the entire series.

The Relic Master: A Novel (2015) by Christopher Buckley

You wouldn’t expect a book set in the 16th century featuring Albrecht of Mainz, Frederick the Wise, and Albrecht Dürer to give you bouts of spastic laughter—but this one does!

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