Friday, January 07, 2011

2010: The Year in Nonfiction

As a rule, I read a whole lot more nonfiction than fiction (though that hasn't been the case over the last two months). And I start a whole lot more nonfiction than I ever manage to finish. And I buy a whole lot more nonfiction than I ever manage to start. Alas...

The books I managed to get all the way through last year:

Counterfeit Gods – Tim Keller *****
Classic profound Keller. This book would have been more revolutionary to me if I hadn’t already read David Powlison’s article “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair,” which Keller cites as a major influence. Still, Keller has a gift for illuminating Christ in Old Testament stories in ways I’ve never seen before.

Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall & Denver Moore) *****
I started this on a Thursday afternoon and finished it Saturday at 2AM. It was nothing like I expected, but I loved it. Said “wow” out loud probably a dozen times through the first half, then sobbed my way through the last third. Powerful, stunning.

Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church – Philip Yancey ***/****
It's been too long since I read this one to remember exactly how I'd rate it. Some provocative quotes and thoughtful perspectives.

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community – Chester & Timmis *****
I fell in love with this one in the first three pages. It's a challenging (sometimes impossible-feeling) manifesto for a different kind of church.

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
– Romeo Dallaire ****
Tragic, maddening, horrifying, important. This first-person account of the commander of UN peacekeeping in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide details the apathy and incompetence of the other nations who failed to step in and stop the madness when they could have. It made me hungry to read more and to understand how and why we turned our backs on these desperate people...and determined not to ignore Africa.

Christless Christianity – Michael Horton ****
Excellent (though depressing) indictment of the modern church and defense for why I beat the gospel drum relentlessly around here. This book had a negative, even depressing tone, which was warranted--here, Horton simply identifies the massive problem; in the sequel, The Gospel-Driven Life (which I've yet to read, though we own it), I believe he suggests solutions. It got a bit repetitive toward the end, but was definitely worthwhile.

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands – Paul David Tripp *****
This textbook for my counseling class was so packed with rich truth that I will need to revisit it. My only complaint was that it was long on examples from the author's formal counseling experience and short on examples to help the average churchgoer (like me) minister to others in informal settings. Still, lots of practical advice about applying the gospel to people's struggles.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth – Henci Goer *****
If there's one book I'd recommend to pregnant women, it would be this one. Goer skillfully analyzes dozens of studies related to various choices and common practices surrounding childbirth—and illustrates why you shouldn't just take your doctor's word for it or go along with the accepted way of “this is how we've always done it,” but rather think through “routine” obstetrical practices and consider what's really best for you and your baby.

When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Corbett and Fikkert*****
Hard, hard book. It caused me to completely rethink my understanding of poverty and my attempts to alleviate poverty. And it challenged me to take action, not simply think.

War of Words – Paul Tripp ****
This would have gotten five stars if it hadn't just felt like a repeat of other articles and lectures for my class. It's an excellent manual for understanding how problems in relationships need to be addressed not simply with communication techniques, but with examination of the heart.

Christ Centered Childbirth – Kelly Townsend **
I didn't have to read very much of this book before it became obvious that it was self-published. And in this case, the fact that no major publishing house picked it up speaks volumes. It struck me as cheesy and poorly edited. I skimmed quickly.

A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter – Miriam Rockness ***
This biography didn't really grab me. It wasn't bad--and Lilias Trotter is indeed a very admirable woman--but I just felt kind of "meh" about it. Some great, inspiring quotes, but mostly I finished it for the sake of finishing it and not because I couldn't put it down.

Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest – Ed Welch *****
Compassionate yet truth-filled book that provided so much encouragement and ammunition for me in the fight against fear and anxiety.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
– Anne Fadiman *****
A compelling, provocative exploration of anthropology, medicine, religion, parenting, and dozens of other topics that Fadiman weaves together in a heartbreaking story about a sick child. This book really challenged me to think and question my assumptions.

Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace – Greg Lucas*****
I discovered Greg Lucas's blog a while back and was blown away by his perspectives on God and life as learned through parenting a profoundly disabled child. I was thrilled to find his book for Kindle. I was expecting the book to be a thorough memoir, but it wasn't; instead it was a very short book of "lessons of grace" with illustrative stories. Still I loved it--humbling and beautiful.

The Mission of Motherhood – Sally Clarkson****
It's hard to review this one since I read it over the course of several months. I found it wonderfully inspiring and copied down pages of quotes...but also found it a bit overwhelming and discouraging, too. Still, Clarkson is winsome and passionate and she paints a beautiful, if intimidating, picture of a mother's calling.

I dipped into several other books last year and plan to come back to many of them, including:
Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann
Whiter than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy - Paul David Tripp
Everyday Talk - John Younts
Calm My Anxious Heart - Linda Dillow
The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made - Mark Dever

I also read significant portions of two books I didn't manage to finish:

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era - James McPherson
I picked this one up after an awkward conversation with some Southern friends in which this Yankee girl stuck her foot in her mouth :) I wanted to better understand the South's perspective on the "War Between the States," and this is supposed to be the definitive, balanced book on the subject. I didn't realize it was going to be 800 pages. OY. I persevered through 557 of them before I stopped being able to renew it at the library and gave up. And to be honest I still didn't come away from the book understanding how the war was much different than what I was taught in school in the North. I might pick it back up this year...we'll see.

Childbirth Without Fear - Grantly Dick-Read
I finally gave up on this one. I found it insulting. Every time I picked it up I just kept saying, "he is so full of crap!" Nothing like a man telling women that childbirth doesn't hurt if you're doing it right. Ugh.

So that's the roundup of what I read last year. What was your favorite nonfiction read in 2010?

1 comment:

Danielle said...

I felt the same about Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands. I found it pretty hard to get through. Will have to pick up that Keller book. The bio on Lilas Trotter also was a bit lackluster. I read it some years ago. I found Trotter very interesting, but I think it was the writing. Just started the Sally Carkson book.