Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Nonfiction Reads of 2013 (Part 1 of 2)

I read a lot more nonfiction than fiction, and this list doesn't break down nicely into "spiritual growth books" and "secular books," so I'll post the first half today and leave the rest for tomorrow.

The three nonfiction books that stuck with me most this year were Listening is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project; The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, and One to One Bible Reading: A Simple Guide for Every Christian.

Again, my rating system:
***** Loved it, would definitely read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't really like it
* Hated it

The God I Love – Joni Eareckson Tada****
I need to read more biographies/memoirs of notable Christians, and I've long been awed by Joni's faith and witness in the midst of profound, lifelong suffering. A beautiful testimony to the sustaining grace and faithfulness of God in the life of a beautiful woman.

Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage – Madeleine L’Engle****
A lovely memoir with lots of eloquent quotes. 

Thunderstruck – Erik Larson***
Meh. I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as The Devil in the White City. It was too slow, too much buildup and background. For the first half or more of the book, Larson closed every chapter (sometimes every section of a chapter) with a line like "This would prove to be very significant" or "Later events would show how much such and such mattered." It got irritating after a while--stop telling me something important is coming, and just GET THERE. I was engaged and wanted to keep reading, especially toward the end, but it took too long for the separate stories to converge, and the detailed information about Marconi and wireless telegraphy wasn't nearly as interesting (or as understandable) as the information about Burnham and architecture in The Devil in the White City. So, the book was intriguing, but not awesome.

Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School – David & Kelli Pritchard****
An encouraging, important contrast to the "public schools are of the devil!" perspective so prevalent in Christian circles. It was inspiring and helpful to hear from these parents who have sent eight kids through the public schools (and their oldest few are grown, successful, still faithful to God, and thriving).

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge – David McCullough**
Epic indeed, and sorely disappointing. McCullough is supposed to be amazing, but I wasn't impressed with his style. Dry, too many details, and yet still hard for me to visualize processes and structures he described. I just was BORED most of the time; even though I love NYC and this period of history, I had to force myself to finish this 600+ page clunker.

Christ in the Chaos – Kimm Crandall****
Full review here

Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles – Kathy Keller*****
I officially love Kathy as much as her husband after devouring this little booklet. It deserves to be widely read, especially among conservative, complementarian Christians. 

Shipwrecked in L.A. Finding Purpose in a Life Adrift – Christin Taylor
Sadly, I did not love this first memoir from a college acquaintance of mine. I disagreed with many of her interpretations of life and theology, and I also felt like it needed better editing. 

Kisses from Katie – Katie Davis***/**** (audio)
I really wanted to love this. I think the fact that I found it a bit saccharine and over-earnest says a lot more about cynical me than about Katie or the book. I do think I would have liked it better if I hadn't listened to the audio version. The narrator's voice struck me as kind of syrupy. Also, the print edition has a *hugely* important afterword. Before I read the book, I read some sharp criticism of Katie--especially regarding her devastation at one of her "daughters" being reclaimed by the birth mother. Listening to the book, I could certainly understand that criticism and found Katie's words troubling--immature at best. But in the afterword to the updated print edition, she tells "the rest of the story"--about a relationship that developed between her and the birth mother and how she came to realize that God in His goodness, wisdom and sovereignty was up to beautiful things in the whole situation and that "it is better this way." That went a long way in redeeming my view of Katie and her ministry.

The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption – Kathryn Joyce****
This was so very depressing and hard to read—but as the culture of adoption continues to grow in the church, I think it’s a critical book for Christians to read and consider. Ignorance may be bliss sometimes, but we cannot continue in our misinformation and naivete. My eyes have been opened to the dark underbelly of the adoption world, its heartbreak, its unintended consequences. It's not that I'm against adoption now, but there are *massively* complicated issues to think through, and whether you agree with Joyce's every word or not (she is not a Christian, and her words about the church must be sifted) she does a masterful job exposing these problems. I've been wanting to do a whole post about this book and the topic in general...hopefully soon.

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff*****
After nearly setting it aside for lack of time (a friend had loaned it unsolicited; my to-read list is long enough without additions like this!), I picked up this charming little book on a whim and blew through it in a day and a half. Part of its charm is the way it offers just a tiny sliver of the author's life--there is so much you learn about her and her correspondents, and yet so very much that remains mysterious. You wouldn't expect a collection of letters to be suspenseful, but it is: How old is this woman? Will she ever make it to London to meet her newfound friends in person? Delightful. And it was nice to breeze through a short and light book that could be finished in just an hour or two.

Women’s Ministry in the Local Church – Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt***
I mostly agree with this extensive review. I found much to appreciate and learn from in this book, but also some frustrations/concerns. Still it was quite helpful to read through and discuss with my pastor and a couple of other women at our church.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook – Deb Perelman*****
I've never felt motivated before to read a cookbook cover-to-cover, but I had to for my favorite food blogger's debut. I adore Deb. Her writing is witty, interesting, fun; her photography is gorgeous. So it's enjoyable just to read and look at her recipes, but cooking them is enjoyable too. I've generally found her recipes easy to follow and we have loved many of them over the last several years. Ironically, I'll probably attempt less than half of the recipes in the book, and I've been less than thrilled with a couple I made--but I still look forward to many more and don't regret the purchase.

One to One Bible Reading: A Simple Guide for Every Christian – David Helm****
A great little book that left me going "DUH! *Why* are we not doing this?" It's so simple as to seem obvious, and yet (in my experience) it really isn't happening in the church at large. People--whether unbelievers, new believers, or established, committed Christians, don't primarily need events, programs and classes (though those things can certainly be helpful at times). They need to be in the Word, and they need real, deep relationships. This book and its resources (an appendix of clear, straightforward worksheets to help you think through any passage of Scripture) offer a great strategy for benefitting from God's Word and fellowship anytime, with all kinds of people. I've enjoyed putting this into practice and also teaching it to the women of our church last fall.

The Greener Grass Conspiracy – Stephen Altrogge***
On the whole, a helpful book. I didn't love the author's style/sense of humor; it came across a bit cheesy, like he was trying too hard to be conversational and funny. Still, he had valuable things to say. I copied/underlined several quotes and passages. Very God-centered and hope-filled--I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to someone who was struggling with contentment, dissatisfaction, jealousy, etc.

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality – Wesley Hill****
A powerful, compelling testimony of courage, humility, and hope in the gospel. Hill identifies himself in the unique position of a gay Christian who believes acting on his homosexual desires would be wrong. He did not choose his orientation and has not been "healed," nor does he seek to interpret Scripture in such a way as to justify or embrace homosexuality. Instead he chooses the painful and rare path of celibacy as he seeks to walk with Jesus through this broken world. It's a beneficial book not only for thinking through the issue of homosexuality, but also for gleaning truth and glimpsing grace as a fellow sinner writes candidly about his struggles. (In other words, while I don't struggle in the same ways as the author, I was easily able to apply things he said to my own life and struggles.) This is a book that makes much of God and His glory and mercy.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices – Thomas Brooks***/****
The first third of this was probably 4.5-5 stars. I underlined lots and lots of passages--really insightful, penetrating thoughts about fighting against sin and walking faithfully with Christ. But it got so, so repetitive that I had a hard time finishing. The middle-to-latter parts seemed less relevant/helpful. At any rate, I think it's good for me to read old books like this instead of exclusively immersing myself in relatively current books. I'd definitely recommend this one, just not necessarily *all* of it.

More tomorrow. Meanwhile, what nonfiction did you read and love in 2013? 


Danielle said...

I love The Smitten Kitchen cookbook. I definitely want to buy it, as I've made several things out of it and there are many more I WANT to make from it. I've checked it out at least twice from the library.

And as you know, Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles is on my list. I bought it and it's on my Kindle. Now just have to read. :)

Amy said...

I think you would love 84 Charing Cross Road.

Danielle said...

Thanks Amy!