Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Nonfiction of 2014 (Part 1 of 2)

Looking back over the year, two nonfiction books rise to the top of my list. The first is Destiny of the Republic, a narrative nonfiction history book that gripped me and left me recommending it to every reader I know (and every one of my friends who has read it has loved it as well!).

The second is The Warmth of Other Suns, an epic history of race in the 20th century United States and an exploration of the lives of three black Americans who lived and left the South during the Great Migration. I read many, many wonderful nonfiction books this year, but these two in particular stand out from the rest.

Here's a rundown of the rest--first half today, second half tomorrow. 

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

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life - Cloud & Townsend***
I admit I was highly skeptical of this book for years, but once I finally gave it a chance, I actually found much of it to be solid and helpful. However, it was often rooted in man-centered perspectives and fell short of the glorious truths about God and the human heart I have gleaned from places like the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. As Ed Welch argues, I think the "boundaries" metaphor is *a* helpful metaphor, but should not be *the* central, driving paradigm for a Christian's relationships. Toward the end of the book, I felt incredibly appalled by and angry with the authors'  distortion of/disregard for the gospel--to the point where it nearly negated every other good thing they had said. I'd recommend it, but with caveats.

Death by Living: Life is Meant to Be Spent - N.D. Wilson****
Many stirring quotes and a challenging push to live well before you die. The author's unflinching stare at mortality and his celebration of life in the midst of the dying is poignant; his tributes to his deceased grandparents are especially beautiful. Still, I didn't love this one as much as Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Anything: The Prayer that Unlocked My God and My Soul - Jennie Allen****
So much of this resonated deeply with me. I love Jennie Allen's passionate, surrendered heart. Challenged, inspired, moved to reorient myself and seek God's face. 

The Mistress's Daughter - A.M. Homes (audiobook)****
An adoption memoir (from the perspective of the adoptee) that was dark and depressing, but incredibly well-written and worthwhile. It ended on a much better note than I anticipated.

The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home - Carolyn McCulley****
Refreshing, disarming, wise and winsome. Yet also a bit contradictory or disingenuous at times. The historical analysis of women and work was incredibly helpful; the chapter(s) specific to my age/season of life were less helpful. 

Summer at Tiffany - Marjorie Hart**
Pure fluff beach book. Given my NYC obsession, I thought I'd love this memoir about a summer spent there, but it was just OK. It's a quick read, not much depth or substance, but still charming (probably 2.5 stars). It reads like a grandmother telling her grandchildren stories of an adventurous summer she spent in Manhattan in 1945, casting a rosy glow over her memories. It really isn't that I disliked it. I just felt like the time I spent reading it could have been spent on many more worthwhile books.

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences - Leonard Sax***
Mixed feelings on this one. It frequently surprised me how he would seem almost to play into gender stereotypes, only to turn around and argue against them (which strengthened his case, I think). Some parts, like the discipline section, were a bit maddening; he comes off as pretty arrogant and know-it-all at times. But a lot of it was really helpful. What frustrates me is that his main solution to everything is gender-segregated schools. I agree that seems ideal in a lot of ways, but it also feels so farfetched and unrealistic in the deeply-entrenched system of education today. So...what then?

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch - Sally Bedell Smith (audiobook)****
Fascinating, though I might have found this LONG book a bit tedious if I hadn't been listening at 2x speed. I'm more ardently anti-royalist than ever, though paradoxically, I find the royal family completely fascinating. Full review here.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President - Candice Millard (audiobook)*****
This is exactly my favorite kind of nonfiction--where all kinds of seemingly-unrelated topics converge in one expertly-written narrative. I fell in love with President Garfield, got irrationally angry with Dr. D.W. "Ignorance Is" Bliss, shook my head in wide-eyed disbelief at delusional Charles Guiteau, and clapped my hand over my mouth as my stomach turned at the descriptions of how medicine was practiced in the 1870s (the details are not for the faint of heart). I blew through this in about four days, captivated in suspense even though I knew how it turned out in the end. And I still feel upset that Garfield's presidency was cut short. What an incredible man. 

Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity - Jen Hatmaker****
I just love Jen Hatmaker. This was powerful and convicting, though it's not a good book to read alone--it needs to be read, discussed and applied in community. Full review here

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds - Jen Wilkin****
This is an excellent, accessible book for anyone (though a few parts are specific to women, I've no doubt men could benefit, too) new to studying the Bible for themselves and wanting some guidance and help. The chapter at the end with wisdom and tips specifically for teachers was wonderful, packed with insightful advice. Jen's style is likeable and her passion for seeing women dig into the Bible in order to love the God it reveals is evident throughout. I pray that this book will be widely read in order that God may develop in our generation countless women who are able and eager to feed themselves on Scripture.

The Message New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs - Eugene Peterson
Certainly shouldn't be your primary/only Scripture intake, but I find it quite helpful for fresh and challenging perspectives on overly familiar texts. 

Bossypants - Tina Fey (audiobook)**
I expected to laugh out loud a ton, but really didn't--it was frequently amusing, but not bellyache-inducing hilarious. More often merely shocking--she is just. so. crass.

Stay tuned for the second half of the nonfiction list. Meanwhile, what were your favorite nonfiction books from 2014?


Danielle said...

I am forever thankful you raved about The Destiny of the Republic. Loved that book!

faith ann raider said...

Love this list!!! I'm finding Amy Poehler's "Yes Please" to be similar just. so. crass. Even more so than Mindy's "is everybody hanging out without me" which I really enjoyed.
I LOVED reading the book if Romans in The Message. It was like reading it for the first time. Which is so refreshing because sometimes it is all just so familiar.
I'll have to request some of your recommended reads from the library!