Top 10 books–2020

I have put together a top 10 books list every year for over a decade. Although I have read fewer books this year than any since I began consistently keeping track in 2014, I had no trouble finding ten eleven books to recommend. You should also have plenty of time to order some of these for jolabokaflod.

Honorable Mention: God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath (2020) by N.T. Wright. God and the Pandemic receives an honorable mention because it is particularly relevant in 2020, but hopefully its relevance will soon diminish. Regardless, Wright, addressed many of the concerns raised by Christians about how to live in this time, finding a reasonable way between the extremes of denial and obsession. He helps us, as readers, to think about what it means to be Christians in the world today.

10. Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation (2008) by John Philip Newell. I read several books about Celtic spirituality this year, including three from John Philip Newell. Newell writes like a poet, which is part of my draw to him, I suppose. My attraction to Celtic spirituality is related to its connection with how I see and understand the world, with attention to things like creation, wholeness, interconnectedness, and creativity.

9. Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline. When the Ready Player One movie came out in 2018, I saw it in the theater and I loved it, perhaps because I am a child of the eighties. I often return to the movie when I am looking for entertainment. Although Cline’s book has the same basic premise, there is a much greater richness and depth to the storytelling. I began with the audiobook, which is narrated by Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but because I am impatient and could not wait for my son to finish the audiobook with me, I purchased the paperback and quickly finished it. You cannot go wrong with either.

8. Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse–and Freeing Yourself from its Power (2020) by Wade Mullen. In the past few years, I have read several books about spiritual abuse and Something’s Not Right is among the best of them. Mullen writes from years of experience and research, yet does so in an accessible way. I particularly appreciated his discussion of how abusive organizations often use “impression management.” If you want to learn more about systemic abuse, I could not point you in a better direction than Something’s Not Right.

7. What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism (2017) by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner. The past four years in America have felt increasingly divisive. Deception and vitriol ravage political decency and we have lost sight of what has made America great. Dan Rather, together with his colleague, Elliot Kirschner, put together 15 essays about America that filled me with hope. Drawing from his nearly nine decades as an American citizen, Rather addressed topics such as voting, the press, science, the arts, and the environment. As I listened, I wondered how I can foster the sort of vision Rather and Kirschner have of and for America.

6. 11/22/63 (2011) by Stephen King. There was a time in my life when I read books by Stephen King, and little else. In high school, I wrote a paper about him and I remember going to the Mead Public Library in Sheboygan, Wisconsin to ask the librarian to obtain a copy of the Playboy magazine interview with him for my paper. My friend Jordan turned me on to 11/22/63, which he described as one of his favorite books. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Craig Wasson, and I was captivated once again by King’s ability to craft a story.

5. Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (2020) by Kristin Kobes DuMez. Jesus and John Wayne may be the most provocative title on my top 10 list. When I posted a picture of the book cover on my Facebook page and expressed my eagerness to read it, a family member commented, “Give me a break!” I suspect the author has heard far worse. Briefly, the author traced the often parallel paths of rugged masculinity and 20th century evangelicalism, identifying the fallout. If you been trying to make sense of evangelicalism in post-Trump America, you cannot do much better than Jesus and John Wayne.

4. Exclusion and Embrace, Revised and Updated: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (2019 revision) by Miroslav Volf. My friend Perry, who often has great book recommendations, suggested Exclusion and Embrace and I was not disappointed. Volf is an accomplished theologian, but more importantly, he was raised in Croatia and a witness to ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. He has an exceptional understanding of confronting oppression, neither dismissing hurt nor the hard work of reconciliation. My copy is filled with underlines and marginalia, which is typically a sign of a book that engaged me deeply.

3. Art + Faith: A Theology of Making (2020) by Makoto Fujimura. I think a lot about topics like goodness, truth, and beauty and their connection to becoming whole. In his previous book, Culture Care, Fujimura introduced me to the term “maercstapa,” which is a border stalker. Maercstapas explore what is possible and bring it back to people. I was equally pleased with Art + Faith, which is just a few weeks old. Fujimura built upon ideas introduced in his former books in developing a thoughtful “theology of making” as he described it. I especially appreciated his connection between the work of creativity and God’s new creation. Weaving in examples from several of my favorite artists and writers solidified its position on the top 10 list.

2. Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making (2019) by Andrew Peterson. I read Adorning the Dark in January and knew that it was going to be a good book year. It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that Andrew Peterson is my favorite singer. He also wrote one of my favorite book series, the four volume Wingfeather Saga. Over the years, I have appreciated his thoughts on beauty and the creative process, so I welcomed having his thoughts condensed in book form. Like Art + Faith, Peterson’s book stirs my love for wholeness and beauty.

1. An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork (1981) by Etty Hillesum. As soon as I began reading this book, I knew it would be on my “must read” list, not to mention my 2020 Top 10. I first heard about Etty Hillesum from the writings of Chuck DeGroat, the author of Wholeheartedness, which is another favorite book of mine. Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jewish woman living in the Netherlands at the beginning of World War II. She kept a series of self-reflective journals from 1941 until 1943, when she was sent to Auschwitz. She demonstrates an uncommon spiritual depth, no doubt sharpened by her experiences.

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