Best Books of 2015

Drumroll please … I read a whopping 79 books in  2015. Here’s a rundown of my favorites from the year.

This is a fun and excruciating process.  I love looking back at all the books I’ve finished but it is difficult attempting to rank them. There are some books that are not fun to read but provide a wealth of helpful information.  On the other hand, some books are fun … but forgettable.  Here I go nonetheless.

I want to stress that these are my favorite books that I read in 2015 (they made have been released in years gone by).

FAVORITE BOOK OF THE YEAR:

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of The Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski

The FellowshipThe book is massive and fantastic.  It was so fantastic that I purchased it twice.  I packed this in my suitcase for my mission trip to Romania in July.  I saved it for the long flight home – a twelve hour flight from Germany to Dallas.  I read about 60 pages of it on the short flight from Romania to Germany.  Unfortunately, when I boarded the flight to Dallas I realized my book was still in the airport.  So, I purchased it again once I was home to finish the remaining 500 pages.

The book will go down as an all-time favorite.  The Inklings were a group of educated individuals with a passion for literature.  They would gather often to discuss literature and read from their own works in progress.  The group over the years included a fair number of people.  This work looks at four of the most influential:  CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams.  It is in-depth and well-written.  I LOVED the subject material and the writing style.

As a result of this book I’ve started the long journey through Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

FAVORITES: BIBLICAL STUDIES

Paul and the Gift by John Barclay

Paul and the GiftThis book is a monster. It took me four months to reach the end notes. In complete transparency, I have much to reread to fully understand the depth and totality of the concepts. I purchased the book after watching Barclay give a lecture on the topic at Baylor University. It just so happened that the lecture took place during my Doctorate of Ministry seminar in which the first century notion of grace was big topic. My entire cohort attended the lecture and spent time arguing agreements and disagreements.

Barclay’s work has to be seen as the definitive book on the topic. It is 600 pages of examination of Paul’s understanding of grace from every angle I can personally imagine. It is an academic work of brute force. Only those interested in high level academic writing need to attempt to turn the pages of this volume. Yet … I loved it.

This book is a great example of one of the many reasons I love books. Barclay has devoted a large amount of time and resources to mastering a certain topic. He has gone through the painstaking work of researching, studying, thinking, clarifying, arguing, editing, writing, and more. By reading the book – I get to benefit from all that work with very minimal effort. I’d gladly pay the price of a book and spend a number of hours reading it in order to reap from what someone else has sown.

Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity: Unlocking The New Testament Culture by David deSilva

Honor Patronage It is a thick, dense, scholarly work.  Yet, I found the book to be fascinating.  It highlights four key aspects of the culture during theme of the New Testament (honor, patronage, kinship, purity).  On each aspect a chapter is devoted to explain the particulars and then a chapter is devoted to explain how those particulars are displayed in the New Testament.  I found the discussion on the patron-client relationship of the first-century to be groundbreaking.  It truly adds to the understanding of grace that runs through the New Testament.

It was a valuable read.  It will find a prominent place in my office and will be used beyond my course of study.  I would recommend it to anyone looking for a deep study into New Testament culture and society.

FAVORITES: BIOGRAPHY

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham

Destiny and PowerI’m a fan of political biographies – especially when it comes to presidents. I was excited when I first heard the promotion force this book – and it did not disappoint. Many modern day biographies can take a few tips from Meacham’s work.

This is a big book. Excluding endnotes it tallies in at just over 600 pages. Yet, Meecham uses these 600 pages extremely well. It is typical of modern biographies to give you ever single detail about a person’s life … from the moment of birth. You get descriptions of their childhood bedroom and quotes from their first grader teacher. All a bit much. In contrast, Meecham gives great details in the life on Bush – but on topics of actual significance. On top of that, it is insight full and incredibly well-written. Definitely one of my favorites of the year.

It is fascinating to see how the legacy of the George HW Bush’s presidency has shifted since his time in office. I think a book like this one will aid in casting his contributions in a good light.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of RivalsThis book is massive – over 750 pages.  I read portions of it each day and it took me three weeks to finish.  Yet, I enjoyed every page of it.  The subject matter is fascinating and the writing is crisp.

The book begins with a detailed account of Lincoln’s campaign for his party’s nomination and subsequent run for the White House.  During these campaigns Lincoln edges out very smart and capable rivals.  Upon being elected president, Lincoln named many of his rivals to his cabinet.  In fact, his fiercest rivals became his inner circle. The book is tremendous study of history and provides pointed lessons in leadership.

As a pastor, I think many leadership lessons can be learned.  Too often church staff’s and leadership teams are put together without much thought.  This book is a great argument for a different approach.

FAVORITES: MEMIOR

Night by Elie Wiesel

NightThe book is the first-hand account of Wiesel, a Jewish teenager in Romania, taken from his family home in 1944 to the Auschwitz concentration camp (he was later moved to Buchenwald). Through this horrific experience, Wiesel witnessed the death of his father, severe human suffering, and the depths of evil. Along the way Wiesel makes numerous pointed theological statements about God in the midst of suffering. The following quote forced me to put down the book, ponder, question, and pray.

The context: Weisel is being forced to watch the hanging of two men and a boy. The two men die quickly. The boy lingers between life and death for more than half an hour.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

“For God’s sake, where is God?”

And from within me, I heard a voice answer:

“Where He is? This is where – hanging here from this gallows …” *

* I’ve read translations that clean up the grammar of this passage. The copy I own is quoted above.

It is an amazing memoir of a horrific account of world history and it also has some pointed theological statements about God in the midst of suffering.

Every Town A Sports Town: Business Leadership At ESPN, from the Mailroom to the Boardroom by George Bodenheimer

Everytown A Sports TownI’m simply going to say I loved this book. I had it finished less than two days after it arrived on my doorstep. I grew up with the emergence of ESPN and loved thinking “Oh, I remember that!” throughout the book.

It is promoted as a business leadership memoir. Yet, it is done much better than most books touted as such. You will not find the book broken down into principles and bullet points common to most business leadership books. Rather, this book is heavy on memoir. It tells the story of ESPN from its infancy. Along the way, insights are easy to find.

Bodenheimer was first hired to work in the mailroom of the young company. His biggest responsibility was picking Dick Vitale up from the Hartford airport. As the company moved from a small start-up to a corporate juggernaut, Bodenheimer eventually found himself at the top of the ladder. It is a really well-written story.

FAVORITES: FICTION

Two are children’s books …

Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

Harry Potter SeriesI started the Harry Potter series this year – I’m through the fourth volume.  Yes, it is a kid’s story.  But it is a wonderful story.  The remaining three volumes are on my desk and will be consumed soon.  I think many writers could learn from this series.  They contain simple story lines with engaging and likable characters.  All writers could benefit from a large dose of clarity.

I finished the first book in two days.  I usually judge books by the sentences it provides me. I love reading a sentence and sitting back and whispering, “Wow.” The first volume in the Potter series gave me such a moment. In the middle of the book Dumbledore tells Harry, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” I’ve allowed that sentence to roll around in my head for the last week. Some days I agree. Some days I disagree. But I always love the sentence. That line alone is worth the price of the book and the time spent reading it.

The Giver quartet by Lois Lowry

The GiverWhen I was little tike I read the The Giver as a classroom assignment. During our designated reading time each boy and girl picked up their copy and we’d take turns reading paragraphs. Some got excited when they received a short paragraph. Others groaned when they received a long paragraph. Elementary school is tough.

That was over 20 years ago.

In the month of January I took some time to reread The Giver and the three companion books: Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.

Lois Lowry is a gifted story teller. These stories are clear and concise. The storytelling allows for elementary students to read and enjoy but the themes underlying the storytelling resonate with me as an adult. More than that – the themes of this quartet resonate with me as a preacher.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The_Martian_2014If you love science – you’ll love this book. If you love foul language – you’ll love this book as well. I found the science fascinating. I found the humor delightful. I put up with foul language.

The Martian is a classic man VS nature story. A man is accidental left behind on Mars and must fight for his survival. His greatest strength? Botany.

Don’t judge the book by the movie. The plot of the book is pulled along by science. The movie removes much of the science and leaves behind a simple and slow plot. The movie is entertaining. The book is recommended.

FAVORITES: OTHER

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen KingI picked up this King volume because it appears on the favorite books list of many writers. I thought to myself, “It’s worth a shot.”

It is entertaining from start to finish. The first half of the book is a lucid biography of King’s life as a writer. The second half of the book is a lucid writer’s manual.

My favorite quote from the book: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” The more I think about it the more I chuckle. If you are interested in the craft of writing it is well worth your time. You do not need to be a fan of King. I’m not but still thoroughly enjoyed his thoughts. Disclaimer: The book does use foul language from time to time with no apparent reason. A personal frustration as reader.

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