Favorite reads of 2016

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the “best of” reading lists. I voraciously and carefully read each one I come across, often comparing my favorites (and my non-favorites) and always, always adding to the ever growing list of books I want to read. Someday, one day, maybe.

I read fifty some-odd books so far this year; a few I loved, some I hated, some were surprisingly good, some surprisingly disappointing. Apparently there were many I was just ambivalent about. For those of you who may be curious about my “best of” list, I offer the following favorites among the books I read this year, in no particular order…

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. I can’t stop talking about this one. If you’ve had any sort of extended conversation with me about politics or culture or anything really, I’ve probably mentioned this book. It will open your eyes, break your heart, and make you think. Related: I also appreciated Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates, a look at the black experience in this country, equally eye opening and heartbreaking.

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Tim Keller. I think the title says it all. You can read this little book in one sitting and be convicted for a long time after.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Loved it. My favorite novel I read last year, and one I keep recommending, is A Man Called Ove. This story evokes a similar sense of hope amid grief. It is not as sad as the description may make it sound!

Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Killing Glory of Christ by Matt Papa. I need to have this one on re-read yearly, monthly, weekly maybe. So, so good.

Honorable mentions:

I read a lot of fiction this year; no newsflash there as I read a lot of fiction every year. I don’t know if my standards are getting stricter or if I just had an off year, but only the one novel stands out as a favorite. In fact, I track my reading at Goodreads (otherwise I could never remember if I read any given book much less how many and which I might have liked); only a handful of the fiction titles I read I deemed a four star or higher. Interesting.

What about you? What did you read this year that stands out as a favorite? Have you posted a year end favorites list? Let me know in the comments so I can check it out!

Note: this post contains affiliate links.

Vulnerability and self-worth

I am (finally) reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. I say “finally” because astute readers of the blog will know that it has appeared on my “to read” list many times over the past year or two and I am only now getting around to it. It’s not my typical reading material but it has been suggested to me by readers and thinkers I respect so here I am. Finally.

I’m only a third of the way in and, frankly, I’m not sure what I think about it. Maybe because it’s not my typical reading fare but I have a hard time figuring out what the author means. Or maybe I’m just dense. It occurs to me maybe that’s why it’s not my typical reading fare: I’m not astute enough to figure out what the heck the author is talking about.

Anyway, while this post is not a review nor an endorsement (nor a critique), I’d like to share a point or two from the book about vulnerability that keep echoing in my mind. Actually, it’s more like an extended quote using creativity as an example but I think the application can obviously be extended…

You’ve designed a product or written an article or created a piece of art that you want to share with a group of friends. Sharing something that you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of [engaged] living. It’s the epitome of daring greatly. But because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached to your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.

One of two things happens at this point in the process:

1. Once you realize that your self-worth is hitched to what you’ve produced or created, it’s unlikely that you’ll share it, or if you do, you’ll strip away a layer or two of the juiciest creativity and innovation to make the revealing less risky. There’s too much on the line to just put your wildest creations out there.

2. If you do share it in its most creative form and the reception doesn’t meet your expectations, you’re crushed. Your offering is no good and you’re no good. The chances of soliciting feedback, reengaging, and going back to the drawing board are slim. You shut down. Shame tells you that you shouldn’t have even tried. Shame tells you that you’re not good enough and you should have known better.

…Everything shame needs to hijack and control your life is in place. You’ve handed over your self-worth to what people think…You’re officially a prisoner of “pleasing, performing, and perfecting.”

I understand this process. It’s happened to me a million times. Blogging is an obvious example but there are countless others. From teaching to the most mundane of conversations, I well know the thread that ties my self-worth to my sense of vulnerability and shame.

Brown will also make the rather astute observation that we consider vulnerability courageous in others but an embarrassing weakness in ourselves.

Interesting stuff. You might think there would be some of the self-help rah rah of “if you believe it you can do it”–and there may yet be–as I said, I’m only a third of the way in. But instead of asserting that failure will not be option, Brown does nearly the opposite. Failure comes, shame will descend; what then? Are you shame resilient? She will, I think, give her conclusions about combating shame as well as make the case for embracing the vulnerability to dare greatly. She asks early in the book: what is worth the risk of doing even in failure?

Have any of you read it? What are your thoughts?

Favorite reads of the summer

I, like all true bookworms, make reading a priority all year long, sometimes all day long if it’s an especially good day! However, there are those times of year that seem naturally suited to reading. The week between Christmas and New Year, for example, is a stretch of days where I tend to do not much more than lounge on the sofa with a book or two or five.

Summertime is another season that seems all the better for the happy enjoyment of a good book. Since we are now in September and at the close of another one of those perfectly suited reading spells, I thought I’d offer to you a list of some of the best of the best of the books I read this summer and I read some really good ones!

Read my list of summertime favorites at Out of the Ordinary.

What’s on my nightstand

Once a month 5 Minutes for Books hosts a What’s On My Nightstand carnival where participants share books they are currently reading. It’s been my goal to do a little more reading this summer than the school year afforded me and despite our travel and other general busyness I’ve been able to do just that! I have high hopes for July to have even more time to devote to reading some really great books. So here’s my list of titles I’ve read recently, what I’m currently reading, and what I’m thinking of reading next…

RECENTLY COMPLETED

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett. This is a beautifully written, thought provoking memoir that I enjoyed very much. I think Micha and I might disagree on a couple of things but what’s the fun of only reading authors you completely agree with? And do we really all of us agree all of the time on every thing? But, I digress. I may share more about this book in a later post but Micha’s journey surprised me by how much it resonated with my own despite she being a young mom in San Francisco and me being, well, not a young mom in a small town in Alabama.

Me Before You: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Loved it and hated it. My friend named it one of her most favorite and least favorite novels she read last year and I totally see what she means. It’s a compelling story, well told, but, well… (And, by the way, some readers will want to know there is some language and adult situations).

Someday, Someday, Maybe: A Novel by Lauren Graham. A fun, light, enjoyable read about a wanna-be actress trying to make it in New York City. Though it was somewhat predictable, I thought the funnest part to be all the 90’s pop culture references.

CURRENTLY READING

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy’s ability to evoke a sense of place through the beauty (and sometimes the sparseness) of his prose is masterful.

Gospel Amnesia: Forgetting the Goodness of the News by Luma Sims. Though we only know each other through our blogs and social media, I count Luma a friend and am ashamed I am only just now getting to her book. So far I have been greatly encouraged by her call to forsake gospel amnesia and to cling to Christ as our only hope.

READING NEXT (maybe)

What about you? What are you reading? Do you have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments! And be sure to visit 5 Minutes for Books and check out other Nightstand posts.

Repeated reading

Do you re-read books? I do, but it depends on the book…

I wonder sometimes what makes a novel re-readable. Not all are, you know. But there are those, like Pride and Prejudice, for which the experience is all the more pleasurable upon the second…and third…and fourth reading. And beyond.

It’s an exclusive club, those books I can’t stop re-reading. Dear Jane’s novels, but of course. Jane Eyre. Anne of Green Gables. Harry Potter.

Read the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary as we continue our monthlong emphasis on reading.

What’s On My Nightstand

I just updated the reading list here on the blog. I am fairly diligent about maintaing my list over at Goodreads but for some reason I neglect to also update here! You can check out the full list of what I’ve read so far this year by clicking the “Reading” tab above. For the more obsessive bibliophiles among us my previous years’ lists are also posted under the same tab.

Since I have books and reading on my mind, I thought I’d offer a “What’s on my nightstand” post. I’m a little late to the party since the 5 Minutes for Books nightstand carnival runs on Tuesdays and today is, as you know, Friday. Late or no, here’s a quick look at what I’m reading, what I’ve read recently, and what I hope to read soon…

Recently completed:

Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone by Carl Trueman. I laughed. I winced. I pondered. I laughed some more. This collection of Trueman’s essays on culture, celebrity and Christianity is equally sharp in its wit and in its analysis. Trueman is a master. I highly recommend it.

Call the Midwife. I’ve read the first two books in the trilogy and liked them very much. I’m a fan of the show and if you haven’t watched you really must! Life on London’s East Side in the 50’s was not an easy existence which makes for a memoir that is at times difficult to read. Though I was shocked by much of what Jenny and her fellow midwives experience I was equally impressed with the care and compassion not only of the midwives but of the nuns of Nonnatus House.

Jane Eyre. This was a re-read and I loved it all over again.

Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. I’ve mentioned this book several times here on the blog. It’s great.

Currently reading:

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior. Another memoir, this of literature and faith. I already love it and I’m only halfway through.

Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End. The third in the trilogy.

The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. One chapter read and I am already greatly encouraged. Grace that is greater than all my sin! Yes and amen.

Joy!: A Bible Study on Philippians for Women by Keri Folmar. Another book I’ve mentioned here on the blog. I’m working through this study on my own this summer. It’s been really good. Keri knows how to ask good questions.

Hoping to read soon (subject to the whim and discretion of the reader, of course):

  • The Atonement by Leon Morris
  • A Generous Justice by Tim Keller
  • Think by John Piper
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bonhoeffer by Eric Mextas
  • The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher
  • The King by Steven James

I am still on the hunt for that elusive really, really, really good novel so if you’ve got any suggestions, please, pass them on!

Check out what others are reading at 5 Minutes for Books!

Comments are closed but the conversation isn’t! Let me know what you think by emailing me at lisa {at} lisaspence {dot} com. You may also find me on Twitter and Facebook.

Ode to the public library

After yesterday’s post lamenting the loss of old school blogging, I now offer a post that I may have previously hesitated to publish because, well, its subject seems a little silly but, then again, I’m free, right? So in the interest of blog fun I give you my ode to the library which I’ve chosen to subtitle…

Wherein I reveal that I really am the biggest nerd ever

Some of my happiest memories of growing up–and I have many–include our trips to the local library. I can still recall the smell, the hushed quiet, the wide staircase, the eager anticipation that greeted me upon entering the glass doors. I can see Buffy the bookworm performing at the summer reading program and I can feel the weight of my library card in my hand, my name proudly printed on the front in my stilted first grade script.

With this card I was allowed the privilege of checking out a maximum of six books. Thus, six titles at a time, I made my way through the many adventures of Nancy Drew and Sue Barton, as well as Cherry Ames and Encyclopedia Brown and Penny and Tippy Parrish and all of Beverly Cleary’s protagonists from Ramona to Henry to Ellen Tebbits.

I loved wandering the aisles, perusing the book jackets, flipping through pages. A happy memory, as I said, not an exuberant happy but  a kind of slow, peaceful, luxuriant happy. The words, the stories, the books that awaited my discovery, these and the anticipation thereof were a source of delight to me, bibliophile that I was (am).

As I grew older our library trips grew less frequent. I have no library related memories of high school or even college (other than those late night pre-exam cram sessions during which I would often sequester myself in a corner cubicle of the library until closing time). My slow meander through the library aisles wouldn’t resume until I was a young adult.

Once married, I couldn’t wait to get my new driver’s license.  Correct identification with a new name is cool and all that but I was the more eager to have that correct identification in order to get my library card. I became once again a regular patron, this time of the small branch library near our first apartment. At each subsequent move my first priorities always included obtaining a library card.

As the children came along, one right after the other, I would navigate the stroller among the bookcases, then a stroller and a toddler alongside, then a preschooler and toddler and stroller, then…

A funny story we like to tell on my youngest: when he, my baby, was a toddler, I would have to make a circutious route for our errand running in order to avoid driving past the library unless, of course, we planned on stopping. If he saw the building and we did not pull in he would cry and cry and cry, a library induced tantrum as it were.

We had our habit: upstairs first to the children’s books. Each boy would have a totebag to fill with his chosen books. Once everyone had browsed and chosen to his heart’s content, we would go downstairs. There they would sit, looking at their books on the sofa in the adult fiction section while I browsed and chose to my heart’s content. That image of them, my four boys, my babies, eagerly “reading” their books, patiently waiting on their mother, this is another happy memory among many happy memories.

Well, as these things generally go, the boys grew and we got busy and now we rarely go to the library, and not at all as a family. A couple of my guys are still voracious readers and nearly always have a book on hand, usually from their school’s library. I continue to be a loyal patron, but, for whatever reason, my visits are not nearly as frequent as in years past. Thanks to the wonder of technology, nowadays I can browse and search for books on my laptop and know exactly which titles are ready and available for check out before I even darken the doors. This streamlines the process, saves me time, and helps me choose books I am confident I will enjoy.

But sometimes I still, occasionally, go to the library without a list, with no agenda but to walk the aisles, browse the titles, peruse the book jackets, and flip through pages. All these words, these stories, these books ready and waiting to be discovered–this makes me happy. Still.

Good stories well told

I love to read. While I am an avid reader of books that teach me something, I also enjoy the pleasure of a good story well told. In other words, I like fiction, really good fiction. I feel as if I must draw that distinction because, let’s be honest, there is some really bad fiction out there and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I haven’t the time or the patience for it.

Because I am a fan of (good) fiction, I found this post by Russell Moore on “Why Christians Should Read Fiction” to be encouraging (and, yeah, a little bit validating). I know I linked to it last week but it’s worth revisiting. I particularly liked his statement “Fiction helps the Christian to learn to speak in ways that can navigate between the boring abstract and the irrelevant mundane. It also enables you to learn insights about human nature.” He goes on to say

[G]ood fiction isn’t a “waste of time” for the same reason good music and good art aren’t wastes of time. They are rooted in an endlessly creative God who has chosen to be imaged by human beings who create. Culture isn’t irrelevant. It’s part of what God commanded us to do in the beginning, and that he declares to be good. When you enjoy truth and beauty, when you are blessed by gifts God has given to a human being, you are enjoying a universe that, though fallen, God delights in as “very good.”

Dr. Moore’s enthusiasm for good fiction reminds me of Tony Reinke’s summary of the benefits of fictional literature in his book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books. He lists four ways Christians can profit from good fiction:

Fictional literature can help us explore abstract human experiences.
Fictional literature can deepen our appreciation for concrete human experience.
Fictional literature expands our range of experiences.
Fictional literature provides beauty and creativity to be enjoyed.

All that and beautiful prose and you have the recipe for the best kind of story. While there is admittedly some element of personal opinion in any list of preferences, I, like many others with great affection for good fiction, have my favorite stories from among the good stories. From time to time friends will ask me for recommendations. Though not an exhaustive list (you don’t have all day and neither do I) here are some of the titles I am quick to suggest.

The Book Thief: The story of a foster girl in World War II Poland, this book is narrated by Death who is at turns grim and darkly humorous.

Peace Like a River: A boy’s search for his brother who has been charged with murder evokes not only the legends of the Old West but does so with the sort of lyrical prose that leaves the reader breathless.

Home: A Novel: I loved Gilead as well, the companion novel to Home, and also recommend it, but I think I like this book even better, this the story of prodigals and home and homecomings and family and grace all wrought together with beautiful language.

Hannah Coulter: I cried at the end of this novel. And, if that isn’t recommendation enough, consider this from the opening pages: “This is the story of my life, that while I lived it weighed upon me and pressed against me and filled all my senses to overflowing and now is like a dream dreamed…. This is my story, my giving of thanks.”

Of course I could go on and on and on and surely once I publish this post I will think of a dozen more titles I could have included, novels like I Capture the Castle, a charming novel about sisters and an old crumbling castle, or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand which is also charming and very British. Or The Road which is not charming but most definitely unforgettable. I might include a classic or two, Bleak House or Rebecca or Jane Eyre, all favorites I enjoy and love.

I also love mysteries, very much so, so much so that I can’t think of just one to add to my recommended list. British detective stories are a perennial favorite, P.D. James’ Adam Dagliesh novels in particular.

And last but certainly not least, my favorite fiction of all time: dear Jane’s Pride and Prejudice. All Austen novels surely qualify for most favored status but Pride and Prejudice surpasses them all, followed by Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion as my next Austen favorites.

Do you enjoy fiction? Would you agree with Moore’s and Reinke’s lists of benefits above? What are some of your fiction recommendations?

On blogging, the fear of man, and When People are Big and God is Small

Last month the ladies’ book club at my church read When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Ed Welch. It was, as you might imagine, a convicting albeit encouraging read, a book that will so get in your business but in the best possible way.

At the start of the book, Welch lists several questions as an aid to identify the fear of man. Among them: have you ever struggled with peer pressure? Do you find it hard to say no even when wisdom indicates that you should? Is self-esteem a critical concern for you? Are you always second guessing decisions because of what other people might think? Are you jealous of other people?

Of course these questions are quite revealing but here’s where he really stuck it to me: “Do you avoid people? If so, even though you might not say that you need people, you are still controlled by them. Isn’t a hermit dominated by the fear of man?” (emphasis mine)

What? My hermit-ude a manifestation of a fear of man?

I told you: this is a book that will totally get in your business whether you think you struggle with codependency and the fear of man or not.

The theme of the book can be summarized as follows: “The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are.” Welch explores how and why we fear others and then encourages a proper view of others by growing the knowledge and fear of the Lord. He punches a hole in the prevailing self-esteem ideal by claiming people are not empty cups needing to be filled. In fact, he goes so far to say that proclaiming that Jesus came to meet our needs is at best an incomplete gospel. Consider:

When psychological needs, rather than sin, are seen as our primary problem, not only is our self-understanding affected, but the gospel itself is changed. A needs theory suggests that the gospel is, most deeply, intended ot meet psychological needs. In other words, the gospel is aimed at our self-esteem problem. It is aimed at our tendency to dwell on our failures. It is intended to be a statement of God’s love saying that “God doesn’t make junk.”

This sounds good to us, but it is not the gospel. The good news of Jesus is not intended to make us feel good about ourselves.

Further,

Jesus did not die to increase our self-esteem. Rather Jesus died to bring glory to the Father by redeeming people from the curse of sin…the cross deals with our sin problem, our spiritual need.

As I said, whether you think you struggle with people pleasing or not, I think you will find When People Are Big and God is Small to be convicting and challenging as you evaluate who or what you fear and what you think you need. In fact, that’s been my primary response after reading: asking myself what it is I want most and correspondingly what is it I fear most. Welch asserts that “who or what you need will control you.”

What controls me?

Well, you don’t have the time and I certainly don’t have the desire to air all my dirty laundry here on the blog (you may thank me in the comments). I will say, however, that the blog, my writing life, is one area in which I do struggle with seeking and wanting validation and approval and thus I fear…well, I fear lots of things: poor writing, looking stupid, no one reading, everyone reading, being wrong…I think you get the picture. And I find Welch is correct: these fears control me.

Take today for instance. I spent an hour (okay, more) struggling to write a post. The words wouldn’t come, everything I said was forced and empty and dull, and to top it off I discovered I had written and published something eerily similar several months ago. And that post showed no evidence of grasping for words but quite the opposite. Instead, it was so well written I was quite impressed with myself and then terribly, horribly insecure over the post I attempted to write today. At that moment I was my own enemy and the cause of my own peer pressure! Crazy, isn’t it?

Writing is an intensely personal endeavor, or at least it is for me. I often feel exposed and vulnerable and that can be scary. Not only that but because it is personal it is easy to make otherwise objective parameters–comments, for example–a referendum on me. I know, I know, it’s dumb and all that but there it is.

I know that blogging or not blogging isn’t an issue of great import, certainly not when these same kinds of struggles may be manifested in more critical areas, my relationships for example. But the answer to my foolishness, in blogging or in other codependent issues? A bigger God, a smaller me. Welch reminds me…

[Y]ou must be controlled by the truth of God more than your own feelings. God’s Word, not feelings, is our standard. To be driven by our fluctuating sense of well-being may seem spiritual, but it is wrong. It exalts our interpretation above God’s. That is why it is so important to immediately turn to God after any biblically guided introspection. When we listen to God, he speaks words that fill an empty soul.

And,

He blesses and frees us by saying, “Fear me and me alone.” This is exactly what we need. It gives us the privilege of being controlled by our loving and just Savior rather than other people.

So I put that other post aside and instead write this one as a reminder to myself of the foolishness of seeking the approval of people. I choose to fear the Lord and rest secure in Him.

Favorite reads of 2012

I am rather haphazard in my reading choices. So much of what I choose to read is a product of whim and availability. What do I feel like reading? What appeals? Do I have the book on hand? Can I check it out of my local library? Didn’t I just make an amazon order? Because of this rather arbitrary and random approach I am impressed by those of you who craft your reading goals–sometimes a whole year’s worth–with a great deal of thought and organization. However, after reading so many of your great “favorite book” lists that mark year end blogging, I may reconsider my selection methods!

Because my reading is admittedly haphazard, I find my personal end-of-year list of favorite books to be somewhat eclectic. That being said, here, in no particular order, are some of the books I most enjoyed this past year…

Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke
A book on reading books? Yes, indeed! Whether you are a prolific or an occasional reader you will enjoy this look at the theology of books and reading. I love books that encourage a love of books and Tony’s does exactly that.

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
I attempted to read Faulkner earlier this year and upon giving up I tweeted the observation that all Southern stories are sad. In the ensuing twitter conversation, Boomama recommended I read Ellen Foster. I did and I loved it. I’ve since read other titles by Gibbons but Ellen is her best of what I’ve read. Boomama said she finished reading it with a “big ol’ ugly cry,” a fitting response to a beautifully written Southern story.

Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson
What is gospel wakefulness? It is being utterly captivated and astonished by the good news of forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ. This book explores that concept by addressing the true gospel as well as brokenness, hyperspirituality, depression, gospel-driven sanctification and the gospel-driven church. How I want to be awakened to the glories of God in Christ and to live my life as a testimony of astonishment and this book encourages me to that end.

The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World by Melissa Kruger
This book will SO get in your business, but in the best possible way! In fact my effusion for this book was so pronounced that I was recommending it to every person I saw in the vicinity of the Christian Focus table at The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference. In fact the woman working the table suggested I work the crowd like a town crier carrying stacks of the book and extolling its merits for all to hear. She was joking, of course, and perhaps maybe even poking a little fun at me but don’t think I didn’t consider it. Read my more thorough review here.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
There are passages of this book so beautifully and heartrendingly expressed that they brought tears to my eyes. It’s a story about South Africa, apartheid, and poverty but it is also a story of fathers and sons, of love and grace, and of faith and friendship. Read it. I think you’ll be glad you did.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
While I cannot admit to this book being a favorite in terms of sheer enjoyment, I will say that this is a book I will not easily forget. It is haunting and gripping, a grim book about desperation and survival. Despite such a sober description I will also say that I could not put it down. I read it in essentially one sitting! McCarthy writes with the sort of staccato prose that carries the reader along in the heart of the man’s (the unnamed protagonist of the book) struggle. At one point in the book I found myself holding my breath! It is a book deeply felt and heartbreakingly somber.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Last year’s surprising favorite was Bleak House so it seems only right that Charles Dickens earns another berth in the favorites list, this time with David Copperfield. I thoroughly enjoyed this semi-autobiographical, sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic story and the ending was so sweet. Perhaps its rather pedestrian of me, but I do like a happy ending.

The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
My friend summarizes her review in this way: this book should be required reading for all believers. I wholeheartedly agree. The last chapter on moralism is spot on and worth the price of the book and then some.

The World-Tilting Gospel: Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight by Dan Phillips
Have you noticed that three of my favorite books have “gospel” in the title? I suppose it makes sense because 1) I love the gospel and 2) I need to read and remember and read some more about the glorious truth that Jesus saves sinners like me. I downloaded this book when it was free for Kindle and, to be honest, I didn’t think I’d like it as much as I did–which is to say I liked it a lot! A timely, well-expressed, engaging yet challenging look at the gospel and its implications for real life, this is a book I highly recommend.

The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by Edmund Clowney
I read this book in conjunction with teaching The Promised One by Nancy Guthrie. I had several reference books I used in my preparation each week but Clowney’s was the most readable and approachable and almost eager in its excited exposition of Jesus in the Old Testament. I plan to refer to it often as I teach Guthrie’s The Lamb of God this winter and spring. Another great resource was According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graham Goldsworthy

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
I feel a little badly about including a book I just read on my list of favorites. I mean, sometimes it is difficult to tell just how long or short lived a favorite status will be. That being said, I loved this novel. It is not only a laugh out loud comedy of manners but it proves Wodehouse a master of language. An absolutely charming novel that I highly recommend.

And, because I have a hard time making definitive distinctions, here are some other favorites:

The Hobbit by J. R. Tolkien
Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside by Greg Dutcher
A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering by Michael Horton
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything by Anonymous
A Woman’s Wisdom: How the Book of Proverbs Speaks to Everything by Lydia Brownback
The Flight of Gemma Hardy: A Novel by Margot Livesey
The Shuttle by Francis Hodgson Burnett
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty by Aaron Armstrong
Feeling For Bones by Bethany Pierce
The Distant Hours: A Novel by Kate Morton
Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

So, there you go, some of my favorite reads of 2012. I won’t say the list is exhaustive because I read a lot of really good books that I liked and would happily recommend. You can look at my (newly updated) reading lists for the past year or so by clicking the “Reading” tab above. Also, check out my Goodreads profile and see what I’ve read, what I thought, and what I’m currently reading. In fact, some of my summary statements above I copied from my Goodreads reviews.

What about you? What are some of your favorite reads from the past year? Any books you highly recommend? Do you carefully plan your reading goals for the year? What are you hoping to read in 2013?