I thought I would share with you my top reads for 2012 and why I liked them so much. You will see that they fall into three basic categories, History, Novels and Church related. I read other genre’s but these are the three rails that keep me energized throughout the year. I have placed them in order of impact for me. I also have included portions of the book descriptions from the publisher to give you a better idea of what the book is about.
1. Relentless Pursuit, Ken Gire.
The author has a rugged tenderness in the way he writes that I admire. This book touched me in the personal way he reveals his journey as an outsider towards grace found only in God.
Everyone feels like an outsider sometimes. He brings them directly into the action of Scripture, telling the stories of foreigners, lepers, prostitutes, and other “outcasts” who found acceptance with God. Alongside the Bible stories, he blends contemporary examples and spiritual insights to paint a picture of a God who relentlessly pursues each of us.
- 2. Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland
I read this in conjunction with a writing course I was taking and fell in love with it. It is not a typical book about writing, but about the creative process and the way fear weasels its way into every strata of life if we let it. This book helped me a great deal apart from being an artist.
Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way. The book’s co-authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, are themselves both working artists, grappling daily with the problems of making art in the real world. Their insights and observations, drawn from personal experience, provide an incisive view into the world of art as it is experienced by artmakers themselves.
- 3. Kings of Colorado, by David E. Hilton
I picked this book up for several reasons. One, was because it was about my home state. But also because it is about a coming of age thriller about a boy on a ranch. I worked on a ranch at that age. It was also written by a graduate of a small University I attended in Texas, Howard Payne University.
William Sheppard had never ventured beyond his Chicago neighborhood until, at thirteen, he was sent away to the Swope Ranch Boys’ Reformatory, hundreds of miles from home, for stabbing his abusive father in the chest with a pocketknife. Buried deep in the Colorado mountains, Swope is shrouded in legend and defined by one prevailing rumor: that the boys who go in never come out the same.
Despite the lack of fences or gates, the boundaries are clear: prisoners are days from civilization, there exists only one accessible road—except in the wintertime, when it’s buried under feet upon feet of snow, and anyone attempting escape will be shot down without hesitation in the shadow of the peaks. At 13,000 feet above sea level, the mountains aren’t forgiving, and neither are the guards.
- 4. The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, by Nancy Gibbs , Michael Duffy
This book was fun to read because it takes you into the interior world of Presidents after they leave office. You get a sense of how this ultimately exclusive club relate with one another. I found it fascinating. Especially poignant to me was the developing relationship between the first President Bush and President Clinton. They became almost a father son relationship between these two.
The Presidents Club was born at Eisenhower’s inauguration when Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover first conceived the idea. Over the years that followed – and to this day – the presidents relied on, misunderstood, sabotaged, and formed alliances with one another that changed history. The world’s most exclusive fraternity is a complicated place: its members are bound forever because they sat in the Oval Office and know its secrets, yet they are immortal rivals for history’s favor.
- 5. The King Jesus Gospel, by Scot McKnight
I am impressed with the gentle theology of McKnight. He is passionate without being angry. Quite refreshing when you read many, what I call “activist theologians.” He reminds us that every generation or so we need to reexamine the definition of exactly what is the does the Bible mean when it speaks of Gospel. Like the old grade-school game of “gossip” sometimes the gospel gets distorted in the many tellings through many life-filters, theological agendas, and cultural arrogance that is just a part of living in the human race.
Contemporary evangelicals have built a ‘salvation culture’ but not a ‘gospel culture.’ Evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the message of personal salvation. This book makes a plea for us to recover the old gospel as that which is still new and still fresh. The book stands on four arguments: that the gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus; that the gospel is found in the Four Gospels; that the gospel was preached by Jesus; and that the sermons in the Book of Acts are the best example of gospeling in the New Testament. The King Jesus Gospel ends with practical suggestions about evangelism and about building a gospel culture.
6. Finn, by Jon Clinch
The prose in this novel are as good as it gets. The story is hard to read at times because it is violent, racists and gruesome. But such was the life on the Mississippi in the era of Huckleberry Finn. This is a novel about the father that started Twains legendary story. I read this and re-read many paragraphs for the writing alone.
Jon Clinch takes us on a journey into the history and heart of one of American literature’s most brutal and mysterious figures: Huckleberry Finn’s father. The result is a deeply original tour de force that springs from Twain’s classic novel but takes on a fully realized life of its own.
Finn is a novel about race; about paternity in its many guises; about the shame of a nation recapitulated by the shame of one absolutely unforgettable family. Above all, Finn reaches back into the darkest waters of America’s past to fashion something compelling, fearless, and new.
7. The President and the Assassin, by Scott Miller
Anarchy was a rising political phenomenon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was eerie to read this with much of the “occupy Wall street” events that happened last year. With a young TR as his Vice President, McKinley began to expand the role of Chief Executive and actually began America’s dabbling in global imperialism. His murder and the man who committed the crime is a fascinating story of parallel lives on a collision course with destiny.
A surprise for me was the relationship of Robert Lincoln who was close to the first three Presidents who were killed in office.
The two men seemed to live in eerily parallel Americas. McKinley was to his contemporaries an enigma, a president whose conflicted feelings about imperialism reflected the country’s own. Under its popular Republican commander-in-chief, the United States was undergoing an uneasy transition from a simple agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse spreading its influence overseas by force of arms. Czolgosz was on the losing end of the economic changes taking place—a first-generation Polish immigrant and factory worker sickened by a government that seemed focused solely on making the rich richer. With a deft narrative hand, journalist Scott Miller chronicles how these two men, each pursuing what he considered the right and honorable path, collided in violence at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.
8. The Gift of the Jews, by Thomas Cahill
I love this respectful account of how impactful the Jewish people and nation have been to western civilization.
The Gifts of the Jews reveals the critical change that made western civilization possible. Within the matrix of ancient religions and philosophies, life was seen as part of an endless cycle of birth and death; time was like a wheel, spinning ceaselessly. Yet somehow, the ancient Jews began to see time differently. For them, time had a beginning and an end; it was a narrative, whose triumphant conclusion would come in the future. From this insight came a new conception of men and women as individuals with unique destinies–a conception that would inform the Declaration of Independence–and our hopeful belief in progress and the sense that tomorrow can be better than today. As Thomas Cahill narrates this momentous shift, he also explains the real significance of such Biblical figures as Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Pharaoh, Joshua, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.
9. The Clearing, by Tim Gautreaux
Here is another wonderful southern writer who captures the language and idiosyncrasies of that culture with such accuracy and delicate respect. With wonderful prose, Gautreaux spins a thrilling yarn about unforgettable tale of two brothers struggling in a hostile world.
In a lumber camp in the Louisiana cypress forest, a world of mud and stifling heat where men labor under back-breaking conditions, the Aldridge brothers try to repair a broken bond. Randolph Aldridge is the mill’s manager, sent by his father—the mill owner—to reform both the damaged mill and his damaged older brother. Byron Aldridge is the mill’s lawman, a shell-shocked World War I veteran given to stunned silences and sudden explosions of violence that make him a mystery to Randolph and a danger to himself. Deep in the swamp, in this place of water moccasins, whiskey, and wild card games, these brothers become embroiled in a lethal feud with a powerful gangster. In a tale full of raw emotion as supple as a saw blade, The Clearing is a mesmerizing journey into the trials that define men’s souls.
10. The Shooting Salvationist, by David R. Stokes
As a Southern Baptist I had heard about the legendary pastor J. Frank Norris for years. Mostly not in a good light. Rightfully so. But this treatment brought him to life in much more sinister ways. I loved the book. “Loved” is not the right word. I couldn’t stop reading it like you can’t look away from a gruesome car accident.
J. Frank Norris was many things in the 1920’s: a pastor who led the nation’s first megachurch, a provocative publisher, and a pioneer broadcaster. With the flair of a great showman, he railed against vice and conspiracies he saw everywhere to a congregation of more than 10,000 at First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. His church served as a venue for a steady stream of politicians and performers, from William Howard Taft to Will Rogers, but Norris himself was by far the biggest attraction. Following the death of William Jennings Bryan, he was poised to become the leading fundamentalist figure in America. This changed, though, in a moment of violence one sweltering Saturday in July when he shot and killed an unarmed man in his church office.
There you go. Not all I read last year, but certainly the ones that stood out to me. I recommend them all to you. Some you will enjoy, others you will think I am nuts for recommending them. But I have a list…if you don’t have a list then my list is better than yours.