6 Best Books of 2012 (So Far)...
1. Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner— Winner has long been a favorite of mine. I loved the sparse, colorful prose of Mudhouse Sabbath and Girl Meets God, and I’ve always admired (okay, envied) Winner’s fierce intelligence and ability to speak knowledgeably about such a broad range of subjects. In Still, Winner continues to dazzle with her writing, but this time she shares a different kind of wisdom, for she writes from what she calls “the middle.” Her honesty about the uncomfortable realities of life and faith—the unresolved, the disappointments, the mysterious, the gray, the hopeful, the routine, the failures, the valiant efforts—give this book a more conversational and intimate feel than any of her others. It feels more grounded, more relatable. But Still is far from an indulgent glorification of religious doubt. Instead, it challenges the reader to stay connected with the church, committed to the spiritual disciplines, wary of cynicism, and mindful of pride. If you resonate with this blog or with Evolving in Monkey Town, you will likely love Still.
2. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed—Two words: Trust Oprah. She nails it again with this fabulous pick for her book club. Beautifully written, suspenseful, and inspiring, this story will suck you in within minutes. I’m not even halfway finished, and already I feel comfortable offering a hearty recommendation.
3. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins by Peter Enns—This book came along and just the right time for me. As I’ve said before, Enns is one of my favorite scholars because he somehow manages to be thorough, personable, and readable all at the same time. In the Evolution of Adam, Enns demonstrates that the author of Genesis and the apostle Paul wrote to ask and answer ancient questions for ancient people; the fact that they both speak of Adam does not determine whether Christians can accept evolution. This may seem like an impossibly complicated topic to cover in a mere 147 pages, but Enns manages to do so with astounding clarity and insight. In The Evolution of Adam, you’ll find accessible introductions to everything from source criticism to the New Perspective on Paul, which will make you feel oh-so-caught-up on all the important trends in biblical scholarship. Try not to show off at parties.
4. A Woman Called: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle by Sara Gaston Barton— With a writer’s eye and a teacher’s heart, Sara Barton weaves together stories from Michigan to Uganda, Texas to ancient Israel, to bring the conversation about women and ministry to life. These are stories you can taste, touch, smell, and feel, stories that will make you laugh out loud, roll your eyes, cry like a baby, and offer quiet prayers of thanks. Sara’s passion for encouraging women to teach is matched only by her stubborn commitment to Christian unity. It is positively brimming with wisdom and honesty and grace. This book changed me in ways I never expected it would, and I am grateful for it.
5. Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life by Lois Tverberg. In this excellent book, Tverberg explores the cultural context of Jesus’ teachings, particularly the Jewish idioms, sayings, debates, and rabbinic literature that help make sense of some of his most perplexing words. (What did he mean when he said “the eye is the lamp of the body?” What does it mean to “hallow” a name? How did first-century Jews understand the concept of “judging not”?) But what makes this book different than others on the same topic is Tverberg’s gift of guiding the reader through practical application. Reading this book has changed the way I pray. It has changed the way I speak about others. It has changed the way I judge. It has changed the way I think about my giving. Simply put, this book has helped make me a better follower of Jesus because I better understand his teachings. I cannot recommend it enough.
6. Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer—I expected this book about the science behind creativity to be informative, but I never expected it to be so practical. Lehrer (author of the best-selling How We Decide) explains why we get our best ideas in the shower, shatters the myth of the muse, descries creative working environments that increase productivity, and tells story after story about the ways in which the world’s most creative people work. This book has made me a better writer because it has helped me identify which of my work habits are helpful and which are destructive, when it’s best to take a break and when it’s best to press on, what color to paint my office (blue!) and how to overcome writer’s block (travel!). A must-read for you creative types.
4 To Look Forward To...
1. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee (releases November 13, 2012, available for pre-order)—This one is a game-changer, folks! I had the privilege of reading an advance review copy, which I devoured within two days before passing it along to Dan, who also loved it. This book comes along at just the right time, in just the right spirit, and with just the right mix of honesty, wisdom, and grace. Justin’s story reads like a conversation with an old friend. It is personal, yet accessible; persuasive, yet charitable; deeply honest, yet patient and restrained. Like all good stories, it leaves you changed. This is the most important book I’ve read in years, and it will be the first I recommend to anyone interested in bridging the divide between the LGBT community and the church. Justin has given us a precious gift with this story. May we receive with the same courage and faith with which it was delivered. Note: We will be discussing this one! (See our interview with Justin Lee)
2. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (releases November 6, 2012, available for pre-order)—Kingsolver's new novel takes place in a small-town Tennessee and tells the story of a woman who must confront “her family, her church, her town, her continent, and finally the world at large.” Sound right up my alley!
3. Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World by Brian McLaren (releases September 11, 2012, available for pre-order)—I’ve nearly finished reading my advance copy, and McLaren is at his finest with this one: pastoral, provocative, challenging, and somehow comforting. This one should generate quite a conversation online.
4. A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. (Releases October 30, 2012, available for pre-order.) That’s right. I’m recommending my own book. Because I worked really, really hard on it, and because I wrote it for you! The good news is that Phyllis Tickle recommends it too. She describes A Year of Biblical Womanhood as “a bitter-sweet cocktail of wisdom and absurdity that will charm you, entertain you, seduce you and, finally, instruct you...Funny, droll, charming, and deadly serious, all in one set of covers.” (I’ll be sharing more of these endorsements in the weeks to come.)
So what is your favorite book so far in 2012? What books are you anticipating?