Top 10 Books of 2013
I haven’t always been a reader. My high school self would probably raise his eyebrows and chuckle a bit at the thought of his “mid-30s-self” offering a list of the 10 best books of the year. I don’t think I had read 10 books (maybe 5? maybe!) until my senior year of high school. (You can read the rest of that story here: “How to Fall in Love… One Book at a Time.”) But now I do read regularly and enjoy talking about books.
This year I was able to have an extended conversation about books with my good friend Byron Borger, owner of Hearts & Minds Bookstore. I conducted a webinar with Byron on the theme “Summer Reading: The Best Books for Pastors, Parents and Youth Workers.” It was a lot of fun and reminded me of how seriously we take reading here are CPYU. In fact, CPYU president, Walt Mueller, has already listed his “top 5” books read in 2013: “Five Books I Read Last Year. . . That You Should Read in 2014!”
My list will be limited to the books I read this year that were published in 2013 (listed alphabetically by author). And, for the most part, they are books that are at the heart of the mission of the College Transition Initiative: to be a resource for those preparing students for life after high school. Enjoy!
Is College Worth It? A Former United States Secretary of Education and a Liberal Arts Graduate Expose the Broken Promise of Higher Education by William J. Bennett and David Wilezol (Thomas Nelson). I read extensively gearing up for the new CTI seminar “The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances” held in October and this book stuck out the most. Many parents and students are beginning to question the value and worth of higher education. I think we need to be careful talking about education in strictly economic terms. There is more to college then simply getting a degree to get a job. While I don’t agree with all of the authors’ conclusions and recommendations, I do think that Is College Worth It? raises important questions we all need to be asking in order to make wise decisions about life after high school. I wrote more about this book here.
Early Decision: A Novel Based on a True Frenzy by Lacy Crawford (William Morrow). The is probably the book I’ve talked about the most this year! I’ve read passages to friends. I gave a few copies as gifts to people who care about teenagers and higher education. Here’s Lacy Crawford explaining her motivation for writing: “Somewhere along the line we’ve failed students. We haven’t listened to them enough… I began to write Early Decision to understand how thoughtful, dedicated parents can be so driven by fear of their children’s futures that they are willing to place enormous value in a system that is reductive with regard to character, and that is, if taken to its current extremes, harmful to a child’s development.” Read my full review here.
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, A Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher (Grand Central). Rod Dreher is a journalist who moved back to his small, hometown to be with his sister, Ruthie Leming, while she was dying of cancer. This is a very moving memoir about family and community, grace and forgiveness, and faith in the face of death. Popular writer Elizabeth Gilbert offers this warning: “If you are not prepared to cry, to learn, and to have your heart cracked open even a little bit by a true story of love, surrender, sacrifice, and family, then please do not read this book. Otherwise, do your soul a favor, and listen carefully to the unforgettable lessons of Ruthie Leming.” Watch a video of Dreher talking about his book here.
How the West Really Lost God by Mary Eberstadt (Templeton Press). Confession: I haven’t finished this book yet. But I’ve read enough to know that it is (1) very important and (2) right at the center of my work and passions. It is a book about secularization from what the author thinks is a neglected angle: the breakdown of the family. In a nutshell, Eberstadt argues that living in families, especially having children, is what drives people to church. If you think this is obvious, you might be surprised to learn that this isn’t obvious to most secularization theorists, as the book points. But even bigger than that, Eberstadt makes the case that the biblical narrative and an understanding of biblical faith itself depends on people “experiencing” family life. Watch Eberstadt discuss her book on BookTV here.
The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More by Bruce Feiler (William Morrow). I didn’t think I’d like this book. The premise made me uneasy. Feiler travels the country learning innovative business strategies, finds families who have applied them to their family, and then tries to do the same, integrating the best business practices into the Feiler household. You can’t run a family like a business, right? You can’t. But it turns out that the best ways to run a business are really about better communication and relationships and that is really what this book is about: better family relationships through better, intentional communication. Feiler is also a clever story teller, making the book a delight to read. His honesty and vulnerability about his own family give his recommendations added weight. Watch a video of Feiler talking about his book on CNN here.
Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers Life’s Biggest Questions by Timothy Keller (Dutton). Pastor Keller is a master at drawing out the deep meaning and contemporary significance of Bible stories. In this book, using stories from the Gospel of John, Keller shows how Jesus answers the fundamental questions of life. What stuck out to me is that this book was adapted from lectures he gave in Oxford, England to a group of “skeptical” college students. It would be a perfect book to read with current college students or students about to head off to college. Here’s a short video of Keller explaining why he wrote this book:
Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry by David P. Setran and Chris A. Kiesling (Baker Academic). I had the privilege of writing an endorsement for this book: “Young adults need guidance and so do those who desire to help them mature into healthy adulthood. This book provides a lucid overview of the current research regarding emerging adulthood as well as accessible guidelines for reaching this generation with the Gospel. The authors make a strong case for why the church should take emerging adulthood research and emerging adults more seriously. Most refreshing, the central motivation behind Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood is not the desire to grow a church or young adult program, but to see young people grow up in Christ.” Download my interview (.pdf) with David Setran here.
Holy Luck by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans). If my high school self would have chuckled at the thought of me being a “reader” in my later years, he would have laughed hysterically at the thought of me including a book of poetry. I try to read poetry as a discipline (much of the Bible is poetry after all). It makes my brain hurt the same way my abs do if I haven’t done sit ups in a while. So I’m thinking it must be good for me. Plus, Eugene Peterson is one of my favorite writers. His introduction to his collection of poems is worth the price of the book and will, perhaps, motivate you to read a little more poetry this year! Watch a video of Peterson talking about Holy Luck here.
Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic). This is the second book in Smith’s 3-book cultural liturgies project. The first book, Desiring the Kingdom, focused primarily on education, and offered a paradigm shift in the way we “educate students” for Kingdom living. The second volume focuses on the imagination. Smith writes: “We become people who desire the kingdom insofar as we are people who have been trained to imagine the kingdom in a certain way.” And, as Smith explains, our imaginations are “trained” by the way we worship. Books by Jamie Smith are always engaging, thoughtful, provocative and enlightening. But what I love most is that for every confusing, obscure French philosopher he quotes, there is a contemporary example from film, music or literature to drive home the main point. Oui and Amen! Watch a video of Smith discussing “how worship works” here.
The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential by N.T. Wright (HarperOne). This book is about as good as it gets. The “case” that is made for the Psalms is both scholarly and personal. Wright explains that we need to read the Psalms in order to better grasp the bigger picture of the Biblical story. But when we do that, we notice how deeply personal the Psalms can be, speaking directly to our own hearts and desires. Read a fuller review by Bryon Borger here.