These aren’t all 2011 releases, as you will see, but they are the ten best books I read this year.
(Honorable Mention: Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I’m 2/3 of the way through it, and it would easily be on this list if I finish it before the end of the year.)
10. In the Woods by Tana French
When I first finished this novel, I wanted to throw it across the room. I tweeted what a ripoff it was and several other readers agreed with me. Then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And now I’m convinced that the thing I thought the book didn’t reveal was actually revealed, only hiddenly in the book. In any event, no book this year has provoked such disgust in me and at the same time kept me hanging on, searching it out, chewing on it.
9. Reclaiming Adoption edited by Dan Cruver
Short, but comprehensive and powerful. This collection of essays by Cruver, John Piper, Scotty Smith, et.al. show us the shape of God’s heart for us and the outline of the Christian heart for orphans.
8. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis
Not anywhere close to Lewis’s best work, I nevertheless profited from his writing here as I always do. He is faithful to present with awe and insight the “anatomy of the soul” (Calvin) held in the biblical Psalms.
7. Future Men by Douglas Wilson
I don’t have boys, but I really enjoyed this book on raising them. I used it off and on in our church men’s group, and together we alternately fought with Wilson’s ideas and nodded our heads in vigorous agreement with them. If I had boys, I’d find this book invaluable. And Wilson can flat-out write, of course.
6. The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington
The truth about the Christian life — how the gospel works, how we work in the gospel — put simply and succinctly. I would recommend this to every believer. It’s like a hundred books on idolatry, gospel-centrality, and sanctification condensed into one readable little companion that replaces them all.
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’ve read this classic twice before but wanted a refresher before the latest movie adaptation debuts next year. Fitzgerald at his coy, rhythmic, biting best. I also read his This Side of Paradise this year (for the first time) and found it dreadful — dull and bothersome. I find it hard to believe, actually, that the same guy who wrote that navel-gazing tribute to ennui wrote this insightful indictment of (basically) idolatry. One of a few genuine American masterpieces.
4. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Speaking of American masterpieces, we could talk about the serious Huckleberry Finn, but I prefer the whimsical, engrossing Tom Sawyer. I’ve loved this book since I was a little boy and as I re-read it this year, I found myself transported not just to the Mississippian stomping grounds of scamps and scoundrels but to the floor of my boyhood home and the couch of my grandmother’s house, two places I vividly remember drinking in the adventures of Tom, Huck, Polly, Becky Thatcher, Injun Joe, Muff Potter, and the whole gang. Twain plays on the frequency my imagination is tuned to.
3. Jonathan Edwards on Revival
This is actually the publication title given to this volume containing three of Edwards’ works: “A Narrative of Surprising Conversions,” “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God,” and “An Account of the Revival of Religion in Northampton 1740-1742.” I first read this book while going for jury duty in Houston, Texas, in about 1995. At that time I was a youth minister for a Willow Creek model church; I was interested in theology and wanted to be interested in Edwards, but I had no mental nor spiritual framework for the material in this book. Nevertheless I have held on to it for all these years. Now I’m in New England and wondering what it might take for God to grant the favor of revival to this land again. Edwards’ book is stirring for the desperate.
2. The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders
I consider it brilliance when someone says an old (but uncommon thing) in fresh ways, and this is what Sanders has done. For all those who believe in the Trinity but can’t for the life of them see how it might be practical. And for those who think “making the Trinity practical” can’t possibly come out to anything deeply theological. Oh, read the thing. It’s fantastic. Read it in February and thought, “I won’t read a better nonfiction book this year, I bet,” and I was right.
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My lands, y’all. To my shame, I’d never read this before. I laughed and cried. Literally. In public.