The chances are good that if you know me, you know I read like a fiend. I love to read, and made 2011 my year to plow through as many books as I possibly could–and to actually keep track of them for once. My goal was to beat my record each month–so, if I read 4 books in January, I would read at least 5 in February.
Well, I started last January and ended up reading 6 books in that first month–so I eventually stalled out around 7-10 books per month. To be clear, this included only my “for funsies” list of books–not the books I read at work.
That’s right, this was my spare time. Luckily, I read quickly…or else I would’ve given up literature forever after reading such duds as War and Peace, Middlemarch, and Madame Bovary. Those were definitely the low points of this year’s reading.
Here’s a quick review of the 11 best books I read in 2011:
#1. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
This book is an absolute gem, a timeless treasure, and a lifelong member of my “favorites” list. Don’t let the size of it fool you–even though it’s a sizeable book, if you’re like me, you’ll want to read more by the time you get to the end. Metaxas is a masterful writer, and I can only hope to someday write with as much passion, humor, and insight as him. Even though I was merely reading words on a page, I felt like I had met a kindred spirit in Bonhoeffer…and I was genuinely torn up about his death in the end of the book. I treasure this book so much that it’s one of the very few books I absolutely refuse to loan out.
#2. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Not since I read L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series as a youngster have I been so transported through literature to another place. Mayle has the most charming descriptions of food, wine, art, landscape and daily life in France, that I read his books over and over again to enjoy his style. It’s like having a seven-course feast for the mind to read his books. Every book I’ve read by him is utterly charming in every way.
#3. The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons
This book is a must-read for anyone in the ministry…heck, for any Christian. It’s fascinating, thought-provoking, and inspiring. It will challenge you personally, as well as the way you look at ministry. I wrote more notes in the margins of this book than any other book, and I feel like my brain was jump-started when I read this.
#4. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
One of my college friends–who wasn’t religious in any way at the time–told me that this was her all-time favorite book. When she then went on to mention that one of the main characters was a priest, I made a mental note to check this book out sometime. I finally buckled down and bought it this year, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say that everyone would love this book, I enjoyed it. The best word I can come up with to describe it is “haunting”–the sort of book that lifts you up, and then sends you crashing down to the ground, then to sit on the ground bruised, pondering the whole situation as you rub your head in reflection.
#5. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas
Is it cheating to have two books by the same author on your favorites list? If it is, then sue me–but I guess I just have a soft spot for biographies written by an excellent wordsmith. I read this book after reading Bonhoeffer, and it was just as inspiring. I love a good story about how one person can stand up for what’s right in the midst of an entire society that is stuck in apathy–and when it’s a true story, that’s even better.
#6. E Squared by Matt Beaumont
I’ll admit, I was dubious when my husband brought this home from the going-out-of-business sale at our local bookstore. “It was only 39 cents!” is what he claimed–how could a good book be so cheap? However, reading just a few pages hooked me. The entire book is written in the form of emails, blogs, and texts from co-workers and family members, but in that hilarious tongue-in-cheek style that the rest of the world admires in British literature. I laughed out loud throughout the whole book and often read sections to Tyler because it was so funny. It’s irreverent and occasionally off-color, but will definitely make you feel a bit better about the humdrums of life.
#7. A Testament to Freedom by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Yes, I’m a bit of a history buff. I’ve been on a WWII kick lately, so I read Mein Kampf (which is like chewing on a wad of dry paper towels–mundane, painful, and not something you’d wish on your biggest enemy), and then launched into a few other history books. After reading Bonhoeffer, I had to go to the primary source and read what Dietrich Bonhoeffer himself had penned in his own hand. This is a great collection of all of his books, as well as many sermons. I’ve been more uplifted and touched by this book than by dozens of other devotional resources. Sometimes it pays to read the classics.
#8. Plan B by Pete Wilson
This is one of those books that magically comes back to you when you’re having a bad week. It’s relevant, raw, and real–and usually, I’d rather have truth delivered to me that way. This has been my go-to recommendation for people when they’re in a tough season of their lives, to offer a fresh voice on how God works through the most difficult times.
#9. The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy
This author was recommended to me by a friend, and he’s a fabulous writer. It’s unusual for a book to make me feel so much righteous anger–especially when it’s a fictional piece–but this story did. It’s well-crafted, gritty, serious, and painful. The end is incredibly sad, but I think only a true artist can end on such a sad note. I will warn you, though–the death scenes in this book are awful.
#10. The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard
When I stumbled across this little nugget of a book, I had no idea that something written so long ago (published first in 1893) could be such a quaint and captivating adventure. I also had no idea that this British author was friends with Rudyard Kipling and inspired the fictional “Indiana Jones” character that we all know and love today. In his day, these adventure novels were read out loud in classrooms by youngsters across the country–and now, they are resigned to the “free” section of my Amazon Kindle. Regardless, this was a clever and daring little story that I thoroughly enjoyed.
#11. Decision Points by George W. Bush
I don’t care if you hate the man, this is still a fascinating glimpse at the mettle of a true leader. I have a newfound appreciation for how difficult the job of a president is–despite whether I like the president or not. Running this whole US of A thing ain’t easy–and this book will show you that in a way that will make you respect the office more than ever.
There you have it, my friends. My top 11 best reads of 2011.
Now…what about your list?