“Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading – that is a good . . . life” Annie Dillard. That is so true! The following are my recommended top 10 picks from this past year:
1. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Bessel van der Kolk
This is a critical, important read for every one of us wrestling with discipleship in the church. Bessel van der Kolk , medical director of the Trauma Center in Boston and one of the foremost authorities on trauma in the world, offers innumerable insights on how to serve the increasing number of people in our churches stuck due to trauma. I continue to prayerfully read and study this book weekly.
2. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This timely book gives us insight from the perspective of a Nigerian immigrant who comes to America (and her boyfriend who emigrates to London). Her descriptions and nuances on racism, cultural shock, and Nigerian culture in this well-crafted novel are brilliant. I highly recommend this to every leader committed to building a community that crosses racial, cultural, economic and gender barriers.
3. The Writing Life – Annie Dilliard
When I was finished with the writing of The Emotionally Healthy Leader. I took this book off my shelf and read it for a third time. I love this book for 2 reasons. First, she writes as a seasoned writer; every sentence is worthy of a second-read. “It takes 2 to 10 years to write a book. Only 20 people can write a serious book in a year.” And secondly, all that she writes applies to the craft of preaching. “Sometimes a book simply gets up and walking away, it wanders off to die.”
4. The Wright Brothers – David McCullough
What I loved about this book (besides being very well written and captivating) was Wilbur and Orville Wright’s persistence, doggedness, focus, humility, and simplicity – year after year after year – in perfecting the flight of the airplane. They didn’t have, or want, money or applause from others. They knew they would figure it out if they remained undistracted to learn from their mistakes. This book inspired me to be patient in perfecting EHS as a powerful discipleship tool the global church (it has been 20 years!) as we still much to learn and do.
5. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea – Barbara Demick
I have been praying for North Korea since I read this fascinating and deeply personal look at the lives of six defectors from that repressive regime. The newspapers do not do justice to the reality of how people have suffered, and are suffering, in that isolated country. Brilliantly written, it is a quick but moving read.
6. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain
This book should be a must read for every pastor/leader. This nuanced, well-researched work on shyness and introversion is filled with applications for all of us who are building community. You can tell this book was written out of 10 years of research and thought. I was convicted of my unfair bias and judgmentalism towards introverts – especially as it relates to building community and my preaching. Her case study on Saddleback as one example of an evangelical mega-church that overlooks introverts is worth the price of the book.
7. A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety – Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter continues to challenge me with his attitude, perseverance, and service to Jesus – even at 90! He continues to travel around the world serving the poor and using his platform to be a gift to the world. He models a biblical theology of work and inspires me to reject our culture’s perspective on aging and retirement. Moreover, this book has helped me challenge older people in our church to capture God’s vision for their lives.
8. Embodied in Love: Sacramental Spirituality and Sexual Intimacy – Chuck Gallagher, George Maloney, Mary Rousseau and Paul Wilczak
This out-of-print book, written in 1983, contains a number of rich theological insights into a theology of marriage that can be found in few other places. Their basis thesis is that while a celibate’s expertise is prayer, a married person’s expertise is sexual intimacy, making us holy by drawing us into the inner life of the Triune God. This is a Roman Catholic’s guide to exploring why marriage, particularly sexual intercourse, is sacramental. Geri and I are regularly discussing the book, chapter by chapter, as I re-read it a second time.
9. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin – Erik Larson
This may have been my favorite book of the year. The story is absolutely captivating, enabling me to feel what it might have been like to understand, viscerally, the slowly growing, destructive evil of Hitler. I really wondered throughout what I might have done as a pastor in those early years. Larson offers a portrait of Berlin during the first years of Hitler’s reign through the eyes of William E. Dodd, who in 1933 became America’s first ambassador to Germany.
10. The Gospel of John – Frederick Dale Bruner
I have been studying and reading John’s gospel for the two and a half years as part of my morning time with God. As part of that process, I prayerfully read this wonderful commentary. Bruner is one of the best commentators I know, combining both great scholarship and devotional passion that leads me to Jesus. It has also led me to preach multiple messages on John!
While these are my top 10, I would love to hear from about your top 1 or 2 books from 2015. Send them to me on Twitter at @petescazzero.