“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” Henry David Thoreau
Last year I ended 2020 by sharing my favourite reads of the year; in keeping with this tradition I thought I would once again share my favourite books of 2021. Before considering my 2021 list, I thought to myself, it had not been a great reading year believing I had far more strikeouts than homeruns with my choices. However, once I began looking back over what I read, I was reminded of some pretty stellar works — here are my ten favourites:
10 — The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Horse And His Boy By C.S. Lewis (Harper Trophy: 1954, 224 pages) By C.S Lewis
The first book I read of 2021 was a novelized account of the relationship between C.S. Lewis and his wife Joy Davidman (Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan), which more than anything spurred in me to re-read Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. Although I have visited Narnia several times, as a kid, my least favourite was always The Horse And His Boy. However this year it was this offering, out of Lewis’ seven short fantasy novels, I found most engaging and endearing.
9 — A Time For Mercy By John Grisham (Random House: 2021, 640 pages)
Back in the late 90’s when John Grisham’s popularity was at its zenith, where everything he wrote was turned into a Hollywood blockbuster (A Time To Kill; The Firm; The Pelican Brief; The Client; The Chamber; The Rainmaker, etc.), I found myself consuming and loving everything he published. At one point, probably in the early 2000s, I came to the realization I had read all of his books. Upon discovering this, I thought it would be a fun challenge to see if I could keep up and read every new Grisham book going forward. With the exception of his two latest releases (still being in hardcover), and his young readers books, nearly 40 books in all, I have have kept up with reading all of his releases. Unfortunately, over the last couple of decades, most of Grisham’s books have not enthralled me like his early stories did. Thankfully, A Time For Mercy, with its small-town southern courtroom drama, and tense race and class relations, helped remind me why I had come to enjoy Grisham in the beginning. *Warning, the opening scene of the book is disturbing; and some of the plot and characters are a little too predictable and cliche.
8 — Crucible Of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World By Philip Jenkins (Basic Books: 2017, 336 pages)
Although I don’t always agree with everything Jenkins writes, I always learn something, and have found everything Jenkins writes is worth engaging. This really is a very helpful book to introduce the curios and casual reader to the two-hundred years prior to Jesus’ arrival. Specifically as it relates to what was happening with the Jewish people, and with who was running the show on their small plot of real-estate east of the Great Sea. In contrast to popular impressions these were anything but quiet and uneventful years. Getting an understanding of what transpired with the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, the Hasmoneans, the Romans, the Idumeans and more, may be just as helpful in understanding the New Testament world as the Old Testament is to understanding the New Testament text.
7 — Discovering God: The Origins Of The Great Religions And The Evolution Of Faith By Rodney Stark (Harper Collings: 2008, 496 pages)
This is probably one of the most ambitious books written by Stark, and that is saying a lot. In this work, Stark seeks to give a broad picture of the evolution of belief and religion, with a oversized emphasis on the importance of the 6th century BC where multiple religious shifts and figures appeared on the global stage (Isaiah, Zoroaster, Buddha, Confusious and more), which continues to reverberate and shape our religious landscape today. Definitely, a book worth investing in for anyone interested in getting a fascinating introduction to the history and sociology of Religion.
6 — Adorning The Dark: Thoughts On Community, Calling, And The Mystery Of Making By Andrew Peterson (B&H Books: 2019, 224 pages)
A good friend, and mutual fan of singer-songwriter and author Andrew Peterson, received a signed copy of this particular book, and I was more than grateful to receive his older version as a gift (Thanks Alan!), which I quickly devoured and savoured. I am not sure what I enjoyed more: Peterson’s whimsical and clever approach to writing and observing the world around him; or reading someone of a similar age with similar tastes, icons and influences. Lots of laughter and joy when entering a world with both familiarity and a healthy appreciation of magical fantasy.
5 — What Every Catholic Should Know: Salvation By Michael Patrick Barber (Ignatius Press: 2019, 208 pages)
This probably is not a good book for a conservative Baptist pastor to recommend, but one has to recommend good book, whether they fully agree or not. If there is one place where Catholics and Protestant diverge on there is no greater place of departure than in the doctrine of Salvation. Although there is still much I object to (I am not quite ready to convert!); I was impressed by how much I appreciated, and how much some of my own assumptions of my own theology and what I believed about Catholic belief was challenged. Specifically, I was extremely intrigued by, what we protestants generally think of as “sanctification” which we believe takes place after salvation, Catholics see as Christ in his grace partnering with us in the ongoing salvation process that transforms us more and more into the image of Christ.
4 — King Arthur’s Knights: The Tales Retold For Boys And Girls By Henry Gilbert (Stokes: 1911, 266 pages)
I really enjoyed this book! I am still a big kid at heart, and my favourite books still seem to be well told children’s stories. For as long as I can remember I have always been intrigued by the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (primarily from what I have watched on the screen). Last year I thought I would try reading a few books based on this legendary king of England. What makes Gilbert’s take so wonderful is how he respects and tries to effectively retell the much more difficult and salacious stories introduced to the world through Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1485), however he knows his audience will primarily be young boys, so he keeps scandal to a minimum, and places adventure at a premium. Gilbert also has strong, and not so subtle (yet never coming across preachy) ambition to promote virtue and chivalry to his young and not-so-young readers. Each chapter is organized around an adventures of a specific knight, yet it still holds together an overarching narrative. Gilbert really provides a fantastic introduction (along with Monty Python) to the kingdom of Camelot!
3 — R.C Sproul: A Life By Stephen J. Nichols (Crossway: 2021, 400 pages)
Growing-up as a pastor’s kid and then working for over twenty years in pastoral ministry, it feels as though I have never had a proper pastor, just a parent and colleagues. R.C. Sproul might be the closest thing I have ever had to a pastor; someone whose voice I sought to listen to and receive spiritual wisdom from. I was introduced to Sproul as a teenager with a short video series we worked through as a youth group, and then soon after discovered his radio program, Renewing Our Minds, which I listened to on my way home from a job unloading trucks at 11:00 pm. There is probably no pastoral voice I have been more familiar with, and have gone back to more than R.C. Sproul. It doesn’t matter if he is expositing Scripture, teaching church history, or engaging ancient Greek or modern philosophy; whether I have agreed with him or not, listening to Sproul always comes across Like I am listening to a loving and mischievous grandfather. Was so grateful to finally read a biography and to hear the back story of someone I felt I already knew.
2 — Dibs In Search Of Self: The Renowned, Deeply Moving Story Of An Emotionally Lost Child Who Found His Way Back By Virginia M. Axline (Ballantine Books: 1964, 224 pages)
I know nothing about play therapy (I do know a play therapist), and apparently this book is a well known book in the field. It was recommended to Sara and I several years ago from a dear friend. Sara read it a few years back, and decided to read it again this past year, and then recommended I give it a perusal. I am not sure what I was expecting, but this book exeeded all expectations. It is such a beautiful book about how the pride of successful parents can crush a child, and how the gift of listening, playing, and giving time to a child can help bring about profound healing and future success. The book is written simply, elegantly, and as a story and not as a dry text book.
1 — Reading Buechner: Exploring The Work Of A Master Memorist, Novelist, Theologian, And Pastor by Jeffrey Munroe (IVP Books: 2019, 232 pages)
Around the year 2000 I read Buechner’s, Telling The Truth: The Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy And Fairytale along with Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. After reading these two books, I went out and consumed just about everything I could from these two authors. A casual look at my office book shelf would quickly tell an observer these are my two favourite authors — I cannot overestimate the impact Buechner and Chesterton have had on me. Although I have a read a few biographies and books about Buechner, this book by far is the best introduction. Munroe introduces Buechner by introducing the reader to ten essential works of Buechner. Munroe’s book is so good, I would almost recommend reading it before reading Buechner.
2 Honourable Mentions: Why I Write By George Orwell and King Solomon’s Mines By H. Rider Hagard. Feel free to share some of your favourite books of 2021 in the comments below.