Graham’s Top 15 Reads of 2019

If you or your loved ones like reading science fiction, theology, or nonfiction, then you are sure to find something worthwhile in his list. Click on the titles of the works to link to each book on Amazon for further information.

Graham’s Top 15 Reads of 2019

Fiction:

This year, I’ve read a number of dystopic science fiction works, many with the simple title of “The ____.” Four examples are: The Warehouse by Rob Hart (delving into an Amazon like world of warehouses and wish fulfillment); The Wall by John Lanchester (considering contemporary fears like immigration and Brexit); The Passengers by John Marrs (taps into our fears of vulnerability to technology, in particular, driverless cars); The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (a riveting read by a Japanese author, which asks questions about totalitarianism, resistance, and communal memory); and Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (without a ‘The’, is a riveting read that deals with the results of a plague running rampant, but is a broad social commentary on a host of issues, including racism, religion, propaganda, and the nature of community). For two other stimulating reads in my “The ____” series, try The Circle by Dave Eggers and The Cockroach by Ian McEwan.

Nonfiction:
For a gentle, human-animal, true adventure tale, I really enjoyed Running with Sherman by Christopher MacDougall. The author has made a name for himself documenting extreme and interesting aspects of the world of running. Sherman is the name of a maltreated donkey who MacDougall takes under his wing, and decides to embark on the ambitious plan to enter himself and Sherman in a race up and down mountains in Colorado. 

One particular topic which absorbed my interest during the year was ‘place’. Stemming from  professional interests, I read these four books: No Place like Home: A Christian Theology of Place (Leonard Hjalmarson); Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today (Craig Bartholomew); A Christian Theology of Place (John Inge); and Learning the Language of the Fields: Tilling and Keeping as Christian Vocation (Daniel Deffenbaugh). 

From Hjalmarson, I was encouraged to see a connection the mandate of Genesis to be fruitful and multiply and the Great Commission – to be reminded that creation is the place and context of our lives, our work, our community, our relationship with God, and our ministry. 

Bartholomew’s book provides a sturdy framework with which to consider what it means theologically for us as people to be placed (emplaced) in a particular place (and time). His final section takes up the practical question of what implications there are for where we live and work, and provides some prompts to think about ‘place-making’ as a fundamentally human vocation and intrinsic to the mission of God. 

Inge argues strongly for the implication that place has for the notion of ‘community’. In urban and rural contexts alike around the globe, people movements towards big cities and away from conflict, drought, or lack of perceived future, are challenging what it means to live in community. Inge proposes that a renewed examination of the importance of place, the place where we live, work, play, worship, weep, laugh, and ultimately die, is needed for the transformation of our nations. A theology of place is a resource to such an endeavour. 

Deffenbaugh is a writer, academic, and an avid gardener, and so brings the perspective of one engaged actively with the soil, nurturing, and awaiting the harvest. His book has reinforced my thinking about the kinds of ‘sacred activities’ that make up the life of a Jesus follower. Spiritual formation is a key concern in my professional space, and the reality that God places us in a particular place and time must mean that there is much we can learn about Him from the very place we live. And so learning to observe creation and its cycles becomes a prayerful meditation on the wonders of the Creator’s sustaining hand. The miracle that pea seedlings grow and bear delicious pods ready to eat is all grace. Hearing the voice of God is a challenge in the midst of busy lives, and lives which are crammed with noise and words. Yet a few minutes in our vegetable garden each day is a very real way to hear the still small voice of God. Just as I find it an utter joy and marvel to spend time with infants and toddlers – miracles of love and hope. There are very real living resources all around me which point to a gracious, compassionate, and personally present God – and that nourishes, rejuvenates, and leads me to prayer and worship. 

Always a fan of history and understanding the shape of the human world around us, this has been a year for digging into some sociological explorations of big ideas and themes. I thoroughly enjoyed and was challenged by Palace for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Eric Klinenberg). 

Reading Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (James Scott)  provided a different narrative with which to interpret the emergence of the early nation states like Mesopotamia, and the relations between people and the states in which they lived. 

Finally, I work in a world of words, I am fascinated by language and words and human communication. In my own reflections on language and communication, I have begun to consider what the shape of a theology of communication would look like. One book that I have been working my way through is: Caring For Words in a Culture of Lies (Marilyn McEntyre). Its consideration of the topic of ‘silence’ was a happy surprise to find in a book about words. 

I read many more books this year; at work, for relaxation, and in travel. The above books reflect some themes, both accidental and intentional, as well as the sources of joy, amusement, stimulation, and challenge that I have encountered during 2019, and which have made a particular impression. 

We’d love to know what books have made an impression on you this year.  What are some of your favourite reads from this past year?


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