The exciting thing about the year 2017, from a book perspective, is that it was largely a year that wasn’t. Many years have a run-away best seller, or stellar next in a series, or break out hit, but 2017 really didn’t have any of these. (Slate agrees.) Instead, the year’s best seller and top book lists are filled with a much more varied collection of books than is usually expected.
Enough writing has focused on the events of the day; I’m looking at you great political mess and you horrific hurricanes and the rest of you terrible news stories from soon to be yester-year. So many challenging things have happened this year, that you can be forgiven for wanting to just tune out or turn off the 24-hour-news cycle.
We all have our own go to favorite books, when things get tough. The challenge here is to find some fitting offerings during a year that many would rather forget.
It’s perhaps for this reason, that when I survey the great books I read this year. I find more than a few great nonfiction books, which together helped me to remember there are other stories beyond the one we all seem to be caught inside.
Consider this an exercise in contemporary theology. The culture speaks to us in many ways, not the least of which is in the books that great authors produce and publish. See this collection a gathering of the collective tea leaves from our shared cultural heritage. This is a not entirely scientific survey, but I do flatter myself in thinking I read a lot of books and consider even more in my role as a part-time librarian and professional book reviewer roles.
It’s also advent, with Christmas nearly upon us.
So for this post, I would like to focus instead on a collection of books with that in mind. Enjoy them, with the lens of advent looking for books that seem either hopeful, or loving, or joyful, or somehow faithful.
- Exit west : a novel by Mohsin Hamid If I picked one book for you to read from this year, I would choose this one. The book considers the idea of immigration with a slightly mystical twist. The wonder here is seeing how connected we all can be.
- The New Testament. by David Bentley Hart If I picked one nonfiction book for you to read this year, then I would choose this new edition. The author translated the entire collection of writings, himself, no committee included. I have a half dozen, or more, bibles on my shelf, with their attendant footnotes and scholarship. This book feels refreshing and worth your time.
- Scalia speaks : reflections on law, faith, and life well lived. by Antonin Scalia Here’s a book for hope. Whatever your feelings about the Supreme Court, it is hopeful to read a justice speak about the need to protect religious freedom.
- You are a bad ass : how to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life. by Jen Sincero This one is about joy. It’s about finding something extra inside yourself and shooting for the stars. Don’t let the title scare you. Just enjoy it.
- Tears we cannot stop : a sermon to white America. by Michael Eric Dyson As you can tell from the title, not especially joyful, but in the hopeful camp. I especially enjoy the structure of this book, because it uses a standard order of worship to make its point. Just consider the faithful possibilities.
- The ninth hour. by Alice McDermott This is my first McDermott book. The book is about loss and family and faith, inside and through a Catholic order of nuns. I won’t do it justice here, but pop over to the is author interview for more. The reason I place it here is because it really speaks to faith, both the challenges and opportunities that it brings.
- Nomadland : surviving America in the twenty-first century. by Jessica Bruder This book is also hopeful, because it describes the burgeoning community of people who live in vans, and sleep in parking lots, and are trying to survive in an America increasingly full of economically disadvantaged folks. Again, not exactly a joyful read, but the community the author describes is inspiring. Call this one a score for love.
- An odyssey : a father, a son, and an epic. by Daniel Mendelsohn Another tear jerker, but another story of love. A father who is dying decides to spend some of his final days reading and studying the Greek poem with his son. Read it because the Christmas story is, in part, a family story.
- The Gentleman in Moscow. by Amor Towles I was a little late to the party on this one, but I do agree it belongs in a list dedicated to reconsidering the world. This novel hits all the right notes about home, longing and adventure.
- City of Brass. by S.A. Chakraborty (Our final entry, because who doesn’t need more magic? This book offers a sprawling Middle Eastern world filled with magic and wonder. Sounds like Christmas to me!
That’s my, admittedly some what esoteric list. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Let me know in the comments below what books stood out for you this year?
A final thought: fear and doubt hold sway in minds too frantic to stop and notice. Books and stories can help each of us to reorient and re-imagine. Deep reading has never been more counter cultural and more needed.
Rev. Jeremiah Rood lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Amanda, daughter Evie and two small black cats. He has experience working in local congregations but most recently has turned his attention to building an active online ministry at www.revjeremiahrood.com. Rev. Jeremiah’s ministry also includes spending a year in a detox working with struggling addicts and alcoholics. His time is now split between writing a book exploring these issues, being a stay at home dad and as a part-time librarian.