books in review

This is how I end the year – by reviewing all the books I’ve read to see which ones stood out, what trends emerged and what new voices I discovered and ideas I embraced. So here is my casual reflection on the reads of 2012…

There is always Walter Brueggemann. This year I read Disruptive Grace and The Practice of the Prophetic Imagination. Both classic Brueggemann in theme, style and challenge. But his collection of sermons continue to challenge me and hint at riches yet unexplored, and that was the gem for me.

Best Discoveries of 2012: Ellen Davis and Peter Enns. I read two works from Ellen Davis this year and have decided she is now inducted to ‘the pantheon of scholars I adore.’ Scripture, Culture & Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible stretched my mind open to things I’d never seen in the text before. So rich, so well researched, so wonderfully integrated (including the wisdom of Wendell Berry), so strongly articulated I was utterly entranced. Who Are You, My Daughter was another lovely read, her commentary on the book of Ruth.

Peter Enns wrote a compelling case for children’s theological curriculum in Telling God’s Story. I appreciated having a world-class scholar address children’s Biblical education. I’ve recommended this book several times over already! I’m looking forward to finishing his companion book, where he outlines stories for children but included the adult commentary as well. I also hope to read Inspiration & Incarnation in 2013!

I declared Fiction February to encourage myself to read more fiction, which is my blind spot in reading. I read books that took me from Ethiopia to Egypt, from India to Palestine to a midwestern farm. If I was going to read fiction, I at least wanted to learn something about the feel of  a place! I read Anatomy of a Disappearance in one sitting, so well written was it! I learned much as I read Out Of It about modern life in Palestine under occupation. I also discovered I’m not a fan of John Updike.

Best Recommendation and Best Book on Writing go to Natalie Goldburg for Writing Down the Bones. This book came to me as a birthday gift from Idelette and shows how well she knows me and calls out the best in me. I devoured this book, underlined sentences, circled words, wrote in margins and back pages and turned it into a launching pad of sorts. Reading this triggered something deep in me, something sleeping, but awoken in those scribbles. I have a book in me… Idelette guessed as much, Natalie unlocked it, Claude affirmed it. This was such a catalytic read for me this year.

Best Re-Read of the Year goes to If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland. My beloved rhetoric professor, Greg Spencer, assigned this book back in college. I appreciated it back then. But this year I foraged through boxes of books stacked in the garage to find it and read it again. All these years later it still speaks to me. Funny to read things and think ‘that’s where I got that thought’ and realize I’ve been leaning into her wisdom for years. This book was also given props on Twitter by Anne Lamott, if you need another push!

My bravest read most likely was God Believes in Love by Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. It’s the first time I’ve read about gay marriage from the vantage point of someone who is gay and can share from their lived experience. He allowed me to enter his world, hear his heart as well as his arguments. I am better for listening to him.

A theme I hit on twice this year, unexpectedly, was Ruth the Moabite. Ruth has never been my favorite book of the Bible or a beloved Biblical woman for me. But reading The Power of Parable by John Dominic Crossan and then Ellen Davis’ commentary (mentioned above), I saw her in a new light. I now embrace Ruth thanks to these two scholars.

But if I had to list my Top 5 Reads, in no particular order, they would be:

The Power of Parable by John Dominic Crossan

Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldburg

Knowledge in the Blood by J. Jansen

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddah and Mohammed Cross The Road? by Brian McLaren

Scripture, Culture & Agriculture by Ellen Davis

These reads are all so different in theme. One is about Biblical literature, another about agrarian patterns within the text. Another book is about the experience of a black dean in an Afrikaans university during the aftermath of Apartheid, another about Christian identity in a pluralistic world. Then there is a book about writing, creating, unleashing beauty into the world. But these are the things I love to read about – the Bible, community development as related to agriculture and text, South African culture and history, the creative process of writing and books the educate me about Islam and other traditions of faith. I learned much in 2012 thanks to these books and more.

But looking at the trend, most of my reads were non-fiction. I enjoyed a couple books of poetry, some political works, my month of fiction reading and a few ebooks. But what I love most about reading is that it leads to straight up learning for me… and so I read and learned.

I already have a mounting stack for 2013, and Sarah Bessey’s book hasn’t even hit the bookshelves yet! But I look forward to reading her masterpiece along with works by Walter Brueggemann, Peter Enns, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, Anne Lamott, Ched Myers and many more!

What were your top 5 reads of 2012?

13 thoughts on “books in review

  1. Kelley, thank you for the recommendation of Scripture, Culture & Agriculture by Ellen Davis. I’ve added that to my wish list, and will give it a read when I’m back in northern Iraq in July. Agriculture still has a vital presence in daily life there. Should certainly colour the experience!

    ps. LOVED McLaren’s book. Killed a highlighter on that one!

  2. Erin, I read Davis’ book in Burundi where were were close to the land daily. It was a great context for that book, so I’m sure Iraq will be too. Now I’m reading Wes Jackson, Consulting the Genius of the Place on ecology and the new agriculture, which is footnoted in Ellen’s book. Loving the mental stretch as I explore a new genre!

  3. How lovely to have recommended reading from a writer and thinker I enjoy so much (seriously, finding your blog was a highlight of 2012 for me)! At a time of global food crisis I really think western, urban Christians need to engage urgently with what the Bible says about land and its use, so your Ellen Davis suggestion goes to the top of my list. But first I must finish Norman Wirzba’s Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, on which I am currently killing a highlighter, to borrow a lovely phrase from a previous comment!

    • Joanne…maybe I need to add Food & Faith to my list for 2013! And some more highlighters are certainly in order given the mounting stack for next year!

  4. I’ve never read Brueggemann, but after hearing you rave about him, I’m adding him to my list for the year. I’m going to have to look up some of these other books. They all sound really interesting! And how exciting about a book….are you actually writing it now??

    • oh I forgot to say I LOVE Telling God’s Story. I’m really bad at getting through all of it with my kids :P But I love the idea and the concept and his view of things. Just love it. Actually making it through the curriculum is one of my goals for the rest of the school year.

      • So Brueggemann… Here’s where I recommend you begin: his seminal work is The Prophetic Imagination and it is a good read with some scholarship blended it. Foundational for understanding WB’s worldview related to the text. But one of my favorites is Journey Toward the Common Good which is brief, easy to read and also a great introduction to his view. Really helped me see our community development work in the Biblical flow of transformation. But don’t overlook his collection of sermons…they are the best. Sermons are where he takes that amazing scholarship into the pulpit and makes it sing (and sting, sometimes). This is what I find the most nourishing daily reading for me… his sermons. (Also Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermons are great for daily reading.)

  5. i too, discovered i really dislike updike. all of those Important Male Authors kinda bug me, actually . . . i wish i could remember my year! the book that got stuck in my craw is Sharon Astyk’s Depletion and Abundance. i think you know about the others i wrote about . . . i can’t wait to get my hands on those books on writing!

  6. Oh, so many thoughts on this entry, Kelley. First of all, “creative idleness” I stole from our friend, Brenda, who came to me through our friend Greg also. Loved the recommendation for the Agrarian look at society – we are surrounded by what feels like scenes right outta 1st century Palestine here in India. I, too, have a blind spot for fiction, but I’m starting with some more of the classics this year – never made my way fully through Brothers Karamazov, for instance. I wonder if it’s something in our faith community upbringing or education that keeps us (and perhaps many more?) from embracing what fiction has to offer the world? Never thought about it until you said something here. All the best for a great year of reading and writing in ’13!

    • Me, too! I watched him and downloaded his book that night. I read it in two sittings… good to hear from him, he really is a hospitable writer – inviting you into his story.

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