For years now I have kept up the habit of making a list of the books I read and rating them on a 1 to 5 star scale. The following is a list of the books that I liked most last year, with some very brief comments. Most of them were not published in 2010, so this is not a list of the best books published last year, but rather of the best ones I happened to read. They are loosely in the order in which I read them, though I grouped a few titles together. Otherwise, there is no order - in other words, no attempt to rate these on an ascending or descending scale of how much I liked them.
A Praying Life: Learning to Love to Pray by Paul Miller. This was the first book I read in 2010 and is the best book I've ever read on prayer. Most books on prayer either (1) inform me, teaching me something new about prayer, or (2) make me feel guilty for not praying more. Miller's book was different: it made me want to pray. I liked it so much that I've started reading it again in 2011. (As an aside, I'm excited that Miller will be speaking at this year's Desiring God Conference for Pastors, which I plan to attend.)
The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John Walton. You can read some of my thoughts about this book here.
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark. Since I was writing a book in early 2010, I also spent some time reading more about the craft of reading - something I intend to keep doing from now on. So far, this has been my favorite. It is easy to read, interesting, and practical. One to return to again and again.
My Name is Asher Lev: A Novel by Chaim Potok. I read three novels by Potok this year and read The Chosen several years ago. This is my favorite novel by Potok and was the best novel I read in 2010 (with John Steinbeck's East of Eden a close second). Potok was an American Jewish rabbi who wrote about the world he knew. This is a story of a Jewish boy who becomes an artist and how that affects his family. It is a heart-rending book, but well worth the emotional investment. Reading this novel, along with it's sequel, The Gift of Asher Lev, aroused my interest in art and led me to read a couple of Christian books on the arts, the best of which was State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe by Gene Edward Veith Jr.
The Holy Spirit Abridged and Made Easy to Read by R. J. K. Law by John Owen. This was one of eight books I either read or completed by Owen this year. All of them fit in this list, though I won't name them all. Let it suffice to say that, with the exception of Scripture, Owen's books have done me more spiritual good than any others. If you want to give Owen a try, this is not a bad volume to start with. For folks not used to reading the Puritans, I do recommend starting with the abridged modernizations published in Banner of Truth's Puritan Paperback series. They are significantly condensed, but much easier to navigate than the original volumes. For myself, I'm making it a practice to read some of both.
The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen. I've read a lot of books on the overall narrative of Scripture in recent years, but this one is probably the best. This was my companion while preaching through a series of sermons called God's Story: The Drama of Redemption. If you want to understand how the whole Bible hangs together, this would be a great book for you.
Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership and Staff on the Same Page by Larry Osborne. This was a very helpful book for me and our leadership team at Fulkerson Park this year; the title is self-explanatory. I also read a handful of books on preaching, most of them during my study leave in the spring. The best were undoubtedly Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (a re-read), 360 Degree Preaching: Hearing, Speaking, and Living the Word by Michael J. Quicke, and The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form by Eugene L. Lowry. These are three very different books, written from not entirely compatible perspectives. But I benefited from each one. Lloyd-Jones was the most encouraging and inspiring, Quicke's the most practical and instructive, and Lowry's the most paradigm-shifting.
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer and The Pilgrim's Regress, both by C. S. Lewis and both re-reads. These are two of seven books I read by Lewis this year. What can I say? I can't stop reading Lewis. Like Owen, he has become a lifelong conversation partner. He helps me differently than Owen does. Owen seems to know my heart, and reading him almost always results in conviction of sin, deeper faith in Christ, and movement towards communion with God. Sometimes Lewis helps me in these ways, too, but most often Lewis awakens my mind and imagination and helps me see more clearly and experience more deeply - God, life, the world,and relationships with others.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas was one of only two biographies I made it all the way through this year, but was excellent in every way. Metaxas is not only a great scholar, he is an brilliant writer. He made Bonhoeffer come to life for me. Highly recommended.
Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller. Apart from Owen's books, this was the most convicting book I read this year. See my review here.
Finally, three books on various aspects of theology and spiritual formation. The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You by John Ortberg, a down-to-earth and delightful guide to holistic personal change. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders, an extremely well-written and thoroughly biblical book on the doctrine of the Trinity and how it gives shape to Evangelical experience. The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan, a wise, pastoral primer on the practice of Sabbath (although, I'm still not a Sabbatarian, theologically speaking, but that's for another blog post!), that was also one of the most beautifully written books I read all year.
So, what were your favorite reads in 2010? I'm now starting my reading lists for 2011, so let me know what you think would be worth the time. I'm eager to receive recommendations.