inside a dog it’s too dark to read

This entry was posted by on Saturday, 31 December, 2011 at

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it (P.J. O’Rourke)

When I started thinking about my books of the year, my first impression was that it had been a lean year and I was struggling to put together a top five. Of course, after a bit more thought I remembered a few more gems, and in the end I couldn’t trim my list down to less than seven. Here, then, are the seven books that most delighted, provoked or inspired me this year:

My two favourite novels were Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor, and The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Both were every bit as good as the hype suggested, both took me into the human heart of a period of history full of political controversy, and both made me think and made me cry.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is written by one of my favourite novelists, Barbara Kingsolver. But this book is a kind of journal of a year in the life of her family when they tried to eat only what was grown in their local area, and mainly what was grown in their own back garden. It’s beautifully written (as you would expect) and full of wisdom, not only about food, but also about family, community, work, grace and gratitude.  It has even inspired me to make rash promises about joining Mrs. Crow in the garden this spring to dig and plant and weed and participate in the miracle.

Rob Bell caused a few ripples this year with a book which didn’t deserve the strangely frenzied criticism it received, but also doesn’t deserve to be widely read, being a bit messy and a bit rubbish. But this year I also read Sex God, and it is, quite simply, wonderful. It’s the book I would put in the hands of any young person or young adult struggling with issues of sexual purity. It takes turns being honest, funny, wise, sad and beautiful.

And no.

I didn’t find the writing style annoying.


 I finally got round to reading Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic reflection on the church and Christian community. It is a deceptively simple little book, full of profound wisdom. I would happily take it in place of all of the twenty best selling books on church growth and “The Next Revolution of the Church of Tomorrow” in my local Christian bookshop. I’ll probably re-read it once every couple of years.

 Friends have been badgering me to read some Stanley Hauerwas for a long time, and it may or may not have been a good idea to finally begin with his memoirs. The first thing to say about Hannah’s Child is that it is a genuinely enjoyable, entertaining page-turner – maybe not what you might expect from a book with the subtitle, “A Theologian’s Memoir.” It can be very moving, especially in the heartbreaking accounts of living with a mentally ill wife. There are lots of paragraphs I copied out, either because they were deeply, powerfully wise, or because I had no idea whether I agreed with him but wanted to think about it. He is never dull. At the same time, I finished the book still not quite sure what I think of Stanley. His most appealing characteristic is his blunt honesty, especially when he reflects on his own faults and failures. But I felt more uncomfortable when he turned that blunt honesty on others, and talked personally about the character flaws of people he has worked with. Anyway, the book impacted me more deeply than most, I’m glad I read it, I think you should read it, and I’ll move on to some of his other books in 2012 (any recommendations?).

But my book of the year by a long way is another memoir by a very different grey-bearded sage. I’m not even going to pretend my review is impartial and objective. Eugene Peterson has been a hero and mentor to me through his books for a long time, and reading The Pastor: A Memoir felt like the closest thing to spending a few days in his company, soaking up his gentle, joyful wisdom. The book is full of stories that are full of life in all its mess and all its glory. His descriptions of both what’s hard and what’s good about being a pastor, and both what’s messed-up and what’s beautiful about the church, were so recognisable and truthful they made me cry. I consider him a prophet of our generation. I would like to take every pastor/minister/priest on this island on a retreat where they can read this book on a mountain, then come down and talk about it together, then go and read it again. I’ll be surprised if I manage to wait a year before I read it again.

So now I’d love to hear about the books that have done you good this year.

Grace and peace to you and those you love in 2012.

 There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read (G.K. Chesterton)




2 Responses to “inside a dog it’s too dark to read”

  1. The Help was great!
    And yes, Rob Bell’s writing style is frustrating to read yet extremely hard to resist when writing myself.
    The Sense of Ending, the booker winner was great.
    I tried and failed to read Anna Karenina, still a little disappointed with myself.

  2. jaybercrow

    I haven’t read any Tolstoy so you’ll get no shame from me!

    Must check out the Booker one. I’ve been burned by a few dull Booker winners I’ve read (The Finkler Question??!!) so I need a personal recommendation from someone I trust.

    (Like yourself)

    (As Rob would say)

    I loved The Help – I think it was wrongly dismissed by some of my fellow males as “women’s fiction.” Everyone should read it.

    Now I’m just waiting for news of your novel…

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