Our Favorite Books of 2016

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Here we are at the end of 2016, and here we are with our list of the books we enjoyed the most (movies and music to follow). Happy New Year!


Books We Loved

 

Rebecca Reynolds (@rebeccareynolds)

Wild Swans by Jung Chang – This is the true story of three generations of women who lived through China’s transition from imperial rule through the rise of communism. The first-person female narrative provides an intimate, human context for a tumultuous historical landscape. Unlike some politically-oriented novels, this book never rings of artifice or sentimentality. It is a stand-alone work of art, a sincere, historical retelling full of compassion and courage. I found it confessional at times, intimate, human, humble. If I could require everybody in America to read five books, this would be on the list.

Tramp for the Lord by Corrie ten Boom – Because I tend to have a rather cerebral approach to theology, I am jolted awake when teachers get out of the circumlocution of theology, into the risks and delights of living out their faith in a dangerous real world. Reading Chesterton or Sayers requires very little effort on my part, but watching an 80-year-old woman trust radically in the living God brought me to my knees. (Literally.) The Audible translation is delightful. I love the elderly reader (Nadia May) who presents this story. She reads as if every word were her own. I want to bring her home and keep her in my guest room just to talk to me.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (even though I’m not halfway through it yet) – I’ve always loved this story, but I was afraid a book so thick would be riddled with Dickensian waste. (I adore Dickens’s plots, but he always seems to need a good editor to slough off the excess description.) I was shocked, therefore, when I began to read Les Mis and discovered that one paragraph after another was essential. Of all things, I never expected to compliment Hugo with an “economy of words,” but somehow he’s done it.

 

Matt Conner (@mattconner)

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious by David Dark

Silence by Shusako Endo

 

Jonny Jimison (@jonnyjimison)

Mouse Guard: The Black Axe by David Peterson – My favorite of the always-amazing Mouse Guard series. Imaginative world-building; brutal, tragic, truthful storytelling, and, of course, David Peterson’s majestic artwork. Equal parts rip-snorting tall-tale and heart-rending Shakespearean tragedy.

The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks – Not to be confused with the Lovecraft story. I’ve always admired the visual storytelling of Faith Erin Hicks and this is clearly the story that she’s been waiting to tell, building a troubled but engaging world partway between historical fiction and adventure fantasy.

The Complete Peanuts: Vol. 25 & 26 by Charles Schultz – Fantagraphics hit it out of the park with their 10-year project reprinting EVERY Peanuts comic strip. Every volume is a winner, but the final two volumes included some delightful bonus features: a complete reprinting of L’il Folks (Schultz’s early precursor to Peanuts), and hundreds of pages of additional Peanuts comics and drawings that Schultz produced for advertisers, books and giveaways.

 

Heidi Johnston (@kheidij)

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg – Looking at some of Jesus’ teaching in its Jewish context, this book gives some great insights that are easily missed when reading the Bible from a purely Western perspective.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger – I finally got around to reading some Leif Enger this year and I was not disappointed. This is one of those books that lingers in your mind for weeks after you read it.

Ember Falls by S.D. Smith – Sam Smith’s Green Ember series has become a favourite in our house and Ember Falls was everything we hoped for in a sequel and more. Beautifully written with a wonderful story and great characters.

 

Chris Yokel (@chrisyokel)

Walking the Bible: A Journey Through the Five Books of Moses by Bruce Feiler

The Warlord Chronicles (The Winter King, Enemy of God, Excalibur) by Bernard Cornwell

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricance of 1938 by R.A. Scotti

 

Eric Peters (@ericpeters)

From Wild Man to Wise Man by Richard Rohr – I traditionally have no respect for underlining/taking notes in books, but now that my copy is laden with pencil marks, I declare myself a hypocrite. Nearly everything Rohr had to say was significant to me in my middle ages.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – Entertaining, very unsettling, and ultimately, theological.

A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes – Some people collect books with very little realistic hope, or plans, of ever actually reading them, but to surround themselves with friends. I am one of these people.

 

Russ Ramsey (@russramsey)

Remembering by Wendell Berry

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

Dead Wake by Erik Larsen

 

Pete Peterson (@pete)

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis – I’m ashamed to admit I’d never read this book. I think I was kind of unconsciously saving it because I knew it was the end of Narnia and I wanted to relish it. Jennifer and I read it out loud together and it was beautiful. Certainly my favorite of the Narnia tales.

Beate Not the Poore Desk – I didn’t get to read for pleasure much this year, but when part of your job is editing Walt Wangerin, who needs to? It was a joy to spend so much time this year working with Walt on this book, and it’s a book I think every writer ought to read.

For Cause & for Country by Eric Jacobson – Again, I didn’t get much time to read for pleasure, and that’s partly because I spent several months writing and researching The Battle of Franklin. This exhaustive account of the battle is an awe-inspiring work of scholarship. It meticulously follows every inch of the battle and includes some of the most horrifying first hand accounts of war I’ve ever read. It was a real honor to be asked to bring such a story to the stage.

 

Andrew Peterson (@andrew)

The Shepherd’s Life, by James Rebanks

This was a recommendation after I mentioned to someone that I was considering getting some sheep. Rebanks’s family has shepherded in the fells of the Lake District of England for 500 years, and this is his memoir about a year in the life of a shepherd. I think it convinced me to never buy sheep. I think.

Onward, by Russell Moore

Russell was a comforting and wise voice in the political craziness of 2016. I admire him, and this book has so many sentences that remind me of the quiet, lovely strength of the Gospel that if I had started underlining it would have basically been the whole book. Read this to remember what it means to be a Christian first.

The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

Kevan Chandler gave me this (he’s also the friend who gave me the C.S. Lewis space trilogy and convinced me to finally read it). I confess, I haven’t finished it yet, but having started just a few days ago, I’ve already decided it’s one of my favorites of the year. So smart, funny, and heartfelt–just like the film.

Bandersnatch, by Diana Glyer

Again with the underlining! I couldn’t stop with this book, either. Diana delivered a touchdown of a keynote at this year’s Hutchmoot, and this book is the same kind of awesome. I learned so much about community, art, and friendship.

“The Places Beyond the Maps,” by Douglas Kaine McKelvey, from Wingfeather Tales (I’m being totally objective here. I loved it.)

I should say that I loved all the short stories my dear friends contributed to the Wingfeather collection, but Doug’s came in at more than 200 pages, and is as haunting and heart-wrenching as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with one massive difference: IT HAPPENS IN AERWIAR. What a tremendous gift it was to go exploring in the Wingfeather world through the imaginations of other writers. The last few pages of Doug’s story truly had me crying in the Chapter House, aching for the New Creation.

 

David Mitchel (@dmitchel)

Madison’s Gift by David O. Stewart In this insightful look at a handful of James Madison’s most productive partnerships Mr. Stewart shows how, in partnership with others, a soft-spoken and bookish introvert can achieve much, even in a field as brutal as national politics.

The God I Don’t Understand by Christopher J. H. Wright God isn’t tame, but he is good. Life as we live it, the world as we see it, and history as we review it, often make God’s wildness painfully plain but his goodness less so. Wright’s treatment of this problem is not so philosophical as C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, but it’s a good deal more scriptural and human — and therefore more compelling. We hold to Christian faith, not Christian certainty. We testify to Christ’s sufferings, not least by staking our sufferings on the efficacy of his; we do not sell him as a cure-all.

The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann by Alexander Schmemann I read this as I was preparing to review Fr. Schmemann’s For the Life of the World (a book I cannot recommend too highly). The Journal sets forth the inner and more speculative thoughts of a man who loved the tradition and liturgy of his branch of Christ’s Church (Eastern Orthodoxy) with both the keen vision to see that tradition’s deficiencies, and the tenderness to avoid the excesses of the schismatic. As someone who’d already read and loved For the Life of the World, I found the Fr. Schmemann of the Journals even more delightful than I had expected.

 

Joe Sutphin (@joesutphin)

The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage by Anthony Brandt – I find such tales absolutely fascinating. This book is packed with harrowing accounts of frozen landscapes and starved adventurers. A great winter read.


Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus
 by Bill Wasik – Another fascinating read. As children we tend to be warned of dogs foaming at the mouth and the 12” long needle that will be inserted into our belly if we are bitten by that dog. What we aren’t typically told is that this virus is the most lethal known to man, killing nearly 100 percent of those infected, once symptoms are visible. Fascinating, and terrifying.

The newest addition to the Cursed Pirate Girl graphic novel series, by Jeremy Bastian – There is little to no comparison in the illustration world to the ink work of my friend Jeremy Bastian. If you have had a chance to get your hands on the hard cover volume of Cursed Pirate Girl, this next chapter is light years beyond the jaw-dropping ink work in that first volume. However, I regret to inform you that these books are hard to come by.

 

Ron Block (@ronblock)

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – A classic for good reasons.

Sidetracked in the Wilderness by Michael Wells – Straight talk on why Christians get stuck in the wilderness, and how to take hold of the abundant life Jesus promised.

Metaphors for the Musician by Randy Halberstadt – This is quickly becoming one of my favorite books on improvisation. Though written for pianists, much applies to guitar and banjo or other instruments.

 

Jen Rose Yokel (@jroseyokel)

Staying Put by Scott Russell Sanders – I went into this book fully prepared to be annoyed (long story), but this, combined with Slow Church and reading a lot about practical spiritual disciplines this year, was a turning point in my understanding of what it means to be at home.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente – It was a “hey, this looks fun” thrift store purchase, and every bit as delightful as the intriguing title and playful artwork promised. A whimsical, beautifully written story in the spirit of Victorian fairytales.

Coming Clean by Seth Haines – A tragic diagnosis for his child drove Seth Haines to alcoholism, and Coming Clean is his story of finding sobriety and learning forgiveness. This book’s resistance to easy answers and immediate, honest language give a quiet power to his story and set it apart from the average Christian bookstore memoir.

 

Jonathan Rogers (@jonathanrogers)

The City of God by St. Augustine – St. Augustine has been changing my life in 2016. I taught through The City of God this fall. For the first time, I understood how many of my favorite books (esp. The Supper of the Lamb, Paradise Lost, all of C. S. Lewis, The Divine Comedy)—and, by extension, my own understanding of the world, of human nature, of sin, of the New Heavens and the New Earth—have been shaped by Augustine. Augustine argued that all being is good and that sin is no more and no less than disordered love. If that sounds like a soft-pedaling of sin, Augustine goes on to show that disordered love wreaks every bit of havoc that has ever been wreaked in the world. And yet, there is a whole lot of hope in this vision of sin; my disordered love is the raw material for rightly ordered love.

You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith – This book is in essence an interpretation of Augustine for twenty-first century Christians.

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story by Rick Bragg – Finally, I have been doing the research for a podcast about country music history that I plan to launch in 2017. It has been a pretty remarkable experience to read biographies of Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, et al, at the same time I’ve been marinating in St. Augustine. Talk about disordered loves! My favorite of the many biographies I read this year was Rick Bragg’s Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. Bragg is a great writer with a distinctive Southern voice. He paints a compelling picture of a Christ-haunted man whose loves are large but tragically disordered.


16 Comments

  1. Kim

    Fantastic list. I’ll save this post for 2017 book ideas as there are many here I haven’t read, and I’m always on the lookout for more. Peace Like A River is one of my all-time favorite novels, and You Are What You Love made my top 5 of 2016. Have you heard of Laurus? Seems like a book some of you would enjoy. It was one of my 2016 favorites too.

  2. Barbara H.

    The unabridged Les Mis has a lot of extensive rabbit trails. Valjean’s escape with Cosette to a convent leads to a discussion of the history of convents in general, this convent in particular, whether convents are right or wrong. An incident at the end of the battle of Waterloo which has repercussions for two characters later in the book is preceded by a 57-page description and discussion of Waterloo. A student revolt at the barricades leads to a discussion of the differences between an insurrection and a riot and which, in the author’s opinion, is right and wrong. Valjean’s escape from the barricades with a wounded Marius through the sewers involves a detailed description of the history of sewers and the author’s suggestions for how they could be made better (and I never knew there were so many different synonyms for sewage). Hugo must have been an intensely curious man as well as a thinker and a philosopher, but the asides do get tiresome. Though at times I found myself interested in them in spite of myself, particularly the battle of Waterloo section, a few times I was tempted to skip through them, reminding myself that I wanted to read the unabridged version, not skim through it.

    I keep seeing Hillbilly Elegy on lists all over the web – I should check it out. I’ve been going back and forth on whether to read All the Light We Cannot See.

    One of my favorites this year was Not In the Heart by Chris Fabry.

  3. Miss Mary

    @missmary

    Thanks for the list. Loved the diversity of people and tastes that were included in picking the books so that you get a great diversity of books included in the end. And @Pete I am really glad you finally read The Last Battle. I get why it would tend to get put off (no one really wants to finish Narnia…or Middle Earth, or anywhere great for that matter), but it really is the best. And the best part about it is that it is never really finished. They just go further up and further in.

  4. April and Matthew Cyr

    I hope some of you will have a look at Lynn Austin’s series “Chronicles of the Kings”.  They truly changed me and made me understand more about God’s history with his people. Heart-wrenching at times, but oh-so meaningful.  Matthew and I are excited to dig into this list of books and find ones to share with our daughter, Sophia!

  5. Nathan Paul

    “This book convinced me to never buy sheep.” What a recommendation xD

    I can’t help it, I just want it all — but I’ll make especial note of Silence (this is the second time I’ve heard it highly recommended), The Mouse GuardWalking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, “The Places Beyond the Maps,” The City of God, and Tramp for the Lord.  Just have to finish the dialogues of Plato, as well as Marry Wisely, Marry Well by Ernie Baker.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. L.A. Smith

    @lisa

    Fantastic. Thanks for sharing. I’ve read some of these, and will be putting many of the rest on my list of hopefuls for next year’s list. If I were to list my best books to 2016 (hard to pick!) they would include The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Westlake Soul, by Rio Youers, and The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

  7. Laura Peterson

    @laura

    Favorite list of the year! Much on here to cheer (Princess Bride! Jane Austen! Last Battle!), add to my reading list (Hillbilly Elegy, Jen’s book with the long title), and ponder (@ericpeters, can you do a Hutchmoot session where everybody who’s read “The Sparrow” just gets in a room and argues about it? @mrs-hittle and I would probably be there).

    Some of my favorites this year:

    – new full-color editions of the first two Harry Potter books, illustrated by Jim Kay

    – “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (Post-apocalyptic, kinda, with plotlines involving Shakespeare and graphic novels. When I finished it I didn’t love it, but it’s the one I read this year that I find myself thinking about most often. It stuck with me.)

    – “Pax” by Sara Pennypacker (Middle-grade novel. “The Yearling”-esque, with a fox. Loved it.)

  8. Laura Peterson

    @laura

    Hmm, second try.

    Favorite post of the year! Much here to cheer (Princess Bride! Jane Austen! The Last Battle!), add to my reading list (Hillbilly Elegy, Jen’s book with the long title), and ponder (@ericpeters, can you do a Hutchmoot session where everyone who’s read “The Sparrow” just gets in a room and argues about it? @mrs-hittle and I would be there).

    Some of my favorites this year:

    – new full-color editions of the first two Harry Potter books, illustrated by Jim Kay

    – “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (Post-apocalyptic, sorta, with plotlines involving Shakespeare and graphic novels. I didn’t love it when I finished it, but since then I have thought about it a LOT. It stuck with me.)

    – “Pax” by Sara Pennypacker (Middle-grade novel. “The Yearling”-esque, with a fox. Loved it.)

  9. Joni

    @jonielizabeth

    Thanks for some awesome recommendations that I’ll have to make note of!

    Have any of you warren-folk read “The Illuminated Heart” by Thea Van Diepen? It’s a short book (120-ish pages) that is a retelling of the fairytale “East of the Moon, West of the Sun”. There’s a talking polar bear, a zombie thing, and loads of pretty words… But more than that, it’s a beautiful, intimate tale centered on the main character’s relationship with God and having faith. I just got my own copy for Christmas to read and treasure.

  10. Scott Richardson

    Andrew, I completely agree about “The Places Beyond the Maps,” by Douglas Kaine McKelvey … wow.  Amazing story, that takes place in Aerwiar!  He explored entirely new themes in your world.  I found myself crying for the sheer beauty of what he created.  

    And a huge thank you … to a humble man who fashioned a world, and then had the wisdom to let others “play” in it … not unlike your Behold the Lamb of God concerts each year, where you humbly invite others to share THEIR gifts on YOUR stage, and even sing YOUR songs.  I was absolutely bowled over, this year, by hearing Fernando Ortega sing “Behold the Lamb”, rather than you.  It struck me in a brand new way, just hearing a new voice sing it.

  11. Scott Richardson

    Andrew, I completely agree about “The Places Beyond the Maps,” by Douglas Kaine McKelvey … wow.  Amazing story, that takes place in Aerwiar!  He explored entirely new themes in your world.  I found myself crying for the sheer beauty of what he created.  

    And a huge thank you … to a humble man who fashioned a world, and then had the wisdom to let others “play” in it … not unlike your Behold the Lamb of God concerts each year, where you humbly invite others to share THEIR gifts on YOUR stage, and even sing YOUR songs.  I was absolutely bowled over, this year, by hearing Fernando Ortega sing “Behold the Lamb”, rather than you.  It struck me in a brand new way, just hearing a new voice sing it.

  12. Scott R

    @scottrbw

    Andrew, I completely agree about “The Places Beyond the Maps,” by Douglas Kaine McKelvey … wow.  Amazing story, that takes place in Aerwiar!  He explored entirely new themes in your world.  I found myself crying for the sheer beauty of what he created.  

    And a huge thank you … to a humble man who fashioned a world, and then had the wisdom to let others “play” in it … not unlike your Behold the Lamb of God concerts each year, where you humbly invite others to share THEIR gifts on YOUR stage, and even sing YOUR songs.  I was absolutely bowled over, this year, by hearing Fernando Ortega sing “Behold the Lamb”, rather than you.  It struck me in a brand new way, just hearing a new voice sing it.

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