How Reading Enlarges Us: Or My Favorite Books of 2014

imagesI admit it. I love reading books. Not those enlightened by pixels or advanced with the swipe of a finger, but old fashion paperbacks. I love the feel of flipping a completed page, underlining favorite passages, and writing notes in the margins. This year was a banner year in terms of books read and diversity of topics explored, helped along by new course preparation at the seminary where I teach (courses from ancient philosophy to world religions to the Christian virtues made for a diverse reading list).

Why do I love to read? C. S. Lewis eloquently puts his finger on it in the closing statement of his book An Experiment in Criticism:

 Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own. They may be beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, comic, or merely piquant. Literature gives the entree to them all. Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom realize the enormous extension of our being that we owe to authors . . . My own eyes are not enough for me  . . . In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself: and am never more myself than when I do.[1]

 Reading enlarges me. It awakens me to larger vistas and greener pastures; it inspires me to greatness and to put away the petty; it moves me to be a better lover and thinker and doer. So, I pass onto you the highlights of my year in books. I have been recording my books in a “book log” for the last four years. For each book I read, I list the date completed, the title, author, and a one-sentence description of the book. Of the 48 books read (a new record), here are some of my favorites this year:

Best in Philosophy:

1. The Republic, Plato. A discussion of the just city and the just man. (NB: Yes, this is a yearly favorite).

2. The Nature of Necessity, Alvin Plantinga. “A heavy-going exploration into modal metaphysics, the problem of evil, and the ontological argument.”

3. Anselmian Explorations, Tom Morris. “An excellent philosophical exploration of God understood as the greatest possible being.”

Honorable mention: The God of the Philosophers, by Anthony Kenny;  Introductory  Modal Logic, by Kenneth Konyndyk; Is Faith in God Reasonable? Ed. By Corey Miller and Paul Gould (yes, I worked on this book); The Logic of God Incarnate, by Tom Morris; The Timaeus, by Plato; Being Good, ed. By Mike Austin and Doug Geivett; Returning to Reality: Christian Platonism for our Times, by Paul Tyson

Best in Apologetics/Theology:

1. The Pilgrim’s Regress, C. S. Lewis.” An allegory of faith, Christianity is the perfect blend of reason and romance.”

2. Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, Andy Crouch. “Power is a gift from God for human flourishing; we play God in the good sense when we use it well.”

3. The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis. “A fascinating tale of a group of people from hell visiting heaven.”

4. The Outrageous Idea of the Missional Professor, Paul Gould (yes, I read it!). “God wants to use professors to transform the disciplines, reach the lost, and meet the needs of the world. Click this link for the just launched companion website.

Honorable Mention: The Face of God, by Roger Scruton; The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll; To Change the World, by James Davison Hunter; God and Evil, ed. By Chad Meister and Jamie Dew; Urban Apologetics, by Christopher Brooks; The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis; Back to Virtue, by Peter Kreeft; Jesus Among Other Gods, by Ravi Zacharias.

Best in Fiction:

1. Odyssey, Homer. “An epic tale of longing for home, of journey, trials, temptations, folly, monsters, and spiritual growth.”

2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. “ A love story of Atticus Finch and his daughter Scout, as Atticus defends a black man in the south in the 1930s.”

3. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak. “Death narrates the life of a young girl, comforted by words and love in a time of war.”

4. Love in the Ruins, by Walker Percy. “An hilarious story of a love-struck back-slidden Catholic and his search for sanity in a world gone wrong.”

Honorable mention: Divergent, by Veronica Roth; My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok; Legend, by Marie Lu.

Best in Non-fiction:

1.  Jack, George Sayers. “An excellent biography of C. S. Lewis.”

2. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. “An inspiring story of hope as a young boy discovers and creates a windmill in famine-ridden Malawi.”

3. Friday Night Lights, H. G. Bissinger. “A story of the 1988 Permian High School Football team in a small Texas town.

Honorable mentionA Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis; God is not One, by Stephen Prothero; Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, by Philip Hallie.

Best in Devotional reading: 

1. Death by Living, N. D. Wilson. “Life is a story, and it is meant to be spent by the time we die.”

2. The Longing for Home, Frederick Buechner. “A rich devotional about life and death, our longing for God, and hope in Jesus.”

I’ve been enlarged by each of these books and the authors who wrote them. I’ve been challenged, encouraged, taught, convicted, frustrated and delighted. I’ve learned to see though another’s eyes. I’m better for it. I’ve grown. I’m more like Christ. I’m a better thinker. I’m a better person.

How about you? Do you want to grow—intellectually, morally, spiritually, relationally, emotionally—this year? Then pick up a book with me and read.

To see my favorites from prior years, click here:  2013, or 2012.

[1] C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 140-141.

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