The Year in Review: Top Ten Books of 2012


This is so fun – I feel like I’m introducing you to dear friends.

Here are my favorite books of 2012 (in no particular order):

Refractions by Makoto Fujimura
Through a series of essays, Fujimura makes a compelling case for the crucial role of creativity in the midst of a dehumanizing culture. The thread running throughout Refractions is one of hope. Life is full of challenge, disappointment, and at times, great tragedy. Yet we can choose to bring light into darkness, create beauty from ashes, and bring order to chaos. This is an important book with a timely message. I can’t remember reading the same book twice in one year. Until Refractions.

You can find more of Mako’s writing (including additional Refractions essays) at his site here. If you missed reading Refractions with our reading group, I hope to have a reading guide posted on this site in the next few months.

Surprised by Joy/The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Surprised by Joy tells the compelling story of Lewis’s early years. I was struck by the pivotal role that disappointment and hardship played in his spiritual formation. Already an admirer of Lewis’s intellect and faith, this book gave me a glimpse of his humanity. The Friendship essay in The Four Loves explores the nature of friendship in a way that was challenging and insightful. It made me think. About why we choose the friends that we do. About the role that friendship plays in society. About what binds us together.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This a devotional packed with deep truths about our Maker and way in which he sees his children.  I continue to be amazed at Sally Lloyd-Jones’s ability to take the most significant, poignant truths and distill them down to a limited number of words. Her writing is the case-in-point for Lewis’s quote, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” This book is the perfect present for everyone – from the newborn to the grandparent.

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson
N.D. Wilson’s writing has taken permanent residence in our home this year. My son, who is quite a discriminating reader, raved about Wilson’s 100 Cupboard series. After having read Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl, I wasn’t surprised. I can honestly say that Tilt-A-Whirl has had a significant impact on the choices made and life lived out in our home. Here’s a taste:

“This world is beautiful but badly broken . . . I love it as it is, because it is a story, and it isn’t stuck in one place. It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story, a world of surprises and questions to explore. And there’s someone behind it; there are uncomfortable answers to the hows and whys and whats. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him were all things made… Welcome to His poem. His play. His novel. Let the pages flick your thumbs.”

I’ve never read anything quite like it.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Often cited as J.K. Rowling’s favorite book from childhood, The Little White Horse is a children’s fantasy novel full of rich characters, longing, delight, self-sacrifice and redemption. Goudge is a master at weaving beauty and truth throughout her stories.


Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson
What’s not to love about an orphan’s adventure with pirates during the American Revolution? Fiddler’s Gun is a delight to read. The story is fast-paced, yet lyrical. The characters are well-developed and highly relatable. It’s a story about choices, consequences, and ultimately grace, yet doesn’t moralize.  Beware – this is one of those books that will keep you up late at night as you have to read “one more chapter.” The sequel, Fiddler’s Green, is on my list to read in 2013.

Culture Making by Andy Crouch
A provocative book to say the least. Culture Making successfully defines  and discusses an ambiguous, but incredibly important, concept. Culture. What is it? How is it made? What is our role and why does it matter? In particular, I was intrigued by Crouch’s observations of the ways in which we examine and interact with our culture (his section on “postures and gestures”). Culture Making is an artful blend of sociology, theology, and philosophy. It inspires and challenges us all to breathe life and goodness into the world in which we live.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I’m not sure how I missed this one in high school. No wonder Lee won the Pulitzer Prize. If you missed it as well, now’s the time.

Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner
This short book by Buechner offers a unique perspective of the gospel – as tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale. It challenges and encourages us to take an honest look at life. “What is the kingdom of God?… He suggests rather than spells out. He evokes rather than explains. He catches by surprise. He doesn’t let the homiletic seams show. he is sometimes cryptic, sometimes obscure, sometimes irreverent, always provocative. He tells stories.” I’m a Buechner fan, and this may be my favorite of his books.

Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
This was the first book on the list for our reading group, and I’m not sure that I would have made it through (very effectively) without the insights and camaraderie of the other folks. That being said, it has become one of the most influential books that I’ve read. Sayers redefines the call and boundaries of creativity, walks through an amazing explanation of the nature of evil, and builds a framework through which the creative process can be understood. For our group’s written responses to specific chapters, you can visit here (this is the first week, with links to the following weeks found at the bottom of the page). The Mind of the Maker is well worth the time and energy invested. Highly recommended.

A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy
A beautiful, thoughtful book illustrating that even the smallest light can push back the darkness. A Tree for Peter has at its core the principles found in Refractions, Mind of the Maker, and Culture Making, yet all wrapped in a beautiful story that was written for children. It is outstanding. You can read more here.

 Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring by Andi Ashworth
In a society where efficiency and technology are held in highest esteem, we find ourselves busy and productive. Yet we are also more lonely and dehumanized as a result. Real Love for Real Life reminds us that at our core, we have all been created to care well for one another. A balanced blend of the philosophical and practical, this book is food for the soul of a people hungry for connection.

For you detail-oriented folks, yes, that was twelve. It’s been a good year.

If you’d like to join the Greener Trees Reading Group, we’ll be starting with The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner the week of January 7th.  Consider joining us!

What were your favorite books of the year? 

Happy New Year and happy reading to you!

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Most children (and parents) undergo a degree of decompression as they leave the hectic school year behind and enter the realm of those golden months of summer.  Early mornings, busy schedules, and revolving deadlines are traded in for a more relaxed pace of life and significantly more free time.  This is what we’ve all been waiting for.  That is… until our sweet little cherubs, who have anticipated this emancipation for months, utter those 2 dreaded words.  “I’m bored”.

Lest you think that the shift from school year to summer vacation is any less of an adjustment for those of us who have school in our homes during the year, take heart.  You are not alone.  Our children know the drill.  We typically don’t watch TV during the week, and they are in the habit of spending their abundant free time reading, creating, playing music, getting muddy in the creek,  and designing and implementing battle plans upon each other and their friends.  But something magical (hmmm) has happened in the last weeks.  As our outside commitments and internal schooling expectations have come to a creeping pace, there has been a shift.  My children, who have the skills, raw materials, and experience in creating their own adventures, seem to have regressed.

A few mornings ago, as I was basking in the luxury of enjoying a cup of coffee and time alone on our porch,  I became somewhat sentimental.  Having married a man with 2 young children, then adding 3 more to the crowd, I have had little people in my life for the past 18 years.  Our entire married life has been one of parenting.  For the first time, we don’t have babies.  We don’t have teenagers.  Our big kids are growing into delightful adults and my youngest is 7.  Old enough to sleep beyond 6:30 in the morning.  Finally.  I don’t have to rise before dawn to have time alone.  We’re in a sweet window of family life.  The summer has come.  Relief from schedule.  Fun outings planned and great books to be read as a family in the weeks to come.  As I was reflecting on how grateful I am for such a delight-filled season, Sam, my big-blue-eyed 9 year old, entered the scene.  It was 9am.  He proclaimed, “I’m bored.”

As fate (or more likely Providence) would have it, my 20 minutes of contemplative reading for the day was surprisingly relevant:

You can be bored by virtually anything if you put your mind to it, or choose not to.  You can yawn your way through Don Giovanni or a trip to the Grand Canyon or an afternoon with your dearest friend or a sunset.  There are doubtless those who nodded off at the coronation of Napoleon or the trial of Joan of Arc or when Shakespeare appeared at the Globe in Hamlet or Lincoln delivered himself of a few remarks at Gettysburg.  The odds are that the Sermon on the Mount had more than a few of the congregation twitchy and glassy-eyedTo be bored is to turn down cold whatever life happens to be offering you at the moment.” Frederick Buechner

Isn’t that the truth?  As adults, we often live our lives in much the same way.  We’re bored.  Only we’re too sophisticated to use the word.  So we submit to the mindset without even knowing it.  We spend our days longing for (or regretting) our past.  Or we live in a state of waiting for (or fearing) the future.  We too miss the beauty that each moment of the day has to offer.

“Bored” provides it’s own sense of security.  It doesn’t require of me.  It’s familiar.  It’s easy.  I trade in my books (or art, or music) for the TV.  I give concentrated chunks of time to returning email (or whatever else we find to do on the computer), yet rarely build that kind of time in my day to play with my children or talk with my husband.  I can keep my schedule so full of good things that I miss the best things.

So maybe, just maybe, our children become bored because they’ve (gasp) learned it from us.  Our busy schedules and addictions to our Blackberrys and iphones provide a constant stream of stimulation from the outside world.  Rather than experiencing the full range of vibrancy that life has to offer, we settle for the counterfeit and live life being entertained.  This can come in the form of a video game for my children… or in the tform of a favorite nightly TV show.  Neither is implicitly a bad thing.  That is, unless it soaks up  my time and energy which prevents me from growing, creating, and exploring.  From becoming all that I was created to be.

As I hope to encourage my children to be grateful for and bask in what each day, even each moment, has to offer, I hope to do so myself.  I want to live life wide-eyed enough to view my everyday with a sense of anticipation.  Yet to do so requires discipline to be still.  The courage to hope for more.  And the willingness to be proactive in pursuing that which brings me great joy.

So as you launch into the heart of the summer, my hope for you is the same.  That you find time to be still.  That you discover (or remember) whatever it is that brings you joy.  That you wake up in the morning with the wonder of a child. Read a great book.  Take a class.  Try something new.  Notice the miracles that occur in your everyday.

Happy summer to you and yours!

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The BIG POWER of the small question

I’m new to Facebook.  Barely 2 weeks into joining this virtual community, I find myself with over 100 friends.  This new community is buzzing with activity – posts, questions, messages, and shared photos.  There is a constant stream of communication.  Updates, comments, and peeks into family vacations.  Some of the Facebook crowd apparently doesn’t sleep.  Cyberspace pulsates incessantly as folks reach out in desperate attempt to make connection with one another.  Yet beneath the bustling community, I’ve felt an undertone of sadness.  I’ve found myself wondering if those who spend so much time online have counted the cost associated.  The precious currency of time is spent pecking away at the keyboard rather than investing in the family and friends with whom they (we) live?

Lest I become too critical of the online community, I’d suggest that we all have our forms of “misspending” our currency of time and energy.  I often go about my days talking, not listening.  Doing, not being.  Telling, not asking.  When we I take the time to engage another, I often resort to a chronic dialogue.  “How was your day?”… “How are you?”…  “How was the weekend?”…  The questions, though good-intended, do little to stimulate any depth of response from another.  They are too familiar.  Too broad in scope and too easily satisfied with vague answers.

In The Eyes of the Heart, Frederick Buechner tells of his driving desire to learn more about his father, who had died when Buechner was young. He spent years mining the memories of friends and relatives in order to excavate some new nugget of information regarding his father.  He was after something deeper than “he he had been a charming, handsome young man, and everybody liked him.”  Later in life, his daughter told him that he’s was asking in the wrong way.  “If you want to get a big answer, she said, you should ask a little question.  I should ask people if they remembered ever eating a meal with him.  Or playing tennis with him.  Or arguing with him about politics.  Or being with him at a bar, or the movies, or on a subway.  Who could say what one, small concrete memory might jog loose?”

Perhaps we would be well served to take the same advice.  Could we take the time to be intentional and ask small questions?  If we really want to know more of someone, do we have a vision of what “more” could look like?

  • When my husband comes home from tennis with friends, do I ask him, “How was the afternoon?” OR do I dare ask him “How did it feel to be with that group of guys?” (true example from yesterday… and I didn’t)
  • When my children seem unusually fragile, do I take the time to ask what had transpired earlier when their friend had been over?
  •  Do I simply ask my friend, “How was your vacation?” OR do I dare ask what it was like to try and reconnect with her husband?

I can only imagine how my relationships could be transformed and deepened if I frequently gave others time to paint descriptive pictures of the scenes of their life.  What details have I been missing in the rush of the day?  What details have I hurriedly assumed and added in?  Could I slow down and intentionally  ask deliberate “small” questions?

Probably not with my 100 Facebook friends.  But perhaps with a few.

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