Time for the obligatory “Best of 2006” lists to flood the market (although VH1 seems be making a living of doing this sort of thing year-round). At first I thought, “Isn’t another ‘Best of…’ the last thing we need?” I was tempted to answer to myself, “Yes”. But the truth is that in wondering about this, it has caused me to be more intentionally reflective on the year, and that is never, ever a bad thing. So, if nothing else, these lists will be an exercise in reflection and I would encourage you to join me and add your list in the comments. Oh, and Happy New Year!
Over the past four or five years I’ve really made a sharp turn towards non-fiction. In fact, 2005 was very nearly an exclusively non-fiction year of reading. It began in September of 2001 when I was taking the Harry Potter novels out for a spin. I was just getting in to them and then the 11th…and then I just couldn’t care about Hogwarts even if I tried. It was pretty much just news and social commentary from that point on. But, this year I enjoyed some great fiction whose stories were driven by the themes that I’m most interested in (government, sustainability, culture), the message is just delivered in a different vehicle. Even still, most of my favorite books this year were non-fiction and there were plenty of good ones to choose from. These aren’t necessarily books that were published this year, just the highlights of those I finally got around to reading.
* Favorite Books of 2006
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. This is Richard’s favorite book (or at least favorite author…isn’t it your all-time favorite book, Richard?) and since Shaun and I had never read it, it was an enjoyable way to honor our friendship. The story itself and the characters are wonderful, but the actual language – the richness of Warren’s words – is what sets this book apart from the others I’ve read.
“Sugar-Boy was driving the Cadillac, and it was a pleasure to watch him. Or it would have been if you could detach your imagination from the picture of what near a couple of tons of expensive mechanism looks like after it’s turned turtle three times at eighty and could give your undivided attention to the exhibition of muscular co-ordination, satanic humor, and split-second timing which was Sugar-Boy’s when he whipped around a hay wagon in the face of an oncoming gasoline truck and went through the rapidly diminishing aperture close enough to give the truck driver heart failure with one rear fender and wipe the snot off a mule’s nose with the other.”
Nathan Coulter and Remembering by Wendell Berry. Over the past year-and-a-half Wendell Berry has become my all-time favorite writer. Hands down. It’s not even close to number two (George Orwell). I’d read many of his essays, a couple of collections and his poetry; but these two were the first of his fictional novels I’d read and they’re both (at the risk of sounding sentimental) touching. They’re simply warm and I can’t wait to read more.
Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell said some things that I’ve been thinking but was afraid to say, as well as some things I’d never thought of but am glad to have heard.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau. How have I gone through twenty-something literate years without ever reading “Walden”? Being a slacker in high school (re: two art classes senior year) probably has something to do with it! Thankfully, a Waldenless Brian Rhea no longer exists and I am glad for that. RP Warren is to Richard as Thoreau is to Shaun; another reason I am glad to have read this book this year.
“John Farmer sat at his door one September evening, after a hard day’s work, his mind still running on his labor more or less. Having bathed, he sat down to re-create his intellectual man. It was a rather cool evening, and some of his neighbors were apprehending a frost. He had not attended to the train of his thoughts long when he heard some one playing on a flute, and that sound harmonized with his mood…the notes of the flute came home to his ears out of a different sphere from that he worked in, and suggested work for certain faculties which slumbered in him. They gently did away with the street, and the village, and the state in which he lived. A voice said to him, — Why do you stay here and live this mean moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you? Those same stars twinkle over other fields than these. — But how to come out of this condition and actually migrate thither? All that he could think of was to practise some new austerity, to let his mind descend into his body and redeem it, and treat himself with ever increasing respect.”
* The Cream of the Crop
The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne was my favorite book of the year and is second only to the Sermon on the Mount as the most challenging text I have ever read. Challenging in the sense of speaking to the better part of your being that knows that to live selflessly, to prefer others’ needs over your own and to be gentle in spirit is simply…right. When I read Jesus’ words (the Sermon specifically, but any of them, really) I know that what he is saying is true. I don’t have to consider the historical reliability of the text or be assured of the Bible’s inerrancy by some seminarian in order for me to believe what he said. It rings in your heart and you know that he’s right. The best thing I can say about Shane’s book is that it does the very same thing and makes me, in the words of Melvin Udall, “want to be a better man.”
* Honorable Mentions
The Way of Ignorance by Wendell Berry
Life is a Miracle by Wendell Berry
How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins
The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren