Thursday, January 3, 2013

In Search of Nobility: My 2012 Reading List

Another year, another round of reads...
I found this year that the recurring theme, albeit unintentionally, was nobility.  Perhaps I began to notice the theme because this is my second year of immersing myself in Charles Dickens. Perhaps I began to notice it because I trudged through a couple of disappointing books people asked me to check out. Whatever the reason, nobility began to find its way into my vocabulary with increasing frequency as I considered character--or lack thereof.

Back to Dickens...

I have a love-hate relationship with Mr. Dickens.  I hate that his cast of characters almost always swells to some unmanageable number.  I hate that I can get to p. 307 and come cross a name that niggles familiarly at the back of my brain because the last place he was mentioned was about p.15. I hate that I'm supposed to remember who this is when I've been introduced to forty-three other characters since this character's debut.  Add to that about ten substantial plot lines ... and it's easy for even the most attentive bibliophile to get confused.

But...the man is a literary genius. And for that I love him. By the time his tale has ended, all of the characters and plots have converged in one incredible climax. Truthfully, my favorite part of every Dickens novel is the denouement. The wicked have richly received their just desserts, and the noble are vindicated. I always close the book with a contented sigh.

Nobility.  It chooses what is right, despite personal cost. Indeed, true nobility doesn't even consider the cost. More than that, though, nobility trains its appetite for a higher standard of goodness which turns it to greatness. When nobility walks into the room, the less fortunate are ascribed dignity, and the low of character begin to squirm. Nobility remembers she sits at the King's table; nobility invites all to meet her there where she serves grace, kindness, and goodness.

Little Dorrit's Mr. Clennam is noble.
So is Molly Gibson of Wives and Daughters.
Silas Marner learns nobility, as do The Wingfeather Saga's Igiby children.
And...some novels lack any nobility at all:
Collins' Hunger Games, Hill's Mrs. DeWinter, and Rivers' Her Mother's Dreams.
They left me sad and unfulfilled.

I often found myself trying on characters.
The Murdstone siblings of David Copperfield.
Absolutely resolute in their opinions.
Absolute strangers to grace.
(Oh please, don't let me be the Murdstones.)
Dickens' Amy Dorrit.
Overlooks offense.
Honors the dishonorable.
(Sigh. I wish I could be Amy.)
Gaskell's Mrs. Thornton.
Independent. Self-sufficient.
Impeccably just. Frugally merciful.
(Ugh. I think I might be Mrs. Thornton.)

Yes, I could use a bit more nobility.
As for non-fiction, my top picks tend to answer problems I see in the Church.

I've observed that believers who have previously been steeped in legalism tend to swing to the other extreme: the conviction-less place of antinomianism. What an unfortunate place to land. Several books on my list press for church membership and make a persuasive case for defining who's in and who's out. But David Wells' Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural was most excellent at proving the need to be a convert, not merely a follower, of Jesus Christ. Wells describes insider conversion and outsider conversion and sets appropriate expectation for how that will look. Bravo, Mr. Wells.

The Future of Justification was a lucid response to NT Wright's unfortunately weird theology. I'm sorry, friends, but anyone who speaks of Liberation Theology or the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, in complimentary terms is more than half a bubble off plumb. But those are merely indicators. Wright's larger problem is his bizarre notion of justification. Piper kindly lays the smack down. Smack he lays, nonetheless.
Boom, Mr. Wright. Just boom.

What is the mission of the church? Ludwig von Mises isn't the only one rebuking the notion of social justice. And the world is not the only place this concept has been misappropriated. The Church has wandered off into the weeds, too. DeYoung, who, as everyone knows, is my favorite young theologian (rivaled only by Matt Chandler), sets the record straight in What is the Mission of the Church?

Without further ado, here is my list. There are books I recommend and books I really, really don't. There are books I read to the kids for school and books I read just for me. There are books that took their maiden voyage and books I read again and again. This year's total: 56 books; two short stories; 14,954 pages. (I've included pages because I was challenged by our family friend Owen to a page contest. You can read Owen's most excellent blog here.)

Enjoy. And may 2013 be filled with more ideas, more great characters, more great authors, and more nobility.

Revolution by Ron Paul (167)
Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen (410)
Baptism: Three Views by David Wright, Sinclair Ferguson, and Bruce Ware (192)
Thomas Jefferson: Architect of Democracy by John Severance (179)
Madeleine Takes Command by Ethel Brill (192)
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (256)
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (644)
Classics on Prayer--Books 1-4 by EM Bounds (387)
Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Petersen(339)
Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx(96)
The Future of Justification by John Piper (188)
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (530)
What is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile(120)
In Search of Honor by Donnalyn Hess (152)
After You Believe by NT Wright (284)
The Law by Frederic Bastiat (80)
A Praying Life by Paul Miller (268)
Hero of Heroes by Iain Duguid (114)
The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery (203)
Love or Die by Alexander Strauch (69)
Subversive by Ed Stetzer (232)
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (299)
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens (860)
Tell No One by Harlan Coban (346)
Return of the Dragon by Cynthia Rupp (150)
One Hundred Cupboards by ND Wilson (289)
What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (268)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (274)
Trivium Mastery: The Intersection of Three Roads by Diane Lockman (260)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis (186)
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (233)
Evangelical Fallacies by DA Carson (142)
Seven by Jen Hatmaker (221)
Pleasures of God by John Piper (257)
The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler (224)
Silas Marner by George Eliot (172)
A Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon (149)
Red Like Blood: Confrontations with Grace by Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington (218)
Soul of Science by Charles Thaxton (248)
Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum (188)
Charlotte's Web by EB White (184)
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (729)
The Church by Mark Dever (166)
Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman (132)
Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural by David Wells (179)
The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn (253)
William Carey by Jeff and Janet Benge (211)
The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason (425)
A Holy Ambition by John Piper (150)
Dandelion Fire by ND Wilson (466))
Her Mother's Dreams by Francine Rivers (483)
True Spirituality by Frances Schaeffer (180)
Of Courage Undaunted by James Daugherty (162)
Jane and the Genius of the Place by Stephanie Barron (361)
Mrs. DeWinter by Susan Hill (349)
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (227)
Chimes by Charles Dickens (106)
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens (105)

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