book list

Top Ten Tuesday - Top 10 Books I've Read This Year

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

To all my dear writer/reader/blogger/literary friends:

We are now in the middle of June and I can hardly believe it.  I'm coming up on the beginning of my sophomore year, which means that now is the perfect time to reminisce and look back on my freshman year.  During my first year of college, I read so many books that have helped shape my worldview — which makes this week's meme from The Broke and The Bookish for Top 10 Tuesday perfectly applicable.

Let's face it.  We are shaped by what we read.  Our thoughts are influenced by what we fill our minds with, so shouldn't we strive to be reading good material?

So these are the Top 10 books I've read this year that have influenced me.

1. On The Road

This book was both strange and beautiful — eloquent and quite the opposite.  It was a novel of paradoxes, of nonsense, of life and bumps along the road.  To me, the narrative style in Jack Kerouac's classic novel really reflected and almost represented the plot itself.  The book's storyline seemed to ramble and go nowhere, much like the stylistic writing, but in a way that is what made the book so wonderful.  I hated parts, I must admit, but the imagery in the novel and the depiction of the writer's worldview has stayed with me.  Every young writer should read this book, though with caution for it's not exactly rated G.

2. The Art of Losing 

I'm sorry to say that, even though I'm a writer, poetry hardly ever moves me.  However, in my Wheaton Lit class on grief and elegy (with the wonderful Dr. Galbraith) I discovered a new appreciation for the power of poetry in helping people to deal with life circumstances.  I actually found myself crying at the end of one poem (which never happens!) because I could so see myself in the speaker's shoes.  The poem was called The Race, by Sharon Olds, and it's about a woman who is trying to get through the airport to reach her father who is dying.  I was so touched and it was so wonderful that I simply must share an excerpt with you.

When I got to the airport I rushed up to the desk,
bought a ticket, ten minutes later
they told me the flight was cancelled, the doctors
had said my father would not live through the night
and the flight was cancelled.

Honestly, I don't know why it moved me so much.  Probably because I could picture myself in a similar situation since I was, for the first time, away from my family.  Whatever the reason, this poem left me in tears and this book has become a favorite.

3. Saturday

While we're on the subject of my grief and elegy class (highly recommended for any Wheaton student!) I want to share another novel that has stayed with me since I finished it, one that I've referenced a few times on this blog.  Saturday by Ian McEwan is a book inspired by 9/11.  It takes place in England during anti-war protests in the early 2000s.  The protagonist is a middle-aged neurosurgeon named Perowne, who is highly competent, profoundly intellectual, skeptical of anything that diverges from his set standards of reality, science and verifiable truths.  The book takes place in the time span of one day in which Perowne is met by various obstacles and even dangers that threaten his peaceful Saturday.  This novel is beautifully written and is a great book to use in dialogue with other pieces of literature, namely Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach, which is quoted throughout.  It's also a great exploration into the contrast between public and private drama. We used this book to examine how national catastrophes reflect and are different than small, intimate ones.  And what happens when personal tragedy is suddenly made public, such as in acts of terrorism?  It's a fantastic read with brilliant prose and I highly recommend it.  (Again, with discretion. McEwan is very realistic but also unabashed.)

4. Dante's Inferno

I know, I know.  What a cliche English major answer, right?  Well, it's true.  I firmly believe that every serious reader (and writer) should read the classics.  They provide a foundation on which to build good literature and weave allusions for the academic world.  The Inferno is the first part in Dante's masterpiece The Divine Comedy, which also includes Purgatorio and Paradiso.  The book can be rather hard to get through but it's broken up into cantos which are short, deeply philosophical and wildly applicable.  What I learned from the Inferno was how to build upon previous works of art.  Most of the characters in the epic poem are from history or previous writings. Dante meets Virgil, Odysseus, Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Ovid, Homer and many more famous people.  Dante's work is a masterful example of how to weave outside materials into a book.

5. The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down

At first glance, it may seem strange to have a medical anthropology book on a list of top 10 books I've read.  But I would be foolish to assume that only fiction or poetry can influence me.  This book is the true and heartbreaking account of the clash between two cultures over the medicinal care of a young Hmong girl named Lia Lee.  Her immigrant parents couldn't communicate well with the doctors, who assumed they knew nothing about how to care for their daughter and so, with the best intentions, made decisions for her that directly violated her family's religion and cultural heritage.  This book is a shocking example of the cultural ideals we take for granted and assume to be correct because it's the only thing we know.  Anthropology has opened my eyes to viewing culture as malleable and always changing and to recognize that there is no "one right way".  This book is a wonderful example of that conflict.

6. Embracing the Love of God

I must admit.  I was not a fan of this book when I first started it — at all.  In fact, I griped about much of it because I thought it was trite and overly simplistic.  However, when I look back and reflect on the books that moved me, I must confess that this is definitely one.  Embracing The Love of God was the assigned book reading for Wheaton Passage, a 9 day wilderness excursion I was a part of before heading off to school.  We used this book to jumpstart most of our campfire discussions.  I learned through this sweet little book that sometimes I overanalyze the Gospel.  And sometimes I try to live on logic, not faith, and I think that I can figure everything out.  The most difficult truth to grasp is really the simplest.  God loves us.  And I was truly reminded of that beautiful truth through this book.  We may say that and believe it in our minds, but do we really accept it in our hearts and live it out every day?  I know I don't.  This book is for anyone who needs to be reminded of that love.

7. The Voice In The Wind

This is one of my mother's favorite books, by her favorite author Francine Rivers.  Quite frankly, I'd heard so much about it over the years that I thought it couldn't possibly live up to my expectations.  Well, I was wrong.
I'm not an emotional reader by any stretch of the imagination.  But I was so enraptured by this novel and the character development that I was ripping my hair out by the end.  This is a masterful book about a young Christian slave girl named Hadassah who falls in love with her master, Marcus, who is swept up in the wild lifestyle of extravagant Rome.  I felt God speak to me through this novel, about trusting in His timing and finding peace in difficulty.  I highly HIGHLY recommend this novel.

8. The Confessions of St. Augustine

This book is quite simply the best autobiography in existence.  This book is real, raw and vulnerable, as it shows one man's descent into debauchery and how he found grace and devoted his life to the Gospel.  Reading this book was eyeopening, since it can often seem like our degraded culture of sexual promiscuity is a new thing, when it really is not.  St. Augustine's story is a beautiful example of a life changed by God's mercy.  The people who make up church history are terrible sinners and yet God shapes them into His vessels.  This encouraging book is a must-read!

9. The Scandal of The Evangelical Mind

"The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind."

Boom.  I read that sentence over and over, laughing because it was oddly true and brutally honest.  We have failed to maintain a serious intellectual life as the church, when really we should be at the forefront of academia.  While I didn't actually read this whole book, we read portions of it for a Bible class.  I found it to be so enlightening and true that it has stayed with me ever since.

10. Blue Like Jazz

It feels strange to be including this book since it's far from one of my favorites. While I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself that it was overly simplistic and didn't have much of a point.  Regardless, I found myself thinking back on the simple, applicable truths in Donald Miller's book so much that I simply must include it.  Blue Like Jazz is the wildly popular nonfiction book about one man's musings on Christian life and religious culture.  He writes about living in community, attending Reed college, finding a church and various other life things.  This book is a light, easy read — but it can influence you if you let it.

So, there you have it.  There are so many more than this, but I had to narrow it down somehow.  It's rather to fun to look back and see the books that have made an impact on me this year.  There are novels, nonfiction books, an anthropological memoir, poetry, two theological books and an autobiography.  My goal is always to try to read different kinds of things to open up my mind to what the world has to offer.

What books have influenced you recently??


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