The Best of Non-Fiction

While I have been impressed by some of the fiction I read this year, the non-fiction has been even more impressive.  I’ve discovered some fantastic new authors this year who have stretched my mind in ways I could never have imagined.

Same caveat as the fiction – I may read more great non-fiction by the end of the year.

The non-fiction greats fit into a few categories:

Thinking on the digital world – Earlier this year I was working on a research/writing piece on the digital world.  While the project has been put on hold for a while, I read some really fantastic books.

Technopoly – Neil Postman: I love Postman’s writing.  It’s thought provoking, while being fairly accessible.  In this case it felt fairly prophetic.  Postman dealt well with the long term consequences of our easy capitulation to the whims of technological innovation.  I especially enjoyed his parallels with the world of religion.  Anyone interested or using technology should be reading this to get some good questions to be thinking about.  I challenge you to read it on a Kindle (or similar) for the sheer irony.

Born Digital – Palfrey and Gasser:  While not at the same level as Postman, I found this book very practically helpful.  Using primary and secondary research, they break down data on the digital generation – how they think and act differently and some of the unique challenges that they face.  While this was useful as a theoretical tool when I read it, it has been even more helpful living in a house full of post-digital children.

The Tom Wright category:

I think it’s fair to give Wright his own category.  I finished Acts for Everyone and Paul for Everyone this year and am currently reading Matthew for Everyone.  Following Jesus was one of the reading highlights of my year.  I would recommend it as the best book I’ve read to hand to someone beginning the discipleship process (either the discipled or the discipler).  Wright has a knack for clarity.

Theology category:

This year I have really pushed myself in theological reading, with fantastic results.  These are some of the highlights of that reading:

To Know As We Are Known – Parker J. Palmer:  While this is technically a book about teaching, to me it presented a brilliant theology of learning.  The book changed my view of teaching and what I’m doing in a classroom.  Every ‘teacher’ should read this book.  Phenomenal.

Pitching my Tent – Anita Diamant:  What I loved about this book was it’s gentleness.  Diamant, through a series of newspaper columns, connects her Jewish faith to how she’s living her life.  I found it educational and helpful in my own journey.

A Generous Orthodoxy – Brian McLaren:  While I don’t think this book would be for everyone, I found this book useful as I was reading it and long after I was done.  It was good for me to get a paradigm for my own mish mash of theological background and for my mish mash of theological friends.  McLaren gave me a real gift in helping me see how truth is found in many places.

Everything Belongs – Richard Rohr:  I expected this book to have more of a long term impact on me than it has had, but I still think it was an excellent book.  It was helpful for me in the connection of all of life to the sacred and also for an inspiring glimpse into Catholic theology.

Living Out Loud – Hauerwas, Wells, Bretherton, Chaulke, Wells, et al:  When I started to have thoughts of studying theology, this is the book I pulled out and I’m so glad I did.  While I think it’s an inconsistent book that lacks cohesion, it was great for getting a feel for the styles and thoughts of several different writers.  This was my introduction to Hauerwas.  Need I say more?

I’m currently reading Improvisations by Samuel Wells, which I may not finish by the end of the year, but definitely belongs on my ‘best of’ list.

The Bonhoeffer Category:

I was so glad to have the chance to read more of his work this year and only wish I could have managed more.  Everything I read of his makes me physically shake my head, as if trying to force my brain to synthesize the information.  Bonhoeffer again and again pushes me to think harder, pray harder and think about faith in new ways.  This year I managed to read Psalms and Letters and Papers from Prison.  I’m looking forward to more next year!

“The Others” category:

The Audacity to Win – David Plouffe:  When I originally read this I didn’t think it was particularly good, mostly because the writing was inconsistent.  However, the book really stuck with me and has proven very helpful in understanding the current electoral cycle.  Plus, it reminded me how much I love electoral behavior (in theory) and political communication.

Committed – Elizabeth Gilbert:  At a time when I needed to give a bit of thought to the idea of marriage, I found this personal and anthropological look at the institution really interesting and thought provoking.

While the speed of my non-fiction reading has decreased as I’ve gotten further into theological reading, I’m really hoping I can continue to read a broad spectrum of topics and writers.  Here’s to 2012!

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