In the beginning of 2015 I read Nina Sankovitch’s Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, describing her journey of dealing with grief by reading a book a day for a year. I had been on my own journey of grief, and decided to set myself a less demanding, but still somewhat crazy challenge of reading one book a week for year. It was a deeply enriching and rewarding journey. Here is the list and a short summary of each of them.
+ The Finkler Question – Harold Jacobson +
An interesting novel exploring the philosophies, attitudes and responses to the Jewish people – and specifically what it means to be Jewish. Set in the midst of exploring loss and tragedy on both a micro-relational and macro-national stages.
+ Pale Native – Max du Preez +
With brutal honesty and clarity, characteristic of his journalistic career, Max takes us through the first 50 years of his life, introducing us to the various people, papers and plane-crashes that defined him, and set the scene for exploring what it meant to be a pale native in South Africa.
+ Manuscript found In Accra – Paulo Coelho +
Popular writer Paulo Coelho has put together a collection of writings, that staunching echo the spiritual wisdom of sophist Kahil Giibran’s The Prophet. Some great wisdom and sufficiently thought provoking.
+ Kiling Lions – John & Sam Eldredge +
Exploring various aspects of masculinity and faith, and how these intersect in the first few decades of a man’s life. Written as a dialogue between father and son, it’s a candid and encouraging look at growing up as a man of faith.
+ Poetry of RS Thomas +
A poet and Anglican Priest, Thomas wrote with startling insight into the complexity of the spiritual person, without fear of being frightfully honest about hopelessness, waiting, and God. Whilst I may hold a diverging Christology, I found his frankness refreshing and surprisingly refreshing. Suddenly, Arriving, Via Negativa, The Moor were among the poems I read.
+ Simply Christian – NT Wright +
Wright’s exploration of the foundational theology of the Christian faith gives wondrous and straight forward clarity to the topic. Hugely reminiscent of Lewis’ Mere Christianity, he adds his own imagery, stories and insight to provide a very valuable tool.
+ Lila – Marilynne Robinson +
The follow-up to the highly acclaimed Gilead, the novel explores Lila’s life, and how she comes to be married to the minister from the former. Lila is typical of Robinson’s writing – gentle, loving, honest and humbling, but with exception character insight.
+ The Road – Macormac +
A father and son traverse the post-apocalyptic landscape of America, desperate to do everything they can to survive the harsh environment. The novel explores their close relationship, and the lengths that love will go when under pressure. Simultaneously heart breaking and heart warming.
+ Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger +
The classic follows the precocious and angst-ridden life of New York teenager Holden Caulfield, journeying with him as he attempts to understand disappointment, relationships and (prematurely) growing up.
+ Poetry of Alfred, Lord, Tennyson +
An interesting first exposure to his works. Particularly enjoyed Ulysses, In Memoriam, All things will die, Come not when I am dead. Although I appreciated the depth in his poems of lament, I think next time I should focus on some of his brighter works.
+ Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering – Tim Kellar+
This should be considered the magnum opus of the topic, with Tim giving the widest and most sound exploration of the challenging topic. Theologically sound, pastorally sensitive and his prose is interposed with various real life narratives conveying his points.
+ Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman +
Both charming and tragic, Kelman tells the story of London life through the lens of a recently immigrated Ghanaian boy. We journey with him as he tried to make sense of the life he finds himself in, and the harsh realities life in a rough urban estate.
+ Tess of the d’Urbanvilles – Thomas Hardy +
A difficult novel to read, as we’re introduced to a group of characters who seems to live unredeemed lives, therefore causing each other pain and suffering. Some subtle insight into the life of a nineteenth century woman, and the resulting challenges.
+ Acedia and me – Kathleen Norris +
With her passion for monastic spirituality, she has produced an incredible work that weaves together theology, psychology and her own life story. Referring to a wide array of historic – especially early Christian academics, she explores the idea of acedia as a common experience of torpor amongst our generation, sensitivity offering insight and hope.
+ Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell +
Another interesting set of studies put together by popular author Gladwell, this time helping show the small sociological factors that lead to big changes. Despite some of his findings can be disputed by other researched, it is nonetheless a fascinating insight into social trends, and some of the people that help birth and promote these changes.
+ Half a yellow sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie +
Simply sumptuous and captivating from the first page. In this semi-historical novel, this furiously talented African novelist takes us on a whirlwind journey through Nigerias civil war, told through the lens of a wealthy family, and the lives that intersect with theirs. In every way an African classic.
+ Scary Close – Donald Miller +
Vulnerability and authenticity are currently buzzwords making their rounds in the relational region. Merging Brene Brown’esque sentiment with poignant personal narrative, Miller successfully challenges us in a new way of relating and being known.
+ An invitation to Live – Lloyd M Douglas +
One of my favourite novelists delivers another elegantly written novel, describing the lives of several young adults whose lives are all changed through the sagacious wisdom of the dean of Trinity Cathedral in Chicago. The inspiration of human transformation, matched with beautiful prose.
+ The Man who was Thursday – GK Chesterton +
In his own words, this allegorical little novel, filled with 20th century British social commentary, dry humour, and Christian reference, was to “It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.” A remarkably incredibly ending that leaves one intruigishly confused.
+Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie +
Adichie’s next offering is simultaneously tenderly raw and truthfully hard hitting. The story follows a young Nigerian who immigrates to the US, and years later returns to Nigeria. The obviously semi-autobiographical offering explores race, identity and nationalism. Poignantly significant
+ Patricia de Lille – Shirley Passanah +
This biography has helped raise my perception of Patrica one hundred fold. After seeing the book, I thought I should get to know a little more about my major, and I have a massive newfound respect for her contribution towards the humanitarian, ethical and political spheres of our country, and the great sacrifice and suffering she has endured in the process.
+ I, church – Brett Anderson +
A delight to add the book written by a friend to my list. Brett and I share a passion and deep seated belief in the purpose and importance of the church. Whilst we may hold some ecclesial differences, I loved his call, reminder and challenge to close the gap between what the church could be, and where she often finds herself.
+ The Road to Daybreak – Henri Nouwen +
This journal-style offering details the journey that this well loved contemplative writer took from being a respected Harvard lecturer, to pastoring the staff and resident community of L’Arche- a community where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together. His honesty and appreciation of the depth of the inner life are thoroughly reflected in this offering.
+ When God is Silent – Barbara Brown Taylor +
Now one of my favourite authors, Taylor, who is an Anglican priest and masterful writer, gently but poignantly explores the theme of the ‘silence of God’. Bringing deeply thoughtful insight, she breaks the negative conception of this silence, giving room for hope and relief.
+ The Madman – Kahlil Gibran +
Another collection of stories from the well-known poet, and following a similar style as The Prophet, a sage shares various parables, musings and other stories with his devoted listeners.
+ Stolen Lives – Malika Oufkir +
Despite the somewhat disappointing prose, the semi-historical novel tells the story of the Oufkir family, who after the father is involved in a coup in Morocco, change from being palace favourites to living over two decades in various forms of imprisonment.
+ The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein +
Brilliantly conceptualised and realized, Stein’s book is narrated by its central character – Enzo the family dog. We journey with him as he tells the story of his human family, sharing with us their joys and tragedies. Deeply moving, and may induce a tear or two.
+ Wild – Cheryl Strayed +
A coming of age biography, detailing how Cheryl Strayed walked over 100 days of the Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to deal with some of the grief of losing her mother, and to try and make sense of the somewhat tumultuousness that had become her life. Captivating, honest and inspiring.
+ Animal Farm – George Orwell +
The classic that details the take-over of a farm by its usually acquiescent animals. Allegorical in every way, Orwell gives a overtly scathing social commentary on the effects of power and corruption. One can’t but help projecting the principals into various parts of society around us, and how astute his criticism is.
+ Streams of Living Water – Richard Foster +
Truly a powerful read! In his typically gentle yet poignant manner, Foster explores the various streams or flavours of spirituality. This ecclesial journey introduces us to a variety of inspiring people, and the spiritualties they embrace, allowing us to delight in the breadth and depth of the expressions of Christian faith.
+ The Girl who Married a Lion – Alexander McCall Smith +
A brief glance at the contents page is enough to cause a couple of chuckles at the names of the various short stories contained in this collection. Combining hilarity, fables, and folklore, they are a most charming look into African storytelling – of course in distinctive McCall Smith style.
+ Dark Night of the Soul – Gerald May +
In his typically gentle fashion, May combines psychology and theology, and in this work adding a touch of mytic literature. A brilliant introduction to the writings of Saint John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avilla, sensibly giving a modern touch to their wisdom, and bringing hope to those in similar positions
+ Grey Matters – Brett McCracken +
McCracken helps explore the territory often sandwiched between legalism and liberty, through the lens of a couple domains, including arts, music and alcohol. Some great thoughts, despite being a little soft at times.
+ The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling +
I was both enchanted and enthralled by this classic collection of forest stories, being initially surprised that they weren’t all centred on the tale of Mowgli. Delightful and surprisingly elegant prose, definitely to surface again to be read to ones kids.
+ Learning to Walk in the Dark – Barbara Brown Taylor +
Truly one of the most remarkable books on the spirituality of darkness, with one of my favour authors shedding light on the richness of darkness. She also gives permission to the variances within different spiritualties, and how to be comfortable therein.
+ The Little Book of Sylvanus – David Kossoff +
A Lloyd Douglas’esque novel that portrays the life of Sylvanus, an intellectual skeptic trying to come to terms with the event of Pentecost, which we witnessed, and various other bits of the Messianic and early church story.
+ Beethoven was one Eighteenth Black – Nadine Gordimer +
This collection of short stories help portay the imaginative and literary genius of this Nobel prize winner. Each story is of course, in some way a political, social or relational commentary, and the depth and variety of issues in the book are not done justice with a casual read through.
+ The Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad +
Finally got around to this 19th century novella, which highlights some of the disastrously warped ideology of the time, and then cleverly revealing not only the seeming darkness of Africa, but also of Britain and the resulting hypocrisy.
+ Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson +
In a Gilead’esque manner, the novel follows three generations of women set in 18th century America, following their simple yet challenging lives set in the midst of loss, uncertainty and national instabililty.
+ The Hidden Wound – Wendall Berry +
Recommended as a classic American work by the renowned writer, exploring for the first time his experience and familial involvement with racism, and decades earlier, slavery in America. Some poignant links to what is experienced in South Africa, from a wise and seasoned writer.
+ New Monasticism as a Fresh Expression of Church +
This was a thoroughly refreshing read, in which a collaboration of authors explore modern and emerging monastic orders that are helping shape the life of the church amongst those who are searching for more than ecclesial models detached from everyday life.
+ Enduring Love – Ian Mckewan +
A fatal accident unexpectedly draws together a small group of characters, for which some the post-traumatic stress manifests itself in eclectic ways, exploring and pushing the boundaries of love, faithfulness and trust.
+ Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghasse +
A remarkable and comprehensive novel detailing the life of a Ethiopian hospital, its key staff, and their secrets which inexplicably lead them to places they never expected. An epic work, reminiscent of the historical narratives of Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.
+ Philidia – Andre Brink +
In typical Brink style, the novel embraces the brutal history of the South Africa’s history, wrapped around the narrative of an early 19th century slave in the Cape. A tragic yet somehow hopeful tale of Philidia’s journey from slavery to the edge of emancipation. Possibly his best.
+ Running for my life – Lopez Lomong +
An inspiring novel that tells the stoey of Lopez’s epic journey from being one of the ‘lost boys of Sudan’ to competing in the Olympics. A poignant reminder of the latent possibility of hope, and God using that to transform us – and those around us.
+ Collected Poems – Ben Okri +
A talented man who words ooze the painful and tumultuous stories of those growing up in Africa, and at times other places where power and it’s oftentimes oppression have struck. A difficult read all at once, best appreciated like most poetry. As an occasional (in this case bitter) treat to savour.
+ Mornings in Jenin – Susan Abulhawa +
My first foray into the life of a Palestinian who faced dislocation at the hands of Israeli invasion. Heart-wrenching and difficult to read the experience of the relocation camps, as experienced through three generations. A biased narrative sure, but it can only be natural that a person’s story carries bias, as it is theirs and theirs alone, based on the true experience of their life.
+ The Art of the Idea – John Hunt +
An inspiring collection of anecdotes and maxims around the theme of ‘ideas’ and the power they hold. Simultaneously fascinating and challenging, without being prescriptive. He brings alive Ralph Emerson’s words: “It is a lesson which all history teaches wise men, to put trust in ideas, and not in circumstances.”
+ The Promise of Happiness – Justin Cartwright +
In this novel Cartwright has the gift of inviting us into the inner world of the Judd family. Reeling in the aftermath of a family disaster, we follow each of the five Judds, exploring how they do their best to survive whilst clinging onto the hope of reconciliation and the promise of happiness.
+ Home – Marilyn Robinson
The third offering in the ‘Gilead’ trilogy, and was left as my last book to read for the year. Simply wonderful in every possible way. In an age where art and literature does – and should explore authenticity – Robinson gets in right in that she fully explores authenticity, but from the most gentle and honouring way possible. Superb in every way.