There are surprisingly not that many in my list, partly because I want to be strict about my selection. There would be no point if I read ten books and all ten were my Best of 2019. And partly because truly great books are hard to come by. So this is a list of books that are truly delightful to me. Not just helpful, or just well-written. The type of books I can’t help reading out loud to Andy before bed or a stranger on the metro. This list is in the order from the least to the best, a count down if you like.
- Adorning the Dark (by Andrew Peterson)
Most of the Christian books I’ve read so far are written by Bible teachers. Their life’s calling is to teach the Bible firstly by preaching and secondly by writing sermons and books (think of Tim Keller and John Piper). I always feel like their books can’t help from sounding like preaching, I can hear their voice when I read (with the American accents). Persuasive and forceful voices “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”.
Andrew Peterson is not a preacher. He’s a musician, singer-songwriter, a poet and a writer. As a fortunate result, Adorning the Dark is one of the few Christian books that comes across as gentle and moving, speaking to the heart rather than the head. God has given him eyes to see the beauty that I don’t, and a heart to feel the vulnerable humanness and majestic glory that I don’t feel, and a mind to communicate all of that humbly and gracefully to me so I’m pulled closer to God. I see glimpses of God’s Kingdom in his book and I hear the strength and the longing in his songs. The book is like a rare chance to see into the window of an ordinary Christian doing extraordinary things for the name of Jesus.
Favourite quote: ‘I will tell of my God and my King.’
See full review here.
- The Dig Deeper Series (by Andrew Sach and various authors)
Why, why, why? Why did no one tell me about these books when I first became a Christian? I felt like I’d been in the Bible-handling dark ages for so long until I came across these books, especially the second and third in the series. One distinctive feature is their accessibility. I know How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is a book in the same category, but I really struggle to read it, let alone understand and put into practice. My precious gemstone had been encased in a rock on my shelf and all I had was a piece of cloth to rub it with and I couldn’t see the beauty of it. Now I have chisels, hammers and sandpaper, I start to get glimpses of the true glory. The thrill of understanding a passage in the Bible without a teacher (in human or book form) spoon-feeding it to me is immense and indescribable.
Favourite quote: ‘There is no “Skipping-Over Tool”!’
- The Weirdest Nativity (by Andrew Sach and Jonathan Gemmell)
This is a risky choice because this is a lot more subjective and more of a weird and geeky personal taste. That’s what I like about it, it’s quirky, not the traditional type of Christian book, let alone a narrative of the nativity.
When I first picked it up, I couldn’t put it down and could have read it all in one go. But at the same time, I had to force myself to slow down and take it in page by page so not to miss a word and soon I didn’t want it to finish so quickly and wished it could go on for a bit longer. Put it simply, this is the type of writing I aspire to do.
Favourite quote: The whole chapter on Psalm 2.
See full review here.
- Wolf Hall (by Hilary Mantel)
This is the only non-Christian book on my list and the only fiction. And this is the one I chose to put on the top of the list. It blows my mind what a novel can do. If you have no idea what it’s about, here’s the Wikipedia definition:
A historical novel by English author Hilary Mantel … named after the Seymour family seat of Wolfhall or Wulfhall in Wiltshire. Set in the period from 1500 to 1535, Wolf Hall is a sympathetic fictionalised biography documenting the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII through to the death of Sir Thomas More.
I didn’t do a book review post for it because whatever I say it not going to do it justice and what bothers me more, is that I can’t even fully express why I love it so much. It’s frustrating! Even the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, which I’m reading now is not as good as the Wolf Hall itself. I aim to read it again and sort my thoughts out in a separate post.
Favourite quote: ‘These are days of brutal truth from Tyndale. Saints are not your friends and they will not protect you. They cannot help you to salvation. You cannot engage them to your service with prayers and candles, as you might hire a man for the harvest. Christ’s sacrifice was done on Calvary; it is not done in the Mass. Priests cannot help you to heaven; you need no priest to stand between you and your God. No merits of yours can save you: only the merits of the living Christ.’
I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is the winner of the Man Booker prize and millions of copies are sold. How many people read this and how many understand the truth in it?
- All Other Books
I hope this doesn’t look boastful, but just to show how much I love and recommend these four books (I count the Dig Deeper series as one), here is a list of (more or less) all the books I read in 2019. There are quite a few, but these four really worth your precious time. If you’d like to know more about any of the books below, I’d be very happy to help. (Kindle samples, Bible study resources and Bible commentaries are not included.)
- The Book Your Paster Wishes You Would Read (Christopher Ash)
- 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Tony Reinke) – highly recommend.
- The Tech-Wise Family (Andy Crouch)
- Virtually Human (Ed Brooks and Pete Nicholas)
- Will You Be My Facebook Friend (Tim Chester)
- Gospel Speech Online (Lionel Windsor)
- The Prodigal God (Timothy Keller)
- Why Can’t We Be Friends? (Aimee Byrd)
- Can Science Explain Everything? (John Lennox) – highly recommend.
- Before You Open Your Bible (Matt Smethurst)
- Unbreakable (Andrew Wilson)
- Counter Culture (David Platt)
- Know and Tell the Gospel (John Chapman)
- Rock Solid (various)
- Gift (Glen Scrivener)
- Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke) – such high praises out there and so was my expectation, but, meh.
- Rivers of London (Ben Aaronovitch) – this one nearly made the list above.
- La Belle Sauvage (Philip Pullman) – average, sorry. But I will read The Secret Commonwealth.
- Autumn (Ali Smith) – don’t like, a lot of the time don’t know what she’s talking about so probably my fault.
- Kolymsky Height (David Lionel) – don’t like sorry.
- The Uncommon Reader (Alan Bennett)- about how the Queen suddenly got into this new hobby of reading. Quite funny and thought-provoking. A bit hard to understand. Slightly Foxed magazine introduced it to me which I’m thankful for, but the magazine article gave so many details away it’s almost not worth reading the book itself, which is a shame.
- And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie) – my first Agatha Christie can you believe it. Completely gripping, do not recommend reading before bed.
- Treasures of the Snow (Patricia St John) – nice children’s story with a theme of forgiveness and change of heart.
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (J.K.Rowling) – liked it and looking forward to watching the show.
- Northern Light (Philip Pullman) – The famous His Dark Materials. I know I’m supposed to love it but I don’t, sorry.
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman) – average.
- Renegade (Nicola Liu) – no one has read this yet, I’m so proud of my dear friend Nicola who wrote a novel while having a toddler running around. I’m really honoured to be one of the first to read it and I kept thinking about the characters over this year and I look forward to seeing the final version.
- Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson) – don’t like (note: it’s a fiction, it’s not about actual ‘housekeeping’).
- Eggs or Anarchy (William Sitwell) – about how Lord Woolton fed the whole of Britain and the colonies during the Second World War. It’s fascinating! I have always loved wartime stories. I was really disappointed there was not one mention of Lord Woolton in Churchill’s War Rooms. I have a feeling I might be able to meet him in the New Creation. Back to the book itself, some chapters and sections could have made the list but not quite consistent.
- The 4-Hour Work Week (Tim Ferriss) – unfinished.
- The Edited Life (Anna Newton)
- Reading Like a Writer (Francine Prose)
- How to Read a Book (Mortimer J. Adler) – it’s one of the perennial books that I’m always reading because I could never go on for long before giving up.
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Mark Manson) – sorry about the language! I’ll let you know how it is when I finish it.
Photo by Ugur Akdemir on Unsplash