5 books that changed me in 2009

Like the past two year’s lists (2007 and 2008), I’ll keep this short and sweet with no attempt to rank my short list. Of the books I read in 2009, these are the five I’d most quickly recommend.

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Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity

Lamin Sanneh’s book takes it’s place beside Phillip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom as essential reading for a wider and more accurate understanding of present-day Christianity.  In an article for Out of Ur in March I used Disciples of All Nations as evidence of how myopic the Western definition of Christian history often can be.  While it’s appropriate for the Western church to look to it’s own theological history for guidance, it’s irresponsible to assume that that same history applies the same way to the non-Western church.  To go a step farther, in a world that has changed dramatically it’s no longer an option for Western Christianity to ignore the work of God around the world.  This divine activity comes with it’s own history and it’s one our churches will be better off for understanding.

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Acts of Faith

Eboo Patel has a deceptively simple thesis: In order to have meaningful conversations that leads to action, individuals and congregations from different religious traditions should acknowledge what makes them distinct rather than whitewash significant differences in theology and religious practice.  The author and founder of Interfaith Youth Core goes even farther.  Those from one faith tradition can acknowledge their desire for friends and family from other traditions to convert.  A Muslim can admit her desire for her Christian friend to convert to Islam and vice-versa.  Honesty breeds trust, allowing common cause to be pursued by people of diverse worldviews.  Patel captures this conviction and its significance in our pluralistic world in a memoir about his  journey of faith and ecumenical work.

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The Writing Life

Annie Dillard sees things most of us miss.  Or, more accurately, she describes our familiar world such that it becomes beautifully and frighteningly unfamiliar.  In her book about writing, Dillard doesn’t so much tell- this is what writers do- as she does show- this is what writers see, how they experience and make meaning of people, places and events.  The Writing Life is a short collection of Dillard’s experiences and observations about her craft in which I was reminded of the many differences between those of us who enjoy writing and those who are writers.

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Native Son

How to describe Richard Wright’s Native Son?  This was by far the most difficult book I read in 2009.  Wright dares the reader to experience a few days in the life of Bigger Thomas, a young man trapped by the color of his skin within a small section of 1930’s Chicago.  In Bigger Thomas the reader encounters the caged mind and soul of a young man who yearns for release and dignity, essences of life which have been systematically denied him at every turn.  Wright’s achievement, from my limited perspective, was to expose the psychological and spiritual oppression experienced by his peers and neighbors.  Though ultimately a great tragedy- Bigger’s actions are genuinely horrific- by it’s very telling the story allows for redemptive possibilities.

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Little Bee

Despite my non-fiction bias, two novels make this year’s list.  Little Bee was recommended earlier this year by Susan Richmond, bookshop owner and regular Sings of Life reader.  I read this book on the back porch of a California cabin this summer.  Despite the relaxing setting, I was all tension and angst throughout Cleave’s account of British and Nigerian worlds colliding.  The author, a columnist for The Guardian, manages to take global anxieties about oil and immigration and tell the incredibly relatable  stories of those affected by these faceless giants.  (A favorite movie this past year was The Visitor which addresses similar themes.)  Little Bee captivated and exhausted me while pointing to overlooked realities.  What more could this non-fiction reader ask for?

How about you? What is the book (or books) that most impacted how you think and live this year?

10 thoughts on “5 books that changed me in 2009

  1. I read Native Son either junior or senior year of high school and was riveted by it. A lot of classmates didn’t like it but I have to commend my teacher for allowing us to grapple with the issues it raised. Certainly not an easy read but still relevant.

    I finally picked up Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and it has resonated ever since.

  2. For an oldie but a goodie, Charles Allen’s “God’s Psychiatry” and Francis Shaeffer’s “Death in the City”

  3. Thanks for the recap, David. I’ve added Acts of Faith to my Goodreads list. Thanks for the reviews.

    On another note, I’m wondering if can give me some reasons why I might consider moving my blog from Blogspot to WordPress. I’m not sure of the improvements available at WordPress. I think you migrated sometime this year and I’m wondering if you are happy with it.

    Congratulations on your article in Christianity Today. I was so pleased (and proud) to read your thoughtful review on Bright-Sided. I’ve really benefited form Ehrenreich’s outlook in the past – Nickel and Dimed was a thought-provoking book that has changed the way I interact with people around me who serve my needs while trying to make it on minimum wage. It sounds like she has once again hit a nerve that needs to be hit.

    1. Susan- I’ve had this blog on WordPress since the beginning. While I really like WordPress, I’m not sure there is any good reason to switch from Blogspot.

  4. I read through 3/4 of Native Son and could not finish it. I found myself getting increasingly angry with every turned page. I have promised myself that I will pick it up again and finish it. Maybe I will do it this year.

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