In 2011, I read 155 new books. Here are my top 10 recommendations from what I read, in no particular order:
1. True Grit I read this book prior to seeing the movie and I'm glad I did. Matty is the center of the book and her nerve, strength, and determination makes her better than a classic heroine. The biblical references, the smart writing, and the sharp dialogue moved this book into one of my all-time favorites. Each time I re-read it, I find something new.
2. God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America This is a history of Patrick Henry College and some of its recent attendees and alumni. The details of this story reveal the sense of call certain people feel, through their faith, into public service. That lifestyle then impresses itself into the kind of lawmakers Patrick Henry students support and that they wish to be. The details of this book, the personal stories, will remain with me for a long time to come.
3. Bossypants This was as funny and inspiring as I had hoped. I think many people expected this to be hilarious and were disappointed, but I found Fey's dry observations and witty reflections about her life and work very enjoyable.
4. Unbroken I had not read very many stories about World War 2's Pacific theater. This story of an American former Olympian turned POW in Japan was riveting, terrifying, and inspiring. It's not just his survival that moves the reader, but the details of how people can treat other people.
5. The Friends We Keep This book made me think about God's relationship with non-human animals in a new and different way. I reviewed it here.
6. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand I don't often read character-driven novels, but the gentle truth of this novel swept over me. It is about an elderly English widower as he comes to grip with the changing face and faces of his village and in his life.
7. The Blue Bear This is a provocative story of friendship and loss. Some recent Alaskan history may not be interesting to all readers, but the story of Lynn Schooler and Michio Hoshino is transformative in its ebbs and flows. 4 out of 5 tissues.
8. A Thousand Lives This book about Jonestown gave me the shivers. Jim Jones's powers of manipulation were terrifying, even years removed. I reviewed this book here.
9. A Canticle for Leibowitz I know that I missed a lot reading this through the first couple times. Written in the 1960s, it projects into an apocalyptic future where the remainders of the 20th century- like grocery notes, blueprints, and letters- become the artifacts of religion.
10. Those Who Save Us The last book I completed this year was a novel novel. Told about a mother and a daughter, it follows a German woman who is in the Resistance, but also maintains a relationship with an SS officer so that she and her daughter can have food. Revelatory about the struggles and moral dilemmas people face in a time of war, the books also mulled over how lifelong grudges, community outsiders, and our ability to understand the actions of our ancestors and predecessors.