Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sarah's Top Ten Reads in 2011

One of my favorite ways to mark the passing of the old year is to look back over the list of books I've read. Here are ten (give or take) that I particularly enjoyed in 2011.

10. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs
A classic 17th-century Puritan work on the discipline of learning contentment in Christ.

9. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography by Peter Brown
The classic biography of the most important Father of the Western church; besides being a top scholar, Brown is an entertaining writer.

8. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
If I were going to choose a novel to curl up with on a rainy weekend, it might well be this one.

7. The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges
Bridges teaches that pursuing holiness is neither a matter of passivity nor of gritting one's teeth and trying harder, but of daily preaching the gospel to oneself and, from the gracious knowledge of acceptance and of sin's broken dominion, pressing on in the joyful duty of discipleship. I found this book to be convicting in the best way -- that is, energizing rather than guilt-inducing. It includes practical suggestions for pursuing holiness in daily living. I need to read it again.

6. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World by N. D. Wilson
Elsewhere I described this strange little book as being "gritty and whimsical, and it makes you feel small in the best way." If you are familiar with G. K. Chesterton's works, especially Orthodoxy, you might have a sense of what I mean; but even if you aren't, I think you will still enjoy Wilson's meditations on the natural world and its Creator.

5. Homeward Bound: Preparing Your Family for Eternity by Edward Hartman
Reflecting on his first wife's death and his dissertation work on the Puritans, Hartman considers ways that Christians, particularly families, can live toward the reality of death joyfully, in ways that portray God's grace and glory to the watching world. Included in the Appendix is William Perkins' 1616 treatise, The Right Manner of Dying Well, which is very remarkable in its own right, with especially wonderful content on the Christian's bodily and spiritual union with Christ.

4. The Mystery of the Lord's Supper by Robert Bruce, Fourteen Communion Sermons by Samuel Rutherford, and The Lord's Supper by Thomas Watson
This is a slight cheat; I lumped together the sermons and devotional texts I read this year on the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. For Protestants interested in digging into this material, I'd suggest starting with Watson (it's a short treatise) and familiarizing yourself a bit with the historical context before jumping into Bruce or Rutherford. (I know of a scholarly essay that may help. ;))

3. Middlemarch by George Eliot
I'm a little amazed at myself for committing to all 900+ pages! It wasn't that hard once I got into the characters, though, and it was well worth the effort. I do love my nineteenth-century lit, especially when church life gets involved, and Eliot's good for that.

2. Holy Fairs: Scotland and the Making of American Revivalism by Leigh Eric Schmidt
This is a scholarly book, but it was personally significant. Schmidt explores the Scottish Presbyterian heritage of early frontier revivalism, especially the centrality of the Lord's Supper. I was amazed to learn how central Communion and sacramental piety have been to Reformed Christians from the earliest generations. I highly recommend this book to fellow Presbyterians. It is not a very difficult read, and it will introduce you to tons of great primary sources (see #4 above).

1. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
1922 Nobel Prize-winning epic historical novel following the life of a woman in fourteenth-century Norway. It may sound obscure, but the book has been undergoing a resurgence of popularity lately; I know of at least two (unconnected) friends who've enjoyed it in the past year. What's funny is that, when I read the first book, I wasn't crazy about it at all. But I found I couldn't abandon the trilogy, and as I got deeper into the work and better understood what Undset was doing (and even now, it's so rich that I don't fully grasp it, especially the Scandinavian epic overtones), I appreciated her achievement more and more. A big factor was finding the right translation -- if you decide to read it, go for Tiina Nunnally's Penguin translation. I don't think you'll regret it.
Elsewhere I described it as "Exceptionally well researched -- a beautiful and unsentimental portrayal of late medieval Scandinavian life, and of one woman's powerful sin and love...I loved this book's beautiful descriptions of Norway, the un-romanticized medieval setting, the honest and believable highs and lows of married life and Christian faith."

Hope you enjoyed the list, and maybe even found something to read in the new year! And don't hesitate to send recommendations my way, either -- especially novels. I would love to find more enjoyable fiction this year; I'm just never sure where to start. (And it doesn't have to be "classic" or historical.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011


While I'm not always big on traditions -- it depends very much on what sort we're talking about -- one that has nothing but happy associations for me is the Christmas tree.

In my 28 years, I've never celebrated a Christmas without a tree. And though it might seem extravagant, given that we've never spent the holiday itself in our own home, I'm happy that we've gotten our own little tree each year we've been married. Even though it lives with us for less than three weeks, it does so much to gladden what is traditionally a less than buoyant time in the student's calendar.

There's something about bringing a living thing into your home, a beautifully-scented, even sticky and sharp-needled thing, as a tangible reminder of the respite and celebration that awaits. How much more beautiful, more strange, more hopeful is the Incarnation!