Pastoral Notes for Sunday, December 17, 2017

Over the years, my dear and patient wife has witnessed my steady increase in love for and accumulation of books. When we were dating, she thought it was cute. She even told me once that she couldn’t wait till we get married, so she could read my books. I thought to myself, “This is the woman for me!” But now that we’re 16 years into marriage, she’s less enamored with my love affair for ink and paper. She’s more convinced I have a problem—maybe a pathological issue. Just because I sleep with a book under my pillow and wake up first thing in the morning to run my fingers through the pages and sniff the ink, doesn’t mean I have a problem, right?

For the two or three of you out there that are actually interested in what I’ve read and benefited from this year, I thought I’d join the “Best Books of 2017” trend and post my own list. Quick qualification: not all these books were published this year though some were. These are simply books I’ve read this year and feel comfortable recommending to you. With that said, in no particular order, here we go…

Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy by Jay Tolson – When I read The Moviegoer by Walker Percy in college, I was immediately hooked. I started systematically, at least a book of year, working through his writing (mostly novels), which were right up my alley—deeply southern in orientation, existential in nature, and spiritually searching in spirit. Being captivated by his work for many years now, I’ve long wanted to know more about the man behind the books. Tolson’s magisterial and authoritative biography has set on my shelf for several years and finally this year I picked it up, and then couldn’t put it down. I found the work meddlesomely personal in research, culturally keen about southern life, while being meanderingly precocious about matters of the heart. More than a biography, I often sensed I was learning about me as I was learning about Percy. Truly, one of the best literary biographies I’ve ever read.

How to Think by Alan Jacobs – I’ve long been a fan of Alan Jacobs. His work, The Narnian (Harper Collins, 2008), is still my favorite biography of C.S. Lewis. And his books of essays, particularly Shaming the Devil (Eerdmans, 2004) and Visit to Vanity Fair (Brazos, 2001) have been works I’ve returned to time and again for their observations, profundity, and wit. When I saw that he was working on a book on thinking, I preordered it. The day it arrived I began reading, thinking (no pun intended) I’d survey it quickly and give it a deeper read later. That never happened. From page one, I went into a deep dive and didn’t come up for air until I read the last page. Anyone who is interested in how impatience impairs thought, or how technology aids herd mentalities, or how like-minded is not the same has like-hearted should read this book. It’s a gem.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher – A few years back I began to occasionally read Dreher’s blog at the American Conservative. I found his cultural analysis and prescriptions stretching in directions that were compelling and almost never comfortable. So, I kept reading. In March of this year, The Benedict Option hit the market and the blogosphere caught fire. People loved it. People hated it. But everyone had an opinion on it. I let the buzz die down and read it a few months later. And what I found, for the most part, was a challenging but inviting introduction to historic Christianity. Using the monastery as a model for cultural engagement, Dreher attempts to plunder the riches of the Benedictine rule for the recovery (or survival) of Christianity in the West. New York Times columnist David Brooks says that The Benedict Option is “…the most important religious book of the decade.” Giving room for literary hyperbole, Brooks is onto something.

I’m out of space here, but you can continue reading more about the books I read this year on my blog at