When I discovered Goodreads several years ago, I had no idea that such a place even existed online. Discovering a place where fellow book nerds congregated and discussed books they were reading, books they wanted to read, and all else literary made me incredibly happy. It also gave me the option of cataloging all the books I’ve read and consolidating my scattershot reading habits into some definable “goals”.
After the passing of a young friend of mine in 2015, I made 2016 the year that I immersed myself in a world of reading in which I gained spiritual, philosophical, and overall educational insight. Overall, I read 40+ books, but I’ll only touch on what I feel were the top ten I read in 2016.
I’ll admit that throwing my thoughts on what I’ve done over the last year into the blogosphere seems a bit self-serving, but I for one love to hear and discuss what everyone else is reading and learning so this is my own contribution to the “discussion”.
Without further ado, here are my Top Ten of 2016:
Can’t really think of much to say about this one, other than it was a sobering book about the process of death. I’ll let Dr Nuland say it best below.
“The greatest dignity to be found in death is the dignity of the life that preceded it. This is a form of hope we call all achieve, and it is the most abiding of all. Hope resides in the meaning of what our lives have been.”
“-when the human spirit departs, it takes with it the vital stuffing of life. Then, only the inanimate corpus remains, which is the least of all the things that make us human.”
*** #09 – The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer ***
I read both Tozer and Charles Spurgeon this past year. The book from Spurgeon (“Spurgeon Gems” free on the Kindle store!) is a pretty good collection of spiritual thoughts and sermons, but there was one specific passage in this book (written in the 50s!) by Tozer that jumped out at me as being incredibly applicable in today’s society.
“We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar. The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.”
*** #08 – The Last Days of Socrates by Plato ***
Although I read several Stoic philosophers this past year to include Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca, this book was the one that I “enjoyed” the most. Of the three previous listed, most of the philosophy-centered books I read were more of a collection of bumper-sticker quotables. I don’t refer to them as such to diminish their intelligence and insight, but more to display that the books of their thoughts on certain things were easily digested sentence by sentence.
This book contains several “conversational” dialogs, including one of his most famous ones (“Euthyphro”) and some dialog from the trial of Socrates that resulted in his death.
“…the unexamined life is not worth living.”
This dude was an absolute BOSS. One of the highlights in this book for me was his explanation of how he learned to read and write from one of his masters’ wives and children in the area. His writing style was incredibly readable and his grasp and use of the language was amazing. I want to read more of his stuff.
“You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.”
“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence.”
“I have observed this in my experience of slavery, – that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceased to be a man.”
*** #06,05,04 – Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis ***
I considered the entire trilogy as one real read, although the “sub” order in which I place them would be That Hideous Strength, Out of the Silent Planet, and then Perelandra. Although my least favorite was the third in the series, “Hideous Strength”, this is in no way an indication of a subpar book. A “bad” CS Lewis book is heads and shoulders above quite a few other authors I’ve read. This was the first book I read that didn’t strictly adhere to my self-imposed restriction of spiritually or intellectually based reading. Regardless, the allegorical quality I took away from the second book, “Perelandra”, was very enlightening and enjoyable.
“The love of knowledge is a kind of madness.” (Out of the Silent Planet)
“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.” (Out of the Silent Planet)
“Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed him.” (Perelandra)
“In the name of the Fathers, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, here goes-I mean Amen.” (Perelandra)
“There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there’s never more than one.” (That Hideous Strength)
*** #03 – The Great Heresies by Hilaire Belloc ***
As a distant member of the Phoenix, AZ chapter of the Chesterton Society, I haven’t had the opportunity to physically show up at a meeting (I’m in Tucson), but this book was recommended as a great companion to any Chesterton reads. I must say that I found it fascinating and blazed through it in only a couple of days. Initially explaining what he means by “heresy”, Belloc dissects five of what he considered to be the most influential and damaging heresies agains the Catholic church.
The five heresies as Belloc sees them;
Arianism, Mohammedan, Albigensian, Protestant, Modern Attack
Available online HERE
“…keep in mind the plain fact that a state, a human policy, or a general culture, must be inspired by some body of morals, and that there can be no body of morals without doctrine, and if we agree to call any consistent body of morals and doctrine a religion, then the importance of heresy as a subject will become clear, because heresy means nothing else than ‘the proposal of novelties in religion by picking out from what has been the accepted religion some point or other, denying the same or replacing it by another doctrine hitherto unfamiliar'”.
“A man going uphill may be at the same level as another man going downhill, but they are facing different ways and have different destinies.”
“…if you deny the value of human reason, if you say that we cannot through our reason arrive at any truth, then not even the affirmation so made can be true. Nothing can be true, and nothing is worth saving.”
“The Church will not disappear, for the Church is not of mortal stuff; it is the only institution among men not subject to the universal law of mortality.”
*** #02 – The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton ***
I loved this book, mostly because I had no idea what I was getting into. A turn of the century book about anarchists and police detectives, this was a CRAZY good time.
Once it started, I just “strapped in” and enjoyed the ride.
“Dynamite is not only our best tool, but our best symbol. It is as perfect a symbol of us as is incense of the prayers of the Christians. It expands; it only destroys because it broadens; even so, thought only destroys because it broadens. A man’s brain is a bomb…”
“At this moment,” said Syme, with a scientific detachment, “I think we are going to smash into a lamppost.”
“Your offer,” he said, “is far too idiotic to be declined.”
“Well, if I am not drunk, I am mad,” replied Syme with perfect calm; “but I trust I can behave like a gentleman in either condition.”
*** #01 – Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis ***
This is easily in my top three of all-time. The conclusion to this hit me right in the feels; a tale of misunderstandings and deep affection, I will do this one no justice by trying to explain it.
“Death opens a door out of a little, dark room (that’s all the life we have known before it) into a great, real place where the true sun shines and we shall meet.”
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
“Are the gods not just?”
“Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were?”
“There must, whether the gods see it or not, be something great in the mortal soul. For suffering, it seems, is infinite, and our capacity without limit.”
Some more notable passages from OTHER books in my 2016 line-up;
Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd
“Dad, a person isn’t saved because of the view they hold of Communion, or of church government, or what have you. A person is saved because of his relationship to Jesus Christ—whether he is in a liberal, fundamentalist, Catholic, or evangelical church, whether he holds to infant or adult baptism, to a hierarchical or congregational form of government, etc. God’s Word is perfectly clear at least on this one central point. It’s no fault of the Bible if it didn’t pre-address every doctrinal issue that was going to be raised in the church. It is, therefore, no fault of the Bible if it doesn’t clearly answer every question we’d like it to address. And it is no fault of the Bible if people, under the influences of historical and cultural factors, read it in different ways. What is most important to hear can be clearly heard if a person’s heart is open to it.”
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
“I do not regard a man as poor, if the little which remains is enough for him.”
“Be careful, however, lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere.”
“Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve. The process is mutual; for men learn while they teach.”
“There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
“Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man’s power to live long.”
The Ball and the Cross by GK Chesterton
“Why shouldn’t we quarrel about a word? What is the good of words if they aren’t important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn’t any difference between them?”
“One of them wanted to go up and went down; the other wanted to go down and went up. A god can be humble, a devil can only be humbled.”
Eugenics and Other Evils by GK Chesterton
“The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt; especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists. It is no answer to say, with a distant optimism, that the scheme is only in the air. A blow from a hatchet can only be parried while it is in the air.”
The Golden Sayings of Epictetus
“Give thyself more diligently to reflection: know thyself: take counsel with the Godhead: without God put thine hand unto nothing!”
“In company avoid frequent and undue talk about your own actions and dangers. However pleasant it may be to you to enlarge upon the risks you have run, others may not find such pleasure in listening to your adventures.”
“At feasts, remember that you are entertaining two guests, body and soul. What you give to the body, you presently lose; what you give to the soul, you keep for ever.”
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
“To read with diligence; not to rest satisfied with a light and superficial knowledge, nor quickly to assent to things commonly spoken of…”
“Never esteem of anything as profitable, which shall ever constrain thee either to break thy faith, or to lose thy modesty; to hate any man, to suspect, to curse, to dissemble, to lust after anything, that requireth the secret of walls or veils.”
“There is nothing more shameful than perfidious friendship.”
“If it be not fitting, do it not. If it be not true, speak it not. Ever maintain thine own purpose and resolution free from all compulsion and necessity.”
Tremendous Trifles by GK Chesterton
“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”
“Our civilisation has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.”
All Things Considered by GK Chesterton
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
“Unless a thing is dignified, it cannot be undignified. Why is it funny that a man should sit down suddenly in the street? There is only one possible or intelligent reason: that man is the image of God. It is not funny that anything else should fall down; only that a man should fall down. No one sees anything funny in a tree falling down. No one sees a delicate absurdity in a stone falling down. No man stops in the road and roars with laughter at the sight of the snow coming down. The fall of thunderbolts is treated with some gravity. The fall of roofs and high buildings is taken seriously. It is only when a man tumbles down that we laugh. Why do we laugh? Because it is a grave religious matter: it is the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.”
“The old religionist cried out for his God. The new religionist cries out for some god to be his.”
“It seems to me that what is really wrong with all modern and highly civilised language is that it does so largely consist of dead words. Half our speech consists of similes that remind us of no similarity; of pictorial phrases that call up no picture; of historical allusions the origin of which we have forgotten.”
“Another savage trait of our time is the disposition to talk about material substances instead of about ideas.”
“Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented.”
If you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge fan of Chesterton. 🙂
Stand by for 2017’s reading goals in another post.