As 2017 winds to a close, here are my best of the year:
Best Christian Life Book – You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith. Smith’s love and promotion of orthodoxy through the church and her traditions is worth a hearing. For years I have resonated with much of what he believes is the antidote to the consumeristic, biblically-anemic spirit seeping throughout the Western church. Made me love good liturgy all the more.
Best Biblical Studies/Theology Book – Adam and the Genome by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight. In the first section, Venema, a professor of biology who specializes in genetics, does an honorable job of putting the cookies on the bottom shelf for the lay reader who know little of science in general and genetics in specific. He avails us of the latest research as it concerns human origins and the challenges that present themselves to those who hold to Christianity (Venema is a follower of Jesus). The weakest part is when McKnight, a New Testament scholar, offers his alternative views in light of modern scientific findings. Overall, if anything, this book should provoke the church, and her intellectuals and theologians within it, to better engage the discussion of human origins and the biblical account.
Best Fiction – A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin. I had heard of this book years ago when a Wheaton professor of English said it was his favorite book of all time. I didn’t think anything of it until one of my friends, who I hold in high esteem when it comes to literary recommendations,1 told me I must read Helprin’s novel. I did and would put it in one of the best modern novels I have ever read. It is such a beautiful read that it literally left me in tears at parts. I read that Helprin’s work was blackballed from Pulitzer consideration because of his conservative political views. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know. I would say this is easily Pulitzer material to me.
Best Fiction (Honorable Mention) – Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. The same friend who told me to read Helprin also told me to read Stegner’s work. The result? He was two for two on recommendations. Crossing to Safety is a moving novel about friendship that stays with you long after finishing the book. There’s a part of me that wished I read it with my close friends as a book club just so we could talk about what makes a real friendship. An absolutely fantastic read that I won’t forget.
Best Non-Fiction – Goodbye to a River by John Graves. This “semi-historical” book (technically filed under fiction), is about the author’s last canoe trip down the Brazos River in 1957 before flood-control dams are installed, thus changing the river forever. It is part memoir, part history. It is considered a Texas literary classic. In reading it I felt not only carried along Graves’ slow, meandering journey down a river I knew while a student in Waco but also felt pulled back in time when Indians roamed Central Texas. Melancholic, enchanting, and just what I needed.
Best Just for Fun Book – Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Flat out fun! Just when you think things can’t get any crazier, they do. Read this is a day or two and loved it for the mindless, fast-paced fun it is.
Best Album – From the Room, Vols. 1 & 2, Chris Stapleton. Maybe one of the best country albums I’ve heard in a decade. Stapleton walks with confidence into the “outlaw country” road that Nelson, Haggard, and other blazed before him. Every song is good. Every. Song. With that said, ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’ is as good as it gets with honesty, artistry, and musicality.
Best Movie – Wind River. I’m a fan of writer Taylor Sheridan. The native Texan has previously written both Sicario and Hell or High Water. Both flicks been some of my favorite in recent years. With themes and images that are disturbing, Sheridan makes an movie that is more about humanity, loss, and grief than simply “a thriller.” To be fair, I haven’t seen many other movies this year. I have yet to see Dunkirk, the movie by my favorite director, Christopher Nolan. So, this entry might have changed. For now, Wind River takes the spot.
Best Moment of 2017 – My brother’s swearing-in as a U.S. Congressman in January. Pretty special to have your family member in the halls of Congress. Plus, my kids had a blast in D.C. seeing the sights as their uncle became a congressman.
Best Moment of 2017 (Honorable Mentions) – 1) Finishing my book which will be released the first week of January 2018. 2) The Astros winning the World Series!