Reading back, Reading forward
It may surprise you to know that prior to us opening our own bookshop, I didn't actually read many books! In fact, when I was younger, I didn't like books at all! My complete transformation I may save for another blog, but for now lets just say I saw the error of my ways, and am now reading more books than ever before. In 2015, I set myself the challenge of reading 24 books in the year, an average of 2 per month. Now to some that may not seem like much at all, but to me, it was a real challenge. But then when I reached my goal earlier than expected, I thought I might up it to 30 for 2016. With only a few days of this year left, I'm currently on book 29 (excluding all those bedtime story books of 12 pages or less), with 1 book still to finish. It's been a more realistic total for me, and one I will keep for 2017.
We started up a monthly book club this year which has been key to attaining this goal. Being part of this group stimulated some great book conversations with like-minded individuals. It gave me the opportunity to re-read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis, which I first read 14 years ago. Doing this as part of a book club allowed us to dig deeper and discuss key themes and try to decipher the author's thought process while writing. It really gave us a greater insight into these well loved stories. Krish Kandiah's passion for books and reading really came to the forefront this year with his 'Books for Life' initiative. He wants to encourage more and more people to read, and he's recorded interviews with some well known theologians, church leaders, and people of influence to discuss the 3 books which changed their lives. In a recent article, Krish stated something I think is very important to Christian's when choosing which book to read; that it's not just Christian books that can deepen our faith. He says, "I deliberately vary the books that I read so that I can better understand the world we live in and how we can connect the gospel with it." Never has this been more true than in some of the books I read this year. The final book we discussed in our most recent book club was A Snow Garden by Rachel Joyce. It's not a Christian book by any means (maybe with the exception of the re-telling of the Nativity story) but there are so many Christian themes within it relating to family, forgiveness and reconciliation that it's hard not to connect the gospel with it, particularly when we see how well the short stories in this book are connected, and how sometimes our own stories are linked. As the author herself says ‘I love the truth that you can walk past a person with your own story, your own life, so big in your mind and at the same time be a simple passer-by in someone else’s.’ Other books I felt fitted into this category for me included The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, Silence by Shusaku Endo (which I've done a separate blog on, and spoken about constantly on social media this year) and rather surprisingly, Dracula by Bram Stoker. A controversial inclusion, (and controversial when I also say I did not like this book at all!) What greatly surprised me about this classic work of gothic horror was just how much of God in it, and why not, especially in the face of absolute horror. Don't think I'll actually be selling that in the shop though. I did debate stocking Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy though, (which I now think may be my favourite book of all time) just for the inclusion of this wonderful passage:
"Yes," said Joseph, "and I was sitting at home, looking for Ephesians, and says I to myself, "Tis nothing but Corinthians and Thessalonians in this danged Testament...'
Out of the purely Christian books I did read this year were the outstanding Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen which is one of the most beautiful, deeply spiritual books I've read; Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes by Kenneth Bailey who died earlier this year, which has been recommended to me on so many occasions, and The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper which is very good indeed, and offers a refreshing examination of the fact that the Gospel doesn't start in the New Testament, but at the outset of creation. Another book recommended to me (or in this case bought for me by a customer) which took me right out of my usual comfort zone, was The Grace Outpouring by Roy Godwin which retells some extraordinary happenings in the Fflad-y-Brenin retreat centre in Wales. It's a good read, and although I couldn't get my head around all that appeared to be taking place there, it certainly transformed the way I pray.
Looking ahead to 2017, and after reading more extracts of his writing in a little Advent devotional we did, I want to read more Henri Nouwen, and may well opt for The Genesee Diary. I tried a few years ago to read something of C.S Lewis, other than his Narnia chronicles. The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce I've already attempted, but I did find quite heavy going. Having never read Mere Christianity I feel this may be the year to read it. And in the same vein, though I've sold a lot of his books, I've never actually read any Tim Keller. His book Every Good Endeavour has been on my 'to-read' list for a while. 2017 also marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Already there are a lot of books being written on the subject, but I'm very much looking forward to A Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation by Nick Page.
In my list of novels, I'm looking forwarding to reading The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom when it's released in paperback, and The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. With the film due for release in March, I may also re-read The Shack by Wm Paul Young. I've heard so much about author Graham Greene, and I'd love to read some of his writings. Not sure where to start, but Brighton Rock and The Power and the Glory both appear on some Top 100 book lists. There are loads of classics I've never read which I would like to. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger is certainly up there for this year.
Happy 2017 to all of you. Would love to hear your recommendations, or indeed what you will be reading this new Year.