Sunday, January 2, 2011

Top 5 books of 2010

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Okay, so 2010 is so two days ago but I'd still like to throw out a list of the five books that rocked my intellectual world last year, which I've come to think of as "the year my brain exploded." As a grad student, my life is of course filled to the breaking point with reading. Seminary-related books will of course dominate this list but I try to be cross-disciplinary and also keep some fiction in my diet to keep my creative brain healthy.

I've talked about a number of the following books and/or their authors, so I'll try not to blab on about them in this post. These are in order of mind-blowingness...
  1. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace (Back Bay, 1998) - I've mentioned Wallace on here a few times this year and his books have been consistently in my reading diet for six months and he still (even just today) makes me think "this guy was a genius." His depth, bredth, and wit is stunning. This book came second in my encounters with Wallace and is easily the most significant I've read ye. I'm thrilled to have a good friend who is an English professor who reads/studies/teaches DFW, so I can look forward to more from Wallace for the foreseeable future.
  2. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter (Oxford, 2010) - Hunter's work has informed a number of posts this fall, including a significant engagement with this book in an academic paper. He has helped me see with new clarity the problematic ways in which Christians in America think about and engage the broader culture. Profoundly helpful.
  3. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict by William T. Cavanaugh (Oxford, 2009) - I quickly read this book between the spring and summer terms and so didn't get the chance to carefully take notes as I usually do with academic books. This bummed me out numerous times for the rest of the year as I was constantly thinking back to the insights that Cavangaugh offers in this book and wanting to reference them in papers. Luckily, I'm reading this book again this spring for a class and am getting my own copy, so it will be back up front very soon. Here's my short review from earlier this year.
  4. World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age by C. Kavin Rowe (Oxford, 2009) - As I said in my lengthy engagement with this book in an academic paper (same one in which I work with Hunter, linked above), there are very few people to whom I would recommend this book. It's for hardcore theology+biblical studies nerds only, but it introduced me to some compelling philosophical work from Charles Taylor and synthesized that with an equally compelling way to read the book of Acts.
  5. Tie between: Another City: An Ecclesiological Primer for a Post-Christian World by Barry A. Harvey and Beyond Sectarianism: Re-Imagining Church and World by Philip D. Kenneson (both from Trinity Press, 1999) - I read these books roughly at the same time for two different classes in the spring. In many ways they set the stage for all the other books on this list save Wallace's. They are both part of a series called "Christian Mission and Modern Culture" whose short (< 100 pgs) books are excellent primers and still read fresh for being over a decade old. Here's my short review of Harvey's book from back in February.
Honorable mention goes to James K.A. Smith and Stanley Hauerwas, as well as the 9-book Star Wars series, The Legacy of the Force.

Smith's work I only sampled from and briefly referenced in a few papers in the latter half of the year, but it was his excellent blogging that really kept me paying attention and finding great supplemental resources for my theological education. The way he pulls off the scholar+blogger act is an inspiration to me. A philosopher by discipline, he also pulls off an interdisciplinary approach that I find attractive (and he's a DFW fan to boot!).

Finally, the formidable influence of Stanley Hauerwas underwrites all the books listed above save Wallace's. I quickly read his After Christendom? over the summer but didn't take a lot of notes. Luckily this spring I have a class in which Hauerwas and one of his influences/interlocutors, John Howard Yoder, will be front and center. So I finally get to go to the intellectual source of many of the books I've studied in my Anabaptist theological institution, Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

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