The 12 Best Books I Read in 2016

It’s been a great year for reading. My goal this year was to read eighty books, and, to my surprise, I reached that goal in June. I’ve since far surpassed my goal and have read a total of 124 books!

I wanted to list here the books that had the biggest impact on me in 2016 (listed in no particular order). Enjoy!

All is Grace by Brennan Manning [LINK]

This book was deeply moving, and when I finished it I couldn’t hold back the tears in my eyes. Brennan Manning’s story of grace is powerful and immensely inspiring. I hope to revisit this book again soon. My favorite quote:

“My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be. It is the message of grace…A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five…A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts…This grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us…Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough…Jesus is enough.”

Finnegans Wake (Abridged) by James Joyce [LINK]

James Joyce writes with color and flair, with courage and creativity. He is my favorite fiction writer, with Samuel Beckett being a close second. Finnegans Wake is Joyce’s final book, and it is his most difficult yet most brilliant. Joyce, having exhausted the english language with Ulysses, forged a new language for this book, displaying his mastery of many languages including German, French, Italian, and Latin. Beckett once said this book isn’t written at all. It transcends the novel entirely.

 It’s a work of art. I listened to the excellent audio recording by Jim Norton a few times while I read this version. I plan to read the full text in 2017. Here’s a quote from the Anna Livia Plurabelle section:

“Well, you know or don’t you kennet or haven’t I told you every telling has a taling and that’s the he and the she of it. Look, look, the dusk is growing! My branches lofty are taking root. And my cold cher’s gone ashley. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is at? It saon is late. ‘Tis endless now senne eye or erewone last saw Waterhouse’s clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd thum sigh. When will they reassemble it? O, my back, my back, my bach! I’d want to go to Aches-les-Pains. Pingpong! There’s the Belle for Sexaloitez! And Concepta de Send-us-pray! Pang! Wring out the clothes! Wring in the dew! Godavari, vert the showers! And grant thaya grace! Aman.”

(Listen to Joyce read this section here.)

The Annihilation of Hell by Nicholas Ansell [LINK]

I received this book for free in exchange for my review (which you can read here). However, I enjoyed this book so immensely that it is easily one of my favorites this year. It helped me understand the theology of Jürgen Moltmann and appreciate his genius better. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Moltmann or in universalism generally. Here’s a great quote:

“A universalism of hope, I was thereby suggesting, is neither a dogma nor a ‘nice idea’. Those who, in looking forward to God’s final victory over evil, find themselves looking forward in hope and confidence to a ‘universal’ salvation are convinced of something that others cannot be convinced of unless—or until—they come to share in that hope. In my view, a conviction of this kind, which is pre-theological and pre- doctrinal in character, is legitimate—at least in principle—even if those who hold to it cannot justify it theologically. Moltmann himself captures this pre-theoretical confidence well when he describes his own position as ‘a universalism of hope which is not a doctrine . . . but is a presupposition.’ This is a hope I share and a ‘universalism’ I accept.”

God’s Being in Reconciliation by Adam Johnson [LINK]

This is an excellent study on Karl Barth’s doctrine of atonement. This book has been worth its weight in gold for me while writing my own book on Barth, which is still forthcoming. Johnson argues that Barth’s doctrine of God necessitates a new way for understanding the atonement—not as a one-theory doctrine, but as a feast with multiple interpretations. It is one of the best books I’ve read on Barth. Here’s a great quote:

“A marked lack of energy and excitement overshadows the whole, where a sense of freshness and vigor ought to teem forth resulting from the awareness of these new frameworks for interpreting the work of Christ, the necessity with which we must engage them, and the promise of the definite insights we stand to gain. Adapting an earlier statement of Barth’s, we must ‘magnify the plenitude of the divine being [in reconciliation] by not lingering unduly over any one [standpoint of the atonement] or letting it become the final word or the guiding principle, but by proceeding from one to another, from the second to the third. As we do so, we realize that even if we make a provisional halt at the third, this does not mean that we have spoken the last word’ (CD II/1, 407).”

Stirrings Still by Samuel Beckett [LINK]

This is Beckett’s final work of prose, and it is one of my favorites. It’s a very short book, and I have read it several times through. It is a perfect piece of meditative, minimalist prose, yet it is at once pregnant with meaning and emotion. I first savored this book while enjoying a birthday dram of Laphroaig for my 24th. It was a melancholy and enchanting moment. Here’s a taste:

“Such and much more such the hubbub in his mind so-called till nothing left from deep within but only ever fainter oh to end. No matter how no matter where. Time and grief and self so-called. Oh all to end.”

Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett [LINK]

I read this trilogy in January this year, and I read part of it again last month. This is often considered Beckett’s best work, and it’s certainly his most important contribution to the novel. To this I would agree. It’s a fantastic work of fiction for tired of fiction. There’s a lot I could say about the brilliance of what Beckett accomplishes in these three books, but I hope you take my recommendation and read them for yourself. These books are an experience, like Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, more so than they are a book you read and forget. Here’s a sample:

“you must go on, perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” (The Unnamable)

How to Read Karl Barth by George Hunsinger [LINK]

This book, along with T.F. Torrance’s Karl Barth An Introduction to His Early Theology, were both excellent companions to reading Barth’s CD II/1. But Hunsinger’s book stands out as a brilliant and extremely helpful exploration of the way Barth thinks more than just what he says. If you only read one book on the theology of Karl Barth, read this one.

Church Dogmatics volume II/1 by Karl Barth [LINK]

T.F. Torrance called this volume Barth’s most significant, and after reading it this year I have to agree. Here you’ll find the core ideas behind Barth’s theology: his rejection of natural theology, his dedication to the Word of God, and his insistence upon the fact that God alone reveals Himself. I tweeted and posted hundreds of quotes from this book while I read it, the best of which you can read here.

Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd [LINK]

Reading Brian Zahnd’s story, which was both a theological and spiritual journey, was most of all a comforting experience. His story parallels much of my own journey, and I often related to his rediscovery of the good news and his quest for the heart of the Christian faith. This book is memorable because of how well it was written and how encouraging it is to know I am not alone on the journey. Here’s a quote:

“I had lost my appetite for the mass-produced soda-like Christianity of North America. I wanted vintage wine from old vines. I don’t know exactly how I knew this, but I knew it.”

Re-reading Dubliners and Ulysses by James Joyce [LINK]

I read Joyce’s Dubliners with a book club this year. We met every month to slow digest and discuss his masterful short stories. I also re-read Ulysses during my trip to Ireland for Bloomsday. Both re-reads made me appreciate Joyce more than before. Last year I named Ulysses my favorite fiction book, and this year it again made a significant impact on me. Here’s the first few lines from Ulysses:

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called out coarsely:

—Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!”

(Fun fact: this last line is the title of my morning alarm!)

Preaching Christ Today by Thomas F. Torrance [LINK]

This book was the inspiration behind my own attempt to preach Christ, Welcome Home: The Good News of JesusThomas Torrance continually inspires me to be more fixated on the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ as the good news for all people, as the announcement worthy of joy and celebration. Here’s a quote:

“If I did not believe in the cross, I could not believe in God. The cross means that, while there is no explanation of evil, God Himself has come into the midst of it in order to take it upon Himself, to triumph over it and deliver us from it.”

The Living God and the Fulness of Life by Jürgen Moltmann [LINK]

And finally, how could I end this reflection without mentioning Moltmann’s new book on the Holy Spirit and the fullness life lived in the Source of all Life. This book inspired me to embrace my humanity and enjoy the simple things, the mundane and the “boring” things, because in these the Spirit of Life is with us and there for us. Here’s a memorable quote:

“Joy is the meaning of human life. Human beings were created in order to have joy in God. They are born in order to have joy in life. This means that the frequent questions—What am I here for? Am I of any use? Can I make myself of any use?—lose their point. There is no purpose and no utilitarian goal for which human life is required. There are no ethical goals or ideal aims with which human life has to justify itself. Life itself is good. Existence is beautiful and to be here is glorious. We live in order to live. …The ‘meaning’ of life cannot be found outside life but in life itself. Life must not be missed as if it were a means to an end.”


Happy New Year, and may you read many great books in 2017!

What were the books you read this year which had the greatest impact on you? Let me know in a comment.

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