I didn’t get to read as many books as I wanted last year. No. Let me rephrase that. I started to read plenty of books, but I didn’t get to finish enough of them last year. The pile on my bedside table increased in height, as did the overspill on the floor – neatly blocking access to the bottom drawer. (Thank goodness I don’t need to get in to find a tie too often these days!)
But of the books I did get all the way through last year, a few stood out. (The links will take you to fuller reviews.)
Sara Miles Take This Bread definitely deserves top billing, with its “challenge [to] the religiosity of many Christian denominations, and the formula that congregations follow” along with her experience as a chef that intertwines “food and bodies” as she looks at the ideas of the sacrament of communion alongside running a food pantry (all on the same altar table). Well worth a read, even if it is uncomfortable in places and you don’t agree with all her theology - there’s no harm in being forced to defend or revise your beliefs!
Jim & Casper Go To Church comes a close second, recounting the experiences of Jim Henderson and his volunteer atheist Matt Casper as they visited twelve US churches and then discussed how it felt to come to these congregations as an outsider. The dialogue is fascinating, and Casper’s exasperation with all the talking about having faith but little evidence of actually doing anything with it is a challenge to Northern Ireland churches too. We’re on our second copy of this little red book – the first one stayed on in Switzerland after our holiday! – and no doubt it’ll be leant to more people in coming months. (Even made into the MediaWatch column in the back of the Presbyterian Herald – and no letters of complaint yet!)
Non-fiction aside, a trio of novels finish my 2007 recommendations. (Not that all these books were published in 2007 ... it’s just the year I read them!)
Hallam Foe was perhaps even better than the film, just missing the clock tower. A young mixed up (and voyeuristic) lad who grows up a lot when he runs away to Edinburgh, abandoning his wicked (?) step mum, but still tumbles headlong into scrapes and scraps. Hallam has complicated personality and it makes for a very satisfying read.
Anthony Blair, Captain of School by an Old Boy by John Morrison takes
Tony Anthony Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Murdoch, Archer, Hoon and a cast of other oddly familiar characters who live in and around a boarding school run by headmaster Dr Bush. As I summarised in the full post “It’s a fun satire, with a real story and well-developed characters, along with a sense of darkness and futility that clouds over Blair and his actions as the story progresses”.
Lastly, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger counts as the best science fiction read last year, despite it being kept well out of the sci-fi section of all major bookstores. A story of a Clare who grows up knowing a man called Henry who has trouble staying in the same time and keeps disappearing ... backwards or forwards in time where she often meets him again. It was an unexpectedly fascinating (love) story with lots of waiting and a smattering of mortality, as well as a cracking good read.