I truly enjoyed participating in the 2016 Reading Challenge from Challies.com. My achievement level in number of book categories completed was certainly mediocre, but each book that I read for the list was enriching. I realized my personal bias toward certain genres when confronted with "A book about a current issue" ("Oh, please no!" I often read to escape) or "A book published in 2016" (I prefer books published nearer to 1916 and rarely buy new books) - and I never did get around to reading a book in either of those categories.
As a non-competitive free spirit, I indulged in books that just wouldn't fit into a category on the challenge list - "A book for children" was checked early in the year, but many subsequent evenings found me curled up with another nice little piece of juvenile fiction that didn't fit any of the other check boxes. Looking back, I realize that I didn't allow the reading challenge to stretch and mature me to the extent that I could have, and if I do something like this again, I will try harder to branch out of my comfort zone of Spurgeon and Dickens and try "A graphic novel" or "A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers". But very few categories were skipped out of indifference. Most of the list was not completed for lack of time. I look wistfully still at "A book by Francis Schaeffer" and "A book with at least 400 pages" never completed. Maybe I will keep the list going until it is all done...in three years perhaps.
Here, though, are twenty-seven books that I did complete, and my brief reflections on them.
~ A book about Christian living - Future Grace by John Piper
I completed this book early in the year as I neared the end of pregnancy with our second child. The winter was cold, we had recently moved, I was often unwell, and the pregnancy went long overdue. Future Grace encouraged me immensely many afternoons spent on the couch while our son napped. It was just what I needed to help me carry on - whatever happens, your covenant-keeping God will be there for you. Thank God for books like this.
~ A biography - John Bunyan - Tinker of Bedford by William Deal
Written for middle-schoolers and published by a homeschool curriculum company, this was not a typical grown-up biography, but it made John Bunyan's life more real to me and filled my heart with wonder at the grace of God to this man so humble and weak, yet so greatly used for good.
~ A classic novel - Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
This category was not hard to complete, but it was hard to choose! My husband came to my assistance as I stood staring at the bookcase - "Read Robinson Crusoe - you can't get more classic than that!" I was glad I read it - I hadn't realized what a strong Christian message it contained. Crusoe's journey to faith in the God who ruled over even the worst tragedies of his life resounded with true Christian experience. It was encouraging! Besides that, just about anyone enjoys the classic adventure tale of survival by resourcefulness and perseverance in dire circumstances.
~ A book someone tells you 'changed my life' - Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
A good friend mentioned this book to be such, so I checked it out of the library and journeyed to apartheid-ridden South Africa. It gave me a better understanding of the African people and their history.
~ A commentary on a book of the Bible - 1 Corinthians by Leon Morris
I wanted to study a book of the Bible with parts I struggled to understand. This little commentary in the Tyndale series was a gem - short and to the point, but thoughtful and detailed. It was the last book I finished for the year, and I found when I came to the end that beyond understanding the book better, the believers at Corinth had become real to me - I've grown quite fond of them - how good it will be to meet them someday.
~ A book about theology - The Sovereignty of God by A. W. Pink
This is theology straight up! Pink portrays a staunchly biblical and majestic view of God, and puts a rock under the feet of anxious saints. It was the perfect book to read as we went through the tumultuous 2016 election season. Our God reigns and does as He pleases in the heavens and on the earth and no man can defeat His good purposes.
~ A book with the word 'gospel' in the title - The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever
Here was strong encouragement to know and proclaim the gospel. I was glad I read it, though I did consider checking it under "A book with an ugly cover".
~ A book your pastor recommends - Evangelism - How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by Mack Stiles
I certainly got my fill of evangelism encouragement this year. Stiles' book makes you feel that you can really do this and gives a vision for a community-based rather than program-based method of spreading the gospel.
~ A book more than 100 years old - History of the Kings of England by Geoffrey of Monmouth
My extensive reflections on this treasure are on a previous post.
~ A book for children - Milly, Molly, Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley
I read a number of children's books this year, both with my child and on my own. Milly Molly Mandy is absolutely charming, for boys or girls - she is a cheerful, industrious lass who lives in an old-fashioned English village. I wished the happy stories would just go on, and imagine I would have loved it as a child, though I never knew of it then.
~ A mystery or detective novel - The Chestermarke Instinct by J. S. Fletcher
I listened to this one on Librivox - that counts right?
~ A book by or about a missionary - Wayfarer in the Land by Hannah Hurnard
Hurnard details the account of her evangelistic efforts in 1940's Palestine and the Lord's work in her soul through it all - real, humble, devotional, challenging and inspiring.
~ A book by C. S. Lewis - The Voyage of Dawn Treader - my favorite in the Narnia series. I enjoyed it as much as ever.
~ A book with a great cover - The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney (isn't it pretty?)
This could win the prize for 'most C. S. Lewis quotes in a book' - and of course, it was excellent. Toward the end, the Lewis quotes give way to the author's profound personal reflections on godward living. I gained a richer sense of how to worship God as an earthly human with all the joys and sorrows that come with my lot. These all are from Him and through Him and to Him. To Him be glory.
~ A book about church history - The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by The Venerable Bede
Too bad there wasn't a category for a book at least 1000 years old. This was quite a mine of fascinating accounts, but also stimulated my faith and desire for holiness.
~ A book of poetry - Seasons by Robert Frost with photos by Christopher Burkett
I read this in one sitting - a breathtakingly beautiful walk from spring to winter with poetry arranged in seasonal order alongside nature photography - it was so lovely I almost cried...or maybe I did. This one I borrowed from the library but had to go buy my own copy - thankfully Amazon used books has a glut of them for $0.01.
~ A humorous book - Something New by P. G. Wodehouse
This one was also via Librivox. I listened with my husband and we laughed ourselves breathless - definitely among the best of Wodehouse's works - and I've visited quite a few.
~ A book based on a true story - Race for the Record by Dave and Neta Jackson
A Trailblazer Book - I read a pile of these this year, and all of them fit into this category - young reader's fiction based on the true stories of heroes of the faith. They are all excellent.
~ A book with 100 pages or less - A Call to Prayer by J. C. Ryle
Grandma left this with us - just one of the many choice things she has passed on to us. She said she gave a copy to their elder at church and in not too long all the elders were given a copy. You should read it too.
~ A novel set in a country that is not your own - The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
Classic, delightful, page-turning. Except we didn't turn pages because we enjoyed this one via Librivox.
~ A memoir - With Cords of Love: Memoir of Elizabeth Dwight, Missionary Wife and Mother
Elizabeth Dwight is surpassed by few in zealous love for her children's souls. I was inspired to pray more fervently for my children and the children of my friends, that they would know the Lord.
~ A book by a female author - On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A brief journalistic account of their journey to Mansfield, Missouri - as all her other writings, a delightful glimpse of times past
~ A book written by a first-time author - The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera
One of the few books this year written recently - a fun, light read with lots of good thoughts on seeking truth, goodness and beauty. Definitely sensed a Roman Catholic undertone to the Christian overtones.
~ A book about parenting - Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood by Melissa Kruger
A group of ladies from church studied this together. This is no feel-good fluff for moms, but has loads of hearty scriptural encouragement and guidance. I am glad I read it and own it for reading again.
~ A book by your favorite author - Manalive by G. K. Chesterton
Librivox again! Chesterton is one of my favorite authors, as I cannot pick a single favorite. Manalive is a call to embrace the life we have been given in all its raw, human goodness, but of course, being by Chesterton, it reads like a hilarious novel. Chesterton makes me see things from my husband's shirts to my children's duplo blocks with new, appreciative eyes, and I love him for that.
~ A book you have read before - The Queen's Smuggler by Dave and Neta Jackson
Another Trailblazer book. This was the first one of the series I read as an...eight? year old, and it was fun to revisit 20 years later. I think it was even better the second time - an imaginative story surrounding the real and inspiring life of William Tyndale.
~ A book about the natural world - Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles: The Lives and Lore of North American Wildflowers by Jack Sanders
I became a total nerd over this book. It officially tied the knot on my lifelong love affair with all things flora and I spent much of the proceeding days of summer with eyes on the ground hunting for live treasures. If you want some plantain-leaved pussytoes for your yard or garden, I know where to find them.
I am not going to start the 2017 Reading Challenge, though I've already gotten my mother-in-law set up for it! - I have other reading plans, including reading through the whole Bible with a chronological reading plan and completing my familiarization with the Cottage Press curriculum for my job as Cottage Press social media and communications assistant. Plus, there are all those books that the holiday gift season has added to our groaning shelves. But the reading challenge has helped me to read more, to complete books and not just to chill in them, to move on to learn and grow, and I hope to fill in some of those unchecked boxes in the new year, even though 2016 is gone.