February 25, 2024

La Ronge Northerner

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My favorite reads of 2023

My favorite reads of 2023

At the end of each year, I share a list of books I enjoyed reading during the calendar year. There is usually a combination of theology, cultural analysis, biography, and fiction. Hopefully some of this year’s favorite reads will make their way onto your Christmas wish list or make good gift ideas.

Here are my picks for 2023.

#1. Lincoln Highway

One of the best novels I’ve read in years, with unforgettable characters, a page-turning story, and some unforgettable scenes, including a chilling finale that vividly paints the teachings of the Bible on your heart after your treasure. The Duchess is one of the most vivid and memorable fictional characters I have encountered in literature. This is a coming-of-age story, where your understanding of the significance of the book’s events advances alongside the protagonist.

#2. Escape artist
The man who came out of Auschwitz to warn the world

By Jonathan Friedland

In a time like ours—when, despite decades of saying “never forget,” many in the world, even in the West, seem content not only to forget the horrors of the past, but to repeat them—we need books like this one. . Jonathan Friedland tells the incredible story of a man who escaped Auschwitz and shared the truth with the world, only to discover passivity and, in many cases, indifference. The story is true, which prevents Rudolf Vrba from becoming a one-dimensional hero. We see him later in life, with all his sins and mistakes, and the resentment eating away at his relationships. A harrowing account of heroism that highlights human frailty. I gave this book to my teenage daughter after she read it, and she couldn’t put it down either.

#3. Tim Keller
His spiritual and intellectual formation
By Colleen Hansen

I lost a hero in late May when Tim Keller died of cancer [read my reflections]. Colin Hansen has done us a great service by writing our first biographical treatment of Tim, which focuses less on Keller himself and more on the influences that shaped the man he became and the legacy he left. Colin takes us through the key moments in Tim’s life, but always with an emphasis on the experiences, writers and thinkers who shaped Tim spiritually and intellectually. This is the only book on my list this year that I’ve read twice.

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#4. Children of the night
The strange and epic story of modern Romania
By Paul Kenyon

In the space of a single century – from 1900 to 2000 – Romania went from celebrating the monarchy, to sliding into a nationalist dictatorship, to fighting in World War II on the side of Germany before turning to fighting on the side of the Allies, to overthrowing the king. The installation of a communist regime, and ended in a revolution that brought the birth pains of freedom. From monarchy to fascism to the Axis to the Allies to communism to free markets. All this in one century. Paul Kenyon gives us a poignant history of the turbulent century of the country where my wife comes from, and where I once made my home. This book traces the course of Romania’s history while presenting the personal stories and testimonies of ordinary people. In this way, it never becomes a dry historical recitation of facts, but rather helps the reader feel the promise and danger of this moment. Read my full review.

#5. Why are we restless?
Written by Benjamin and Gina Silber Storey

The highest-rated book of philosophical reflection on my list this year, Why are we restless? This book provides an in-depth look at four French thinkers – Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau, and Tocqueville – giving us an outline of their ideas, the ways in which their philosophies interact with each other, and telling a story about their influence on society today. The Storeys know how to distill elements of these thinkers to their essence in an impressively short span of pages. A profound and relevant book, I recommend it to anyone who wants to delve into some of the most influential men of all time. (On another note, the Story family joined me for an interview for an episode of the show Rebuilding faith This season to talk about Pascal, who incidentally took first place on this list in 2019.)

#6. pax
War and Peace in the Golden Age of Rome
By Tom Holland

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Tom Holland is one of the best history writers on the planet, and his new book does not disappoint. in paxIt takes us through the ups and downs, ups and downs of the Caesars who vied for power and prestige during the Golden Age of the Roman Empire. His account of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the eruption of Vesuvius and its aftermath should not be missed. A history at once strange and fascinating, Holland’s book draws us into a world at once grotesque (Nero’s brutal treatment of a man he sought to turn into a woman) and glorious (the exploits of Hadrian).

#7. The Lord’s Prayer, the BeatitudesWritten by Gregory of Nyssa

The oldest book on my list this year comes from Gregory of Nyssa. Longtime readers of my column may know that I bring a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount with me on vacation every year and work on it during my morning prayer. This year I have chosen a Church Father, and Gregory’s treatment of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes is striking in how relevant it is to this day. I underlined entire paragraphs, nodded, felt a twinge of conviction, and yet puzzled over some of the interpretive moves and conclusions. In the end, I was motivated by this ancient author whose passion for purity of heart remains clear to the modern reader.

#8. Silas Marner
By George Eliot

This novel from George Eliot was commissioned for my daughter this year, and as someone who didn’t make it all the way through Eliot’s masterpiece Middlemarch (Don’t throw stones!), I was pretty sure I wouldn’t care Silas Marner also. But when my daughter talked about this book, I decided to read it myself so we could discuss it. Not only was I disappointed, I knew I was going to have to include it in my top ten list. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say. . . Fascinating characters, biblical themes of justice and past sins made clear, and Jesus’ truth in saying what we cherish reveals our hearts—it’s all here. The other good thing about this book? For a classic, it’s short! Less than 200 pages.

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#9. Sincere disobedience
Writings on Church and State from the Chinese House Church Movement

By Wang Yi (et al)

Disobedience of believers [read my full review] It is not the story of China’s tragic crackdown on Early Rain and other churches. It is a collection of articles, pastoral letters, and conference talks that gives you a glimpse into the theological perspective of this church and its pastor before the hammer fell. This is the first time these resources have been made available in English. Some articles are academic. Others are pastoral or devotional. Read the book to be informed and inspired.

#10. Surprised by doubt
Written by Josh Shatro and Jack Carson

I hope this book will be widely read. It is pastoral in all the right ways, gently guiding readers to the treasures of the Christian faith while recognizing the intersecting pressures of a secular age that make it difficult to believe. Josh and Jack look not only at the different ways to walk away from faith, but also at the many ways to return to, and even deepen, faith through the experience of disappointment and doubt. The book engages with intellectual questions and challenges, warns us against reactionary versions of Christianity, and helps us address the experiential side of the search for sincerity in our world today.


By Eugene Vodolazkin

I love novels that place me directly in a world that is foreign to me religiously, temporally, and culturally. Laurus It succeeds on this front, transporting the reader to fifteenth-century Russia in a time of plague and epidemics. It is a wonderful book with thought-provoking images and scenes that lead to different interpretations. I’ve been thinking about some of the themes since I finished the book (here’s just one example).

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