Processing 2017 with the Written Word

My reading list was full of books that provided a necessary oasis…

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

In my post from 2016, I recounted how fascinating it had been to finally dive into the Harry Potter books for the first time. I had already seen all the movies, but I was experiencing the unique wonders of this classic book series completely anew.

“No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it…What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”

There’s no way to magically make bad things go away, even if you can magically make objects disappear with a flick of your wand. At some point, we have to decide to face the ugly parts of life.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I have come to love books. My wife chuckles when I tell her that I’ve bought a new book, because our bookshelf is already overflowing. I find that, most of the time when I finish a book, I have positive feelings about the experience. I think it’s because my brain works analytically, so I enjoy pondering someone else’s writing.

“The bad news is that there is no finish line here, no magical before and after….But there’s good news, too: if we just keep coming back to the silence, if we keep grounding ourselves, as often as we need to, in God’s wild love, if we keep showing up and choosing to be present in both the mess and in the delight, we will find our way home, even if the road is winding, and full of fits and starts.” — Shauna Niequist, Present Over Perfect

I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a book which I will revisit many times over. I can think of only a few books that have resonated so deeply within my soul. I’m forever grateful that Shauna decided to share her story. I pray that it is encouragement for others to do the same.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

From the very first book of this legendary series, it is clear that Harry Potter has a dark past. It is always lurking. Certainly the first four books of the series had their fair share of moments where Harry was forced to face this darkness. The death of Cedric Diggory in The Goblet of Fire certainly comes to mind.

Lent for Non-Lent People by Jon Swanson

I read this book for the first time in 2016. It holds so many golden thought nuggets of faith within its pages. But this year, I decided to use it as a daily reading for Lent. The book’s impact was magnified even more.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien

If I had to choose a favorite work of fiction, this just might be it. It certainly holds a special place in my heart. I first read it in elementary school, and it has enthralled me ever since. In fact, for a few years between high school and most of the way through college, I started a tradition of reading through the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy each year. I’ve laxed on that since graduation, but I decided to jump back in this year.

“That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.”

When we’re faced with adversity, what brings us comfort? What do we think of when life is dire? I find it so poignant that, throughout the book when the hobbits are faced with those types of situations, their minds often drift to the idyllic rolling hills of their home. The Shire — with its quaint hobbit holes and well-kept gardens tilled by a people with no knowledge of the “outside world.”

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

This was my first reading of Walden, though I had certainly heard of the greatness of Thoreau’s work. I found it on a bookshelf of a seller in a flea market for $1.50. After reading his book, I wonder what Thoreau would think of the comparatively low price of books across from a booth selling fidget spinners for five times that price.

“A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring.”

“The universe is wider than our views of it.”

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Walden is a delightful and enduring work of art. It is challenging at times, at others it is uplifting and ethereal. At points it is full of humor. At other points (I’ll be bluntly honest) Thoreau’s sharp focus on his budget and daily goings-on was a bit boring. But those parts were very few and very far between. I am still fascinated by this book, and I will certainly be revisiting it at some point. If you’ve never read it or if it’s been a while since you have, I strongly recommend it.

The Self-Aware Leader by Terry Linhart

Terry is someone I have the fantastic honor of being able to call a friend. He is a professor at my alma mater, Bethel College, and he co-hosts one of my favorite podcasts, 37 the Podcast. So when I heard that he was coming out with a new book, I was just a little bit excited!

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

I’m not sure I’ve ever read, listened to or watched anyone who commands the English language quite like Cormac McCarthy. If I were forced to choose a favorite author at the moment (a nearly impossible task) I think I’d choose him. This is now the third book of his that I’ve read, and I simply can’t get enough.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I’m not quite sure how I got to 25 having not read this book, but somehow I did. To go from Blood Meridian to this Pulitzer Prize-winning classic certainly made for some fascinating reading. I flew through this book faster than any in my recent memory. I can certainly see why it is so beloved.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” — Atticus Finch

That’s such an important truth, one that I need to continue to learn to put into practice. It isn’t easy, but I think we all need much more of it.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

This is a fascinating but heartbreaking story. Grann handles it masterfully, and I was enthralled by his talents as a writer. Ultimately this is a story of how greed corrupts the human soul into a mangled and twisted shell.

The Deeper Path by Kary Oberbrunner

This is another book that I am sure to revisit multiple times. It was an incredibly life-giving read. Kary pulls no punches in this book of hard but necessary truths. It’s about leaning into past pains to learn more about yourself and, ultimately, to ignite you to your passions.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson vaulted right near the top of my list of favorite authors after I read Home last year. I had been meaning to read the first book of her trilogy on the inhabitants of this small Iowa town, and I finally was able to do it.

Wintering by Peter Geye

This was the second book loaned to me by my boss, and I am so grateful that she shared it with me. Geye is another fantastic writer, and with Wintering, he offers a story that is riveting and moving. It is a story about history — our pasts that both haunt and encourage us.

God and Churchill by Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley

For the second year in a row, I finished a book on December 31. This one took me right up until 11pm — but don’t take that to mean that I was in a rush to finish it. I learned so much — not only about one of the greatest individuals of the 20th century — but also about the spiritual, scientific and social influences that came together to bring about the Nazi party in Germany in the time between World War I and World War II.

Onward to 2018

We are now in a New Year. Who knows what awaits us in the coming 365 days? But I know that I will once again be ramping up my reading efforts. Because the things I learn through reading are worth far more than the time and effort I put into it. More than that, I find that books are a call to step back from the hectic pace of our modern world. I truly find that reading is an oasis. It is an investment in my own personal growth, and I encourage you to make some more deposits this year. I read more in 2017 than I did in 2016, but I didn’t quite hit the goal I had at the beginning of the year. So, I’ll try again this year — read 15 new books and 5 that I have previously read for 20 total. I’ll meet you back here next year to see what I’ve learned. Until then, I wish you all the best and happy reading!

Christ-follower. Husband to @SarahLCharles. Simple moments hold great power. Connect with me at my website: www.aarondcharles.com

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