When people ask me what I am currently reading — or more accurately stated, when I tell them what they should be reading — they often are surprised by what I don’t read.
My reading doesn’t include anything from the biblical apocalypse series or anything from the grinning libraries of televangelism. In fact, my reading list includes very few books from the Bible bookstore.
I try to read books that challenge my faith, ethics and outlook. In that spirit, I’ve compiled my annual book list that I recommend to folks. This year, as in last, my recommendations had to be limited to the nonfiction books I’m reading for a master’s degree in creative writing at Pacific University in Oregon. I’ve listed the books below, starting with my favorite read of the year.
“Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II” (New York: Anchor, 2009) by Douglas Blackmon. If you think slavery ended in 1865, you’ll be plen-ty disturbed by the claims of this Pulitzer-winning journalist. He maintains that slavery continued into World War II through laws enacted specifically to arbitrarily incarcerate blacks for hard labor with farms and corporations. I recommend this book because of its insight into how 19th-century slavery is a legitimate factor in today’s racial issues.
“This Boy’s Faith: Notes From a Southern Baptist Upbringing” (New York: Crown, 2011) by Hamilton Cain. This book follows the story of a man who is raised in a manipulative and toxic church experience. However, when he becomes a new father, he must find a way to reconcile his own childhood faith with his baby’s life-threatening disease. I recommend it because it incorporates a healthy dose of doubt into the search for a working faith.
“Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century” (New York: Penguin, 2010) by P.W. Singer. This is a book about warriors who may be living in your neighborhood and who kill insurgents by remote control from a nearby base. With amazing clairvoyance, Singer describes the revolution that is taking place not only with how wars are fought but also the politics, economics, laws and ethics that surround war itself. I recommend this book because I am the chaplain for many of these people.
“The Devil in Pew Number Seven” (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2010) by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo and Robert G. DeMoss isn’t your typical true crime story. It is the childhood memoir of a daughter who forgives the man who killed her parents. The killer was a stalwart church member where her father was the pastor. I recommend the book because there is a great deal to learn from people who can forgive such horrific things.
“A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping From Two Sides” (New York: Viking, 2010) by David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill. This is a story of the kidnapping ordeal of journalist David Rohde. I recommend the book because it shows how a husband and a wife separately draw on their individual faith traditions.
“The Last Lecture” (New York: Hyperion, 2008) by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow. This best-seller was written by a computer science teacher who delivers his final lecture after learning he has a terminal diagnosis. I recommend the book because Pausch will encourage you to appreciate the gifts you receive, seize the moment, to laugh and to overcome obstacles.
Finally, (shameless plug approaching) if you like my column, you may want to read my compilation book called “No Small Miracles: Heartwarming, Humorous, and Hopefilled Stories From a Pediatric Chaplain” (Thomas Nelson 2009).
Norris Burkes’ website is thechaplain.net.