It’s a couple weeks late for a post like this, and about thirteen years late to start a blog, but I’ve always been a late adopter. I end my blog-silence now because I was provoked to jealousy by friends sharing year-end reading reflections. I can’t promise anything more at this space than sporadic reflections on reading. So I start as I mean to go on, with books I especially enjoyed in 2016.
I’ve been a lover of books long enough to have had high hopes for a new book go kerplunk in the first few pages more than once. I’ve learned to hold pre-publication press at arm’s length, preempting the letdown. But sometimes I can’t help being unguardedly eager for a new book. And in a small delicious subset of those “sometimes,” a book not only only meets my hopes but blows past them. So I begin in this post with two books that managed to reward the romantic book-lover in me. For the two of you who care, these two are my books of the year.
Two Books That Exceeded Even My Unreasonably High Expectations
First up, William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days. I’ve stood in awe of Finnegan’s powers of description since discovering and repeatedly devouring his classic New Yorker piece “Playing Doc’s Games” (Part 1, 2). Surfing literary types used to call that the best piece of surf writing; the honor now passes to Finnegan’s book, along with a Pulitzer. I had the joy, now bittersweet, of reviewing this for Books & Culture. A taste of Finnegan’s prose:
I couldn’t get enough of their rhythmic violence. They pulled you toward them like hungry giants. They drained the water off the bar as they drew to their full, awful height, then pitched forward and exploded. From underwater, the concussion was deeply satisfying. Waves were better than anything in books, better than movies, better even than a ride at Disneyland, because with them the charge of danger was uncontrived.
Another book that easily cleared the high bar I had set for it was Fred Sanders’ The Holy Trinity. Sanders offers a programmatic exposition of just how it is that the Trinity is a biblical doctrine. As he puts it,
The goal of this book is to secure our knowledge of the triune God by rightly ordering the theological language with which we praise the triune God.
Sanders lucidly shows how the saving missions of the Son and the Spirit are what reveal God’s triunity to us, and how this revelation is both presupposed and attested in the New Testament, and adumbrated in the Old.
This is a mid-to-upper shelf academic book, and Fred is doing some serious creative retrieval in it, but he writes with such lucid elegance that you barely notice that you’re breaking a theological sweat. Here’s a teaser from near the end, on how all of Scripture’s promises and prefigurations converge in the trinitarian revelation of Christ’s incarnate mission:
All the major authors of the New Testament advance similar claims to the finality of what they have seen in Christ, and that eschatological definitiveness is what makes the Trinitarian interpretive moves not just possible, but urgent and necessary. There are no other hinges in the canon to compare with the one between the covenants; there are no further divine persons to identify retrospectively; and there is only one convergence point of the lines of messianic hyperfulfillment.
Thankfully, these weren’t the only two excellent books I read this year. More posts to come. In the next post, if I hold to purpose, my favorite fiction of the year.
(Photo credit: Lee Jonsson at https://www.surfersjournal.com/feature/high-gloss/)