The Best, Worst, and Most Thought-Provoking Books I Read in 2015



Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Beauty, depth, and hope from darkness: I believe those words best sum up this book.  I don’t want to say too much if you’ve never read it, but it is probably my favorite book of the year.  The characters are memorable, humorous, and realistically multi-dimensional.  Probably a big part of why I enjoyed this so much is because I live with a devoted Catholic, an Atheist, and an Agnostic.  Come to think of it, I suppose it sounds like the beginning of a joke.  Anyway, it’s a terrific book that you should read.  And as a friend of mine encouraged me, “…it gets bleak, but the payoff is worth it.”  He was right.


The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I thought this would be a good ole fashioned mystery, but no, it is much more.  This book really takes the lead for memorable narration.  Throughout the book, there are several opinionated narrators, all trying to tell their part of the mystery of the missing Moonstone; essentially, a delightful play in perspectives.  The first narrator is an elderly steward for a wealthy family who is rather old fashioned in his view of women, and seems to find all of the answers to life’s perplexing problems in the pages of “Robinson Crusoe.”  The next narrator is the prudish churchwoman who has a way of always being right (at least in her mind), and  has plenty of hellfire and damnation tracts on hand to give to any sinful passersby.  Having known a handful of people like her throughout my life, it made me cringe and laugh simultaneously to think that the author must be basing her on someone he knew.  It’s really a wonderfully written book with delightful characters, oh, and a lovely little mystery.


I know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I always had her book on my to-read list, but it was hearing of her passing that made me want to read it this year.  What a poignantly told story in a uniquely moving voice (both in the narrative sense and in the literal sense).  I listened to this as an audiobook so that I could hear Ms. Angelou’s rich voice telling her own story and I’m so glad I did.  There were so many well-written phrases, and unique ways of describing events.  Her story is one of struggles, of beautiful moments, of harsh realities, and childhood innocence.  If you like listening to audiobooks, this one is a must.


Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz Survivor to Presidents’ Tailor by Martin Greenfield

As the title explains, the book is about a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to America to become one of the most highly-sought after tailors in the US.  Who knew that making suits could be so interesting?  I certainly did not.  Mr. Greenfield is quite the character and has an engaging way of telling his story.  It’s definitely worth a fun, fast read.



Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I need to first say, that this is not a bad book; quite the contrary, it is so well-written that I had visceral reaction.  I believe that if I were a different person who did not grow up surrounded by so much Fundamentalist hypocrisy, and did not have a family filled with wayward children, I might have liked this book.  But, I don’t and I didn’t.  In a handful of places the book was simply boring.  The characters, with the exception of two, were flat and two dimensional in some ways, and oddly deep and three dimensional in other ways, making one feel that either the whole book is the author’s sloppy attempt to shove her beliefs on the reader through an Uncle Tom-like narrator, or it is masterfully crafted to show the unreliable narrator’s own pious blindness toward himself and parts of reality.  I tend to think it is the latter.

It is a memoir written by an aged Congregationalist pastor, John Ames, to his young son before he dies.  The tale ultimately centers around a wayward young man that Pastor Ames, who speaks often of forgiveness, refuses to forgive.  In some ways, I appreciated the glaring hypocrisies of the pastor, able to judge and point out the speck in another’s eye, while glossing over the plank in his own, but it was also far too familiar, too realistic.  The only true Christ-like character in the story is the pastor’s wife, who I found to be intriguing, mysterious, and hardly in the story.  The wayward young man I also really liked.  He was, for all his many faults, honest with himself.


So when, at the end, the pastor forgives the wayward man without asking forgiveness for his own sin, it was too much for me.  I finished the book with a sour taste in my mouth. But perhaps one that was supposed to be there?


The Philosophy of Edith Stein by Dr. Antonio Calcagno

I was going into reading this book with little prior knowledge of the Catholic Phenomenologist (no, that is not a ghost hunter) Edith Stein.  The first few chapters devoted to explaining her life as a Jewish Atheist Phenomenologist who converted to Catholicism, and later died in a concentration camp, were good. When it came to explaining her views of Phenomenology and the importance of the Catholic feminine, I was disappointed.  Many times, the author used various words and phrases in other languages (German, Latin, French) without any explanation or clarification to their meaning or English equivalent.  I did a good bit of translation throughout and was dismayed that a majority of his foreign language word choices held no greater significance than their English counterparts, so his word choices seemed to me, pretentious.  For the most part, it was probably just my personal distaste for academic verbosity, and my inner drive for efficiency, that made me dislike the writing so much.  There were many times where the author went the most roundabout way to make his point, I lost interest, had to start over, and then was able to summarize what he’d said in four paragraphs in three short sentences (then again, a true philosopher probably appreciates the nuance that I have no patience for).  And as a book about the writings/philosophy of Edith Stein, and although referring constantly to her writings, there was a disconcerting dearth of quotes and little of her own writing included (plenty of which she did).  Some of her arguments were interesting and thought-provoking, but I think another book, perhaps a translated version of something she wrote would be more beneficial to the novice reader of Edith Stein’s philosophy.


Most Thought-Provoking


Outside the Magic Circle: The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr

This book is an edited version of a recorded conversation with Ms. Virginia Foster Durr and I’m so glad that it is.  Many of the beautiful southern idioms and colloquialisms come through magnificently, and her southern cadence is etched all over the pages of the book.  She winds her way through the fascinating details of growing up in the impoverished and racist south, her school years, and her journey of how she turned from being a racist southerner to one of the foremost civil rights and incidentally, women’s rights activists, in the 1940-60’s.  A terrific read and interesting perspective on all sorts of historical events.

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

This was the quintessential book to sum up my year of reading feminist literature.  This was a refreshing, yet honest look at where the church is now, its interpretation of the Bible (aka its tendency to interpret through the lens of patriarchy), and the subsequent consequences.  Overall, it is an encouraging call to men and women alike to change the church through love and grace, embracing all believers in their God-given callings, regardless of gender.


  1. Just saw this…glad you made it through Brideshead, and I’ll forgive you for Gilead. =)

    I may need to re-read it now. I was just so struck to find a modern book that spoke the language of Christianity, I may have gotten a little “drunk”. Of course, the other books in the trilogy flesh out that sour taste even more. On balance, I’ll still stand by what I wrote here:

    Cheers, friend.

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