Posts Tagged ‘things fall apart’

My Ten Favorite Books of 2011

I finished a Baker’s Cannonball (that’s fifty-three books) for CBR-III, but I only really finished forty-eight in 2011. But that’s plenty of books from which to choose a Top Ten.

10. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
y: the last man

This is actually a graphic novel series in ten volumes, and not a single book. But it’s a graphic novel, so it’s a quick and fun read. The premise of the story is that a mysterious plague has caused every male organism on Earth to die: except for Yorick Brown, an aspiring escape artist, and his helper monkey, Ampersand. It explores a lot of gender issues, but does so in a witty and interesting way. There are plenty of meta references and jokes, and a few parts even made me laugh out loud, which rarely happens when I’m reading.

But this is a graphic novel series for grown-ups, and not a comic book for kids, so be forewarned that there are some squicky parts that prudes like me don’t appreciate, including some nudity.

9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
things fall apart

Culture changes with every generation. The dominant people of one generation can quickly become obsolete and shunned by the next. Things Fall Apart explores what happens when someone cannot let go of the past in order to adapt to the future. Okonkwo, the most powerful man in a remote Nigerian village, is unable to change as the times do, with tragic consequences. This book is a quick read, but a heavy one.

8. John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain H. Murray
john macarthur: servant of the word and flock

Iain Murray is, in my opinion, one of the finest biographers of our day, and certainly the foremost Christian biographer of our generation. His proto-biography of John MacArthur is a brief but encouraging look at the life of one of my spiritual heroes. Murray himself reminds the reader that a full biography can’t really be finished until the subject’s life and testimony are complete, but this is a great glimpse at what that full testimony will look like when it’s ready to be written.

I can only wonder who will write Murray’s biography when he is gone.

7. John Adams by David McCullough
john adams

John Adams is an historical figure who doesn’t get much play time in the American classrooms of today. But he’s certainly one of the most important patriots who ever lived, and historian David McCullough brings him to life in the pages of this book. Adams was a man of deep integrity and passion, and I appreciate that McCullough chooses to write about men of character instead of those who lived more glamorous and superficially exciting lives.

6. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
high fidelity

This is a book that will speak to anyone who’s ever loved and lost and pined after someone they couldn’t have. Hornby has a knack for writing about common human experiences with a humor and with that makes them seem somehow glorious because of how pitiful they are. Rob Fleming is everyman, and laughing at his romantic misadventures helps you to laugh at your own.

5. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
the hiding place

One of the few books I re-read in 2011, I was surprised at how much richer this book was for me upon re-reading it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown to appreciate God’s love and care for His children since I first read it back in high school, but I was very personally encouraged by this book, and the testimony of Corrie ten Boom’s life, especially in how God used her time in a German concentration camp during WWII to teach her more about His power, grace, and love. This is a book that I’ll keep in my heart for the rest of my life.

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
extremely loud and incredibly close

I hear that the movie version of this book is retaaaaahded, but don’t let that stop you from reading this beautiful, tragic, poignant book. One of the first novels to be set against the backdrop of 9/11, it came under some fire for being “manipulative” because of its setting. But I think time has been kind to it, and I found the story of young Oskar Schell’s search for a way to make sense out of life after losing his father in the 9/11 attacks to be profoundly moving.

3. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
black swan green

What High Fidelity is for relationships, Black Swan Green is for growing up. Jason Taylor is unpopular, unconfident, and uncomfortable. His parents are on the verge of splitting up, the girl he fancies fancies the class bully, and, to make matters worse, he has a stammer that makes King George VI look like Cicero. He’s the Rob Fleming of junior high, and David Mitchell writes this semi-autobiographical character with honesty, compassion, and feeling. It’ll make you look back on the miserable memories of junior-high awkwardness (if you have them. I have them in abundance) with fondness — not because they weren’t really miserable, but because that misery shaped you into the person you are today.

2. Native Son by Richard Wright
native son

Native Son may well be one of the most important works of American literature. It’s well-written, thought-provoking, and harrowing. It tells the tale of Bigger Thomas, a black man ironically forced into a terrible situation by the kindness of people in a class oppressing his own. Part of me wants to say it’s a sad story, but it’s also a very cold story. Wright himself described it best when he said of its creation, “I swore to myself that if I ever wrote another book, no one would weep over it; that it would be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears.”

1. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller
prodigal god

I guess you could accuse me of copping out because I put a Christian book at the top of my list. But while this book may not change the world at large, it certainly changed my life, and my view of God’s love and grace. We’ve all heard the story of the prodigal son, and we think that the word “prodigal” means “lost” or “wayward.” But what it really means is “wastefully extravagant,” and Keller posits that the real prodigal in this story is the Father, who lavishes his love and riches on a son that doesn’t deserve it. I can’t even write about this book without being moved to tears because I know that God has given me so much more than I could ever hope to deserve. Because of His prodigal love, all the riches of heaven are mine, and there’s not a thing I can do to lose it or earn more of it. This book is a must-read for Christians who want to glimpse into the depths of God’s love for them.


What were your favorite books of 2011?


Cannonball 26: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall ApartThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was younger, I had a lot of conflict with my parents due to cultural differences. They were raised in a conservative, strictly Korean culture. But they didn’t have enough time to raise me in the same way, so a lot of American values and cultural mores seeped into my mind.

Whenever they demanded that I conform to their Korean values, I balked. I didn’t understand why they were so adamant about preserving a culture in me that they seemed too busy to impart to me in the first place. I didn’t understand why they made such a big deal out of being Korean, or why they got so angry when I rooted for the United States to win more gold medals than South Korea in the Olympics.

Gradually, we kind of learned to accept each other despite our differences, but I still secretly thought they were being a little unreasonable when it came to preserving Korean culture in our home.

high expectations asian father

Reading Things Fall Apart helped me to see things a little better from their point of view.

Okonkwo is a powerful man living in the Nigerian village of Umofia. His father was a deadbeat, so he has dedicated his life to being everything his father wasn’t: rich, powerful, strong, respected.

Everything’s going great for him until a boy from another village is taken prisoner and sent to live with Okonkwo. Okonkwo’s family becomes fond of Ikemefuna, and the boy begins to think of Okonkwo as his own father.

The village then decrees that the boy must die, and an old man warns Okonkwo not to have anything to do with his death, since the boy is like a son to him. But Okonkwo, unwilling to seem weak, participates in Ikemefuna’s execution, inflicting the coup de grace himself.

It’s all downhill from there for Okonkwo. When his gun accidentally goes off during a funeral ceremony, killing another man, he has to flee and live with his relatives in another village, losing all of his wealth. When he returns to Umofia, he finds that white missionaries have arrived in the village, and that the village is being changed by their influence. Okonkwo’s attempts to preserve his village’s culture end in tragedy.

chinua achebe

Chinua Achebe

Achebe not only tells the story of a driven man of a dying breed, but also of what shaped him to become so driven. The context is specific to Nigeria, but the basic tale is universal: not wanting to repeat your parents’ mistakes.

I also appreciated that he was very fair in his treatment of missionaries. Instead of painting them as either saviors of a savage people or as Pharisaical monsters determined to destroy a culture, he showed both sides: a good, kind missionary who simply wanted to help people and share what he believed, and a cold, proud missionary who wanted to force his views on a people that he saw as inferior. There have been both kinds, and it’s not really fair to ignore one or the other.

Most of all, Achebe was able to draw the reader into Okonkwo’s dying world; I was able to understand his despair and frustration at not only losing everything he’d worked so hard to gain all his life, but even the cultural structure that made his goals worth attaining.

It’s true that change is inevitable, but that doesn’t make it any easier to adapt when change does come. I can’t go back now and make myself more Korean. But when I have children and they don’t understand some of my cultural values, I’ll think about my parents and appreciate a little more how hard it was to raise a daughter of a different generation and culture.

View all my reviews