Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My Science Boyfriend


Physicist and Priest
by Michael Fitzgerald
The Christian Century
January 29, 2008

Some of you know that I have recently developed an interest in reading about science - I don't know much about science, but find it fascinating. I love pondering the connections to be made between science and faith. For about a week now, I have been absorbed in reading the fat biography of
Albert Einstein (written by Walter Isaacson) that was published about a year ago. Will probably post about that in a couple of days. When I read about science - especially the super-technical disciplines like physics - some (much) of it goes over my head, but even when I do not fully grasp the concepts, I understand more than I did previously. If I can lift the curtain the tiniest bit and understand even a little of the intricate order of our universe, I am that much closer to encountering the creative power of God.

Several years ago a book group I was in read Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity by quantum physicist turned Anglican priest John Polkinghorne. I remember that I liked the book a lot, and was pleased to see this interview with Polkinghorne in the current issue of The Christian Century. Polkinghorne seems like a humble, gentle spirit - he published his autobiography last October. May have to consider reading it. I'm really quite smitten with Einstein, but since he has been dead since 1955, Polkinghorne may have to fill in as my science boyfriend.

Anyway, the interview is a good read - I do not think it is written with the simple elegance of the Polkinghorne book that I have read, but then it is a different medium. There were a couple of quotes that I particularly liked and wanted to share:

On his view of metaphor and its place in theology: "I prefer the word symbol to metaphor. Metaphor is essentially a literary device. A symbol is a way of representing reality that in some sense-a sense very hard to define-participates in the reality that it represents. Symbolism is indispensable to theology, because the mysterious infinite reality of God cannot be caught within the finite nets of human thinking in the way that the physical world, or large aspects of it, can be caught. The precise language of mathematics, which is so natural to physics, has to be replaced in theology by a different form of discourse."

On God not as the cosmic lawgiver but as the one guiding the process of creativity: "I'm very sympathetic to the idea that though God is the one who holds the world in being, the creation of the world is not the performance of a fixed score, but more like an unfolding improvisation in which God, as the great conductor of the orchestra, and also the individual creature players each have their roles. I think that's what the world looks like. It is also very much what I think you might expect the God of love to be like-not to be a chap who pulls every string-and also very much like the God of the Bible. A sort of cosmic puppet master doesn't seem at all to be the God of the Bible."

Think on these things. I love the orchestra/conductor/improvisation image.
Reverent Reader

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Song We Sing/The Life We Live


The Song of the Lark
by Willa Cather

I paraphrased the title of this post from the title of a book that Indigo Girl Emily Saliers wrote (A Song to Sing, A Life to Live). I have not read the book, but the title intrigues me. I do not think that the protagonist of Willa Cather's The Song of the Lark, Thea Kronborg, would say that there is any distinction between the song we sing and the life we live. She becomes so absorbed in her art and in reaching the pinnacle of her potential that her voice is her life and vice versa.

I loved The Song of the Lark. From a purely literary standpoint, no other book I have read recently has moved me like this one, just for the sheer beauty of her words and descriptions. It is not a thriller type of book, not a gripping page-turner, but when I was reading it I did not want to stop. When it was over, I had that temporary feeling of sadness and letdown, as if a group of friends had moved away.

Fundamentally the book is about passion and calling, about an opera singer pursuing her craft so intently and striving so hard for perfection that she has room for little else in her life. Thea's relationships with family, friends, and lovers suffer because of her devotion to her work. I would think any serious artist, be it performing arts or visual arts or whatever, could relate to the single mindedness, the sense of purpose, with which Thea pursues her vocation.

On the one hand, Thea's dedication and especially her intensity made me uncomfortable. I was (for the first time) almost glad to not have any major artistic talents so that I would not have to live under the pressure that Thea places on herself. If I did have a gift like Thea's voice, I am not sure I could cut myself off from roots and family, as she does, for the sake of the art. We talk a lot about "balance" between work and family obligations in our postmodern culture, but in Thea's world balance is not even an option. One senses with Thea that it is all or nothing. That could be related to when the book was written (The Song of the Lark was published in 1915), when women did have to make such choices. For Thea, there is no choice. She cannot NOT sing.

On the other hand, though her intensity can be hard to understand, it would be wonderful if everyone had the passion for their calling that Thea does. I am blessed to be engaged in work that I really love, but so many people are not. My heart goes out to people who count the days until they can retire and who feel no sense of purpose in the way they make a living. Thea's voice is so clearly a gift from God, and she is lucky enough to be able to use that gift to earn her living. So many people have to do things that they are bored by or even hate, just so they can pay their bills. In a perfect world, everyone could have the opportunity to discern their gifts and the things for which they feel genuine passion, and be able to use those gifts not only to make a living, but for the common good as well.

I also wish for the day when people of faith feel the same commitment to following Christ (or Buddha or God or whomever) that Thea gives to her singing. After all, should discipleship and development as children of God not be the primary vocation for all of us? So often our faith life gets placed on the back burner because of the distractions that surround and seduce us. How awesome would it be if our faith took first place and inspired us as music does Thea? If it were not an ancillary part of life, but life itself? Now that's a song we could all sing!

It was a couple of readers of this blog who encouraged me to read some Willa Cather. I am so glad I did - she was one I had just never gotten around to before. I can see now that I am going to have to read lots more of her. Anyone else out there a Cather fan? If so, what is your favorite? I am especially interested in My Antonia, O Pioneers!, Death Comes for the Archbishop, One of Ours, and The Professor's House. Stay tuned!

Reverent Reader

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Confidence, Hope, Trust


When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today
by Harvey Cox

Seems like all we hear anymore is that younger people are lazy, self-interested, and devoid of a spiritual life. It also seems that the conventional wisdom is that academic institutions are completely godless and merely serve as hotbeds of "secular humanism." Cox's book debunks both of those myths, as he reflects on 20 years of teaching a course called "Jesus and the Moral Life" to Harvard University undergraduates.

A disclaimer: I read this book over a period of several weeks, at my desk between correspondence, calls, or other tasks. Reading in this way is a good way to recharge mental energy and refocus when one is feeling scattered. However, it takes me much longer to read a book in this way than concentrating on one for significant chunks of time over a period of several days. For that reason, I feel like I do not have as clear a sense of the progression of the book as a whole, since I read it in fits and starts.

Cox and his students tried to understand Jesus (mainly through the stories told about him and the stories/parables that he told) as someone who could help them when they wrestled with moral decisions, and tried to discern and/or develop a reasonable thought process that could guide them to the Jesuslike thing to do when faced with an ethical dilemma. Over the years, the students dealt with just about every moral question we can think of - everything from capital punishment to wealth and what we do with it to female egg donation. It was interesting, and heartening, to listen to bright, articulate people who want to do the right thing. It also became obvious that in life's fuzzy areas (as if we did not know this before), Jesus and his teachings are helpful but seldom (if ever) lead us to absolutes. No doubt that was frustrating for the students at times, as they clearly wanted Cox to provide them with "answers." In retrospect, however, when Cox talked to his former students, most of them were grateful that the course taught them how to think critically, from a Christian perspective, about moral issues.

In my opinion, the best parts of the book were the chapters on the Easter story and the bodily resurrection. The students wanted Cox to say outright if he thought the resurrection "really happened." As a pastor, I encounter questions like this a lot, especially in the Lenten and Easter seasons. I thought Cox provided as helpful an articulation of that whole conundrum as I have ever read. He beautifully expressed the hope and life and abundance to be found in the idea of resurrection without saying equivocally that either the yea-sayers or nay-sayers are wrong. He left it open for people to come to their own conclusion about Jesus' corporeal body, while extending the gifts of Easter to all perspectives. I especially liked that he said that the question of whether or not we "believe in " the bodily resurrection is not an especially helpful one. He says "hope in, confidence in , and trust in" the resurrection are much more appropriate ways to consider the resurrection's place in our lives.

As we approach Ash Wednesday in a couple of weeks, I am sure that I will turn to Cox's book again for his thoughts on Lent and Easter. The whole book is worthwhile, but I was particularly energized and spiritually broadened by his final chapters.

Anybody else got some particularly good Lenten reading? I'm up for some ideas. I'm getting ready to start Organic Church.

Reverent Reader

Friday, January 18, 2008

Wrenching

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
by Ishmael Beah

My high school friends in New York City have begun to suspect I haven't told them the full story of my life.

"Why did you leave Sierra Leone?"
"Because there is a war."
"Did you witness some of the fighting?"
"Everyone in the country did."
"You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?"
"Yes, all the time."
"Cool."
I smile a little.
"You should tell us about it sometime."
"Yes, sometime."

This book is Ishmael Beah's response to variations of that conversation. Sometimes it is impossible to grasp the things that really do go on in our world. Ishmael was forced into the Sierra Leonean army when he was 12 years old, after his family had all been killed and his village burned. He hid in the jungles and foraged for food for several months, but eventually he had to choose between joining the army or being killed by rebels. Sounds like the tactics of both groups were pretty similar: take a bunch of traumatized kids, get them hooked on drugs (marijuana, cocaine, and a sniffable mixture of cocaine and gunpowder known as brown brown) , and brainwash them into becoming killing machines.

Ishmael was one of the lucky ones. He was rescued by an NGO that sent him to a rehabilitation center for boys who had been in the war. Over time, his body went through withdrawal from the drugs, and he found a few people he trusted enough to talk with about his horrific experiences in the Sierra Leonean bush. I really cannot even begin to describe what this child went through, the wounds (both physical and psychic) that he survived and the suffering he inflicted on others when he was too far from himself to know any better. It really is necessary to read the story in Ishmael's voice. His writing is spare and succinct, yet oddly beautiful and compelling. He writes of his lost childhood and family with very little self-pity. Of course he has regrets and sadness about the past, and feels his losses keenly. He is tormented still by the memories of killing people and seeing his friends killed. He also seems to realize, though, how fortunate he was to escape when so many did not.

The book ends with Ishmael escaping to the United States to attend the United Nations International School in New York. His journey was perilous, as violence had broken out yet again in his country and he was in very real danger of being forced back into the army. Eventually, Ishmael went to Oberlin College, where he was a classmate with two of my family members. I hope at some point he writes about his experiences in adjusting to life in the United States and the comparatively safe world of the college campus. I wonder if he thought everyone around him was incredibly clueless.

Ishmael Beah shares a hopeful story of redemption and rehabilitation. However, when his book ends one cannot help but feel so sad for all those kids who died in the jungle, or who ended up returning to the army because they had no other options (if any family members survive at all, they sometimes will not welcome the child soldiers back into the fold because of they are afraid of them). There is still so much work to be done in healing our world. Two of the organizations involved in Ishmael's rescue and rehab were UNICEF and Children Associated with War (CAW). I plan to get on their websites this weekend and try to find out how people here can help with helping as many kids as possible rebuild their lives. I know Uganda also uses child soldiers, and no doubt there are other places where these atrocities are going on. Surely it does not have to be this way.

Reverent Reader

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Authentically Embodied Faith



Making It Real: How to Live as if Another World Were Already Here
Sojourners Magazine
January 2008
by Tom Sine

There is almost always something in Sojourners that is not only worth reading, but worth reading several times. This article by Tom Sine captured my attention this month. It's not so much that he is saying anything particularly new (but really, when we are talking about the Gospel, is any of it really new), but that he expresses his ideas so beautifully.

What Sine's article boils down to is that he is raising the question "How do we break out of the box of worship? How do we stop compartmentalizing and have our discipleship be our life instead of an add-on to what is "real." He hits on a way to embody our faith - to live as if another world (i.e. God's kingdom, God's vision of healing and wholeness for all of us) is already here.

Here is my favorite paragraph from the article: "How can we dream into, live into, serve into, and celebrate into that world which is already here? To answer this we need to revisit the rich biblical imagery of God's loving purposes for a people and a planet. We also need to journey with Jesus and those first disciples, paying particular attention to how they sought to embody images and values of God's new order by fashioning communities that were clearly counter to the societies in which they lived."

Sine goes on to put forth some captivating ideas about architecture and community and how we as human beings are called to live together. He also has a terrific description of the movie Babette's Feast as an example of the transforming, reconciling power of extravagant love.

So . . . how do WE go about authentically embodying our faith? It is not easy - we get so caught up in just keeping the machine running (packing lunches, getting the car fixed, keeping the clutter reasonably under control) that it can be hard to be conscious and intentional about living lives that are truly imitative of Christ's. It is also true that the needs of the world are so overwhelming that it is tempting just to shut down and bury ourselves in television and the administrivia of life. When I read about the violence in Kenya lately, my heart aches and I feel powerless to DO anything that makes a real difference. I am wondering, though, if in some cosmic way we do not ease the suffering of the world as a whole when we engage in acts of love and justice wherever we find ourselves.

I am not saying that we should not do whatever we can to help our neighbors in Kenya (and Iraq, and Darfur, and in Montgomery County. and everywhere. I am convinced that part of embodying our faith is to realize that the world is very small and even though it may occur on the other side of the planet the pain of another is never very far away. I do wonder, though, if hands-on, face to face encounters with the neighbor - those moments of clarity and creativity when we know instinctively that we have truly connected with another person and brought them the tiniest bit if healing and hope - maybe those are the moments when we really "get it," if only for a few seconds.

What are your "thin moments" - those instances when you feel a connection to the divine and to the other and know that in that moment your faith is real and lived? Those may be too personal to share in cyberspace, but would love to hear thoughts from readers about Sine's article and the idea of authentic embodiment.

Grace and peace,

Reverent Reader

Monday, January 14, 2008

Marie the Teenage Prophet


The Book of Marie
by Terry Kay

Hi there, reading friends! Sorry I have been out of touch the past few days. We have been having problems with our home Internet connection. What a drag! Anyway, The Book of Marie is an engrossing read, an important story that is well told. It is partially set in a fictional Georgia town in 1954, just as Brown vs. the Board of Education was beginning to change the unjust system of racial segregation that had been so firmly entrenched in the South (as well as certain parts of the North, but we tend to forget that).

Marie Fitzpatrick moves to the town of Overton from Washington, D.C. at the beginning of her senior year of high school. She is appalled by the racism that she encounters in her new surroundings, and wastes no time in sharing her opinions with her peers. Some of the young people in Overton are not bad kids, but pretty clueless. Others are outright cruel, and Marie quickly finds herself isolated at school and pretty much everywhere else. Marie is one of those rare teens who senses that being just is more important than being liked. When she delivers her valedictory graduation speech, she foretells the ocean of change that is about to roll over the South. The speech makes her no friends, and shortly after graduation she leaves Overton for good. Marie is a wonderful character, but occasionally frustrating because her acerbic, sarcastic personality turns so many people away from her message - and it is a message that so clearly needed to be heard.

Most of Marie's story is told in flashbacks as Cole Bishop, the one boy who befriended her in her year in Overton, prepares to attend his 50th high school reunion and copes with a lot of complicated memories of and feelings about Marie. Although they never saw each other after graduation, Cole and Marie keep in touch for many years through lengthy, frank, and detailed letters.

This is not a perfect book. The writing can be clunky in places, and some of the dialogue (particularly between the adult Cole and his close friend Tanya) just sounds plain weird. The writer (who is from the South) does a better job of recreating the teenage world near the end of segregation than he does in filling out the character of the adult Cole. Something else that is annoying is that the book was obviously not well proofed by the publishing house. There are several spelling errors and a few grammatical ones, most of which are probably just typos, that should have been picked up by a proofreader or editor. That can be jarring.

In spite of its flaws, The Book of Marie is well worth the reader's time. The Civil Rights Movement is my favorite period of US history, and this novel gives us a glimpse into the minds of Southerners as they faced the end of life as they knew it. Without excusing the evils of Jim Crow, the book helps us see the humanity of all who lived through the drama of integration as it unfolded. If we are ever to forgive each other and reconcile as a nation, we have to be willing to understand what all of these liminal times were like for all who were involved. I also believe we have to recognize the fact that even people that we see as evil are God's children whether we like that truth or not. The Book of Marie tells a story of something that was inexcusably terrible, but also shows us how pockets of redemption emerged from tragedy.

This is kind of an obscure book. I had not heard of it or read any reviews of it or anything like that. E. found it and thought it was something I would like, so he got it for me for Christmas. He was right. I hope many people will read it.

What are some books that you have read that have helped you see into another time and/or place? Another Civil Rights novel that I loved was Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund. A few years ago, Eldridge Cleaver's Soul On Ice was a thought-provoking read for me. I would love to hear of other books that have had a similar effect on people, so send me your ideas!

Reverent Reader

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Could Use a Few More Thoughts


I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
by Nora Ephron

This book is quick, and mildly amusing, but I think Nora Ephron can do better. She is a Academy award-nominated screenwriter probably best known for romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. She also has written a novel, Heartburn, based on the disintegration of her first two marriages. I have not read it, but have heard it is good. From this collection of essays, Nora Ephron seems like a likable, funny, warmhearted person with whom it would be fun to hang out. This book is a little thin, though. It almost seems like she needed a quick half mil, so cobbled together some rants on aging that she may originally have included in emails to sisters or girlfriends and voila' - a book is born. There's no crime in that, but it seems a little sad that so many writers out there are struggling and have to make a living doing things that are not what they feel called to do just so they can survive, while a person who is already famous can publish a book that frankly does not show a whole lot of effort.

People who live in New York City will find geographic and cultural references that resonate for them, and her love for the city and for life itself is obvious. The essay titled On Rapture is about her love for reading, about the miracle of getting lost in a good book and completely forgetting oneself for hours or even days at a time. That sounded very familiar, and was easily my favorite essay of the book.

Her closing essay, Considering the Alternative, is a poignant reflection on friends dying, which naturally happens more and more as we get older. It was more serious than the rest of the essays, and I wished she had offered the reader more of that reflective, calmer, less frenetic side of herself. Breezy is fine, self-deprecating is fine, and humorous is great, but I sense that there is more to Nora Ephron than this. If she felt comfortable sharing riffs on hair coloring and unwanted facial hair with untold thousands of people, it seems like she could have gone a little deeper a little more often.

Reverent Reader

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What's Cooking?


The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation
by David Kamp

If you like cooking, history, and the occasional bit of salacious gossip, this is a book that is delightfully fun to read but also a purveyor of worthwhile information. My husband E. and I both love to cook, and E. has long been a fan of food/cooking writing. I had not read much of it until this book, but thoroughly enjoyed this and will no doubt pursue more of its kind in the future. This book was a Christmas gift from T. and S., who also like foodie books and chose a real winner with this one.

This book essentially traces the culinary history of our country from the mid-20th century to the present, tracing how the "Big Three" - Craig Claiborne, James Beard, and Julia Child, began awakening the United States to what can be done with food if people care about eating as a pleasurable experience rather than mere fuel. Kamp describes the love/hate relationship/rivalry between the US and France for kitchen skills, then describes how in the sixties and seventies American chefs started developing dishes that intentionally moved away from the French influence. Gradually they developed a cuisine that is more distinctly American and relies on American ingredients for both flavor and nutritional value. They especially moved away from the use of thick sauces that so often characterize French food in favor of marinades and spice rubs that boost flavor but are not as heavy.

The push that began in the early seventies in the California Bay Area for fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients used in cooking is an especially interesting part of the book, given what we are learning now about how shopping at local farmer's markets can be an act that helps to save the small family farm and reduces our dependence on oil. Kamp does an excellent job of showing how American eating habits evolve in tandem with other historical and cultural events that change the way we think and live. Although this book is primarily about professional cooking, anyone who has been paying attention to the food press in recent years can see that the pros' ideas are trickling down to those of us who cook for our families and small groups of people. For people interested in learning more about seasonal cooking, healthy eating, and supporting local producers, there were two wonderful books out last year that I highly recommend: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Clearly, we still have a long way to go as a country in terms of learning to eat healthy foods in reasonable amounts. I realize that love of food and cooking has to be balanced with attention to diet and exercise. I am more inclined to think, though, that our country's obesity epidemic is more about our addiction to junk food and fast food than about any interest trained chefs or casual, recreational cooks (like so many of us) take in experimenting with new dishes and flavors. In spite of our culture's ambivalence about food and eating, I still see the family dinner table as one of the primary places where some of our most important relationships are nurtured. Likewise, gathering friends around a table and sharing a good meal is one of the greatest pleasures of life. For that reason, many of us can benefit from being more educated about trends in the food world and how we can prepare delicious food that nourishes us in body and spirit. Kamp's book is an engaging and worthwhile read - goes down like a
good meal.

Bon appetit!

Reverent Reader

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Feed it to the Hungry Ghost!


The Worst Thing I've Done
by Ursula Hegi

This is a quick read and a compelling story. As usual, Ursula Hegi creates memorable, believable characters that move the narrative forward with a lot of dialogue. Hegi is able to write real-sounding dialogue that does not sound forced. I would also say, though, that this is not Ursula Hegi at her best. She overuses that writing technique where the author writes in short sentences of only two or three words and reconciles everything only on the left margin - more like poetry than prose. It is fairly effective in small doses, but in this case it starts to feel choppy and disjointed. If you are interested in getting acquainted with Hegi's books, I recommend starting with Stones from the River or Salt Dancers.

One character, Mason, is part of the story only posthumously. He has committed suicide and the story begins with his wife, Annie, trying to work through her anger and grief. Much of Mason's life is shown to us in flashbacks. Three of the principal characters - Annie, Mason, and Jake - have this weird, complicated trio of lifelong friendship and love/lust. I have to say that Mason is a real jerk. He is insanely jealous and highly manipulative. He could be a poster boy for women who are considering staying single, because being married to him would be horrible.

In the aftermath of Mason's suicide Annie and her much younger sister Opal find respite and eventual progress toward healing in the home of an "aunt" (known as "Stormy") who is really their deceased mother's best friend. An unlikely family forms, composed of Stormy, her lover Pete, Annie and Opal. The time frame is early 2003, in the run-up to the current Iraq war. In their opposition to the war Stormy, Pete, and Annie become part of a larger community of protesters and peace activists. I think the best part of this book is it's showing the reader that a "family" can be made up of people who are not necessarily biologically related, and that there is spiritual power in people banding together for something in which they strongly believe.
There is a lovely scene in which, on the first day of the war, the ad hoc family builds an osprey nest on the beach in an effort to engage in a peacebuilding activity. Made me think about how the combined efforts of concerned people, small as the individual contributions may be, really do make a difference.

This group also participates in the annual ritual of the "Hungry Ghost." The ritual comes from another culture - possibly Asian (the origin is just slipping my mind, I think it is explained in the book). Once a year, they build a massive skirted ghost out of wood and paper and other natural materials. They take the ghost down to the beach and everyone writes on a piece of paper what they would like the ghost to "eat" - that is, remove from their lives. The paper is used as kindling to burn the ghost. Sounds a bit pagan, but I can see where it is helpful to get specific about what we want to change and engage in a physical activity that symbolically kick-starts our effort to transform whatever is broken in our lives.


In lieu of a New Year's resolution this year, I'll feed a couple of things to the Hungry Ghost. One: anxiety about things over which I have no control. Two: impatience. Poof, be gone! If only it were that easy!

Grace and peace,

Reverent Reader

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2007 in Reading Review


Here it is - the summation of this one reading life for the year 2007. Of course, this only includes books. It is impossible to keep track of magazines, newspapers, and internet reading. So, with the admission that this is only a partial summary, we will proceed. The grand total is 62 books, 31 fiction and 31 non-fiction. I really am not so uptight that I have to keep it that balanced, but do try to read a variety of things along the way. By the end of the year, fiction and non-fiction are pretty evenly split.

I am realizing now that in the future I should be more specific in the type of fiction or non-fiction a book is as I record it. A historical novel is very different from literary fiction is very different from a mystery novel. In the non-fiction world, a memoir is different from a biography is different from a history is different from a sociological or theological exploration of one subject or another. Some books incorporate characteristics of multiple genres, but it may be helpful to people looking for something to read in a particular style or genre to have more information than I am providing this year. We live and learn. If anyone has questions about any of the books listed below, feel free to email me and I will provide what information I can. Since I only started blogging in mid-October, the blog only gives thoughts on a relatively small number of these books.

Looking back, most of these books have some redeeming value, and very few of them were a total waste of time. Going back to the various types of books for a minute, I realize in looking over this list that well done fiction can be more "true" than a non-fiction book that is primarily the opinions and/or perspective of the author. For example: I would lay odds that Mary Doria Russell's books are "truer" than anything written by Ann Coulter, although I have not read any Ann Coulter and have no plans to. Also, historical fiction, if the author has done his/her homework, can open the window into the past in a way that is hard to find in history textbooks. This would make an interesting topic for discussion - the "truest" types of books, whether or not they are literally true. Anyway, I present the books now in the approximate order in which I read them, with the marker of F for fiction and N for non-fiction:

The Keep by Jennifer Egan (F)
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama (N)
A Royal Affair by Stella Tillyard (N)
On Agate Hill by Lee Smith (F)
Founding Gospel by Jon Meacham (N)
A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell (F)
Last Man Out by Melissa Fay Greene (N)
Runaway by Alice Munro (F)
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (F)
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young (N)
Two Lives by Vikram Seth (N)
Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott (N)
What Is The What by Dave Eggers (F)
Saving Graces by Elizabeth Edwards (N)
FireWife by Tinling Choong (F)
The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn (N)
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (F)
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (N)
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (F)
An Emergent Manifesto of Hope ed. by Pagitt and Snow (N)
Faith for Beginners by Aaron Hamburger (F)
How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins (N)
The Temple Bombing by Melissa Fay Greene (N)
Atonement by Ian McEwan (F)
The Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol (N)
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (N)
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (F) 2nd reading
The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian (F)
Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund (F) 2nd reading
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (F)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (F) 2nd reading
Nehru: A Political Life by Judith Brown (N)
Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (F) 2nd reading
Small Island by Andrea Levy (F)
The End of the World as We Know It by Robert Goolrick (NF)
The Worst hard Time by Timothy Egan (N)
The Canon:A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier (N)
The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day (F)
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (F)
Innocent Traitor: a Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir (F)
Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres (N)
Divining Women by Kay Gibbons (F)
Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture by Michael Frost (N)
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (N)
The Echo Maker by Richard Powers (F)
About Alice by Calvin Trillin (N)
Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop (N)
When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton (F)
Christianity for the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass (N)
The Whole World Over by Julia Glass (F)
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (N)
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (N)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (F)
The Language of God by Francis Collins (N)
White Teeth by Zadie Smith (F)
Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey (N)
The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud (F)
The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell (NF)
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (N)
Bee Season by Myla Goldberg (F)
The Mulberry Empire by Philip Hensher (F)
The Worst Thing I've Done by Ursula Hegi

For a couple of years now, in my personal reading journal, I have chosen my own "top five" for the year in fiction and non-fiction (just like the Washington Post Book World). I offer these to you now, with the caveat that they are simply my own favorites, the ones I enjoyed the most and/or learned the most from or was the most moved by, not necessarily the "best" from a literary standpoint. If a book is being read a second or subsequent time, it is not a contender for top five except the year that I read it first. Also, it may go without saying, but these are not all books published in 2007, although some are.

TOP FIVE FICTION 2007:
What Is The What by Dave Eggers
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson MCullers

Honorable Mentions:
On Agate Hill by Lee Smith
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Atonement by Ian McEwan
When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton

TOP FIVE NON-FICTION 2007
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

Honorable Mentions:
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour Through the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier
How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins
Christianity for the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass

For my own amusement (and maybe that of my readers), I have given a few other "awards" to certain books. They are as follows:

Most Theologically/Spiritually Broadening: How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins
Most Thought Provoking: An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Snow and Pagitt editors
Most Inspiring: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin
Biggest Disappointment: The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian (too weird), and The Echo Maker by Richard Powers (too boring - a real yawner)
Surprise Hit: Small Island by Andrea Levy
Scariest: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (no contest)
Most Stomach-Churning: Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres or The End of the World as We Know It by Robert Goolrick
Funniest: The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell
Most Edifying about a Random Topic: Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop (about honey's role in human history, beekeeping, and the process of harvesting honey)

That's about it. Send me your faves and not-faves for 2007, I'm interested to hear what my reading friends do and do not enjoy. Here's to peace in our world for 2008. A happy, healthy, book-filled year to each of you!

Reverent Reader