Monday, December 26, 2011

Top Books of 2011

Oh yeah.  It's time for me to share some of my favorite reads of 2011.  I kinda look forward to this every year.  You'll notice that I don't have 10.  It's not that I didn't read 10 books (right!) it's that I just couldn't say that the others I read this year were unforgettable.  In order to make the list they had to be felt, haunting, truth-telling and just hard to put down.

O.k. let's get to the list already! (and I used the images from Amazon so sorry for the click to look inside stuff)...

1.  Andrew Wyeth, A Secret Life by Richard Meryman. 
He is one of my favorite artists.  His work is melancholy, barren, stark and full of feeling.  How many of us have looked at "Christina's World" and been pulled in by the story that is spoken in every stroke?  His work is not only real and gritty it's woven with vulnerability.  You are led through a life of a young child growing up with the famous father, N.C. Wyeth.  From the very beginning you see the pull on N.C.'s life between wanting to do art (the "big" painting) and trying to support a family with his illustrating jobs.  Andrew grows up seeing this tug and lives his life putting everything second to his art: his wife, children, even his own pleasures.  You also see into his thinking as Meryman uses a great deal of interviews with Andrew.

Andrew Wyeth's great loves: his father, his wife Betsy and primarily his art interweave to show a deep vulnerability with his own self.  You see a man who is capable of seeing real beauty in families that lived for generations on the land: their lives shaped by brutality and silences.  You also see a man who puts himself above anybody who loved him, who giggled at practical jokes and had the sense of humor of an adolescent school boy. 

2.  The Art of Emily Carr by Doris Shadbolt
If you are interested in the Pacific Northwest it's peoples and it's forests than Emily Carr is your artist.  A contemporary of Georgia O'Keeffe (the met only once) yet was lesser known as she lived in British Columbia and worked in a very solitary world.  Her work hits me on a very spiritual level.  I felt most affinity to her art (which is how I liked her first) but was also pulled into her writing (she wrote several books).  She fell in love with nature and even was influenced by artists who thought Christianity a "dead" religion.  Later in her life she would return to Christianity as it was the only one that made sense to her.  She is a profound example of an independent woman who loved the Native peoples and the land in which they lived and died.  She would spend the rest of her lonely life helping us see into the moving, breathing forests. 
This book has many beautiful reproductions of her work.  Taken as whole you see the power and sensitivity in her heart.

3. Radical by David Platt
Platt makes you look at the American dream and see what a blindness it has caused us.  If we pursue happiness than are we really pursuing God?  Many of us would say that God brings us true happiness and I believe that but if we have been given His Spirit in us then why do we need to pursue it?  Platt calls us to live a radical life in pursuit of God's design for us.  We are all called to missions because we must love people no matter where they are.  We are all called to help the poor.  We are to live in a world with less attachments to stuff and more heart for the discipleship of all nations.  This book made me cry, get mad, have long talks with Kendrick and pray like never before.  I've seen my art have more meaning by looking through the lens of letting go of what the world says, thinks, wants and waking up to what's important.  I believe this is the best book on missions that I have read in a long, long time.

4. A Natural History of Western Trees by Donaold Culross Peattie
A thick book on the Western trees of North America.  It is informative as well as interesting.  It shares the natural length of their lives, where they live and scientific information as well as interesting history (how man came to know it)  of each tree type.  You may be thinking, "Oh man.  Yawn!" but this book really is well done.  It gives you a glimpse of some of the most important parts of the landscape of  Western North America: it's trees.

5. Why, O God Edited by Larry Waters and Roy Zuck
I realize that I helped with this one but it is a profoundly moving book.  The chapters are written by authors who know what they are talking about when they approach the theme of suffering.  One is written by a husband ("The Rolling Throne") who is taking care of his wife in a wheelchair. Another chapter is written by a great Biblical scholar, Ron Allen, who came from a home life where his father had been disabled. It put a great strain on his young life yet also shaped the way he saw God.  The book does not try to answer the suffering it tries to come down and be present in it.  I kept thinking about how God can write our stories on our own hurts and pains and how He was doing that so well through this book.  I was honored to be among the pages of these men and women.  They taught me so much about our good God.

6.  At Home by Bill Bryson

No other writer could make our everyday home so interesting and full of wit and wisdom.  Bryson takes his house room by room (study, kitchen, hallway, stairs, bedroom etc) and guides us on a history lesson in how these rooms came about.  Our everyday lives are full of wars, engineering marvels and stories of great men and women.  You'll even find yourself laughing about doorknobs. 

7.  Full Bloom by Hunter Drohojowski-Philp

Georgia O'Keeffe is without a doubt my favorite artist of all time.  I read every biography that comes out on her life.  This one is particularly good in that Drohjowski-Philp takes a careful study of her life with all it's faults, pains and heartaches along with the wonderful successes.  She does not leave us with a myth or the "lone artist in the desert" but instead with a living, breathing woman who had her heart broken, who suffered with selfishness and pride and saw her life divided by Alfred Steiglitz.  It's a hard book to read and not feel your own heart break a little through the pages.  One thing I see in her that I truly admired was her relentless eye to beauty. 

With all the artists I read about this year the one thing I saw so true to their lives was how hard they worked.  It wasn't an hour here and there it was long hours.  They also had a great ability to ask the right questions at crucial times in their lives or were around people that could ask them.

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