My Top Ten Books of 2010

10. The Rembrandt Affair — Daniel Silva Silva continues to write dashing adventures for those of us with an artistic bent. His subtle layers of hatred of radical Muslim terrorists reads oh so clearly. Escapist fiction at its best.

9. The Devil In The White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America — by Erik Larsen A mesmerizing convergence of murder, horror, history and architecture. It is like watching a house fire. You want to—but you can’t quit reading.

8. The Vintage Caper — Peter Mayle A delightful mystery for those of us who are wine-lovers (expert or novice) and believe that wine-making is agriculture’s highest art form. Simply fun! In Vino Veritas.

7. The Stand — Stephen King My first time to take Uncle Stevie to bed with me. The excruciatingly developed characters become like family and this book will scare the hell out of you. Consider me hell-less.

6. The Living Flame of Love by St. John of the Cross — Sensual and mystical writings about our walk with Christ. He was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, as a founder of the Discalced Carmelites. Both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature. This book combined with Bernini’s extremely sensual sculpture of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is enough to make you want to become a Carmelite.

5. Bel Canto — Ann Patchett In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. Alas, in the opening sequence, just as the accompanist kisses the soprano, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry. With the omniscience of magic realism, Ann Patchett flits in and out of the hearts and psyches of hostage and terrorist alike. Bel Canto remains a gentle reminder of the transcendence of beauty and love.

4. The Dharma Bums — Jack Kerouac I discovered this book through a comment by @keithjennings on one of my posts. I’m thinking I must be a Zen lunatic, ’cause this book riveted me. Mountain climbing, wine, philosophy, illegal train rides in the night, poetry, “yabyum,” solitude and counter-cultural freedom. What’s not to like.

3. Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia — Michael Korda How can a man with dubious heritage that stood barely 5 foot 5 inches tall change the world? As one reviewer puts it: “This is a page-turner that also helps us understand how the Middle East became the confused mess it is today.” This book had me at the title of the first chapter, “Who is this extraordinary pip-squeak?”

2. The Dance of Life: Weaving Sorrows and Blessings Into One Joyful Step — Henri Nouwen “Joy and sadness are as close to each other as the splendid leaves of a New England fall to the soberness of the barren tree.” Nouwen has provided a gentle and needed glimpse at the inner wounds and secrets hidden deep within my soul. He dares us to look.

1. Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds — Harold Bloom “This book is not a work of analysis or of close reading, but of surmise and juxtaposition,” Bloom writes, and as such readers will find it appropriately enthusiastic and wild. This is the rare book where the introduction is worth far more than the price of admission. It is a book I keep going back to re-read, gaining new and valuable insights on the creative process every time. As Bloom quotes Emerson,

“Is it not all in us, how strangely! Look at this congregation of men;-—the words might be spoken,—though now there be none here to speak them,—but the words might be said that would make them stagger and reel like a drunken man. Who doubts it? Were you ever instructed by a wise and eloquent man? Remember then, were not the words that made your blood run cold, that brought the blood to your cheeks, that made you tremble or delighted you,—did they not sound to you as old as yourself? Was it not truth that you knew before, or do you ever expect to be moved from the pulpit or from man by anything but plain truth? Never. It is God in you that responds to God without, or affirms his own words trembling on the lips of another.”

Journals (October 27, 1831)

“…did they not sound to you as old as yourself?”

Genius may be politically incorrect, as is the sacramental in evangelical circles, but as Bloom states, “…it is hard to go on living without some hope of encountering the extraordinary.”

What was your favorite literary encounter of 2010?

14 Responses to “My Top Ten Books of 2010”

  1. working on my list, but definitely making the cut are “Jesus Manifesto” by Sweet/Viola and “The Outliers” by Gladwell.

    • @Chuck Harris, Nice!! I would love for you to tell us the rest of the list when you finish.

      • @Randy Elrod,
        1. Jesus Manifesto-Sweet/Viola
        2. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years-Miller
        3. Outliers-Gladwell
        4. The Creative Habit-Tharp
        5. Eating the Dinosaur-Klosterman
        6. The Divine Commodity-Jethani
        7. Plan B-Wilson
        8. The Pocket Guide to Sainthood- Boyett
        9. Jesus Wants to Save Christians-Bell/Golden
        10. Cobain Unseen-Cross

        and putting that list together tells me that i need to finish more books. i currently have 8 on my desk that i have started and a stack of fiction at home that is waiting to be read. one of my resolutions this year is less television and more reading.

  2. I love The Stand. It’s still my favorite of King’s work. It’s inspiring to me to see something of that grand a scope written so well.

    For me a big book this year was Steven James’ “The Bishop.” It’s a great example for me of how to work my Christian worldview into work that could reach the secular world with truth about Christ while not preaching about it.

  3. These all look excellent, Randy. I actually bought The Complete Works of St. John of the Cross awhile back but I haven’t gotten around to starting it. My recommendations this year:

    Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
    It’s a coming-of-age love story set in Iran in the 70s. I might say that it is the light-hearted version of The Kite Runner. It was much funnier than I anticipated. Great storytelling. Excellent read.

    Culture of Honor by Danny Silk
    I am not sure that another book has impacted my life the way this has. It wrecked my whole paradigm of leadership, community and honor. It is written directly to their students in the 1st year institute at Bethel Church in Redding, CA but it applies to the entire body. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

  4. @Mica_in_Detroit recommended these two very intriguing books on Twitter a few minutes ago.

    Thx for your list of best reads. Top 2 in 2010 for me include Bolano’s 2666 [brutal, but brilliant] and Saramago’s “Seeing”

  5. Devil in the White City and Bel Canto are both on my all-time favorite lists, Randy. In both, the quality of the writing and the story transcend subject matter that might be off-putting to some (and indeed, were to me – I didn’t think I wanted to read a novel about terrorists, or nonfiction about a serial murderer, but they hooked me.) I also really like Henri Nouwen…so given how much intersection we have in tastes, I’m going to check out your other favs!

    My favorite fiction, nonfiction and poetry, along with a bit of music, is on my blog.

  6. Randy,

    To quote Allen Ginsberg in his poem, “Howl,” you are an “angelheaded hipster burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.” I’m so happy The Dharma Bums connected.

    I would say my favorite “literary encounter” of 2010 was David Bottoms little book, The Onion’s Dark Core, which is a collection of essays on poetry. He’s been a hero of mine for years, and I got to briefly meet him at the poetry reading where I bought the book. Very cool.


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