I can never narrow down my favorite book of the year to just one, so I've taken to listing two when people ask me. For 2013, the two books could not be more different one from the other.
The first is Love Does by Bob Goff.
Goff is a remarkable man - a lawyer, law professor, diplomat, and founder of the international justice ministry Restore International. He is one of those guys who lives a legendary story on your average Tuesday. Most of all, he is a guy who does things and loves loudly - hence the book's title.
If you are my friend on Facebook or follow me on Twitter (@ToddHahnID) you'll know I quote Goff (@LoveDoes and @bobgoff) more than anyone else except for C.S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner.
The book is riotously funny and endlessly moving - he'll take you from spending two weeks on a raft in the Pacific Ocean, to taking his kids to eat ice cream with presidents and prime ministers, to the harrowing and dangerous work of caring for those caught up in human trafficking in Uganda. His point is that life is interesting when love motivates every action. His life is a case in point.
It's not a linear book - Goff moves from story to story the way the rest of us put on and take off clothes - but it never, not for one second, gets boring. It's short, inspirational, profound in the least heavy-handed of ways, and perfect for people who say "I don't like to read books" and avid readers alike. I read it in one sitting on a plane from Charlotte to Dallas, finishing before the flight was over. And then I've read it twice since then. It's that kind of book.
The second book is a whole different trip, man.
It's My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman.
Wiman is a renowned poet, a professor at Yale, and, for most of his life, a devout skeptic. Several years ago, he received a harrowing and terminal diagnosis and, through coming to grips with that, found his way to a form of Christian faith. He refers to himself in this collection of essays as a "modern believer" and his belief system - and system is the wrong word - doesn't stay inside any boxes. But, oh my, the poet's way of seeing he has and the writing.
I read Love Does on a flight and still had time to take a nap and peruse Sky Mall. It took me four months to read My Bright Abyss, usually two pages at a sitting, and I am two months into my second reading, only on page 93. You can't read words like these rapidly:
"So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost"
"Be careful. Be careful that your expressions of regret about your inability to rest in God do not have a tinge of self-satisfaction, even self-exaltation to them, that your complaints about your anxieties are not merely a manifestation of your dependence on them. There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us".
"Something is off. Life passes and we do not recognize it. The past streams through us like molecules we can't perceive, and we miss the God who misses - as in longs for - us."
"Christ speaks in stories as a way of preparing his followers to stake their lives on a story, because existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person."
These are rich meditations on life and death and art and being and seeing and faith and faith's counterfeits.
I read almost everything on my beloved Kindle Paperwhite. But I bought this book in hardcover. Buy it in a print edition so you can mark it up and return to it again to feel its rounded edges and smell its well-thumbed and yellowed pages one day. It's that kind of book.
What about you? What were your favorite books in 2013?