These are in no particular order and I’ve picked them out as the ones I gave 5* to on my Goodreads page – you can see the rest here. The observant may well be able to discern themes and current obsessions…
- The Porcupine by Julian Barnes – an intriguing short novel about trying to nail a communist-era dictator in court (loosely based on Bulgaria’s Zhivkov). Barnes is unfailingly surprising and intriguing.
- A German Requiem (Bernie Gunther #3) by Philip Kerr – Bernie Gunther appears at various points in Germany’s 20thC history in 14 novels – ingenious, gripping plots, well researched and thought-provoking (if a little ‘earthy’!)
- London Rules (Jackson Lamb’s Slough House #5) by Mick Herron – if you’ve not encountered Jackson Lamb yet, then you’re in for a shock. He’s utterly obnoxious, foul-mouthed, unhygienic, insubordinate. And grotesquely hilarious. And he always wins the day with his band of MI5 losers.
- The Tin Men by Michael Frayn – this man cannot fail to write laugh-out loud prose. Tight but hilarious. And he’s still at it. But this is from 1965 and the era of Harold Wilson’s white heat of technological innovation. Remarkably, despite that, it’s not dated.
- The Kindly Ones (A Dance to the Music of Time #6) by Anthony Powell – I’ve gradually been working through this 12-volume magnum opus with over 300 individual characters, depicting the English upper classes in the 1920s-1960s. Beautifully written and captivating.
- Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré (2019) – he’s 88 and he’s STILL got it. A few plot holes, perhaps, but we can definitely forgive him that in this post-Brexit espionage thriller. Wit, pen portraits and intrigue a plenty, AS EVER…
- The Other Side of Silence (Bernie Gunther #11) by Philip Kerr – brilliant and cynical as ever, but somehow, Kerr manages to convince even after drawing in Somerset Maugham, the Cambridge Spy ring and a Stasi plot on the 1950s French Riviera.
- The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff – You don’t have to love Conrad to love this book. But it will certainly whet appetites for his novels. Beautifully and engagingly written.
- The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures by Erin Meyer – I’m a member of one, and lead another, multi-culture work team. This is a brilliant gateway into understanding the pitfalls and opportunities.
- Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Malcolm Guite – Guite is a poet-pastor – well-placed to grapple with Coleridge. Ingenious to use the Ancient Mariner as an uncanny template for Coleridge’s subsequent life. Most significantly, he shows how the poet’s faith clearly became more orthodox and Trinitarian as he went on.
- When Words Fail: A Life with Music, War and Peace by Ed Vulliamy – A war correspondent inevitably traumatised by the horrors he reported, explores how music sustained him through it all. Very powerful.
- The Ministry of Truth: A Biography of George Orwell’s 1984 by Dorian Lynskey – couldn’t put this down. Have idolised Orwell’s pellucid (love that word) prose for years; and have read biographies. This wonderful book brings everything together – both to explore 1984’s genealogy and its aftermath.
- Memories Of Shostakovich by Michael Ardov – The Volkov book Testimony purported to be dictated by the aging composer. But there are controversies about it. This is full of reflections by the great man’s 2 children and close friends. Really insightful.
- Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby – if you’ve not read A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush you must. That made rightly Newby’s name. This lovely book is an hilarious account of his experiences and hardships as a escaped POW hiding out in the Italian mountains for over a year. He also met his future wife then. They don’t make ‘em like that any more.
- Cold Warriors: Writers who waged the Literary Cold War by Duncan White – a thorough but unique approach to Cold War history. Nice that it captures the writer’s lot on both sides of the Wall. Gripping.
Theological Reading Highlights
- A Christian in East Germany by Johannes Hamel – very few have heard of him (incl among those believers whose faith survived the GDR) but he was remarkable. Disciple of Bonhoeffer and battle-hardened as part of the Confessing church under Nazism, Hamel was a courageous pastor under Communism.
- 7 Myths about Singleness by Sam Allberry – Sam’s a dear friend who’s writing so much helpful stuff these days. Brilliantly subverting myths and offering far better alternatives.
- The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It by Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel – this is an IMPORTANT book. I can’t recommend it enough, in its gentle but insistent journey to find better power models by listening to a generation of godly people at their lives’ ends.
- Summoned from the Margin: Homecoming of an African by Lamin Sanneh – I heard prof Sanneh only once live, in Cambridge 25 years ago. He was very late so we only had him for 20 mins or so!! But this is a unique story. Was left with a few questions and curiosities, but there’s no doubting his significance in global Christianity.
- Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner – what a wonderful writer. I adore his novel Godric, and have loved some of his others. But never quite got to this one. Well worth it. Quirky and insightful, provocative always.
- A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus: An Introduction to the Man from Nazareth for Believers and Skeptics by John Dickson – a great scholar AND a superb communicator. He brings his classicist’s background to key questions – readable and rooted in scholarship.
- The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission by Lesslie Newbigin – always challenging and readable. Whatever one’s starting point, in the field of missional engagement, it’s impossible to omit engaging with Newbigin.
- Fresh Pathways in Prayer by Julian Hardyman – another dear friend writing helpful stuff – I wish I’d had this book 30 years ago. So sane and straightforward, deeply compassionate and practical for those who find prayer not only difficult but sometimes just a bit weird!
- Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson – the 3rd good friend on the list – lots of gems on the road here from a brother whose creativity pushes him in all kinds of Fresh directions, to the benefit of us all.
- On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K. A. Smith – I’ve enjoyed Smith’s writing before. This is no exception – and it helped me grasp aspects of the disconnect between my faith and our faith-haunted culture as well as how to persevere within it. Smith paints a beautiful portrait of Augustine as the approachable and compassionate friend on the pilgrimage that he was.
- Give Up the Purple: A Call for Servant Leadership in Hierarchical Cultures by Julyan Lidstone – I cannot recommend this enough for those in leadership, especially if working in an honour-/shame-oriented culture (I don’t like the blanket categorisation of honour-shame, preferring to lop in ‘oriented’ to allow for grey areas). This is a brilliant provocation to explore better models.