My Top Ten Books of 2009 (#1)

tiltawhirl.jpg #1. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World, by N.D. Wilson
#2. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, by Timothy Keller
#3. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright
#4. Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, by Francis Chan
#5. This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence, by John Piper
#6. The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones
#7. Words of Life: Scripture As the Living and Active Word of God, by Timothy Ward
#8. Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall
#9. Calvin, by Bruce Gordon
#10. Water of the Word: Intercession for Her, by Andrew Case

I’m going to run out of superlatives in this review.

Trying to decide what is your favorite book of all time is probably like trying to decide what your favorite Seinfeld episode is (“The Junior Mint?” “Yada Yada Yada?” “The Manzier”?…).  It’s nearly impossible when there is so much to choose from.  But since finishing Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl I’ve been trying to think of a book that I would be more inclined to say is my favorite book.

Not just my favorite of the year.

Ever.

Now, before I go to far (too late?) I should clarify.  I’m not saying that it is the most important or influential book I’ve ever read.  That list remains unchanged.  And I’m not saying that it is the most masterful or significant book ever written (Dostoyevsky, Homer, Shakespeare, et al, are safe).  I’m saying that I think it may be my favorite book of all time.  I can’t think of a book I enjoyed more than this one.

Ever.

“This world is beautiful but badly broken.  St. Paul said that it groans, but I love it even in its groaning.  I love this round stage where we act out the tragedies and the comedies of history.  I love it with all of its villains and petty liars and self-righteous pompers.  I love the ants and the laughter of wide-eyed children encountering their first butterfly.  I love it as it is, because it is a story, and it isn’t stuck in one place.  It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story.  And like every good story, there will be an ending.  I love the world as it is, because I love what it will be” (17).

So begins N.D. Wilson’s brilliant and stunningly witty exploration of the world and the story in which we find ourselves.  Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl reads like a modern day and slightly irreverent (and yet deeply reverent) C.S. Lewis book.  He is able to describe “the way things are” in such lucid and colorful detail that it makes you feel that even if you’ve seen the things he’s describing with your own eyes, you didn’t see them as clearly and vibrantly as he describes them.

When I lie on the ground, face down in the carpet, penitent with thankfulness for a life undeserved, for beauty and happiness unmerited, grateful for the stars and starlings, for the grass and the leaves and the bound-up bales of love I’ve been given, I know what is coming.  I can hear the voice of their mother egging them on.  Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.  Daughters on my back, kisses and laughter in my ears.  A son’s hands on my ankles, straining for the day when he can flip me easily.  A smaller son, with few words to his tongue, grinding his young skull into mine, twisting and worming beneath my face.  He needs no words.  He looks up into my eyes, smiles, and slaps my cheek, picking a fight, waiting for his neck to be eaten.  Waiting for laughter” (137).

The book is like no other you’ve ever read.  It is, itself, like riding a tilt-a-whirl.  Wilson’s chapters may be thirty pages long or three.  He may take an entire long chapter to deal with a subject, or may consider it sufficiently ‘dealt-with’ after one sentence.  He changes topics in the middle of a topic and then comes back to the original topic—apparently oblivious to “the way you’re supposed to write,” but at the same time capturing perfectly by his writing style what he’s trying to say: This world is not always logical or tame.  Often times it is so dazzling and compelling that while telling a story about something, you must interrupt yourself to say, “Whoa, look at that sunset (or flock of geese or grasshopper or icicle…)!”

It is hard to stay focused with so much swirling around me.  God is distracting.  He never stops talking, and I can never stop listening.  There is a reason why we sleep” (50).

Sometimes he sounds like he’s walking through a wood, placidly remarking on the beauty of what he sees.  Sometimes he sounds like he’s in a debate forum, raking an atheist over the coals because he cannot open his eyes just to see what’s there.  He comments on the hilarity of a woman crashing her bike (93-4) with the same fervency as he lays waste to the philosophical problem of evil:

The problem of evil is a genuine problem, an enemy with sharp pointy teeth.  But it is not a logical problem.  It is an emotional one…  It appeals to our pride and our nerve endings.  We do not want to hear an answer that puts us so low.  But the answer is this: we are very small” (109).

Please believe me when I say that this review is not like one of those movie previews where they put the only four funny scenes of the movie in the preview, leaving nothing for the movie-goer to enjoy.  My copy of Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl is flooded with highlighter and exclamation points and underlining and stars in the margin and dog-eared pages.  It will be (at least) an annual read for me and its well-thumbed pages will likely solidify themselves in the title of “Bryan’s favorite (ever.)” in the years to come.

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11 thoughts on “My Top Ten Books of 2009 (#1)”

  1. I have nothing to say. In fact, I have not read the post yet… I just realized I have a chance post before Darius and almost fell off my chair.

  2. Oh, c’mon now. Darius is my most faithful commenter (though Lyle’s been busy lately) and I always appreciate his eagerness. AJ and LM both need to be nice.

  3. Awesome! I’ve been wanting to get this book for awhile, and this review just put it at the top of my list. His verbose style and the manner with which he commands the English language (particularly in his analogies) is a major reason why I enjoy Wilson’s blog so much. He captures truth while also giving the reader a completely new and singular way to look at it.

  4. Please be kind. A cold, the cold, phone ringing off the hook with nearly impossible situations, and then you lay on the “ever” word at least three times in bold referring to a book. BC McWhite. Ever. Three times in bold. I am waiting to wake up.

    However, your post has been a bit of a bright spot. Maybe some early 2010 reading? I’d like a good book. You haven’t lead me astray on Henry Scougal (awesome BTW), so I won’t doubt you yet.

    Blessings as you handle Lyle and his unprovable miracle whatever. Your blog is lots of fun on a dreary day like today.

  5. Yeah. Good choice PB. As I prepare for Israel, I’ve encountered a lot of anxiety amidst the impending unknown. This book has worked to put the whole thing in perspective, reminding me of who I am and who God is.
    “When you look at the stars do you despair at your own smallness? Are you unable to be just one snowflake in the blizzard of this reality? Are you afraid of open spaces? Of the bigness of God, of the crashing ocean and the fact that at some point your time here will end? Or does your own smallness make you laugh? There is a crushing joy that crackles in every corner of this world. I am tiny and yet I am here. I have been given senses, awareness, existence, and placed on a stage so crowded with the vast, so teeming with the tiny, that I can do nothing but laugh, and sometimes laugh and cry.” (50)

  6. Todd,

    Oh man, now I feel terrible. Hopefully my e-facetiousness came across in my comment. Thanks for the hilarious “Lyle” comment, bud.

  7. B

    The “be kind” was with smile. I’m good, you’re good, we’re all good – don’t feel terrible (esp with italics, how do you do that?)! The last thing any of us need is more drama (with some notable exceptions).

    Outside of Scougal, I’ve been on a dry run in reading, so your post was refreshing, outstanding, nearly unbelievable. Maybe I am best-book-ever-cessationist; I’m willing to repent however. Open but cautious?

    I look forward to your take on Lyle’s comments. I think there are many (though not so strident in their stance), that wonder some of the things that Lyle has brought up. For some, it is hard to square their experience with John 14:12-14, so limiting God seems like the way out. May we never lose the bigness and the power of God due to our own smallness and weakness!

  8. Bryan, I’ve only recently been reading your blog. And, I have to say, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading each of your top 10 for 2009. As soon as I finish Keller’s latest, I’m starting at the top of the list. So much to read, so little time. It’s time for a Sabbatical and a bigger book budget. Maybe I’ll just “borrow” from Steve – the books, that is.

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