Books I read in 2017

03 Mar 2018

I always enjoying hearing about what books others have read and recommend. So, although 2018 is already two months old, I thought I would share some of the books I read in 2017. I can recommend them all depending on your interests.

Living in Sweden, and with a beginner’s but growing love of the far north and the Sami people, I enjoyed the English translation of a novel by Cecilia Ekbäck, “In the Month of the Midnight Sun”. Set in the middle of the 19th century, it brings to life the mores and mysteries of the time in northern Sweden.

As someone well into his sixties, I found great personal benefit from “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up”, by James Hollis. “The second half of life presents a rich possibility for spiritual enlargement… in the second half of life, the worm turns, the agenda shifts to reframing our personal experience in the larger order of things, and the questions change. “What does the soul ask of me?” “What does it mean that I am here?” “Who am I apart from my roles, apart from my history?”

“The sense of ennui, restlessness, sometimes even depression that comes from the achievement of one’s ambitions, or the failure to achieve them, is the generally unwelcome invitation to disidentify with those goals. … Such an invitation requires a revolution in one’s thinking, which will require no small amount of courage and sustained effort.”

As someone who could not understand how my people, the British, could vote for Brexit, I found “All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class” by Tim Shipman most enlightening. It explained many things to me, and made me more forgiving and compassionate.

I like the thesis of Cindy Wigglesworth’s book, “SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence”, that along with Emotional Intelligence (well-known) there is also such a thing as Spiritual Intelligence. She provides some kind of  framework for understand its attributes.

As a fan of the sport of cricket, I enjoyed the Autobiography of contemporary South African legend AB de Villiers. “There have been thousands of talented players,” he writes, “but there are only a handful of real fighters, and I wanted to be one of them. The book takes one into the mind and heart of a truly humble man. “For me, there was nothing more exhilarating, nothing more worthwhile than being part of a team, setting the
team above everything…. Since I was a boy, I have never wanted to be the face of anything. The team should always be the face.”  “Problems arise when success prompts wild celebrations and failure leads to dark despair.”

De Villiers is a man of deep faith in God. “I strongly believe this book is not my story. It is the story of what God has planned and realised through me. I hope it can be read and understood as tales of His achievements, certainly not my personal achievements, and I would really like people to appreciate that whatever glory there may be needs to be clearly recognised as His glory, not mine.”

“Grain in Winter”, by Donald Eadie, is about ‘waiting’ and full of helpful insights. One such: “Open-ended waiting is hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete, for something we wish to have. We are full of wishes and our waiting easily gets entangled in those wishes. For this reason, a lot of our waiting is not open-ended. Instead, our waiting is a way of controlling the future. We want the future to go in a very specific direction and if this does not happen, we are disappointed and can even slip into despair. …we want to do the things that will make the desired events take place. It was only when I was willing to let go of wishes that something really new, something beyond my expectations, could happen to me.”

“The Road Headed West - A Cycling Adventure Through North America”, by Leon McCarron, recounts the coast to coast adventures of a young Irishman who discovered the best and worst of America along the way. It has plenty of humour (“the tourist information booth by the Mississippi River had a rather limited selection of pamphlets which seemed to be mostly about cornfields, and the things one could do in a cornfield.”) and some profundity (“If I were to distil what I learned from cycling across America it would come out something like this: embrace fear, embrace change, grasp opportunity. Commit, go… and don't stop.”)

Bernard Cornwell’s history of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, “Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles”, is a fascinating and terrifying insight into the horrors of war, the cost of inflated egos, unquestioning followership, and wrong decisions. “On s’engage, et alors on voit. The Immortals were about to engage the Impregnable. The unbeaten would fight the unbeatable.”

“The battle marked a turning point,” writes Cornwall. “The latter half of the eighteenth century had been a long struggle for supremacy between France and Britain. The Seven Years War drove the French from North America, but France had its revenge in the American Revolution when its army, allied with George Washington’s forces, decisively defeated the British and so secured independence for the United States. Ten years later the Revolutionary Wars began, and except for one brief respite in 1802, those wars would last till 1815. Waterloo ended the struggle and ensured that Britain would dominate the nineteenth century.”

The consequences of that domination are the subject matter for countless other books….

Perhaps the most challenging book I read was “Putting on the Mind of Christ” by Jim Marion. This is an ambitious attempt to map “the inner work of Christian spiritually” through nine stages of consciousness. It uses the deeper understanding in recent decades of the development of the human personality through the early stages of life to add to the insights of Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. While some of the book went over my head, much of it made sense of aspects of my own inner journey, and of the challenge to me and humanity as a whole to go beyond rational and vision-logic consciousness, which are about as far as most of us go (if that far!).

Probably my favourite book of the year is a recent (Nov 2017) book on the Enneagram, "The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth", by Christopher L. Heuertz. I've read many books on the Enneagram, and been greatly helped by this transformative tool. This book go deeper still and I highly recommend it.

Let me know if you have any comments.....