The Year in Books 2012

Over the past year I have read and reviewed 112 books (not including books I read to the kids) on A Spirited Mind, from a wide range of genres and topics.  In this sixth annual Year in Books post I’m continuing the tradition of listing my favorites from the year, in no particular order, with a brief note on why I liked them so much.  Links are to the longer reviews.

The Gospel of Ruth is a powerful, nuanced study of the scholarship, history, and theology of the biblical book of Ruth and its implications for how we live our lives with God, in relationships, and in community.  The book presents challenges to both patriarchal and egalitarian ways of thinking, with a commitment to embrace the radical perspective of the scripture instead.  My understanding of the book of Ruth grew exponentially from this book.  While it’s not structured as a Biblestudy, you could certainly use it as one.

Nurture Shock challenges popular assumptions and misconceptions about child development and presents a wide range of research on alternatives that might actually work.  Although it’s strongly based on research studies and is densely packed with information, the book is highly readable.  I didn’t find it as prescriptive as I would have liked, but it’s the sort of book that will keep you thinking long after you’re finished, and may bear re-reading from time to time.

All the Money in the World is an unusually thought-provoking and helpful book on finances.  Unlike most others in the genre, the book is not geared toward one-size-fits-all prescriptions or targeted to one particular audience.  Rather, it challenges popular assumptions and makes unique suggestions based on the premise that money is a tool for achieving your purposes, whatever those purposes might be.  I found the book well written, compelling, and immensely helpful.


Bel Canto, an amazing and lovely work of literary fiction by Ann Patchett, combines beautiful writing, deep character development, and a unique and compelling plot.  It will also compel you to love opera.  Yes, it will.  Patchett does a masterful job of using language and music to describe relationships and understanding.  She rightly won both the Pen/Faulkner award and the Orange Prize for this book.


The Revisionists is what the LA Times calls “literary sci fi” because it contains the character development and thematic weight of literary fiction while also using technology, history, and science to challenge our thinking to contemplate the sorts of moral and philosophical dilemmas that we might face in the future.  Although I enjoyed the futuristic aspects of the story, I most appreciated the book’s balanced and thoughtful presentation of issues such as historical interpretation, politics, and culture.

Spiritual Parenting is one of the best books on parenting I’ve ever read.  It doesn’t give a five step plan for how to deal with problems, but it casts an unusually thoughtful vision for the work of parenting the unique children you have in your family.  From how we talk to our children to how to teach them the value of service and responsibility, this book will give parents an intense dose of food for thought.


Refuse to Choose lays out an effective and inspiring plan for how to navigate life as a Renaissance person (someone with lots of interests and passions versus one main area of expertise).  As someone who definitely prefers Sher’s description of the Renaissance model of working (learn, try, teach, leave) to the more popular (but for me boring) approach of picking The One Job for life, I got a lot out of this book.  You’ll learn how to better understand your leanings, make a bigger impact, and channel your energy effectively over your lifetime in this helpful and encouraging book.

Mystery and Manners is an exceptional resource for writers, especially writers who are Christians (and even more especially for writers who are Christians who don’t just write for Christian audiences).  In fact, Flannery O’Connor writes convincingly about how writers who are Christians really shouldn’t be “Christian writers” but that writing high quality literature from your Christian perspective (versus the confines of having to write it explicitly) is a more honest and effective way to write.  O’Connor’s advice about how to write setting and use setting and characters to write about grace and redemption are incredibly helpful.

Happier at Home builds on Gretchen Rubin’s outstanding book The Happiness Project to further discuss unusual and thought-provoking ways to increase your happiness, this time by focusing on how you can be happier in your home and family relationships.  Rubin’s approach of setting goals (resolutions) and breaking them down into smaller monthly and weekly goals to make them achievable is incredibly helpful.  If you find it hard to follow through with resolutions, or make the same resolutions year after year, reading one or both of Rubin’s books would be immeasurably valuable for you.

The Emperor of Ocean Park was such a fantastic book that I wound up buying copies for other people as gifts.  Set in the frame of a murder mystery and legal thriller of sorts, the book is really more concerned with philosophical themes, cultural criticism, and a close examination of family dynamics.  Critics faulted the author for taking a slower pace than most books billed as “legal thrillers” but I personally loved the deliberate pace because it allowed for the greater depth and complexity that I think the author’s themes demanded.  This book will make you think and may challenge some of your perspectives on commonly discussed issues at play in our culture.

The End of Men may be somewhat hyperbolically titled, but its balanced and thoughtful consideration of cultural trends and their implications for the future makes it a worthwhile read.  The book is a fascinating sociological study touching on trends in gender roles and their implications in education, parenting, and social structures.  I found the book profoundly interesting and it gave me a lot to think about and talk over with my husband as we look at ways to parent, but I would also recommend it to those without children because of its cultural analysis and the implications of these trends for the future of businesses and communities.

The Genesis Debate is an incredibly rich written debate about three ways orthodox Christians might interpret the opening chapters of Genesis.  All of the authors subscribe to views of scriptural inerrancy but they differ in how they interpret the Biblical accounts of creation.  I found the depth of the discussion challenging, but still accessible.  Although I don’t think that ultimately a person’s view of what the creation account means is a life or death or salvation issue, I really enjoyed the chance to dig deeply into the passages and consider theological issues I hadn’t previously even known existed.

Wired for War might not strike you as the sort of book you’d naturally pick up, but I’d really encourage you to read it anyway!  Although it’s framed around a journalistic discussion of how robotics are changing the way we conduct wars, the book spends more space considering the implications–social, philosophical, and cultural–of robotics and other technological advances on how we live and will live in the near future.  We live in an era in which our technological growth fast outstrips our ethics, so I think even people who only have an average interest in technology really need to stop and think through the implications of the advances we often unthinkingly accept into our lives and culture.  While the political and cultural biases of the author and people profiled in the book are evident at times, overall the book is balanced in presenting competing views and will give you a lot to think over.

For more book reviews:

What were the best books you read in 2012?  What do you plan to read in the new year?

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