Last year, I used my column to recommend several books and I promised to follow up with an annual reading list. I’m a month late in delivering that promise, but I hope this year’s list will give you some holiday gift ideas.

The books come from a nonfiction list I used this year in my study for a master’s degree in creative writing at Pacific University in Oregon. I’ve listed the books in descending order of preference.

» From Laura Hillenbrand, the author of “Seabiscuit,” comes the best book I’ve read in years: “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.” (Random House, 2010.) It’s the story of a POW with severe post-traumatic stress disorder whose encounter with Billy Graham inspires him to forgive his former captors. Go to and read the opening chapter. If you don’t click the “buy now” button, you have more impulse control than the average person.

» “God Is Not One: the Eight Rival Religions That Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter” by Stephen Prothero. (HarperOne, 2010.) Despite the textbook sound of the title, this Boston University religion professor uses his personal experiences to pull your face up close to his words. Prothero soundly dismisses the saying that “all religions lead to the same place” and aptly describes the distinctively different goals of each religion. He says we can’t sing the “let’s get along” tune unless we first understand the teachings of other religions. I’m passionate about this book and my efforts to get my chaplain colleagues to read it.

» This Memorial Day, I wrote a column that highlighted the sacrifices made by four chaplains from different faith groups during the sinking of their troop carrier in WWII. The column brought the highest reader response of the year. I got much of the background for the column from Dan Kurzman’s book “No Greater Glory: the Four Immortal Chaplains and the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War II.” (Random House, 2004.)

» In 2006, five Amish schoolchildren were killed execution-style in a one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa. In “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy,” three college professors, (Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zercher) explore the limits of forgiveness in the aftermath of the shooting. While the book isn’t for the faint of heart, it gracefully avoids graphic detail and gives the reader pause when considering what forgiveness means in daily life. (Jossey-Bass, 2007.)

» Pastor Rob Bell took a lot of risks when he wrote “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” (HarperOne, 2011.) The primary risk being that he is now introduced as a “former pastor.” The book received a boatload of pre-release criticism for what many saw as the “get out of Hell free” card implied in the title. But even the conservative journal Christianity Today admits that the book “raises crucial questions.” And it is for those questions that I recommend the book.

» “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words” (Broadway, 2002.) I only listed this book to show you what a “word nerd” I can be. This book is hilariously educational and is written by travel writer, Bill Bryson, who brought us the sidesplitting “Sunburned Country” and “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.” Bryon is a wordsmith extraordinaire who will challenge your use of everyday words. The book drives me crazy, but I can’t put it down.

Please email me the name of your favorite book from this year at Happy reading!