Every Labor Day I hesitantly write a column recommending the books I’ve read during the year. I say “hesitantly” because sharing a reading list can be risky.
The risk in sharing isn’t too unlike the times I allowed a parishioner or counselee to peruse the 60 linear feet of bookshelves I kept in my pastor’s study. In one sense I felt pride over the books I maintained, but in another sense, it could feel like my reading preferences were being examined for their orthodoxy.
The truth is, sharing your reading favorites can easily invite judgment from people. For example, if you proclaim your love for romance novels, you might get a deprecating smile. If you tell folks you read science fiction, you may see them roll their eyes. If you announce your preference for history books, you get a yawn.
So by announcing in this column that I’ve read books like, “Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex,” by the ever-comedic science writer Mary Roach, you might think me aberrant. (The book also inspired her recent book, “Packing for Mars.”) If I disclose that I read Ben Mezrich’s book, “Sex on the Moon,” you might dismiss me before you discover the story behind the most audacious heist in history, the theft of NASA moon rocks.
Or if I reveal my taste for pestilence in Sonia Shah’s book, “The Fever,” about the history of malaria, or John Barry’s book, “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” you might assess me as too morbid, if not somewhat nerdy.
However, if you’ve followed me this far, I think I can trust you to examine the books stacked aside my new but still unassembled bookcase.
Of particular interest this year were the books recommended during a military conference on resilience. Alfred Lansing’s book, “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” tracks the astounding survival of the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton during his ice-bound exploration of the Antarctic seas.
In the same survival genre is Mitchell Zuckoff’s book, “Frozen in Time: An Epic Journey.” The book follows the World War II survival of downed airplanes in the Arctic wilderness. Next to that book is Michael Tougias’, “The Finest Hours,” about the Coast Guard’s most daring sea rescue in the icy waters of Cape Cod.
If those books leave you cold, (pun intended) check out Laurence Gonzales book, “Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. This book details how people conquer the post-traumatic days that follow survival. Along similar lines, the book, “Willpower,” by Baumeister and Tierney may answer the reader who often prays, “lead us not into temptation.”
For those of you following my marathon running, you might be interested in the overcoming spirit found in books like, “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougal. The book examines the running culture found in the Tarahumara Indians, the blissful but isolated tribe in Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyon.
But it has been Daniel J. Brown’s book, “The Boys in the Boat,” that has inspired my athletic best this year. The book is the harrowing account of nine Americans and their epic quest for gold amidst the Nazi regime at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The book runs parallel with Hitler’s Berlin described by Erik Larson in his book, “In the Garden of Beasts.”
Finally, lest you judge this chaplain for not reading anything “spiritual,” I can recommend Donald Miller’s book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” Miller’s writing can be naval gazing at times, but his books, “Blue Like Jazz,” and “Searching for God Knows What” are among my favorites.