Saturday, May 27, 2006

Christianity Today's 2006 Book Awards

The 2006 book awards were posted yesterday on . I always find good reading material on this list. It's usually posted around mid-year, and honors books in the previous publishing year. In their own words, they're looking for "titles that bring understanding to people, events, and ideas that shape evangelical life, thought, and mission." 37 publishers nominated 240 books, and 22 were chosen in several categories overall -- each category usually has one winner and then one or more "awards of merit."

Although I've only read one of the winners -- Alan Jacobs' The Narnian was aptly chosen as the winner in the history/biography category -- I was happy to see several of my favorite writers and thinkers turn up, including N.T. Wright, Eugene Peterson, Ron Sider, Debra Rienstra, Lauren Winner, and James Calvin Schaap.

I'm perhaps most intrigued by the title that won in the "Christianity and Culture" category, but then my husband's a youth pastor, which may explain (at least partly) my deep interest in the subject matter: Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Christian Smith, Melinda Lundquist Denton, Oxford). The winner in the fiction category was also a new name to me, Nicole Mazzarella, whose novel This Heavy Silence was published by Paraclete Press. I find that intriguing because I think it's Paraclete that's been running the fiction contest in conjunction with Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing. I wonder if this novel got its start in that competition, or if good writers are just being attracted to Paraclete because of that connection?

And speaking of that wonderful festival held every two years in Michigan, I've never been able to attend, but have found so many good writers through its speaker lineup. In fact, that's how I found Schaap, an excellent short story writer. He's a novelist too, but I have really only read his shorter work. I actually have a slightly deeper connection with him as well, because six years ago, the Calvin Worship Institute ran a short fiction contest around the time of the Festival, and my short story "The Man in the Center" took second place. James Calvin Schaap was the judge and made some very kind and encouraging comments about my piece. His book Startling Joy: Seven Magical Stories of Christmas (Revell) took the award of merit in the fiction category, and is now on my wishlist for holiday reading a few months from now.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Rowan Williams, archbishop of Cantebury and thereby the pastoral head of the Anglican Communion of which I'm a part, also has a book on this list which I'd like to read: Why Study the Past? The Quest for the Historical Church (Eerdmans). Could be interesting reading in light of current dilemmas in the communion. Also might be good for me to read this summer as I prepare to teach another church history course for the seminary in the fall.

Debra Rienstra, author of one of my favorite books on motherhood, has picked up an award of merit in the apologetics/evangelism category for So Much More: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality (Jossey-Bass). Yes indeed, that wishlist is growing.

Oddly enough, I wasn't too excited by the descriptions of either of the books that won in the theology category -- odd because, of course, I did my grad. studies in theology. Perhaps the blurbs sounded too dry and academic, and perhaps it's just where I'm at in this particular season of my life.

Why don't they award the best children's books? They should!

At any rate, check out the list...definitely some writers worth reading, both old and new.

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