Most of the media experiences (not just books, although mainly books) that really struck me this year have a couple things in common. I learned something about myself, particularly through their confluence. They’re all about being an outsider, working on something that others don’t really understand. And yet this work is something that drives [the person], that it’s impossible to ignore. A calling, even.
Although perhaps not traditional (and certainly not all-inclusive), this is my greatest hits list for 2011.
I think the first one was from the TV show Angel. Along Angel’s circuitous journey, one of the guys who assists in his mission of helping people is an Empath demon. Backstory: The demons in this narrative (that starts with Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are various races and/or individuals with special skills or giftings. Taken as a whole, they use these abilities to further their bloodlust and rage, but there are a few here and there who’ve chosen another path.
This particular Empath demon uses his ability to feel other peoples’ pain to help them. Later in the narrative the gods see fit to give the empath ability to a human, and it very nearly destroys her. (Actually, I’m not sure I’ve seen the end of that story line. I know it comes close, but I’m not sure if it eventually does or not.) She should die because a human can’t bear that burden of feeling so much the pain of others.
THE RELUCTANT PROPHET by Nancy Rue
The Reluctant Prophet illuminated what I’d seen in Angel, if that makes any sense. Allison has been asking God what she’s supposed to do, and when she begins to follow through on what she hears, the members of her church aren’t exactly thrilled. It’s a serious examination — in the form of one fictional woman’s story — of what a life of faith looks like and the risks it entails.
It’s a well-written story that I read at exactly the right time. It rings authentic, and I can’t wait to crack open the next book in the series, Unexpected Dismounts. I’ve also been enjoying Rue’s (@NNRue) blog.
THE FALLING AWAY by T.L. Hines
The Falling Away is a truly excellent book (it won the INSPY in December for Speculative Fiction).
This quote will, I think, illustrate how The Falling Away fits into my list: “we’re almost magnets for pain and suffering, but because we have ways to control it, there’s a design to it all” (page 97).
WINTER by Keven Newsome
Winter isn’t really of the same calibre as the aforementioned books writing-wise (or editing-wise), but it does dwell in the same vein, of prophecy. Enough so to earn a place here. It may not speak to everyone as it did to me — the appeal of the others is probably more broad — but that’s not necessarily the point of this list. So.
Switching directions a bit, Passport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances by Kimberly L. Smith (2011 INSPY winner for Creative Nonfiction) also deserves a spot on the list. It doesn’t quite fit with the others in that, while the others taught me something about myself and showed a bit of the way I should go, Smith voiced so much of what I’ve felt leading up to this time. It’s almost like her words were echoing what my soul had been crying out. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been working in Darfur unbeknownst to you, but I did find significant parallels.
Summary: Several books I read in 2011 seemed to coalesce around a theme, enough so that it made me sit up straight and take notice. Through these books, plus the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, God spoke to my identity, my place/role in the Body of Christ. I don’t have it all figured out yet(!), but it was encouraging to learn. One piece: an implementable way to channel my empathy.
So, there you have it. Not a traditional best-of list — I read lots of other terrific books — but the ones that most stood out to me.
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