Master Books. They rule over the other books. Therefore, it might be a good idea to print this post off and use it for your birthday list...
The Master List will not include all the books I read, only those that elicit a moderate level of esteem, or grab my attention because I disagree with them in interesting ways. What does it take for a book to make the list? I’ve briefly answered that question and others below the List itself. For the time being, just note the simple grading scale:
*** Superb, don't miss this one.
** Well worth your time.
* Had its points.
[ no stars ] Don't bother.
The Master Book List
[Continuously compiled, most recent at top... Text links take you to my reviews. Cover photos take you to Amazon where you may throw a few dimes at the Master Book List. ]
- On the Old Testament by Mark Driscoll **1/2
- Between Heaven and Hell by Peter Kreeft ***
- So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger **
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott **
- Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears ***
- Inside Prince Caspian by Devin Brown **
- The Reason for God by Tim Keller ***
- The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin * * *
- ESV Literary Study Bible ed. by Leland and Philip Graham Ryken * * *
- Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach * * *
- Field Guide to Harry Potter by Colin Duriez * *
- Hood by Stephen Lawhead * *
- Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin * *
- When the Game is Over it All Goes Back in the Box by John Ortberg, A
- Sex God by Rob Bell, A-
- Preach the Word, ed. by Ryken and Wilson, A
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, B
- From Achilles to Christ by Louis Markos, A
- Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, B+
- Organic Community by Joseph Myers, B+
- Communion with the Triune God by John Owen, A
- The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, A
- The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch, A
- The Luminous Dusk by Dale Allison, A
- Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, B+
- Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler, A
- Wonderlust by Vicki Kuyper, B
- Signs of Emergence - Kester Brewin, B-
- What I Think I Did - Larry Woiwode, A
- Planting Missional Churches - Ed Stetzer, A
- The Case for the Real Jesus - Lee Strobel, A-
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg - Telford Work, A
- Godric - Frederick Buechner, A+
- Organic God - Margaret Feinberg, B-
- The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis, A+
- The Crossing - Cormac McCarthy, A-
- Original Sin - P.D. James, A
- The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell, A-
- Blow-Up and Other Stories - Julio Cortazar, A
- Devices and Desires - P.D. James, A
- Rumors of Another World - Philip Yancey, B+
- All The Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy, A+
- The Pacific - Mark Helprin, A+
- The Pilgrim's Regress - C.S. Lewis, A
- Murder & Other Acts of Literature - Michele Slung, ed., A
- A Certain Justice - P.D. James, A
- Gap Creek - Robert Morgan, A
- Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship - Colin Duriez, A-
- The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway, A
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard, A+
- Swann's Way - Marcel Proust, A
- The Writing Life - Annie Dillard, A+
- The Diary of a Country Priest - George Bernanos, A
- The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton, B
- Peace Like a River - Leif Enger, A
- The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins, A
- The Storm - Frederick Buechner, B+
- Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis, A+
- A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway, A
- A Taste for Death - P.D. James, A
- The Stranger - Albert Camus, B
- A Mind to Murder - P.D. James, B
- The Undiscovered Mind - John Horgan, B-
- A Long Obedience In The Same Direction - Eugene Peterson, A
- Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller, A
- Providence and Prayer - Terrance Tiessen, A
- Lilith - George MacDonald, A-
- Unnatural Causes - P.D. James, B+
- Saint Augustine’s Childhood – translated By Garry Wills, A+
- She – H. Rider Haggard, B-
- Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier, B
- Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton, A+
- Phantastes - George MacDonald, A+
- A Generous Orthodoxy - Brian McLaren, B-
How Do Books Get On Here?
In a nutshell, they avoid the stereotypical trademarks of pulp fiction and pop bestsellers. Stock characters. Stupid dialogue. Predictable, movie-like plots. This is not to say that all popular writing is bad. Some bestsellers, i.e. Cold Mountain, qualify with flying colors. Thus, a well-penned detective novel or thriller might well appear on the Master List, so long as it met some of the qualifications for classic books spelled out elsewhere. Or perhaps I find something valuable to disagree with. I don’t intend to imply that I unconditionally endorse the views of all authors I list—my nuanced approval will usually be spelled out in the review.
Why The Letter Grades?
[Update: I've changed my grading system since, but am leaving this paragraph to explain the old system.] I'm using A and B with three full stops in each letter, thinking that six levels of relative excellence should be enough to evaluate any book. The very best titles, the type of book that sloshes around in your mind and changes you, gets the A+ nod. Others will be ranked accordingly. Note that on this list, the B- grade is a mark of some embarrassment.
Are You A Jerk?
Most likely, no. The fact that your favorite does not currently head up the List doesn’t make me a jerk. In fact, it’s likely your darling has already been placed gently in my To-Read Pile. More than likely. Some people read sentimental books and then think everybody else should read them—no one who reads this blog, though. Just some people. Their books won’t make the list, but yours probably will, so send me a note if you have a favorite you think I should see.
Why Is The List So Short?
It’s still a young list, although it shows signs of considerable stature. Judging from the size of its feet, we think the List may someday play in the NBA. But for now, its muscles and brains are developing slowly.
Do You Have An Agenda?
I hereby state that this list will be limited to books that force me respect them. As a writer, I’d prefer not to. I mean, the fewer titles that cast grave doubt on my own abilities, the better. I have every reason to keep this list clean of mere hangers-on. Why give myself more reasons to be afraid?
Can I Track This List?
If you're one of those wise people using Firefox, adding a live bookmark to this page would do the trick. Those still stuck in IE could use a regular bookmark and check it every so often (ha, imagine doing that!). For enlightened ones using RSS in other forms, the answer to the question is probably apparent. If none of what I just said makes sense to you, clicking on the "Master Book List" link in the sidebar will bring you back here as well.