At the beginning of the year, I resolved to read one book each week, picking up a habit I had formed several years ago but had neglected in the past year or so. I became aware that I was reading a lot of blogs and news articles online, but I was not reading many books. I could tell that my attention span was shrinking and that the way I processed information was changing, and I wanted to reclaim the ability to read for long periods of time and think deeply about subjects.
I intended to write each month about the books I read, but I ended up devoting more time to reading than writing. I would like to write longer reviews of some of these books, but for now, here are some short summaries and recommendations.
I’m going to just list the books in the order that I read them and not worry about classifying them at all.
January – 9 books (Note: I was on winter holiday for part of this month.)
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
This book explained why I felt like my brain was changing and how my reading was affected by the internet. I evaluated my online habits, cut back on the amount of time I was online, and increased the number of books I read. It’s not necessarily wrong to read blogs and articles online, but I value the long-term, in-depth reading and thinking skills more than the skimming skills that internet reading develops. I highly recommend this book; it was fascinating, enriching, and motivating.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian
I especially benefited from the first few chapters of this book, in which Tchividjian contrasts legalism and grace and exalts Christ as sufficient for all our needs; however, I thought the exposition of Colossians was a bit confusing in how he organized and explained the text. I also kept getting tripped up by some of the delineations he made between justification and sanctification, and I often didn’t quite agree with him. I’d have to re-read the book and take some more time to think through the doctrines to more clearly explain what I mean, but apparently I’m not the only one who had some concerns about this book.
1776 by David McCullough
McCullough expertly weaves details from primary sources into a gripping narrative of the people and events of this incredibly important year in America’s history.
The Dubliners by James Joyce
I taught Joyce’s story “Araby” in British Literature and remembered reading one of these stories (turned out to be “The Dead”) in a college-level class, so I was interested to read the entire collection. The stories can stand alone, as they were used in those survey classes, but they make much more sense in the context of the other stories. I understood the themes and appreciated the imagery more after reading them with the other stories. Joyce is a master at capturing a mood through vivid details and dialogue. That mood, however, is often melancholy, and the themes explore frustration and disillusionment with life, so don’t read this book if you’re already feeling a bit sad.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I watched the movie based on the book on the international flight home and promptly read the book as soon as I arrived. I loved the characters and dialogue in both the movie and the book, but of course, the characters are developed more in the book and I loved them even more for it. This book is about a particularly disturbing and evil time in America’s history, and the social and relational issues were not resolved neatly by the end of the book. One of my friends expressed disappointment that none of the story lines had happy endings, but I think the author intended this to be a book about life as it really is and not life as we wish it to be. I thought this was a tremendously moving book (I laughed and cried my way through it), and I highly recommend it (I’ll probably re-read it soon).
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This is an amazing novel–beautifully crafted, challenging themes, engaging characters, dialogues, and descriptions. The target audience is young adult readers, but I absolutely loved this book.
The Hole in our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung
At the end of last semester, Dave preached a series of sermons about God’s holiness. This was an excellent follow-up book and it reinforced those truths in my heart and mind. This was a readable, fairly short book with great exposition of Scripture and specific, relevant applications.
Lit! by Tony Reinke
This was a great follow-up book, for me, to The Shallows. It further confirmed that I needed to focus on reading and cut back on forms of online reading and entertainment. I appreciated Reinke’s theology of reading, his style of writing, and all his recommendations and advice about reading. Honestly, though, if I weren’t already a reader, I don’t think I would have liked this book and I can’t imagine giving a book about reading to someone who doesn’t like to read (despite the glowing testimonials to the contrary on the back cover). All the people who read and recommend this book love to read already.
What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books and this compilation of articles from The New Yorker was no disappointment. I could go on and on about all of the things I learned in this book (I wrote 2-3 pages in my reading journal about it) and it has provided much food for thought and conversation this year. Highly recommend it.
February – 5 books
Forgotten God by Francis Chan
I knew that we were going to be studying the doctrine of the Holy Spirit this semester, so during the holiday I read this book. While Chan addresses the major texts on the Holy Spirit and deals sufficiently with the theological study, the strength of this book is its warm pastoral tone and devotional encouragement to recognize the way the Spirit works in our lives and to pursue a relationship with Him.
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
This is a fantastic book that everyone should read! Rosaria Butterfield was a liberal, lesbian, tenured English professor in women’s studies, who through gracious interactions with a pastor and reading the Bible multiple times for a research project became a believer in Jesus Christ.
The first sentences of Marvin Olasky’s interview with Rosaria Butterfield are a good introduction to the author and provide a short summary of her book: “Rosaria Butterfield was a tenured professor at Syracuse University, until God used her desire to write a book on the religious right, and the friendship of a biblically orthodox pastor, to draw her to Christ. She became a voracious Bible reader, gradually saw that her new beliefs required her to upend her former life, and has now described what happened in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.”
Is There Anybody Out There by Mez McConnell
Mez McConnell, author of Is There Anybody Out There?, was a homeless drug addict and convict who was redeemed from his sins and now serves as a pastor of an inner-city church in Edinburgh. You can watch a short video of his testimony here.
What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert
This is a great book–clear logic, tons of Scripture references to support their points, and straightforward explanations of the gospel, missions, and the debates in the Church about how to carry out that mission. While I haven’t been caught up in those trendy discussions about “missional living,” I have read a bit on the blogs about these things and, as a missionary, I am interested in how people support missionaries and carry out evangelism in their own churches. This book served to reinforce what I already believed about missions and further clarified and confirmed in my mind what the Bible says about missions. I really enjoyed the authors’ style and could easily follow the flow of the book; I actually read and listened to it twice this month.
How People Change by Timothy Lane and PAUL DAVID TRIPP
This is a fantastic book about the Biblical process of sanctification, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have never worked through a book so slowly, so thoughtfully, or so deeply. I literally have 30 typed pages of notes and reflections on this book. And I still felt like I should re-read it as soon as I finished it.
I can’t begin to summarize the teaching in this book, because I just wanted to write short snip-its in this post, and I could go on for pages about it. But go out and buy this book and read it slowly and thoughtfully! God will change your life as you read this book and study His Word.
March – 3.5 books
Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer: The Abduction by John Grisham
After all the deep reading I did in February, I was ready for a light novel. This was the second book in the Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer series that I have read. I love almost everything by John Grisham, but I have especially enjoyed the Theodore Boone stories. Theo is a realistic character with emotions, limitations, and personality. He’s obedient, intelligent, and thoughtful–the kind of kid you would want your preteen to be like. The story lines are also realistic; Theo is called “the kid lawyer,” but he’s only able to defend friends in animal court and help friends with investigations that his parents, actual lawyers, have to defend in court.
Within Arm’s Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service by Dan Emmett
A friend recommended this book because he enjoyed it, but honestly, I liked his enthusiastic summary of the book more than I liked the actual book. I thought Emmett’s writing style was dull and wordy, and he repeatedly built up the tension in a story only to say that danger was averted, which is a good thing when your job is to guard the president, but a bad thing when you’re telling a story. I did enjoy his behind-the-scenes accounts of working in the White House and his comparisons of the presidents he protected.
Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology by Andrew Naselli
This was an extremely helpful book for me, but it’s a dissertation, so it’s not the kind of book everyone will want to pick up. I grew up with a church background similar to Andy Naselli’s and could identify with the salvation, assurance of salvation, dedication to Christian service kind of sermons and decisions that were emphasized in church, chapel, and camp services when I was growing up. I have also been influenced by Keswick authors and missionaries, such as Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, and Andrew Murray. This book greatly aided in my understanding of sanctification and holiness, and it righted some wrong ideas I had about how God works in believers.
If you don’t feel up to reading the book (though it is remarkably well-written and easy to follow for a dissertation), I recommend that you read this journal article that summarizes the history and theology of the early Keswick movement.
(Read from, but did not finish) The Cross of Christ by John Stott
I read this book during Lent (though I don’t officially observe Lent, I find it beneficial to focus my reading on the gospel and Christ during the weeks leading up to Easter). I didn’t finish it because I was also studying the gospel of Luke, and I read the book slowly and carefully, using the study guide and taking notes. It was a thought-provoking book, and I look forward to finishing it next year during Lent.
April – 2 books (April was a rough month for me)
Desiring God by John Piper
I don’t know why I didn’t read this book earlier. I loved it and it was extremely beneficial for me to read and think through each issue. Piper’s basic premise is “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” and he demonstrates from Scripture how that philosophy-theology touches each area of our lives. This is a comprehensive, philosophical, theological book that bears re-reading, thoughtful reflection, and careful application. I plan to read it again soon.
The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz
Our group read the second of the three stories during our Wednesday night meetings. Each story in this book focuses on the pastor of a Lutheran church in Sweden. The stories are loosely connected, and each tells of the pastor’s coming to saving faith in Christ and of the implications that has on his ministry. Yes, you read that correctly. . . the pastor in each of these stories came to believe in Christ, after completing seminary and preaching in a church for several years. We had some great discussions as we compared the pastor’s situation to our own and talked about some common issues we have faced growing up in a Christian family, going to church, attending Bible college, and living with other believers. It can be very easy to just conform to expectations, and not make your parents’ or teachers’ faith your own.
May – 4 books
Shades of GrEy by Jasper Fforde
This book is in no way related to another book that has an unfortunately similar title. One of my friends said, “I thought it was rather bold of you to read that book out in public, but then I realized the title wasn’t the same.” First, I would never read That Other Book, and second, I hoped that people would know by my character that I wouldn’t read That Other Book. Alas . . .
I have read several of Jasper Fforde’s novels (all of the others are in the Thursday Next series, which I love!), and I love his style and humor and characters. This book is quite different from the Thursday Next series; it’s a distopia in which people can only see colors from one segment of the color spectrum and are known by that color family (the Reds, Yellows, Greys, etc). The families try to maneuver up to the coveted Violet end of the spectrum through arranged marriages and other political shenanigans. I was intrigued by the story, the distopian world, and the characters; however, in the last couple of chapters the story took a disappointing turn, and I’m not sure I’ll continue reading the series.
Don’t Waste Your Sports by CJ Mahaney
I recently started to train for another half-marathon, so I decided to read this short book about a Christian philosophy of sports. It was a helpful, little book, but it only took a few minutes to read . . . literally, a few minutes. The audiobook is only 45 minutes, which is shorter than most sermons I listen to. I imagine the target audience is the stereotypical jock who doesn’t like to read, but I would have appreciated a little more depth (see Ryan Hall’s Running with Joy for a more in-depth Christian philosophy of sports); however it was a good reminder to do all to the glory of God, including running half-marathons.
Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred by Carolyn McCulley (re-re-read)
This is the best book on singleness I’ve ever read. This is the best book on the Proverbs 31 woman I’ve ever read. If you are a woman, married or single, you need to read this book.
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I especially liked the first few chapters of this book, in which Bonhoeffer contrasts cheap and costly grace. The next few chapters on the 10 commandments were also helpful.
June – 5 books
Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper
This is a great overview of Christ’s atoning work for mankind, and Piper examines this marvelous work of grace from many (well, 50) perspectives. Like a jeweler slowly rotating a diamond to look at every sparkle and facet of the precious gem, Piper dazzles us with Christ’s love, mercy, and grace.
Eyes Wide Open by Steve DeWitt
This is a fantastic book about beauty and how a Christian can enjoy God’s beauty through Scripture, Jesus Christ, creation, art (of every genre and form), and relationships. I loved the thought-provoking study questions and the lovely reflections on true beauty.
Fine China is for Single Women Too by Lydia Brownback
Having just read Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? this book was a bit redundant; however, it met a need in my life. I read this book in one sitting one morning during my devotional time. I needed this timely reminder to be content in Christ.
Writing Reminders by Jim Burke
I’m revising our writing curriculum and turned to master teacher Jim Burke for some guidance. I’ve benefited often from his English Teacher’s Companion and this book was equally as helpful to me. If you teach English, you need to read Burke’s books!
I recently watched the new movie of the Hobbit (loved it!) and was inspired to re-read the book (loved it more!).
Total # of books read in 2013 thus far = 28
So, there you have it–all the books I’ve read so far this year! Overall, it’s been a good year of reading, and I’m looking forward to the next 25 books or so that I read this year.