This year I got back on track and achieved my reading goal: 75 books! Here are a few that stood out to me (in no particular order):
Category 1 (Spirituality/Theology):
- The Year of Small Things: Life in Davis has created a sort of reverse culture shock for our family after years of living in the “hood.” There was a moment on the soccer field this fall where we discovered that a family on our team was looking at the two houses for sale in our little development. The dad made it very clear they were really only looking at the more expensive of the two. That type of thinking is extremely prevalent here, and so figuring out how to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly is actually more complicated than we expected. This book has been a good gift to us, creating a lot of great conversations about how to live counter-culturally in this place we find ourselves in.
- The Kingdom Life: Our church community is going to be experimenting with a year long journey through various spiritual disciplines, so I read a ton of spiritual formation books this year. This was the best book on formation I read. It is a great blend of theological reflection and practical ideas. Plenty of content to generate conversation as well.
- Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: In all of that formation reading, this book stood out, partly because Ruth is the best, and partly because this was the one formational book that focused on the life of the leader.
- ReUnion: Every year there’s a book that ends up on my list, and in retrospect I have no idea how or why it did but I am sure glad that it did. Here’s 2019’s version. Bruxy is character, but his writing and thinking is extremely refreshing. This will be one I go back to often in the coming year(s).
- Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Hands down this was the most consequential book I read this year. Fair warning: it is not easy to read. He repeats himself a lot, he quotes many, many people, there are a billion footnotes, and a lot of terms that are not familiar to most outside of academic circles. But it is so good and so important for any church that is serious about mission in the 21st century.
- Honorable Mentions: Formational Children’s Ministry, Good News For A Change, The Color of Compromise, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Raising Disciples, The Strangest Way, Faith For Exiles, The Making of An Ordinary Saint
Category 2 (Non-Fiction)
- The Away Game: There are a million, billion, fascinating stories happening all the time, and one of the gifts of books is discovering what a few of those stories are. Here’s a great example: the story of the Football Dreams academy and the search for the “Next Messi” among African teenagers. Fascinating!
- The Good Neighbor: Mister Rogers has experiences an incredible resurgence in this cultural moment. The book is excellently put together and does a great job exploring Rogers’ faith background as the foundation for his TV philosophy.
- Improv Nation: If I had to pick one book for book of the year, this is it. Some books tell great stories, some books are full of incredible ideas and information, and some books are just brilliant writing. And then there are books where the author pulls of all three. And this is what we have with Improv Nation. A wonder to read, while at the same being informative and full of unreal stories.
- The World As It Is: Some will write this book off as Obama propaganda, or an attempt to justify a particular career era (by the author), and it may very well be both of those things. That said, what this book really is is a reflection of the toll positions of power take on people. Spoiler Alert: the toll is significant.
- She Said: This book is being heralded as an inside look at the story that launched the #metoo movement, and it is that. But once again, so much more is going on here. In our era of deep distrust of the media, this book is a case study in just how deeply researched news stories that comes from major publications are (and have to be). Sure, some stories get published too soon or without enough corroboration, but if you want to know what really goes into reporting big, breaking, stories check this out.
- Honorable Mentions: The Job, The Power of Habit, Atomic Habits, I’ll Be There For You, Talking To Strangers
Category 3 (Fiction)
- Simon Serrailler Series: I’ve spent the last two years reading various mystery series, and this one is great. It’s very character driven, very British, and can be a bit slow (in comparison to a typical American detective novel), but it is so, so good. These are great novels that happen to be about a detective, rather than detective novels.
- There There: Some debut novels make you wonder how did this happen? How did this thing come out of someone who had never done this before? This is one of those books, plus it’s a fascinating look at the city of Oakland.
- Honorable Mentions: On the Come Up, Witch Elm