Friday, January 20, 2017

Favorite books of 2016

This was a pretty fun year of reading. I finished some enormous books and read some fun ones, but also some that improved my life and helped me see the world in new ways.

I’ll dive right in here on a light topic. Three books that I didn’t expect to read at the beginning of the year, nor did I expect them to be grouped together on a reading list, but they all challenged my thinking about race. Just Mercy opened my eyes to the tragedies of the justice system. Blood Meridian was probably the most disturbing book I read this year - yet so incredibly well written. The atrocities committed against Native Americans by truly evil people were astounding and horribly gut wrenching. Don’t read this if you are queasy. I can’t imagine how Cormac McCarthy was able to find this voice without slipping into depression. Amazing, disturbing, and yet important. Native Son was the second most disturbing read of the year. Not only because of the graphic violence, but the tragic nature of the downward spiral of the main character. Some parts were tedious, but collectively, the weight of the system he exposed for me was overwhelming. The section on ping-pong tables left me spinning. I’m too quick to offer solutions that make me feel good but might totally misses the root problem. 

Power of Community

Two books this year that surprised me were both by the same author and both hit the theme of community: War and Tribe by Sebastian Junger. War wasn’t the typical war reporter book. But it was a snapshot into the inner workings of the relationships of young men on the battle front in Afghanistan. Tribe absolutely blew me away. You can ask anyone who spent time with me the month I was nibbling on it. I must have quoted from it daily. So much great content and stories on the power of community. I’m not saying that he’s right on everything – but it sure was insightful. Every pastor should read it for sure. Short read too.

CS Lewis: a mild obsession

This year was consumed by C.S.Lewis. I’d even call it an obsession. I re-read my favorite of his, Surprised by Joy, and then read a combined 3000 pages of his letters. Volume 2 covered the war years (1931-1949). Volume 3 was everything after that (1950-1963). If you want a huge treat, you should pick up Volume 2. Especially the letters he wrote to his brother during World War II. Epic. Of course, Volume three was amazing because of so many major milestones that occurred in his life (most of his popular works written, death of ‘mother’, marriage, death of wife, his own death). Such an amazing journey. Can’t wait to plow through volume one this year, which, at a paltry 800 pages, should be a breeze in comparison! These two volumes, when combined, were some of the best books I’ve read in my life.


Read a whole host of books on Productivity. Read The War of Art for probably the fifth time, and Linchpin the second (both as audio books). Both need to become at least annual reads. Maybe even more often. If you haven’t read either, put them at the top of your list. New ones were Grit, Better than before, Do More Better, and Checklist Manifesto. Each were important for different reasons. I probably liked Better Than Before (how to build habits) best, as it was the most practical and engaging.


Though I didn’t read a ton of biographies Rebel Yell (on Stonewall Jackson) was hands down the best. It was well written, and made an already fascinating, enigmatic personality even more intriguing. I’ll certainly be re-reading this one in the near future. On another note, the author of Rebel Yell wrote a book I found equally fascinating and have recommended many, many times: The Empire of the Summer Moon. Amazing. After being blown away by these two books, I’ll read anything he writes. Except for a book about a former University of Kentucky football coach. Probably won’t go there…. But everything else.

Fiction and Historical fiction

Went on a Jack London kick this year. As a kid I loved, loved, loved, reading The Call of the Wild. But this year I was introduced to his other long stories and ate up Sea Wolf and Martin of Eden. The first was a contrast in character development. One man blossoms while the other devolves into despair. Yet both learn so much from the other. The second book seemed semi-auto-biographical and though clearly a novel with an engaging plot, folded in a commentary on finding true happiness.

Musashi was a surprising delight of a book. A long form historical fiction work (900-ish pages) on the life of Japan’s most successful Samurai, winning over 60 individual bouts and never losing. There's also a graphic novel version by the title Vagabond. The graphic novels are mostly fine, though I wouldn’t recommend them to the young because of a couple of images in volume one and two. (By the way, I think the two volumes of Vagabond I read are a compilation of some of the over 30 issues of a Japanese comic book series… so I’m not sure how to best direct anyone to track these down. I thought they were compiled into three volumes, but I couldn’t confirm that when I searched on Amazon. Maybe you can find them at your library like I did. If someone who reads this loves Manga and knows the answer – drop it in the comments please). I’m also working through a short biography on Musashi, called The Lone Samurai that has been a good complement to the novel. His burden to simplify life was probably his main driving force, shunning anything that would take him from “The way of the sword.”

Two Others Books 

Extreme Ownership – Not a book on buying lots of things, rather, it's a treatise on taking responsibility for whatever is swirling in your life. I share a story from this book during the men’s session at the Weekends to Remember and each time I’m amazed by how many men mention how powerful the story is to them. It’s probably been the stickiest book I’ve read this year – with the main idea coming to mind over and over again – “OWN IT!” Every man should read this.

End of Sexual Identity I read a ton of books on gender and sexual identity this year to prepare for writing my own book on the topic. One stood out above the rest. I didn’t agree with everything in the book, as the author seemed to underplay the power of the creation account in establishing two distinct sexes, but much of what she had to say about our cultural identities and they way they are formed around our gender was very thoughtful. She really helped drive home the idea that so much of what we believe to be true of gender and sexual identity is heavily influenced by our culture. Again, I don’t agree with everything she writes, but it’s worth reading.


I’ve been using goodreads to track my books this year. If you want to see what I’m reading, or track your own books – check it out and get signed up. If you sign up with your amazon account, it will give you the option to import any books you’ve purchased from Amazon. You can also find a link on the right side of this blog.

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