I once described the hobby of reading as a ‘difficult pleasure’. It is worthwhile but not easy. Some of you may not like reading that much because it is difficult to sit still and concentrate. I get it. I enjoy reading, but I have to discipline myself, set goals, and find other ways to motivate myself. This year I completed 60 books, a personal best, and this list are the ones that I recommend. I try to give some variety in this list, especially in the last two books. You can see my list from 2020 here.
Spiritual-Mindedness by John Owen
Owen is a great theologian, interpreter of Scripture, and physician for the soul. This is a book about the heart and mind of a Christian. The verse that informs this work is Romans 8:6: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (ESV). Owen wrote a series of meditations on this verse for himself while suffering through some illness. While his body was limited, it made him consider what his thought life was like towards the Lord. This is a book about meditating on God, but also about his Word filling our minds and shaping our desires. This is a great source of growth and peace for us. However, when our minds are focused on the flesh and the things of this world, we miss the sweetness of life with God. A good and challenging book, thankfully abridged and made easy to read under the Banner of Truth Pocket Puritans line.
The Care of Souls by Harold Senkbeil
Pastoral ministry is similar to being a doctor who is a general practitioner rather than a surgeon or specialist. You have to know a little bit about everything: preaching, counseling, coordinating teams, running events, community outreach, evangelism, theology, cultural topics, etc. So each year I try to read at least one book on a variety of such subjects. The Care of Souls is the best book on pastoral care I have read in a long time. What does it mean to have the heart of a pastor and what does it take to develop it? This is a book on pastoral theology, the theology of shepherding God’s people. Reading it was like sitting with a wise and experienced older saint over a cup of coffee and just soaking up all the good and challenging things he had to say. Gospel-saturated, gentle, insightful, this book made me want to grow as a pastor in a fresh new way. Heartily commend for every man headed into the pastorate.
The Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen Taylor, adapted from John Bunyan
I’ve been reading this book to my son every night as the year closes down. The Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the world’s most read, influential, and beloved books in all English literature. It tells the story of a man, Christian, who journeys from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. It is an allegory for the journey of the Christian life. In 1947, Helen Taylor adapted this story for children, and it has become a Christian classic in its own right. This year Moody publishers put out an addition with fantastic illustrations and slight changes. Most notably, the characters are now portrayed as ‘furry creatures living in a woodland realm’. Otherwise, the story and plot remains the same. This is a great read for anyone, but especially to read along with children.
Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi
This year, I listened to the abridged audiobook version of Vincent Bugliosi’s massive (the print version is over 1600 pages) tome on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Bugliosi is famous for prosecuting Charles Manson and writing the classic true crime book on the matter, Helter Skelter. Here he argues in defense of the findings of the Warren Commission: Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone actor in the assassination of President Kennedy. The title of the book reflects the author’s frustration that movies like Oliver Stone’s JFK and the numerous books by conspiracy theorists have convinced many Americans that Kennedy’s assassination was a planned hit by the mob, the Cubans, Russia, the CIA, The FBI, the Military Industrial Complex, Lyndon Johnson… one or all of them. This has been accomplished by ignoring clear evidence of Oswald’s guilt, being selective with evidence that supports their claims, and reading too much into inconsistencies. In his mind, the conspiracy narrative has stolen the true history of what happened those four days in Dallas in November of 1963. The truth matters. I find the book compelling and convincing. Will you? If this topic interests you, I recommend it.
The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
And, finally, a fiction book. I read Tolkien’s The Hobbit this year, but I have read it a few times before, so I left it off this list. I picked up another classic fantasy story this year which I’ll put here instead: The Sword of Shannara. After The Lord of the Rings was published in the 1950s, it seemed literary fantasy had hit its peak. Nothing else published came close to it in popularity and it may have appeared to be a fluke. Epic fantasy fiction hit something of a decline afterwards until Terry Brooks helped revive it with his Shannara series published in the 1970s. This is classic fantasy that sounds all-too-familiar: A chosen hero, a mysterious mentor, a dark lord gaining power, nations at war, a magical object that must be found, elves, dwarfs, goblins, trolls… The biggest criticism of the book is that it is incredibly similar to the Lord of the Rings in characters and plot. It’s definitely there, but I see it more as a tribute. This is a simple story full of classic tropes, but I enjoyed it for that, not in spite of it. If you like epic fantasy, you may like it too.
What were your favorite books of the year?