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Pastor John's 2020 Reading Challenge

Every year I like to set a reading goal for myself to help me stay focused on learning and growing. For three out of the last four years, I have used this guide from Tim Challies, as I have found that the wide variety of categories he offers keeps me reading broadly, forcing me to read things I might otherwise overlook. I encourage you to join me in this challenge as well! No matter how ambitious a reader you are, there's a plan for you (ranging from "light" to "obsessed"). I've set a goal to meet the "committed" level of one book per week, and I'll be sharing short book reviews of each book for those who'd like to follow along with me. If you decide to do the challenge, be sure to let me know about what you're reading, too!

Before I get to the reviews, there are a few things I'd like to point out:

  • This post will be updated frequently, with the most recently read books at the top of the page.
  • I'm not working through Challies' categories in order, but will be jumping around the list a bit.
  • A book's appearing on this list should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation! I intentionally read books representing different ideologies or worldviews, as well as occasionally books containing potentially objectionable material. I approach these books very critically, often with the intent of engaging with someone in a conversation. While I find this kind of reading to be very helpful, it is not necessarily something I would encourage other (particularly younger) readers to do. 
  • Many of the links in this post are affiliate bookseller links to Amazon, meaning I'll receive a (very) small commission should you happen to purchase the book, but this does not affect the price you pay in any way.


By Bob Woodward — A book with a person on the cover (50/52)

Bob Woodward's ability to get important people to talk about stuff they probably shouldn't is legendary. And so the fact that Trump not only allowed but requested this book be written--in an election year--and then said on the record all the stuff he said (by now you've probably heard the tapes) ought to be astonishing, but actually isn't. What else would we expect from the guy who bragged he could commit murder on 5th Avenue and not lose voters? That said, Woodward once again presents a fascinating, up close look inside the administration of a sitting President. While he does editorialize quite a bit in his writing--and once again concludes that Trump is unfit for the presidency, as he did in his 2019 book Fear--his opinions did not strike me as particularly partisan. He is known for his critiques of members of all political parties, and conservatives such as Mike Pence and Dan Coats are portrayed quite sympathetically in this book. 

Trump is nothing if not a polarizing leader who refuses to play by anyone else's rules. His brash style has made his presidency both consequential and memorable (he wouldn't want it any other way!), for better or for worse, depending on your perspective. In displaying both the loyalty Trump commands and the vitriol he inspires, Woodward shows that his book is aptly named; "rage" does seem to be a dominant theme in contemporary political discourse, both among Trump's supporters and his detractors. It's also the word Trump himself used to describe what he most brings out in people, during his first interview with Woodward in early 2016, shortly after announcing his candidacy. 

This book won't go down as the definitive book on Trump's presidency, and it's extraordinarily unlikely that it is going to change anyone's vote this November. But to date I don't think anyone has presented Trump in his own words--outside of Trump's own Twitter feed--nearly to the extent that Woodward does. For that alone, it's worth reading, though it must be read critically. 
Recommended for: Politics junkies who enjoy insider accounts and can stomach prodigious use of the "f-word"... parents, don't listen to the audiobook with kids around! (link)

Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful: A Biblical Vision for Education in the Church

By Gary A. Parrett and S. Steve Kang — A book about Christian living (49/52)

The final and most academic of the books I read for a seminary course on Christian Teaching, this is a good and extremely comprehensive manual for developing the teaching ministry of a church. While few will want (or need) to read it cover to cover, it is a great reference volume for any pastor's library.
Recommended for: Seminary students, Christian school leaders, and pastors thinking through the teaching ministry of their church. (link)

The Way of Kings: Book 1 of the Stormlight Archive

By Brandon Sanderson — A novel by an author you have never read before (48/52)

This is a book I've been hearing about for a while now and finally got around to reading. I happen to enjoy books in the high fantasy genre (think Tolkien's Lord of the Rings,Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, or Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles), but this is a story that I think could be enjoyed by those who don't consider themselves fantasy fans. As is common in epic stories (again, LOTR comes to mind), it's a bit of a slow burn in the beginning as characters are introduced and the world is being described, but even here the storytelling is very well done. And once the action takes off, it's pretty thrilling! I particularly appreciate Sanderson's ability to tell his story without the need for vulgar language; having slogged through George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series recently, this is a very welcome relief... and a better story, too! The fourth book in this series (which is anticipated to be a 10-volume epic) will be released this November. At just over 1000 pages, the first book is the shortest so far, so if you check this one out, prepare to be immersed for a while!
Recommended for: Those who enjoy high fantasy, or are looking for an excellent introduction to the genre. (link)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

By J.K. Rowling — A book published in hard cover (47/52)

Our family's read-aloud through the HP books is nearing its end! I wasn't sure how my kids would handle the big ending, so that was fun. Also, Nate is not a fan of snogging.
Recommended for: If you don't know by now whether you are into Harry Potter, don't start here. (link)

Philosophy & Education: And Introduction in Christian Perspective

By George R. Knight — A book by an author you've never heard of (46/52)

Philosophy and education are two of my favorite areas of study, so a book combining the two sounded pretty good to me when it was assigned in a recent seminary class. Personally, I loved it, though your mileage may vary. Knight does a good job explaining terms and building a case for why the formal study of philosophy should be a prerequisite for anyone tasked with teaching in any Christian setting, so it's more accessible than many books of formal philosophy. The part I found most helpful were the chapters which traced the development of thought across various teaching philosophies throughout history. It's useful to see how different ideological foundations result in different practices in our teaching, and to be able to work backward from some of the crazy stuff we see happening in schools today (compulsory sex ed for Kindergarteners, anyone?) to the core convictions which lead people to react so strongly for and against different methodologies and curricula.
Recommended for: Christian teachers of all kinds, as well as pastors responsible for the discipleship of their congregation. (link)

Hamilton: The Revolution

By Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter — A book about art or an artist (45/52)

The arrival of Hamilton: The Musical on Disney+ was enough to get me to take the plunge to subscribe. I'd listened to the soundtrack several times and had always wanted to see the show that everyone's been talking about for the last five years. It did not disappoint! I'm an unabashed fan of musical theatre, and this show absolutely lives up to the hype. Miranda is a certifiable genius, and this show is a masterpiece of modern art. I had actually read part of this book (written as a sort of "tell-all" about the show) about two years ago on my first plane ride to Spokane, when the lady in the seat next to me couldn't stop telling me how awesome it was. Having seen the show, I thoroughly enjoyed reading all about its origin, development, and production, and then watching the show again while following along with Miranda's annotated lyrics.
Recommended for: Fans of Hamilton, lovers of good art, and appreciators geniuses (link)

Teaching to Change Lives

By Dr. Howard Hendricks — A book by an author who is now deceased (44/52)

This book was assigned for one of my seminary classes, but I had actually read it about ten years ago when I was serving on the board of directors for a classical Christian school. It was good then, and is still really good now! Hendricks offers up seven "laws" which will help make teaching--and particularly Christian teaching--more effective at producing the type of changed lives which result in students growing more like Christ. It's very accessible, and super practical.
Recommended for: Anyone who teaches, but particularly those teaching in a classroom setting (including in the homeschool classroom). (link)

The Third Lynx

By Timothy Zahn — A book of your choice (43/52)

Before I finished Night Train to Rigel earlier this summer (see book #37 below), I placed a hold at the library for the second book in the series. It was okay, I guess, but not good enough to make me want to read the rest of the series.
Recommended for: Die hard Sci-Fi fans who need something easy to read. (link)

Hear, My Son: Teaching Learning in Proverbs 1-9

By Daniel J. Estes — A commentary on a book of the Bible (42/52)

I know I shouldn't say this as a pastor but... I don't always enjoy reading commentaries. Technically, this isn't a commentary, but rather a book on biblical theology studying topics in Proverbs. However you classify it, it was really, really good. I'm getting ready to help lead families in our church through a study of Proverbs, and this has been super helpful. Estes focuses on the biblical worldview underlying the book of Proverbs, and on principles we about teaching which we can learn from its first 9 chapters. He interacts with teaching methodologies which are much more prevalent in secular (and many Christian) teaching settings, and demonstrates why a biblical worldview is a necessary foundation for understanding the world around us.
Recommended for: Teachers, pastors, and those who disciple others (link)

The Warden and the Wolf King

By Andrew Peterson — A novel longer than 400 pages (41/52)

Peterson's final book is the best in the series, and it's not even close. When we finished it as a family read-aloud last night, my wife mentioned that this is now one of her favorite books of all time, and it's hard to argue with that! It's a tear-jerker for sure, as Peterson has become a master of effective emotional engagement, and it's just a joy to read. I've said it three times already in this list, but I really mean it... go read this series!
Recommended for: Everyone! (link)

On Christian Teaching

By Saint Augustine — A book more than 150 years old (40/52)

Technically, we could add another digit to this book's category requirement, as it is well over 1500 years old! In the past I've read Augustine's City of God and Confessions (several times), but only recently discovered that he had a third extant book, which throughout church history has actually been his most influential. Who knew?! (Apparently, tons of people.) Anyway, it's divided into four parts, with the 4th being easily the best and most useful, as it focus on rhetoric and how to winsomely and persuasively present an argument. Still a bestseller after 16 centuries as history has not produced anyone to match Augustine's charm, wit, and intellect. So glad I read this!
Recommended for: Anyone who teaches (or desires to teach) or wants to improve his or her ability to persuade. (link)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

By J.K. Rowling — A book of your choice (39/52)

We're well past the halfway mark in the first reading of the HP series with my kids. I won't tell you how many times I've read the series as I desire your respect as a pastor. But this is one of my favorites in the series as it develops so many characters so well.
Recommended for: At this point you're either reading and enjoying the series, or you're not! (link)

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change

By Paul David Tripp — A book about Christian living (38/52)

I love this book's emphasis on the fact that, as believers, we need each other deeply! God has called us to faithfulness and righteousness, but he has called us to do this in community. None of us is capable of navigating life's challenges on our own, and Tripp has provided yet another excellent resource for helping one another find true and lasting change at the heart level. The book equips readers both philosophically and practically to root out "the functional rulers of the heart" which lead us into sin, and instead focus on how Christ dethrones these rival rulers. Most helpful to me were some of the appendices, which outline a specific manner of questioning for use in a counseling situation (whether formal or informal) to quickly get to the heart of the issue.
Recommended for: Pastors, small group leaders, biblical counselors, and parents. Anyone to whom other folks are responsible or come for help. (link)

Night Train to Rigel

By Timothy Zahn — A book of your choice (37/52)

I recently watched (despite many warnings not to) The Rise of Skywalker. It was (as I had been warned) pretty terrible, which got me thinking again about how much I wish the JJ Abrams trilogy had not replaced the infinitely superior "extended universe" of the 90's era Star Wars books, most notably the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. That story and those characters were so much better than what we got in the latest movies! So anyway, that got me thinking, 'what else has Timothy Zahn written?' Which brought me to the Quadrail Series, of which this book is the first. I can't say I'm going to love it in the same way I loved Zahn's Star Wars books, but this one was pretty okay. We'll see where the rest of the series goes.
Recommended for: Sci-Fi fans looking for a series by a guy who's proven he can write an awesome series. (link)

Heroes: The Greek Myths Reimagined

By Stephen Fry — A book by or about a celebrity (36/52)

Another book which is the continuation of a series mentioned below, this is the second (of a planned three) book in Stephen Fry's creative retelling of Greek mythology. Like Mythos (see below), Heroes is a very readable and humorous introduction to these classic tales, this time focusing on heroes such as Herocles (you probably know him better by his Latin name, "Hercules"), Perseus, Jason, and more. If you want scholarship and fidelity to the original texts, there are plenty of other, better options out there. If you want something that's just a fun read that provides a basic overview of the stories (with copious use of creative license), this series definitely delivers. I did like the first book better, though.
Recommended for: Those who enjoy Greek mythology, or just a good story. Save caveats apply as to the earlier book, however. (link)

Stranger Planet

By Nathan W. Pyle — A book that seems like it will make you laugh (35/52)

Okay, so "seems" is a bit inaccurate. After reading Pyle's first book (see Strange Planet below), I "knew" this book would make me laugh! I seriously love these comics, and pre-ordered this one months before its release. Our whole family frequently picks up one or the other of these books, and it's a joy to watch my children being corrupted by my love of wit, language, and sarcasm.
Recommended for: People who laugh (link)

Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions

By Winfried Corduan — A book by or about a missionary (34/52)

This is a seminary textbook, but is very accessible for laymen as well. I love reading about other world cultures and religions, and a summer under quarantine gave me the opportunity to dig quite a bit deeper into some of the more ubiquitous faiths (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc) while also being introduced to some religions about which I had read nothing previously (Jainism, Sikhism, animistic tribal religions, etc). Corduan is both thorough and fair, striving to accurately represent the tenets of these faiths in a way which will give Christians greater understanding of our neighbors, as well as strategies to build relationships with them and ultimately share the gospel of Jesus Christ with every nation, tribe, people, and tongue. 
Recommended for: Few will want to read this cover-to-cover, but it would be an excellent resource book in the library of any Christian with a heart for reaching the nations, or those with questions about reaching neighbors of a differing faith. (link)

How People Change

By Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp — A book by or about a pastor or pastoring (33/52)

This book focuses on what the authors call "the gospel gap," which is one of the main reasons why biblical counseling exists. All Christians profess a belief that, through God's grace, our sins have been dealt with on the cross, and we place our hope in the promise that we will one day share an eternity with Christ, free from sin and the curse. But there is a gap which exists between those two glorious truths, in which believers often struggle to see the blessings and power which this same gospel provides for us as we face the trials and temptations of our present lives. Lane & Tripp provide a very helpful metaphor (known as "Heat, Thorns, Cross, Fruit) for demonstrating how a proper understanding of the gospel leads to the freedom to which we are called to live in the here and now. It was extraordinarily helpful and hopeful, and very needed in our present circumstances when so many folks are in need of wise biblical counsel.
Recommended for: Pastors, those interested in becoming biblical counselors, and believers looking for hope for themselves or others in overcoming sinful responses to trials and temptations. (link)

Nut Jobs: Cracking California's Strangest $10 Million Dollar Heist

By Marc Fennell — A book by someone from a different continent than you (32/52)

Marc Fennell is an Australian journalist who investigates food-related interest stories, and narrates audiobooks (technical released as a short podcast series) with his findings. Last year I read and thoroughly enjoyed his study of "the scandal-plagued race to breed the world's hottest chili," so when he released a new book about millions of dollars of nuts being stolen (by the Armenian mob, apparently), I thought it would be worth checking out. And I wasn't disappointed! While shedding light on a fascinating modern caper in which more than ten million dollars worth of almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and other nuts vanished without a trace from California's central valley, his journey ranged from the mafia's roots in agri-crime to corruption in food-related academic research to ethical questions related to the ethics of modern farming and employment practices. And while I don't share his political or philosophical worldview (which becomes quite apparent), I do appreciate the way he often challenges me to rethink some of my own positions, though I generally find his conclusions to be uncompelling.
Recommended for: Nut lovers, foodies, and those who enjoy a good crime tale. Be forewarned: There is some very uncouth language used at times, and a decidedly leftward slant to the conclusions he draws, which may be a turnoff to some. (link)

The Monster in the Hollows

By Andrew Peterson — A book you have read before (31/52)

Book 3 in the Wingfeather Saga is where improvements in Peterson's writing and storytelling really begin to be evident. The entire series is great, but this is the book that really roped me in to the "saga." The characters become much more three-dimensional, flaws and all. In fact, it's the flaws that make it such a great book to read with the kids, as they are able to relate to the struggles with sin which the Wingfeather children (and others in the books) experience. I can't wait to finish the series again soon!
Recommended for: Everyone! (link)

The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy

By Rainn Wilson — A memoir or autobiography (30/52)

Rainn Wilson has been something of a fascination for me for some time. Not only has he given life to one of the best characters in television history (Dwight Schrute from The Office), but he's been a very outspoken advocate for exploring "life's big questions," through his Twitter feed, a very influential video introduction to the Baha'i faith, and his website Soul Pancake. He's also a lapsed bassoonist. As I'm taking a summer class on World Religions right now at SBTS, this seemed as good a time as any to check out Wilson's memoir. It is at times hilarious, raunchy, introspective, and--as someone fully committed to the exclusivity of the gospel--terribly sad. He is nothing if not a true devotee of this modern (founded in the 19th century) religion, and has invested his considerable gifting and notoriety spreading its message, which, while on the surface seems to offer a hopeful and optimistic view of the world, ultimately fails to compellingly answer any of life's biggest questions (such as the "problem of evil"). As a spokesman for Baha'i, he is eloquent and winsome, but in the final analysis wraps an ugly present in pretty paper. Still, it was a worthwhile and enjoyable read.
Recommended for: Fans of The Office and/or those interested in learning about the Ba'Hai faith from one of its most dedicated adherents. (link)

Mythos: The Greek Myths Reimagined

By Stephen Fry — A book about an interest of yours (29/52)

Since I was a little boy, I've been fascinated by stories of myth & legend. From storybooks as a kid, to modern retellings as a teen, to classical study and original sources as an adult, to beginning the cycle again with my own children, Greek mythology has become a very familiar companion in my reading life. So when I stumbled across actor/comedian Stephen Fry's new retelling I was curious to see what he'd done with them. Having read many of the original sources, I am skeptical of most modern versions, as many seem to censor (or "bowdlerize", as Fry says in his book) material modern audiences may find offensive, and/or present the stories with some sort of modern political/moral agenda. In both of those areas, Mythos does better than most modern versions with which I am familiar. Fry certainly does not shy away from the gory or lewd elements of the ancient stories (though at times he perhaps even over-accentuates them, if that is possible), and, though his atheism and religious skepticism is quite apparent in his editorializing in the introduction and epilogue, he does seem to present the stories themselves relatively free from modern biases, for which I was grateful. That said, he does take quite a bit of artistic license in his "retelling" of many stories, at times fabricating fairly large plot elements to add dramatic flair--most notably in his telling of the story of Prometheus' creation of the first mortal men. He excuses such license as being in the tradition of Ovid and other classical and modern authors who have embraced the fictitious nature of the stories and made them their own. Whether or not one agrees with him, he is nothing if not thorough in covering the oldest Greek myths (from Creation through the Titans to the birth of the gods and the Titanomachy to the establishment of the Olympians and the beginnings of human civilization). At 352 pages (its followup Heroes, which covers later Greek mythology and is on my reading list for later this year is even longer) it may appear intimidating, but is actually quite easy and enjoyable to read, and worth checking out for the etymological highlights alone.
Recommended for: While I am still partial to the classical authors, those looking for a readable, entertaining version of Greek mythology will enjoy this. It is NOT recommended for reading to kids! (link)

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

By Tom Nichols — A book about science (28/52)

Why is it so hard to have a civil conversation about anything of substance these days? Why does everyone seem to have such strong opinions about everything, and why do we find it so hard to trust what we see on the news? The Death of Expertise takes on these questions and many more, and given the current state of the world, may end up being the most important book I'll read all year. Nichols offers great insight--with acerbic wit--into the breakdown of trust between laypeople and experts. Capitalism, he rightly argues, relies on specialization and diversification of skills. And, bitter pill though it may be for some to swallow, some people are smarter than others (this is consistent with the acknowledgement that there are many kinds of "smarts"). However, lately it seems that everyone feels that his/her opinion is equally valid as anyone else's, regardless of experience or expertise in the matter. Nichols examines multiple reasons for this, from breakdowns in the education system, to the ubiquity of Internet data, to special interests in the mainstream media, to public and epic failures of actual experts. His writing is compelling and well reasoned, and useful for understanding the world around us. Thankfully, he does offer hope... though the path to bring the general public out of the depths of willful ignorance seems to get steeper and steeper by the day. This is likely to be a book I will read many times in the coming years.
Recommended for: Anyone interested in civil discourse and genuine learning, and those wondering how the breakdown of those things got to the point that it has. (link)

Strange Planet

By Nathan W. Pyle — A book of comics (27/52)

Nothing has made our family laugh more than this book in a very long time! I've long enjoyed Pyle's comics through his social media presence, but it's so much better in print (not to mention the fact that many of the comics in the book are not available online). I love the way Pyle shows us, through the beings he has created, the absurdity of many of our every day rituals. The ability to laugh at ourselves through the common experience of simply being human is a joy, and something from which I think we could all benefit right now.
Recommended for: Absolutely everyone. Except fuddy-duddies. (link)

The Long Road to Mercy

By David Baldacci — A book about America or set in America (26/52)

A couple years ago I began reading some of Baldacci's books when he appeared on the "favorite authors" lists of Barack Obama and George W. Bush in the same year. I, too, now consider him a favorite author, though I have enjoyed some series more than others (the "Camel Club" and "Amos Decker" series in particular). This is the first book of his "Atlee Pine" series, which follows an FBI agent stationed near the Grand Canyon. So far this is shaping up to be another series I'll enjoy!
Recommended for: Those who enjoy thrillers and/or detective stories. (link)

North! Or Be Eaten

By Andrew Peterson — A book that looks easy to read (25/52)

I already sang the praises of The Wingfeather Saga earlier (see book 19 below) so I won't say too much more here, other than that our family is already missing the nightly read aloud which Peterson did for Books 1 & 2 on his social media accounts. Lucky for us, he also recorded the audiobooks for Books 3 & 4, so we're going to start working through those as a family very soon (Carrie has already read ahead and finished the entire series because she just couldn't stand only reading a couple chapters a night).
Recommended for: Anybody who has finished the first book? (link)

Epic: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History

By Tim Challies — A book about church history (24/52)

I love reading about church history, and this book was certainly a unique addition to the genre. Rather than focusing on people, places, or events, Epic focuses on artifacts which are accessible to the general public today, which help tell the story of Christian history. Thanks to the donations of a wealthy benefactor, Challies was able to travel the world for a year visiting museums, cathedrals, and other places holding interest artifacts (some well-known, others quite obscure). Each of the 33 short chapters (with a few additional artifacts receiving shorter treatment) explains the significance of one of these items, arranged in a way that progresses from the earliest days of the Church until today. While it is by no means the best book on my library's church history shelf, it did introduce me to some stories I'd never heard before, and Laurie and I quite enjoyed it (along with the accompanying DVD) together as a read aloud.
Recommended for: People who really like church history, and/or books with lots of pictures. (link)

The Law

By Frédéric Bastiat — A book more than 150 years old (23/52)

A couple weeks ago we had some folks over for dinner, and, well... one thing led to another, and we began discussing politics. I know! Anyway, my friend mentioned his desire to devote some of his time during quarantine to developing a more robust personal political philosophy by reading up on some historical books which have influenced the development of political thought, and he asked me for a good place to start. This was my recommendation--not because it's my favorite (though it's high on that list) or the best--but because I know how daunting it can be to begin a major reading project, and getting that "first win" out of the way is really important. Bastiat's book, which was published as a refutation of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto (published two years earlier), is jam packed with good thought fodder, but remains very accessible to modern readers. It's also only 60 pages, allowing the intrepid political philosopher to check a completed book off the list relatively easily, making it easy to keep going. Bastiat was a dissenting voice in the wake of the French revolution, when socialism was very much in vogue among the French thought leaders. His treatise on the purpose and proper function of the law is excellent. And, as I read it for the first time in about a decade, I was struck by how relevant it is as we wrestle with the implications of the actions of our government during this unprecedented season of a global pandemic.
Recommended for: Those wanting to think seriously about the law and justice, and the proper function of the civil government. (link)
Bonus Recommendations: For those who are interested, here are some other books (in no particular order) I told my friend should be on his list, and which have informed my own thoughts and convictions on politics:

  • The Federalist and The Anti-Federalist Papers -- A collection of writings debating the merits of ratification of the US Constitution, in which patriots engage in civil but passionate dialog about how the new government should be formed. Both sides present very compelling arguments. In the end, these debates led to a compromise in which the Federalists won the ratification they desired, and the Anti-Federalists won the Bill of Rights they felt were not sufficiently enumerated in the Constitution.
  • The Adams-Jefferson Letters -- The correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson is a fascinating look at how two of our most important Founding Fathers thought about government, philosophy, religion, and many other topics. It's a wonderful model of friendship and courteous debate among those who were often fiercely opposed to one another politically.
  • Democracy in America -- Alexis de Tocqueville, another French statesman and political thinker, came to America in the 1830's and wrote of his observations of how American-style democracy worked, and contrasted it with developments in European politics. 
  • The Communist Manifesto -- While I couldn't disagree more strongly with the presuppositions and conclusions outlined in Karl Marx's philosophical treatise, there's no doubt that it has become one of the single most influential works in the history of political thought. If you want to understand better what's going on in the world today, it's important to read what is "upstream" from today's political thinkers.
  • The Conservative Mind -- Russell Kirk's 1953 book tracing the history of the development of politically conservative thought helped lead to the American Conservative movement in the 1960's led by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Again, to understand the current political culture, we need to understand how we got here, and this book is an excellent resource. "Conservatism" has certainly not been a static concept; much of what passes for "conservatism" today bears very little resemblance to anything that would be recognized as "conservative" historically, yet this too is "downstream" from what has come before.
  • Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics -- While it is far from the only issue involved in developing a political philosophy, having a firm grasp of economic principles is absolutely essential. If there were one book on economics I wish everyone would read, this would be it. Henry Hazlitt's succinct exposition and defense of the basic tenets of free market capitalism is easy to read and apply, and a great on ramp to further reading.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

By J.K. Rowling — A book of 240 pages or more (22/52)

I am a big Harry Potter fan, and have been looking forward to the day I could share these books with my kids. My two oldest began reading them together, but I told them that after Book 3 I didn't want them going on by themselves, and that I would read to them. As fans of the series know, the books begin getting darker and scarier in Goblet of Fire, and I wanted to be sure to be with my kids as they encountered and wrestled with moments of fear, anger, and loss. I have read this entire series multiple times before, but am really enjoying the opportunity to enter this world with fresh eyes. It's also led to some really good conversations with my kiddos, both in processing some of the more difficult emotions brought out in the book as well as in talking through the rightness and wrongness of decisions made by the various characters.
Recommended for: Anybody who enjoys a good story. (link)

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

By Jack Weatherford — A biography of a non-Christian (21/52)

A few years ago I read this author's second biography of Genghis Khan (Genghis Khan and the Quest for God) after it was recommended by one of my seminary professors, and loved it. I kept meaning to go back for the first one and finally got it done. Genghis Khan is a truly fascinating historical figure, and Jack Weatherford--whose passion for his subject is obvious--makes a compelling case for considering the Mongol conqueror as one of the most important and consequential figures in world history. Both books (and potentially a third about the Great Khan's daughters, which I haven't yet read) are highly recommended.
Recommended for: Students of history and those who enjoy biographies. (link)

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

By Andrew Peterson — A Christian novel (19/52)

This was on the list of books I'd intended to read aloud to my children this year, but with the coronavirus quarantine came the wonderful opportunity to tune in each evening to hear the author doing his own readaloud! I was privileged to get a pre-release copy of the first edition back in 2008, and since then The Wingfeather Saga has become one of my absolute favorite series, right alongside The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter. It's seriously that good! If you've never read it, drop everything and get started. If you hurry, you might even still find Peterson's own reading of it on his Facebook and YouTube pages. I will say that, as his first novel, the writing can be a bit awkward at times, though the story is wonderful. It's interesting as the series progresses to also observe his progressive improvement as a writer.
Recommended for: Lovers of epic adventures and/or beautiful storytelling. (link)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

By Douglas Adams — A book by someone you think you could be friends with (18/52)

Alas, I'll never get the chance to become friends with Douglas Adams, as he died in 2011. Still, in many ways I feel we have been friends for some time! His satirical writing is perhaps an acquired taste, but one which I acquired upon first reading this book (and the other four books in the "increasingly inaccurately named trilogy) in high school. Over the years I've read it a few more times, though it had been a while. This year, in which the book celebrates its 42nd anniversary of publication (the significance of which will be understood by those who have read it) certainly merited another reading!
Recommended for: Fans of British humor and clever satire. (link)

The Supper of the Lamb

By Robert Farrar Capon — A book about food or cooking (17/52)

This book came very highly recommended by multiple friends, and it did not disappoint! I'd have never thought a cookbook could become one of my all-time favorite books, but this one is definitely on that list now. It's certainly not like any other cookbook! Laurie and I read this aloud together and laughed more than we've laughed in a long time. Capon's insights into life, joy, and beauty are matched by his sharp wit and skilled wordsmithing. Do yourself a favor: Read this one out loud! My only regret is that we finished it just as the COVID-19 quarantine was going into effect, when it will be such a long time before we're able to enjoy feasting with friends again!
Recommended for: Foodies, or anyone who wants to learn to love life a little more. (link)

A Dance With Dragons

By George R.R. Martin — A book with at least 300 pages (16/52)

I finally finished the published books from the Song of Fire and Ice series (for reasons why I've been reading this series, see below), though rumor has it the author may finally publish the next book in the series this year. I feel the series--and in particular books 4 & 5--have gotten so elaborate that it's difficult to stay invested in the story... and probably even more difficult to try to conclude it. If he does write more, I may read them, but I also don't feel like I'll be missing anything if there aren't any more.
Recommended for: Not recommended.

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been

By Jackie Hill Perry — A book about gender or sexuality (15/52)

If you're looking for a theological treatise on issues of gender & sexuality, keep looking. That's not what this book is, nor does it claim to be. Instead, it is a book-length testimonial of how a good God met a gay girl and gave her a new heart. Her writing style is not my preference, but it is deeply and unmistakably personal. As someone who has never experienced same-sex attraction, it is difficult to understand what that is like, but Perry invites readers into her story in a way that helps us empathize with those living in this all-encompassing lifestyle. As good as the story is, though, I most appreciated the third section of her book, aimed at helping Christians better understand same-sex attracted people. In this section she rightly emphasizes that their greatest need is not a new sexual orientation, but a new heart. And while there are indeed stories of SSA people coming to Christ and instantly receiving new affections, this is not always--or even often--the case. Many, like Perry herself, grieve the loss of partners they genuinely loved but gave up for the sake of the gospel. Many never marry or experience sexual attraction toward the opposite gender. It's good for believers to read stories like this, because if we are ever going to reach and then disciple LGBTQIA+ people, we need to have a much better understanding of the battles they will face in coming to Christ.
Recommended for: Those with a burden for reaching SSA people with the gospel. (link)

Helping Your Church Live Stream: Your Guide to Church Video Production, Digital Donations, and Streaming Video on Social Media

By Paul William Richards — A book of 100 pages or less (14/52)

Anticipating the need to begin offering a live stream of our church services soon due to the outbreak of COVID-19, I picked up this book (graciously offered for free by the author during this unprecedented time) to see what helpful information I could glean. Having previously had only bad experiences with church live-streaming, I wanted to make sure that whatever we did was done with excellence. While most of what is in this book is very technical (and for those starting with zero prior experience, this information would be extremely useful), I appreciated many of the questions the author asks to help churches refine their goals, their audience, and their processes. Thankfully our tech team is incredible and was able to pull together a tremendous live stream on very short notice (which you can see here) with equipment we already owned, though we may look to expand our options in the near future since this looks to be our new normal for a while.
Recommended for: Churches considering launching or improving their live-streaming capabilities. (link)

Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World

By Michael Pollan — A book with a one word title (13/52)

This was a short, fun audiobook by an author whose work (particularly Cooked) I have found fascinating. Pollan has a way of making anything interesting, and considering my already considerable interest in coffee and tea, this was a no brainer. The book traces the scientific and economic development of this relatively recently cultivated substance and its impact on society as well as on individuals. Love that he narrated it himself; his passion really comes through in the performance.
Recommended for: Coffee connoisseurs, foodies, and history buffs. (link)

Number the Stars

By Lois Lowry — A biography for children or teens (13/52)

First off, this really isn't a biography, though in my defense, I thought it was when I started it. But it is based on real events in 1940s Denmark. My two oldest kids have been reading a lot of books lately about World War II and the Holocaust, and had some questions after reading this book about the Danish resistance which helped smuggle Jews into Sweden. As a quick and easy read, I enjoyed it, and definitely enjoyed the conversations it led to with my kids. There's a reason it won a Newberry award!