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Pastor John's 2021 Reading Challenge - February Update

Like last year, I’m using Tim Challies’ reading challenge to help guide my reading for this year. I’ll post monthly updates this year for those interested in following along and/or looking for book recommendations. My goal for 2021 is to complete at least 80 books (somewhere between Challies’ “Committed” and “Obsessed” categories). A couple of the usual caveats:

  1. A book appearing on this list is not an endorsement. I (intentionally) read a lot of stuff by authors with whom I do not agree, and/or books that I don't recommend.
  2. Each year I like to have a secondary reading goal to further help refine my selection of books. This year I intend to focus much of my reading on topics of "social justice" and biblical responses to the progressive narrative surrounding them. For related reasons, I am choosing to read as many books as possible by female and/or BIPOC authors.
  3. I provide Amazon links for most books, not because I expect you to purchase them, but primarily so that you can have easy access to other reviews and publishing info. Virtually all books I read and review are in my personal library (from which FBC members are welcome to borrow) or in the Spokane County Public Library. If you do decide to purchase books from Amazon, be aware that I receive a VERY small commission when you click the link, which helps to feed my reading habit and does not affect the price you pay.

February's Reading List

A Book on the New York Times Bestsellers List

Ready Player Two

by Ernest Cline
rating: 2/5
I enjoyed the story, but not nearly as much as RP1. In some ways this was inevitable, as much of the first book's appeal was its novelty--something hard to replicate in a sequel. In RP2, Cline is just as creative in his storytelling, though parts of the book seemed formulaic (e.g., quests which just happened to require the particular expertise of one of Parzival's closest friends), and the quality of writing (especially the dialog) is not up to RP1 standards. This was not the sequel that book deserved, which is a shame! That said, apart from the early chapters which made Cline's progressive sexuality/gender agenda painfully (and unnecessarily, as far as the plot is concerned) clear, this was just okay.

a book you don't want to read but think you should

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

by Tony Reinke
rating: 5/5

This was definitely a convicting book, but one I'm so glad I read. I've enjoyed anything I've ever read from Tony Reinke, so it's no surprise this one was also excellent. He is a clear thinker and thorough researcher, and this is an area in which both are very much needed, particularly from a Christian worldview. Smart phones are ubiquitous in our society, but we are far too prone to adopt new technologies without considering all the ways in which it will change our lives. I appreciate that Reinke carves out a nuanced position which neither uncritically accepts nor outright condemns smartphone usage. Rather, he reminds us that, like any new tool, smartphones can be used for good or for ill. But there are also many ways in which smart phones are not like other tools; these devices have changed our lives more perhaps than any invention in centuries, and so as Christians we must find ways to harness their incredible power to aid us in our discipleship and our work, while avoiding the ways in which they can lead us to sin (in ways both obvious and hidden). Definitely a book which all smart-phone owners should consider reading.

a book about one of the seven heavenly virtues

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books

by Karen Swallow Prior
rating: 5/5

I've read quite a few books about reading, but this one has to go pretty close to the top of the list as far as most helpful books in the genre. Less cynical than many authors whose encouragement of better reading habits is often surrounded by lament at our society's lack of them, Prior focuses on the great deal we have to gain from reading, and particularly in reading literature. Many readers consider non-fiction to be a source of learning, while reading fiction is *merely* a diversion (pastors seem especially susceptible to this kind of thinking). Thankfully, Prior rightly insists that literature conveys meaning, and that, when good books are read well, this meaning is not just informative but formative. She helpfully models for us how to draw this formative meaning out of our reading by exploring the relationship between twelve great books and a virtue which a right understanding of these books can foster in us. The book is organized around twelve different virtues:

The Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Courage)
The Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, and Love/Charity)
The Heavenly Virtues (Chastity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness, and Humility; the other two heavenly virtues of temperance and charity having already been addressed).

This is a book as much about virtuous living and character formation as it is about literary criticism or all the reasons most people don't read well. As such, it is a book that would be helpful for every Christian to read, and--as Prior exhorts often in her book--to read slowly. Sadly, this is something I was not able to do, as I checked this book out of the library and only had a few days to read it since other readers had a hold on it. This is a book I will be adding to my personal library, though, so I can read slowly, and mark it thoroughly. Also, I had only read seven of the twelve great books Prior examines; readers certainly don't need to have read those books to benefit from this one, but I look forward to returning to Prior's book after having read the other five she looks at.

a book about Christian Living

A Guide to Worship Ministry: The Worship Minister's Life and Work

by Gregory Brewton
rating: 4/5

Early in my ministry, I was blessed to have several godly, experienced Worship Pastors invest their time in me, through both personal discipleship and guiding me through the daily realities of leading a worship ministry. Nothing against a seminary education, but this practical, pastoral guidance was far more beneficial than any class I ever took. That said, if someone were to consolidate all those lessons I learned from these men and wrote it down, it would pretty much look like Dr. Brewton's book. Rather than being a comprehensive look at any one aspect of worship ministry, this book is--as the title suggests--a guide to approaching worship ministry, which balances well the practical and pastoral elements of the role. The book covers everything from running rehearsals to recruiting a team to balancing family & work responsibilities to knowing if/when it's time to move on from your current position. It's a resource I'd have eaten up as a young man just getting started, especially if I'd not had access to the kind of men who poured so much into me. Definitely a recommended quick & easy read for those considering the pursuit of vocational worship ministry.

a book with an illustration on the cover a book you borrowed from somewhere a book of your choice

The Thrawn Trilogy

by Timothy Zahn
rating: 4/5 4/5 4/5

Back in the 90's I read Timothy Zahn's original Thrawn trilogy, which has now been regrettably consigned to the "Legends" canon after essentially being written out of existence by the vastly inferior recent trilogy of Star Wars movies. Zahn's storytelling, and his characters--most notably Thrawn himself--are much, much better than Episodes VII-IX (though Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau are reviving the franchise). Anyway, with Thrawn re-introduced into the official Star Wars canon in Rebels and, most recently, The Mandalorian, I wanted to catch up on where Thrawn's storyline stands before he (hopefully) makes an appearance in some of the upcoming Disney+ Star Wars series'. 

Nostalgically, I still prefer the older trilogy, but this one is also very good. Thrawn is just such a great character, and Zahn does an excellent job of making "bad guys" (or, rather, "complex guys") into sympathetic figures. This trilogy takes place between Episodes I-III and Rogue One in the SW timeline, with books 2 & 3 coinciding with events in the Rebels TV series. If you're fans of those, you're going to want to check out this trilogy!

a book about public speaking or productivity

The Practice: Shipping Creative Work

by Seth Godin
rating: 3/5

Not my favorite of Godin's writing. The basic message is great: Being creative is hard work, you need a process to ensure you are producing content every day, just put yourself out there because it's worth the risk. I agree 100%. But this book read more like a collection of blog posts around a central theme; all good ideas, but none developed all that well. Personally, I'd rather just actually read his blog or listen to a podcast. "The Practice" is a good example of his own point that not everything you create is going to be world-changing, but creatives need to keep producing and shipping their work anyway. He shipped another book! Others have been better, and others will be better in the future.

Up Next...

That's it for February! Here's what's up next on my reading list:

  • Spiritual Leadership, by Oswald Sanders
  • Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, by Rod Dreher
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown
  • The Worship Pastor, by Zac Hicks
  • The Stranger: Poems, by Ben Palpant
  • Every Moment Holy: Volume 2, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey