#FridayFive: Five Podcasts I Really Like That You Probably Don’t Listen To (Yet)

Happy Friday, gang!

So, I’m a bit of a podcast junkie and have a tendency to download way more than I could possibly listen to (especially since my daily commute dropped from 3+ hours to 50 minutes round-trip in recent years). But whenever I’m doing housework, or even some of the less-cerebral tasks at my day job (don’t tell the boss, okay?), I’m listening to podcasts.

So, today I’d like to tell you about 5 podcasts I really enjoy that you may not have heard of–in other words, no Radiolab or This American Life on this list.

And, to save myself from repeating it, you should be able to find all of these on iTunes, Stitcher, Castbox, etc. Go check ’em out.

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The “Goliverse” Podcasts: Okay, this first one is a bit of a cheat, because it’s not just one podcast. One of my favorite podcasters is Steve Glosson, who has created a network of podcasts over the last decade. While some of the Goliverse shows have come and gone over the years, Geek Out Loud and Big Honkin Show (my favorites, honestly) have stuck around consistently. Despite losing his entire backlog of episodes due to server crashes (twice), Steve has persevered, and his programs provide a safe place to geek out, an audio cup o’ coffee, and a whole lot of joy and laughter. He’s in the process of re-uploading past BHS episodes, and it’s been a blast to re-experience that show.  He also broadcasts live on Mixlr.

Gut Check Podcast: You know that old college buddy of yours who loved the same 3-4 movies that you do, still quotes them constantly, and grew up to be a pretty chill, cool guy with just the right amount of self-awareness, self-deprecation, and bravado? The guy who you see once in a really long while, but every time you hang out, you come away thinking, “Man, I really like that guy, we should hang out more”? That guy is this podcast. Every episode with authors / podcasters / coffee-moguls Ted Kluck and Zach Bartels sounds like one of those “once in a long while” hangouts. There’s a little bit of awkwardness from time to time, but mostly you feel like you’re being let into the cool-kids circle and get to share the inside jokes. I dig this one.

The Way I Heard It: Okay, fine, this one is pretty well-known, with perhaps a million subscribers, but I never hear anyone talking about it in my corner of the internet, so I wanted to show some love. Basically, TWIHI is a show by Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) who uses that iconic voicebox of his to tell 5-10 minute stories from pop culture history that keep the famous figure behind the story a mystery until the reveal at the end of the episode. This show is often called a spiritual successor to Paul Harvey’s classic The Rest of the Story. I love it. You should love it too.

When We Understand the Text (WWUTT): Pastor Gabe Hughes gives listeners a 25-ish minute Bible study 5 days a week, and it’s always edifying. He works verse-by-verse through a New Testament book on Mon-Wed, gives a chapter-by-chapter overview of an Old Testament book on Thursdays, and then records a “mailbag” segment on Fridays (often with his wife). Hughes is a faithful Biblical expositor with a steadfast devotion to understanding the Scriptures rightly and an approachable teaching style. You should also check out WWUTT videos on Youtube, where you’ll find 90-second videos answering common Biblical questions.

Reading Writers: This podcast about reading and readers is one that I lost track of for a while and recently came back to. I appreciate the easy-going approach and the fact that their focus isn’t on just new books coming out or any of the “industry” updates, but on what reading means to us and how it affects people differently, particularly from a Christian perspective. Sometimes, the hosts interview people in the Christian publishing world (where they both work) and other times, it’s just the two of them talking through a topic. Aaron Armstrong also blogs at Blogging Theologically (a site that feels like a more bookish Challies.com–and that’s a complement).

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There you go–five suggestions to add to your podcast list. Hope you’ve found one of your new favorites in the list above!

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you here next week!

YOUR TURN: Any less-well-known podcast recommendations you want to share? Post them in the comments below!

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The4thDave Reads: “Real Artists Don’t Starve” by Jeff Goins

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I need to begin with an apology. Jeff Goins’ team graciously sent me a hardcover copy of Real Artists Don’t Starve to review…around a year ago. It was right around the time we were working on Season 1 of Presto! Fairy Tales (now available on Youtube!) and I started the book but quickly put it down. It wasn’t because it was boring; on the contrary, I was really enjoying it. Rather, I think I stopped reading it at that point because it was making me…uncomfortable.

The premise of the provocatively-titled Real Artists Don’t Starve (hereafter called RADS) is that the myth of the “Starving Artist” is just that–a romanticized myth that does not need to be the reality of anyone pursuing creative work. Goins’ passion is helping creative people to step out and discover how they can bring their passion to life, and throughout RADS, he does this by contrasting the Starving Artist with what he calls the “Thriving Artist.” In the twelve main chapters of RADS, Goins examines these two visions of the artistic life, as a series of contrasting statements. For example:

  • The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
  • The Starving Artist waits to be noticed. The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.
  • The Starving Artist always works alone. The Thriving Artist collaborates with others.

Goins uses these contrasts to examine the assumptions that creatives make about how the creative life “should” function. In doing so, he presents a series of “rules” of the Thriving Artist, such as the Rule of Creative Theft (scandalous!) or the Rule of the Patron. By proposing these basic principles of what Goins calls “the New Renaissance,” he encourages the reader to rethink how he or she approaches creative work. RADS is organized into three sections, addressing the creative person’s mind-set, market, and money–the creation, connection, and commerce that are all part of producing and promoting your art.

So why was I uncomfortable when I started reading RADS? Because I’m in a season of life where some of my creative goals seem to be on hold. I say seem to be because Goins’ writing (and his podcast, The Portfolio Life) consistently challenge me to get going and stop making excuses.

If you’re a new reader, you may not be aware that I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I’ve got several false-starts and unexplored story ideas that I’ve been kicking around for years. Every so often, I’ll pull one out, play with it a bit, and then decide to put it back because it’s “not the right time” to (re)start writing. Beyond that, the typical discussion of “platform” and “self-marketing” always grosses me out a little bit. But as Goins addresses these issues in RADS, he challenges some of the stigmas around the business of art that I have been holding onto and forces me to admit that the reason I don’t try harder to make it happen is that I’m scared to fail.

What’s crazy is that despite my fear, these stories won’t let me go. These characters creep into my idle thoughts and want to be seen and heard. In some small measure, my attempts are regular blog posting are warm-up exercises for the transition to re-engage with the writing life. Or they may be a filler or replacement to give my itching fingers the illusion of motion.

(…Where was I? Oh, right, book review.)

Real Artists Don’t Starve is another excellent work by Jeff Goins that challenges the reader to get real about why they may not be pursing the creative life of their daydreams. His advice is practical and encouraging. The book itself is fast-moving and readable, but the reader should resist the temptation to speed through it. Instead, it may be beneficial to take each chapter at a time, and give the ideas some breathing room to germinate in your mind. Such contemplation will be well worth it. I would definitely recommend this book.

[And Jeff, I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner. But if you think about it, it’s really your fault for writing something that got under my skin, ya know?]

The4thDave Reads: The ESV Reader’s Bible – Poetry

I started the year with a goal of reading through the Bible in less than a year for the first time ever. My wife had given me a gorgeous “reader’s Bible” set as a Christmas present, and I was excited to dig in and start reading straight through.

In the first 2 1/2 months of the year, I made quick work of the Pentateuch and the Historical Books by committing to reading 30 minutes a day, usually at the end of the day. I loved it! I was able to move through large sections of Scripture and just focus on the story and the overarching themes. During the few times I really struggled to make progress (I’m lookin’ at you, I-II Chronicles), having all of the names and places and histories fresh in my mind really helped to make the early part of the Old Testament come alive.

I started the Poetry volume with that same excitement, and zipped through the book of Job. However, when I started Psalms, I hit a slump. I wish I could blame my lost momentum on our family vacation and days of driving and visiting family. But the real problem was that my daily reading became very inconsistent, and I struggled with my approach to the text.

Reading 30 minutes non-stop is great for narrative, or even Old Testament case-law. But when it came to Psalms and Proverbs, I soon realized that plowing through it wasn’t helping me retain much. So I made the decision to read only 5 Psalms a day, and a page or two of Proverbs, with the hope of more meditation instead of mere completion. If I had stuck to it consistently, it would have taken me only 4-5 weeks. It took longer.

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I should take a moment here to talk about the reading experience with these volumes, and the effect of the type-setting and formatting. Each of the six volumes is bound in a stiff, cloth-covered hardback cover with a pleasant grain to it. The pages are printed on a creamy, white paper with none of the bleed-through or onion-skin feel that typical Bible pages have. It’s really a wonderful tactile experience, using this Bible. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I do. I’m not sure it would motivate me to pay full price for it (we got it at a steep discount), but it’s a nice luxury to enjoy and I’m thankful for it.

As for the layout and typesetting, there are minimal notations, limited primarily to the book title and major section headings (think 3-4 per book). This presents a challenge with books like Proverbs, in which you have a total of 2-3 headings inserted into the entire book, and the rest of the book mostly laid out as a never-ending series of couplets. This type of layout makes it easy to speed through without really stopping to ponder the proverbs themselves, and is one of the few instances in which having the modern addition of chapter divisions prevents a fly-over approach, because you are more likely to stop and reflect more often.

On the other hand, the editors decided to keep the Psalm divisions, which seems appropriate. So the book of Psalms is divided into the five “books” and then according to each individual Psalm. The lack of verse notations is particularly helpful here, because it then becomes a visual reminder that each Psalm is meant to be taken as a whole.

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All this to say, throughout the end of March and then into April and May, my Bible-in-a-year progress slowed to a crawl. I was reading inconsistently and in smaller segments. Once I finished Psalms and Proverbs (finally!), I was able to knock out Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon over the next 3-4 reading days.

I’m not sure how I would approach the reading of Psalms and Proverbs differently in the future, if I’m using the “reader’s Bible” format. I think those books may be best read with the divisions in place, in a “Psalms/Proverb of the Day” approach (in which you could read 5 Psalms and 1 chapter of Proverbs a day for 31 days). But how I read them is irrelevant if I’m not committed to do so consistently, rather than using my schedule changes and life events as an excuse to get lazy.

I’m slowly getting things back on track (and I’m halfway through Isaiah–woohoo!). Daily, consistent time in the Word is a habit I should have built years ago, and I’m glad, if nothing else, that I have the chance to amend that now.

The4thDave Reads: “S.” by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst

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I’m a sucker for footnotes, especially footnotes in novels. For example, I was tickled by the implied history and imaginary academic research cited in Susanna Clarke’s splendid Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a work of Victorian urban-fantasy featuring dueling wizards and fanciful creatures during the Napoleonic Wars.

Until this year, the most unique novel-reading experience I’ve ever had was Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a sprawling, labyrinthine psychological-haunted-house story with layers of meta-commentary in its footnotes and editorial asides, bewilderingly cryptic typesetting choices, and a rabid fan base that was active online when I finished that novel several years after its publication.

That book is the closest analog I can think of for Abrams and Dorst’s novel S., which was published in late 2013. At that time, it seemed to be warmly received by the critical press but quickly forgotten. It was the first book I ever bought as a result of a “book trailer” (which I assume was a pretty novel [no pun intended] concept in 2013). I started to read it and stopped 2 different times in the last 4+ years, before finally buckling down to read it to completion last month.

Why the false starts? Because, like House of Leaves, this is a book within a book, but ratcheted up to the next level. When you remove S. from its slipcase, you find that the book you’re holding is a old high school library book (complete with library accouterments and stamped labels) called Ship of Theseus by V. M. Straka. The story of SoT is a surreal work of mid-twentieth-century European literature, following an amnesiac protagonist on an exploration of identity, political extremism, and metaphysical confusion. It’s…weird, but weird in a compelling way. However, the base book would be incomplete, if not a bit nonsensical, without the meta-novel.

The meta-novel consists of 3-4 layers of “handwritten” margin notes between two readers, Jen and Eric (written at different times in their “story”), along with about 2 dozen pieces of inserted materials–things like postcards, newspaper clippings, letters, a wheel for decoding ciphers, and a hand-written campus map on a napkin from a university coffee-shop. In the meta-novel, the reader meets these two characters: Jen, a senior at Pollard State University, and Eric, a former graduate student and TA at Pollard who was expunged from the school’s records due to an academic controversy. The conversation between these two correspondents drifts back and forth between their personal lives and their shared interests: a scholarly debate about the true identity of SoT‘s author and a worldwide conspiracy that may be working to keep that fact a secret. (I’m pretty sure this is meant to bring to mind the debate about Shakespeare’s true identity, which is referenced in the book as well.)

Over the course of the novels, these layers of commentary (which sometimes address the text itself and other times are merely inspired by a word or phrase on that page) reveal the second story, a story of two people trying to make sense of difficult life experiences and struggling to connect with each other (a story that is echoed in the novel’s subtext and footnotes, as explained by the readers). The element of time is part of the trick here–we as readers are teased early on by “future” Jen and Eric making veiled allusions to events in their story that we don’t hear about for several pages or even chapters. (Confession: The whole “layers of marginalia” mechanic breaks down a little bit if you really think about the logistics, because usually [though not always] it reads like a conversation instead of a series of passed notes. I recommend treating it as one of those charming elements that one just happily accepts. Makes the whole enterprise function more smoothly.)

So the vital question, then: Does it work? And my answer is: Mostly, yes. Both storylines are at times quite gripping, though not at the same time, which works to its advantage. There are a few slow spots and the endings felt a bit abrupt, but the whole concept is so bonkers that I hung on for the ride and was not disappointed. I took the approach of reading through each new chapter of SoT, before tackling the layers of notes for that chapter. It doesn’t take long to figure out the chronological order of the notations, thanks to the different color inks for each set of interactions. I’ve heard of other approaches to the reading of the book(s), but I think this one keeps things flowing pretty well. The footnote story includes lots of foreshadowing in its references to the primary text as well, so not having read Straka’s book all the way through yet made these references all the more tantalizing.

[Content note: Other than some occasional strong language in the footnote-story and an unnecessary “boo, intolerant Christian parents” subplot, I can’t recall any offensive or off-putting content. Nothing comes to mind, at any rate.]

In the end, I’m very glad I read this novel. It’s not a perfect story, and I don’t think I need to reread it anytime soon, but it was a unique reading experience that I will enjoy referencing to others in the future. Whatever shortcomings the plot(s) may have had, the gonzo approach to challenging storytelling conventions made it a winner for me.

#FridayFive: More Medium Madness!

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for five more interesting Medium articles I’ve read in recent months. Here we go!

The Film the NFL Doesn’t Want You To See — I find myself really conflicted about this. As much as I have enjoyed NFL football (and cheering on my Texans), it’s hard to watch this and not consider how the game I love to watch seems to be devouring the men who choose to play it. I think that reality has implications on me as a fan, but I’m not sure (or not comfortable with) what that might mean.

Steve Jobs’ Secret for Eliciting Questions… — One of the hardest things for me when it comes to teaching Sunday School (or leading any kind of discussion) is creating a space where questions can be asked freely. My tendency is just to deliver content (or preach!) for 45 minutes and then ask for questions with about 30 seconds left in class. I’m looking forward to trying the approach described in this article.

How Jack Reacher and I Grew Apart — Proof that being a best-selling novelist doesn’t mean you’re that skillful of a writer. Even the most widely-acclaimed writers fall into bad habits and tropes. (Actually, I don’t know if that’s comforting or disheartening.)

The Video Game That Shows Us What the E-Book Could Have Been — I’m intrigued by books that challenge the conventions of what a book is. (You’ll see that in an upcoming “The4thDave Reads” review.) This book…game…thing sounds REALLY fascinating.

Show, Don’t Tell: Character Development through Action… — As I’m working through how to restart a novel I began writing, this article about storytelling through action was eye-opening, as it dissects the opening sequence in my favorite Bond film.

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That’s it, folks. Have a great weekend!

Your Turn: Did you find any of these links helpful? Let me know, so that I can keep an eye out for more useful content to pass along! Have you read any interesting blog posts lately? Share them below!

 

 

 

 

The4thDave Reads: A Bunch of Stuff back in March…

As promised previously, I had planned on writing reviews for every book I read this year. Obviously, since I have only posted one so far, I got a little behind on this goal. So here’s a quick catch-up post. I won’t be going as in-depth as I normally would (since these are going to be capsule reviews from memory), but I want to at least work on getting up to speed.

(Random fun-fact: All but the ESV volume and the unnamed final entry were books I had started before the year began but hadn’t yet finished. [Okay, “fun” was maybe overselling it.])

The ESV Reader’s Bible: Historical Books — Volume 2 of the 6-volume ESV Reader’s Bible covers Joshua-Esther. A few varied comments on this section of the Old Testament:

  • Leviticus gets a bad rap. For my money, I Chronicles is the hardest slog in the OT–and I say that will full respect and appropriate honor to the divinely-inspired Scriptures. Every word of the Bible is God-breathed and profitable, but when it’s your first time through, 15 or so chapters of lists of names is CHALLENGING. That said, having read straight-through to that point, it was exciting to start recognizing names and family lines.
  • My recurring thought throughout Samuel-Kings-Chronicles: even the very best human kings are fallible and frustrating, which only emphasizes what a good king Jesus is. He will never fail us.
  • Another recurring thought: how easily we fall into idolatry and sin, letting our fear and greed and pride choke out all good sense and memory of what God has commanded us and accomplished for us. As tempting as it would be to read these stories of Israel’s unfaithfulness and shake my head in disbelief, I have to be honest and say, “This is me. This is all me.”

A Little Book about the Christian Life, by John Calvin — This selection of newly-translated essays was a giveaway from Ligonier Ministries. The book design was really nice–minimalist, compact, clean. Burk Parsons translated and updated these 5 chapters of Calvin’s Institutes, and as you can imagine, they were dense, edifying, and thought-provoking. I read this one really slowly, maybe a paragraph or two at a time. It stayed on my bedside table and became a source of meditation and contemplation just before bed, most nights. I have to admit, I can’t recall a specific quote or point that was particularly meaningful. But on the whole, I benefited from this small volume precisely because it helped me focus my thoughts on the Lord as I ended each day–and that’s something of value.

The World-Tilting Gospel, by Dan Phillips — Okay, confession time: I started this book…4 years ago. In my defense, it was right before I got married, and in the chaos of merging two households and lives, the book got shuffled around and eventually recirculated into the TBR shelf. I kept meaning to get back to it, and finally (finally!) did. This book examines the core truths o the Gospel, and then addresses how they force us to look at the world differently. The chapters in which Pastor Phillips details the implications of the Gospel on justification and sanctification are particularly fine. However, my favorite bits are where he addresses false understandings of the Christian life, such as the “muzzy mysticism” of those who abstract the truths of the Scriptures in the attempt to be “spiritual.” Phillips is a clear thinker, and his writing is bracing and direct.

The Gospel According to Jesus, by Dr.John MacArthur — John MacArthur is often associated with what’s called the “lordship controversy,” and this book is his full-throated response to those accusations. What was the controversy? MacArthur had the audacity to preach and teach that if Jesus is your Savior, He is also your de facto Lord, and there is no such thing as “making” Jesus the Lord of your life. MacArthur insists on and thoroughly demonstrates from Scripture that Christian faith without a recognition of and submission to Jesus’ authority as Lord is no Christian faith whatsoever. While opponents of this view claim that it suggests a salvation by works, MacArthur dismantles this notion by using the Scriptures themselves to demonstrate that the call of salvation is a call to discipleship and allegiance to a new Master. This book is excellent and incredibly profitable, no matter where you are in your Christian walk.

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There was one more book I read (technically, listened to) at the end of March, but it’s part of a larger series and it would only do to review the entire series together. I read the first volume in March, and Books 2 and 3 in April (the only books I completed that month, sadly). Once I finish Book 4 and the supplemental stories, I’ll provide a full review at that point.

You may be saying, “Good grief, tell us what book, man!” Nah, I’ll keep that a surprise. But I’ll say this–depending on how the last volume goes, this series may just overtake The Chronicles of Narnia as my favorite children’s series of all time. And that’s saying something.

Anyway, ‘ere we are.

Have you read anything fun lately? Comment below and let me know what should go on my reading list!

Last 5 Books [7/17/17]

Hey friends! Lots going on lately, but I’ve been able to do a little reading over the last month or so.  Here are the last 5 books I’ve read and my brief thoughts on each!

Linchpin, by Seth Godin – This book by business and productivity “guru” Seth Godin touched on a lot of really interesting ideas that I’ll probably bring up in a later post. Here’s one that I found pretty compelling: the way to elevate your work from being another monkey pressing a button in a cubicle to creating “art” (even if you aren’t in an artistic field) is to bring your humanity to bear in your daily tasks. Don’t just be content with formality and the minimum necessary effort to interact with people. Remember that you’re emailing actual people with feelings and concerns. Treat them that way. It raises the game for all concerned.

The Wonder-Working God, by Jared Wilson – Wilson’s work is always excellent. (I’m an unabashed fan.) This book was helpful to me because it challenged me to look at the accounts of miracles in the Gospels with fresh eyes, and look at how these miracles were signposts pointing to who He is as God-in-flesh. Growing up in the faith, I’ve taken a lot of things in the Bible for granted. The truth is, the story of Jesus’ life and ministry is pretty fantastic and shocking, if you’re paying attention. I appreciated Wilson’s humor and eloquence in exploring these ideas.

Turning Pro, by Steven Pressfield – Pressfield has earned a reputation in the area of writing about writing and, in particular, about the war that writers wage against The Resistance, that internal force always threatening to stop us from producing art. In Turning Pro, Pressfield considers what it means to be an Amateur versus being a Professional, not just in terms of writing or creating art but in terms of life. His style is punchy and sometimes profound, but I felt like this volume wasn’t as strong as his other works, The War of Art or Do the Work, which I would recommend instead.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport – Newport challenges the oft-repeated advice to “follow your passion” by arguing that career satisfaction comes not through following your dreams but through working like a craftsman to become outstanding at whatever you’re currently doing. He argues that seeking to be exceptional and skillful in any field opens up opportunities (what he calls career capital) to increase your autonomy and direct your work toward a chosen mission. This book is chock-full of great ideas and interesting insights. I’ll have more to say on this later.

Husband-coached Childbirth, by Dr. Robert Bradley – My wife is having a baby pretty much any day now, and we have chosen to have the baby at a birth center with a midwife. Natural childbirth is a daunting task, and Dr. Bradley is one of the most trusted names in the field of natural childbirth in the United States. I really appreciate the high value that this approach places on the husband’s role in childbirth, and how Bradley coaches husbands to be actively involved throughout labor. While I have some qualms about some of his ideological assumptions, this book is very practical and would be a help to any prospective parents who are considering natural childbirth. It’s not the only resource out there, but certain a good one to check out.

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So what’s up next on the reading list?

  • I’m about a third of the way through the audio version of Tony Reinke’s Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You. This book is outstanding. Already going to call it a must-read.
  • I’m about to start The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci, a story of the management decisions that lead to last year’s magical World Series run.
  • I’m working my way through Jeff Goins’ latest book, Real Artists Don’t Starve. LOTS of good content there. Full review forthcoming.
  • Depending on when things come in from the library, this month I’ll also be starting The New Dads Playbook by Benjamin Watson, Teammate by former Cubs catcher (and DWTS runner-up!) David Ross, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, and a few others.

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Your Turn: Read anything interesting lately? About to start any new books? Let me know in the comments!

My 2016 Reading List and Top-Five Reads of the Year!

It’s an annual tradition for me to provide my reading list and recommendations, and I’m happy to oblige again this year.

Reading List

January
>>Wayward — Blake Crouch (started 12/31)
>>The Last Town — Blake Crouch
>>Avatar, the Last Airbender: The Search — Gene Luen Yang (3 vols.)
>>Written in Fire — Marcus Sakey
>>Red Harvest — Dashiell Hammett

February 
>>Do More Better — Tim Challies
>>A Wrinkle in Time — Madeleine L’Engle
>>Slave — John Macarthur
>>The Pastor Theologian — Hiestand and Wilson

March
>>Animal Farm – George Orwell
>>Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield
>>The Silence of Our Friends — Mark Long
>>Captain America: Civil War — Brubaker/Perkins/Weeks
>>Jelly Roll — Kevin Young
>>Captain America: America First — Knauf/Chaykin/Breitweiser/Higgins/Siegel/Padilla
>>Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America — Loeb etc.

April
>>Essentialism – Greg McKeown
>>Captain America, Reborn – Brubaker etc.
>>The Trial of Captain America – Brubaker  etc.
>>Dad is Fat – Jim Gaffigan (audio)
>>Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, the Man Who Led the Band of Brothers – Larry Alexander
>>Inheritance of Tears – Jessalyn Hutto
>>Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman

May
>>The Hole in Our Holiness – Kevin DeYoung
>>Too Dumb to Fail – Matt Lewis
>>Smarter, Faster, Better – Charles Duhigg
>>It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis
>>Hawkeye, vol. 2 – Fraction/Aja

June

>>From Eden to the New Jerusalem – T. Desmond Alexander
>>Kill Devil – Mike Dellosso

July
>>Getting the Message – Daniel Doriani

>>40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible – Robert Plummer
>>No Hero – Mark Owen (audio)
>>A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

 

August

>>Star Wars:Bloodline – Claudia Gray
>>Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
>>Nobody Wants to Read Your S–t – Steven Pressfield
>>The Wright Brothers – David McCullough
September
>>Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs (audio)
>>Persuasion – Jane Austen (audio)
>>A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care – Russell Moore
>>The Winter’s Tale – Shakespeare
>>The Innocence of Father Brown – GK Chesterton
>>Orphan Justice – Johnny Carr
>>Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus – Nabeel Quereshi (audio)
>>The Joy Project – Tony Reinke
October
>>Reviving New England – Nate Pickowicz
>>Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls – Scott Snyder / Bryan Capullo
>>Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls – Snyder/Capullo
>>Hollow City – Ransom Riggs (audio)
November 
>>Batman: Dark Victory – Jeph Loeb; Tim Sale
>>Library of Souls – Ransom Riggs (audio)
>>On Bowie – Rob Sheffield
December
>>Armada – Ernest Cline (audio)
>>And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie (audio)
>>Love Your Life, Not Theirs – Rachel Cruze
>>Fat2Fit2Fat – Drew Manning
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Final Tally: 57 books. I think that’s a new personal record.
The big takeaways from this year’s list? 1) Graphic novels, 2) audio books, and 3) the public library.
  • As a palate-cleanser (and, frankly, mental “recess”) from the serious reading I did this year, I read a lot of graphic novels (mostly Captain America and Batman). Some of them were quite good (and may even crack my top-five!). But a solid fifth (11) of my reads this year were graphic novels, which I argue can be just as challenging and moving as regular print books. (Admittedly, some of them weren’t; they were cotton candy for my over-taxed brain.)
  • I also started “reading” more audio books (9 this year), partly due to the realization that they are quite useful for roadtrips. My wife and I started a new practice of picking at least one audiobook to enjoy together. I look forward to continuing this tradition in the future.
  • I have become a major proponent of the public library. Where I live, there are 2 fantastic library systems, and I’ve been the beneficiary of these all year long. Of the 56 books I read this year, fewer than 20 were from my own shelves. The rest were courtesy of the public library. Gang, if you haven’t checked out your local library lately, you need to get on that. There’s some fantastic stuff available, whether it’s paper or e-books, audio materials, movies on disc or via digital download, and a whole lot more.
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The4thDave’s Top Five Reads of 2016 (in no particular order):
  • Do More, Better by Tim Challies: At the start of the year, I read this productivity book by one of the most famous bloggers in Evangelical Christianity today. I even incorporated his system and reported on it a month later (resulting in the most-read post in 4DB history, thanks to the “Challies bump”). Since then?  I’m afraid my compliance has been hit-or-miss, and my personal productivity has suffered. That said, this weekend, I’m going to dive back into a refresher on the system. It’s pretty simple to adopt, and when I’ve used it as prescribed, it has been very effective for me.
  • Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield: From a pure “fun” standpoint, this is one of the best novels I’ve read in a while. Gates of Fire takes place during the years leading up to the Battle of Thermopylae and the final stand of the 300 Spartans, and it follows a handful of inter-connected characters through the story. Pressfield’s writing is crisp, his characterization is effective, and his dialogue pops on the page. However, there is a significant enough level of crude language and “barracks-talk” that I can’t recommend it widely. For those who aren’t offended by such things, this tale of warriors and honor is worth a look.
  • Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, by Jeph Loeb and a bunch of other folks: Yes, I’m including a graphic novel on my top-five for this year, because this particular collection is one of the most memorable comics compilations I’ve read in years. The writers use 5 stories, each focusing on a different superhero’s reaction to the death of Cap, as a means of exploring the five stages of grief. The book culminates in Tony Stark eulogizing Captain America both publically and privately, and I found it to be surprisingly moving. This short collection is really well-done.
  • Biggest Brother…, by Larry Alexander: If you are familiar with the hit HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (and if you’re not, you should be!), then you would remember the main character, Dick Winters, who rose to the rank of Major as he led those brave men through the battles of the European front of WWII. Alexander’s biography fills in the gaps, as he explores the man behind the story. Alexander spent time with Winters, getting his own perspective on events from his past. The reader also gets a glimpse of Winters’ civilian life and retirement years, including his perspective on the TV miniseries that made him “famous.” Biggest Brother was a fascinating and valuable look at the life of an American hero.
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates: It wasn’t one of my favorite books of the year, but it was an important book for me to read. I disagreed with several parts of it, was sometimes (often) provoked by the author, but in the end, I needed this voice in my head for a little while, because I haven’t been exposed to many other voices like it. Reading Coates’ “open letter” to his young son forced me to see the world through his eyes for a while. I question some of his perceptions and assumptions; but I also was forced to reconsider some of my own. That’s a sign of a profitable reading experience.
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Your turn: What was your favorite book or books that you read this year? Let me know in the comments!

2016 Reading Challenge: December Update and End-of-Year Round-up!

Time for the final 2016 Reading Challenge update!

This month, I only read one more book from the list:

A Book About Money: Love Your Life, Not Theirs, by Rachel Cruze. This volume by the daughter of Dave Ramsey (and heir-apparent of his financial-counseling empire) is a lighter version of the core Dave Ramsey principles, with some extra material thrown in. In the book, Cruze lists 7 principles for finding contentment, which includes things like “avoid debt,” “save money,” and “use a budget.” Essentially, if you are familiar with Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps,” there’s nothing groundbreaking or useful here. The only addition Cruze makes is some discussion of the dangers of comparing yourself to others. However, the book mostly avoids the spiritual aspects of contentment and jealousy, so the reader is left with a bland, faith-lite exhortation toward gratitude and generosity as a solution for envy and discontentment. In the end, this book is fluff: watered-down, non-challenging, non-offensive. It seems like she’s trying to move away from the brusqueness associated with Dad, but it’s weak tea, so don’t bother.

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Final tally for the 2016 Reading Challenge: 33/52. I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t do better, but honestly, it’s a good run, considering how many additional books I read this year. All in all, I’m pretty satisfied with the experience. As you can see by the list below, the challenge successfully broadened my typical reading, and took me out of my  comfort zone. While I don’t plan on tackling another reading list in 2017, I will certainly give it a go down the road.

Reading Challenge Categories completed:

A book about Christian living
A biography
A classic novel
A book more than 100 years old
A book for children
A mystery or detective novel
A book published in 2016
A book about a current issue
A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize
A book with at least 400 pages
A book with a great cover
A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers
A graphic novel
A book of poetry
A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
A play by William Shakespeare
A humorous book
A book based on a true story
A book written by Jane Austen
A book with 100 pages or less
A book with a one-word title
A book about money or finance
A novel set in a country that is not your own
A book about music
A memoir
A book about joy or happiness
A book by a female author
A self-improvement book
A book by David McCullough
A book you own but have never read
A book targeted at the other gender
A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended
A book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you
Check back tomorrow for my full 2016 reading list, and my top-five favorite books of the year!

2016 Reading Challenge Update: October/November

Time for another update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress!

You may be thinking, “Wait, Dave’s still doing this thing?” And the answer is…kind of?

I’m not sure why, but October and November were just not very bookish for me. Personal reasons aside, I just didn’t make reading a priority like I had in previous months. Also, as I noted previously, my limited reading was often occupied with non-Reading-Challenge materials.

That said, I did finish one short book from the Reading Challenge list:

A book about music: On Bowie, by Rob Sheffield. I mentioned in an earlier Friday Five post that I was slowly working my way through this one, with mixed feelings. While I definitely love Sheffield’s writing, I realized that my understanding and appreciation of David Bowie was very shallow. In a sense, “my” Bowie was the elder-statesman Bowie–more subdued, less sexually-charged, singing about love and loss. Sheffield’s short but adoring biography of David Bowie gave me a fuller understanding of the artist’s long and turbulent career. And to be honest, I find I’m starting to distance myself from him as a result. I can’t explain it other than to say I’m seeing in a new way how out there Bowie often was, and it’s turning me off a bit. I still recognize his immense talent–I’d never argue that. I guess I’m just seeing that Bowie isn’t my bag anymore, if he ever was. (I’m pretty sure Sheffield would be horrified and/or outraged by this response.)

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There’s one month left in the 2016 Reading Challenge. Guess what? I’m not going to make it.

Right now, the tally sits at 32 out of 52. A respectable number, especially given how many extra books I threw into the mix this year.

For this final month of the year, I’m going to focus primarily on books that I have committed to reviewing on the blog. (I’m already about halfway through one more book from the reading list on money/finance, but that shouldn’t take long.) Some of these books for review can be applied to reading list categories, but most will not. However, I want to make sure I take care of these commitments I have made (some of them, months ago).

So my expectation is that I will reach at least 35 out of 52 before year’s end. As for the books and reviews coming up this month (hopefully): selections by Jared Wilson, RC Sproul, Tom Schreiner, Kevin Van Hooser, and others. Some tough sledding, but what better time for that than winter, right?

As for next year, who knows? I may decide to finish out this list before doing anything else. Or I may chuck the rest of this list and tackle something else. Tim Challies has already posted a 2017 Reading Challenge list, but I don’t think I’ll attempt that one next year. I have piles of unread books (both physical copies and Kindle books) that I would like to work through, so I may decide to do just that, and post little capsule reviews on this page from time to time (similar to these monthly updates).

Until then, thanks for reading.

Your Turn: Reading anything good lately? Let me know in the comments below!