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.

=====

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.

=====

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

Advertisements

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
=====
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.
=====
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.
=====
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.

=====

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.)

=====

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!