Books in the rearview mirror

I read somewhere that 40,000 books are published in the English language every year. Again, that’s just one year and that number makes me sweat even if it is wrong by half. One can only hope to read a small fraction of that in a lifetime.

No matter what you read, be sure to follow the advice of P. J. O’Rourke who said, “read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” So when you get ready to take a dirt nap be sure to snuggle up with your copy of War and Peace or Ulysses. Your friends will wax on about your great depth of learning at your memorial. If that’s not your style then there are a few other books you may want to checkout in the meantime.

The following list is my “read and conquered” list from 2010. There are others but they did not make the list because they are either not worth mentioning or I simply don’t want you to know that I read them. Besides, my interests may not be your interests. There are no categories or rankings here, a few are rereads for me, and only some of them were published in 2010. It’s just a plain old list. Enjoy!

  • 5 Cities that Ruled the World by Douglas Wilson. Wilson is a superb writer which means you have to read very carefully when he gets it wrong or you’ll start thinking that everything the prophets said came to fulfillment in AD 70. This is a good book which serves as a cultural summary of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York.
  • Greek for the Rest of Us by William D. Mounce. This is what a layman’s guide to biblical Greek looks like. Excellent resource for church leaders and the congregant that wants to go a step further in their NT studies. Excellent chapters on translations and word studies.
  • Off the Record with Martin Luther trans by Charles Daudert. As Melanchthon would often say, “This book is the bomb!” I have often quoted many times here at ET from this updated translation of Luther’s Table Talks. It’s insightful into the man and provocative for all the right and sometimes wrong reasons.
  • The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders. This guy can write. It’s a book on the Trinity but it’s also about a lot more. I’m not sure I would say this is a first-stop on the study of the Trinity but it’s definitely one of the first stops one should make once on the road.
  • The Trellis and the Vine by Marshall and Payne. Contrary to what you may have heard, this is not a book about wine making. I feel cool and relevant just saying that this is a good book. I plan to start a chapter by chapter interaction with it sometime next week here at ET.
  • What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. Even though it lacks the requisite blurb by J. I. Packer, this is still a good and simple introduction to the subject. I wasn’t thrilled with the chapter on the kingdom but why should the author care what I think at this point, he wrote an excellent book.
  • The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever. It’s near impossible to read any new Christian book that is not endorsed by Dever. I wanted to skip the endorsements and go right to the man himself. This is a good book that came in handy in my church class on evangelism.
  • Marks of the Messenger by J. Mack Stiles. Since I taught a class on evangelism this year, I read my share of books on the subject. Next to the modern classic Tell the Truth by Metzger, this is the best of the lot.
  • The Messiah in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser. If you’re tired of the magical hermeneutics of those who can make Jesus appear in any mention of blood or wood in the OT then Kaiser will be refreshing to you. Anyone who can pull this off in less than 300 pages is worth reading. This is the best introduction to a difficult subject.
  • The Messiah: Revealed, Rejected, Received by William Varner. This is what Kaiser looks like if you take him to a party and he has a good time. Varner is a fun read and extremely helpful on the subject. This is a book I would put in the hands of any congregant who wants to see the Messiah through the lens of progressive revelation. I loved this book.
  • A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis.  A hard read, not in the James Joyce sense but in the punch you in the gut kind of way. I read this right after my wife was diagnosed with cancer in March which in hindsight was probably not a good idea.
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death (20th Anniv ed) by Neil Postman. Put down your smart phone for a day and read this. For a little more on this book see my synopsis here.
  • Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. Probably the best introduction into the fictional world of Port William. I literally LOL in chapter ten. That is officially the only time I have used the acronym “lol” in writing this year.
  • The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry. You move from trendy to really cool if you have read more than one Berry novel. This puts me way up there. This was not my favorite and was a bit of a downer compared to his other novels.
  • In Cold Blood by Trueman Capote. Someone once said, “don’t judge a book by its movie.” This book details murder and its consequences from one of the great writers of the 20th Century. This is why the Calvinist understanding of the nature of man is the right one.
  • The Correspondence of Shelby Foot & Walker Percy ed by Jay Tolson. Southern writers owned the 20th Century. Percy, Foote, Faulkner, O’Conner, Capote, and Welty are just a few reasons why. They are like the Celtics or the Yankees in their days of dominance. This is a behind-the-veil look as to why.
  • Beowulf trans. by Seamus Heaney. You don’t describe a book (poem) like this, you just commit yourself to read it and then see why it has stood up solid for 1,000 years. Hrothgar’s discourse on the dangers of power (lines 1724ff) should be studied by every person who has subjects or is a subject (I think that covers the bases).
  • Old School by Tobias Wolff. Someone described this book as “redemptive self-awareness.” I just thought it was a good story. It’s an excellent novel and what the movie Dead Poets Society should have been if it wasn’t so “self-aware.”
  • Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by N. D. Wilson. This is what presuppositional apologetics looks like when it has too much sugar. A fun book to read but will not be everyone’s cup of Sam Adams.
  • Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. An interesting and sad true story about a young man who lost himself. my favorite Krakauer book.
  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Fascinating story of the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest. A good reminder of why I have wisely avoided mountaineering all these years.
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok. A great story and excellent help at seeing the inside of modern American Judaism.
  • Exemplary Spiritual Leadership by Jerry Wragg. Jerry nails it! This is a penetrating look at what a shepherd is and does by one who practices shepherding every day.
  • Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009 by Gregory A. Wills. I know what you’re thinking, with such an exciting title you’re probably wondering how you missed this doorstop of a book. As a recovering Southern Baptist I read this with great interest. Two things stand out to me. 1) Seminaries run down hill faster than you can say Crawford H. Toy and 2) I get the impression that Wills is not telling us everything about the current administration since it’s his employer and all. That biography awaits a future date.
  • The Road to Serfdom by F. A Hayek. This is the Calvin’s Institutes of economic theory. If you want to know why the engine won’t crank then this is the Chilton manual on the economy and many other things.
  • Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley. CB published this memoir soon after his father, William F. Buckley, died in his home study in 2008. If you’re a WFB fan then this should be considered canonical commentary. CB is an atheist and it is interesting/sad to see how this plays into his perspective of losing both parents within a twelve-month time frame. NB: I will always remember this book because I finished it in the waiting room and two minutes later the doctor told me my wife had cancer.
  • Right Time, Right Place by Richard Brookhiser. From a man who was like a son to William F. Buckley. This is a front-row seat to the last half of Buckley’s life.
  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. In short, Carr explains why we as a culture are stupid. We have trained ourselves to not concentrate. If you want proof, ask yourself how many times you checked Facebook, Twitter, or your email in-box before you finished reading this post on my 2010 reading.

If you like this kind of post then here are some other guys doing it better.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on December 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Great list, Paul. Apart from my “normal” reading in preparation to teach and preach, here are some that I enjoyed in 2010:

    Well-Driven Nails: The Power of Finding Your Own Voice (Byron Yawn)

    Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (T. David Gordon)

    He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Al Mohler)

    Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon (eds. Aiken, Allen, Matthews)

    The Trellis and the Vine (Colin Marshall and Tony Payne)

    Exemplary Spiritual Leadership: Facing the Challenges, Escaping the Dangers (Jerry Wragg)

    The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr)

    Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment (James R. Gaines)

    Churchill (Paul Johnson)

    The War against Grammar (David Mulroy)

    Columbine (Dave Cullen)

    The Best Game Ever Played: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL (Mark Bowden)

    The Conscience of a Conservative (Barry Goldwater)

    In the Beginning (Chaim Potok)

    The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution (Steven Hayward)

    The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation (Steven M. Gillon)

    Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Waterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip (Nevil Martell)

    That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory (John Eisenberg)

    Paul, have you read Leningrad: State of Siege, by Michael Jones? Great book, but incredibly heart-wrenching (in the same way as Night by Elie Wiesel). I read it in the summer of 2009 and wept several times in the process. Heavy stuff.

    • Awesome Matt,

      You reminded me that I overlooked some reads that should have been on my list. I read Jerry’s Spiritual leadership as well and took our elders through it. In fact I’m attempting to write a study guide for it in my “free time.” I also forgot to mention Potok’s The Chosen which I read and enjoyed at your urging.

      I have not read Leningrad but if it’s anything like Wiesel’s Night then I know it will be powerfully moving. I’ve now added it to the list.

      I noticed you’ve read a number of preaching books. Might we see some reviews here at ET sometime soon?

      You can see from my list that a good number of these books came at your recommendation. Thankful for you brother. Here’s to another year of productive reading!!!

      • I also forgot to add the Krakauer books that you recommended. He’s such an interesting writer.

        I’ve updated my list.

      • Posted by Matt Waymeyer on December 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

        Probably not super likely to see any book reviews from me, mostly b/c of my schedule. But maybe I’ll post that series on interpreting biblical narrative that we talked about.

        Here’s another one to add to your list: Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Michael Oren. Phenomenal read.

        Your reference to free time made me smile. Keep pressing on, brother. You are my hero.

  2. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on December 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Oh, and as you read during your free time in 2011, give a listen to Handel’s Chandos Anthems, which is my new favorite. The guy was a genuis.

    • Handel would gag if he knew Chandos was selling for $40 on itunes. I’ve been listening to a lot of Baroque choral music when in the study, mostly by Oxford New College singers. When I need a change it’s been Tal Wilkenfeld.

      • You guys make me feel smarter just by ‘listening’ to you blog. One of the best books that I read this year is “How March Became Madness” by Eddie Einhorn just because it was fun.

        I feel like I need a life preserver when I read through your lists. Thanks for stretching my horizons a little. (I added a bunch to my amazon list)

        If you want a ‘fun’ read “My Fundamentalist Education” by Christine Rosen is a look back at the childhood of a young lady who grew up in the ‘fundy’ camp. It is not mean spirited in my estimation either just sad that she walks away from Christianity and discards it like a ‘warm sweater’.

        Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris wasn’t so bad either.

      • Posted by Matt Waymeyer on February 12, 2011 at 11:46 am

        Paul: Thought of you and your love for choral music last night while Julie and I sat in the front row of a performance of Bach’s Magnificat and Vivaldi’s Gloria at St. James in La Jolla. Absolutely phenomenal.

  3. Hayden,

    Thanks for the tip on the Rosen book. I sort of remember reading an interview with her about her book in the NYT but not sure. Such critics can often be quite lucid in pointing out the flaws of cultural religion. Sadly, they either become hardened to truth or there’s simply no one to point them to Christ. These sort of “testimonies” are hard reminders to keep Christ in our focus and to make disciples not warriors.

    My wife read Harris’Dug Down Deep and I perused it a bit for her. It had some really strong chapters and some that needed a bit more seasoning. Call me narrow but I really think his commitment to the continuationist position raises all kinds of issues with a consistent desire for a strong biblicism.

    thankful for you brother,

  4. Hey Paul:
    Congratulations on reading through all of those books last year. A couple of the books look interesting to me and I may try to add them to my reading list this year.

    I did make it through the your entire post without checking email, facebook or twitter. But for the sake of honesty, I don’t do facebook or twitter and I checked email earlier….and I will check it again before shutting down.

    Thanks again for your example of disciplined reading and learning. I hope to read and learn more this year too.
    Much GRACE and peace to you and your family,
    (Romans 15:13; Psalm 21:6)

    • Thanks Bill, I’m glad to encourage your reading. Since you don’t have Facebook or Twitter you are already ahead of the crowd. Happy reading this year! Thank you for the kind words.


  5. Posted by Nick Taylor on January 19, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Paul, I skimmed your list and somehow got this from the Beowulf section on the first pass…I guess I skimmed a little too fast.

    “Hrothgar’s discourse on the dangers of power lines (1724ft) should be studied by every person”

    I’m sure tall power lines are an issue dragons should concern themselves with, but I thought that was only a modern problem.

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