I realize I’m way late on this, but this post has been in the burner for a few weeks…and I’m sure I’m still missing some.
But here are 50 micro reviews of the books I read last year, starting with my favorites and descending to my least favorites….although, the ones I really didn’t like I didn’t include at all.
1. Overcoming Sin and Temptation – John Owen, Justin Taylor. I’ve read this before, but reading it again was just gold. I highly recommend reading through it with Tim Challies’ notes beside you – it will change your life.
2. The Holiness of God – R.C. Sproul. Again, this was another re-read, but I read it for my book “Faker.” Sproul is a great theologian, great thinker, and great writer. If you’ve never picked up this short read, do it this week.
3. The Temple and the Church’s Mission – G.K. Beale. This was a difficult read, but Beale traces the theme of the temple from Genesis 1 (yes, you read that correctly) through to the Book of Revelation…and it’s a work of astounding genius. If you’ve never studied Biblical theology before, start here.
4. Christ-Centered Preaching – Bryan Chappell. Yes, yes, another one I’ve read before. But there’s so much wisdom in here – just so, so much. I need to soak it up again every couple of years. Just to let you know how good it is – THREE classes right now at Gordon Conwell currently require this textbook. So, like, they really REALLY want you to read it. As well they should.
5. Center Church – Tim Keller. Keller’s book is as phenomenal as expected. Some people get clogged up near the beginning – DON’T. Keep it moving, because every chapter is soaked with experience and scriptural wisdom.
6. God in the Whirlwind – David F. Wells. This was my first David Wells read, and it was great. It’s a nice summary of the type of teaching the local church needs if it’s going to be the church Jesus meant it to be.
7. Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright. This was my first encounter with N.T. Wright, and the man is astounding. How he can write so well, with so much research backing him, and so prolifically, is just way beyond me. This book never touched on some his views of justification, which I know are controversial. But the way he places us back in Paul’s world is so intensely helpful for us as modern readers, at least in this volume.
8. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering – Tim Keller. If you’re interested in the “problem of evil” in the world, pick up this book. Keller addressed both the philosophical and emotional aspects of suffering, and I wish more people would pick this one up. Not one of his most popular books, but it should be.
9. Paul, The Apostle – Thomas Schreiner. Schreiner’s outlining of Paul’s thoughts are rigorously thought through and thoroughly exegetical (say that ten times fast). I rarely found myself in disagreement with his conclusions, although it was very difficult to assess them, since the book does a lot of jumping from text to text, rather than taking one at a time.
10. Jesus on Every Page – David Murray. This is the best introduction to the Old Testament I’ve ever read, especially for lay-people who aren’t interested in the technical stuff. Pick this one up.
11. When People are Big and God is Small – Ed Welch. This book is an extremely helpful and practical guide to the issue of “people-pleasing” from a Christian perspective. I found his work very helpful as I wrote my own book, “Faker”, but at times I thought he could have been simpler and a bit less clinical.
12. The Reformed Pastor – Richard Baxter. What does it mean to be a pastor? This account by Richard Baxter shows it in all of its glory – and really, it looks not much like the way we pastor today. Read this as a challenge to your perceptions of pastoral ministry.
13. Extravagant Grace – Barb Duguid. I liked this book. But, it was one sided. Very one sided. Duigud’s basic message is that God’s allowing sin in our life is actually forward progress in sanctification, because it humbles us. Yes – but read this with John Owen, who leans the other way. Both are true.
14. Story Engineering – Larry Brooks. This book totally changed the way I think about stories. It totally changed the way I think about writing. It even influenced the way I think about preaching. If you’re a fiction writer, this is the first book you should pick up – it’s a great, simple summary of the things you need to know to make a story work…and trust me, you probably don’t know them.
15. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness – Tim Keller. Another great one to read while writing “Faker”. More like a sermon than a book, Keller tackles the issue through the lens of justification. Reading this alongside Welch was helpful – Welch emphasizes the fear of God, and Keller emphasizes God’s grace. I think both are needed.
16. Write from the Middle – James Scott Bell. This should be the second book on story writing you should read. Very short, astoundingly simple, and makes so much sense. The middle of your story is the heart.
17. The Attributes of God – A.W. Tozer. Tozer is a great writer – many of his thoughts were helpful to me in thinking about God’s majesty and holiness, especially.
18. Plot and Structure – James Scott Bell. After you’ve read Larry Brooks, pick this one up. It goes into a bit more depth on how plots work…and if you’re not plotting currently, it will convince you otherwise.
19. Justification Reconsidered – Stephen Westerholm. This was another I read for “Faker”, since justification is a huge theme in the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector. A good rebuttal to some of N.T. Wright’s stuff. Concise, and exegetical.
20. The Doctrine of Inerrancy – G.K. Beale. This is more of a documented conversation between scholars than a book…but it’s especially helpful for those exploring the “We’re, like, so much more obsessed with history than the dumb – I mean, er, ancient – Hebrews.”
21. The Reliability of the Old Testament – K.A. Kitchen. Okay, admittedly, this was probably the most boring book I’ve ever read. But for someone who’s interested in how the OT fits historically, archeologically, anthropologically into the way we understand things…hand this one to them. Then run.
22. Creativity, INC – Ed Catmull. Catmull goes behind the scenes to show us Pixar’s conception and philosophy. I would want to know more, but Catmull gives us the basics…and the basics are, “Be candid.” That’s about it.
23. 2,000 to 10,000 – Rachel Aaron. Aaron describes her process of transformation, from being able to write 2000 words a day to 10,000. I was skeptical about this at first, but what she says totally makes sense…but in trying her method, I found my writing was really lacking. I ended up using her method, but handwriting my work. It will make sense if you read it.
24. Insourcing – Randy Pope. A really great and practical introduction into how discipleship can work in a church. I’ve used this structure with my students this year, and seen much fruit. Highly recommended.
25. The Art of Pastoring – David Hansen. I’m still not sure what to do with this book. It was very well-written. Hansen seems like a very good pastor. I’m not sure what I learned from it…nor am I sure that I’m really a “parable of Jesus” to people, as a pastor. I really, really appreciated his honesty.
26. Your First 1,000 Copies – Tim Grahl. A great introductory guide for those selling their first book!
27. Untamable God – Stephen Altrogge. This was another one I read for “Faker”. Alltrogge is a good writer, but he’s too cheeky. Especially when handling the doctrines concerning God’s severity, we need to be gentle and humble…I found Alltrogge sarcastic and degrading…and I agreed with him! His best chapters are at the end, on God’s grace.
1. The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells. This H.G. Wells novel was just…stunning. Wells understands human nature, and what we’re capable of in a world where technology gives us unlimited power, unlike any secular writer I’ve ever read. This was my favorite read this year.
2. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson. Robinson creates beautiful art. Read her, and you will see the beauty in places and people around you like never before.
3. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen. “Was this your FIRST TIME READING THIS, NICHOLAS MCDONALD?” Sheepishly* “Yes.” And Jane Austen is as brilliant as we all say she is. She is one of those writers who knows herself so well that she convicts me.
4. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo. This was a hefty tome. Way too hefty, actually – this book REALLY didn’t need to be this long. But it’s truly beautiful, and I found myself aching again and again as I experienced the “behind the scenes” reality to which the musical points. So painful. So good.
5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis. Read it again this year, with Caleb. Had to stop when Aslan was on the stone table, because I started weeping. Again.
6. Northern Lights – Philip Pullman. I’m refreshing on these as well. Pullman is a mad genius. His work is everything I love, aesthetically speaking…but his characters, while interesting, are value-less. Which means, there’s no transformation. Which means, there’s no heart. But heck, it’s an atheist trying to create a worldview out of nothing. What did you expect?
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling. I’m sorry. I just love Harry Potter – I wish people wouldn’t scoff at Rowling. If you’ve read enough other stuff, and if you REALLY understand writing, you’ll see that Rowling is something special. She really is the total package.
8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling. And…surprise ending, because I totally forgot everything about this book, since I vowed never to watch the movies after the first.
9. The Time Machine – H.G. Wells. I loved this. It’s not shallow – it’s philosophical. And it’s haunting – I forgot to mention that. And full of imagination, and really creative dialogue, and interesting concepts. Wells is just a pro.
10. Moby Dick – Herman Melville. This took me all summer. Okay, so, right off the bat – I didn’t understand this book. Maybe there’s nothing to say after that. Melville’s style is incredible – truly, incredible. And this whole book is SO genius. I think I get it. But I haven’t processed it.
11. A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller Jr. As with most sci-fi…the concepts were interesting, the characters were too dull for me to enjoy. The ending was…kind of gross and profound?
12. Elmer Gantry – Sinclair Lewis. This was really painful for a guy in the ministry to read. It’s a hard, hard, look at what American hypocrite revivalist Billy-Sunday style religion was back in the day. And it’s not pretty.
13. The Reptile Room – Lemony Snicket. Fun. Funny. A little one dimensional.
14. The Bad Beginning – Lemony Snicket. Ditto.
15. Clear Winter Nights – Trevin Wax – I liked T. Wax’s debut novel. It was warm, and cozy…and I will probably read it again sometime in the future. He handles the apologetics issues nicely.
16. Dune – Frank Herbert. This was staggering genius. The writing style was a bit too much for me, at times. The philosophy is SO 70’s. But overall, I see why people love the series. It’s not really for me.
17. Coraline – Neil Gaiman. How does Gaiman get away with writing horror books to children? Gaiman has an inimitable style, which in and of itself is worth reading. I felt like the plot-line to this one dragged. I didn’t want a false ending. I wanted it to be over.
18. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens. Commonly accepted as the least liked of Dickens’ classics, I found it to be the least liked of Dickens’ classics.
19. American Sniper – Chris Kyle. I read this last Spring. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of military. This is about as American a book as an American can read. Grab a beer and a hot-dog, and chow down on “popping ‘bad-guys’”. Yes, that’s the going term in this book. Still – I was very entertained.
20. The Mysterious Visitor – H.G. Wells. This is about an angel who is shot with a shotgun down from heaven. He comes to live with humanity, and the whole book is about how we react to him. It is, once again, very perceptive.
21. The One and Only Ivan – Katherine Applegate. I grew up on Animorphs, so, what can I say? I’m an Applegate fan. The most attractive thing about this book was the style – Applegate perfectly combines poetry with clarity. The story, on the other hand, was recycled, over-hyped Californian cowardice.
22. Prince Caspian – C.S. Lewis. Reading this with the family, now. Lewis gets a little carried away with this one, to me. His descriptions of scenery aren’t as lively as Tolkien, and there’s a whole ton of it in comparison to the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. Some great characters, to be sure, and Aslan as always is a boss. Overall, though, I don’t think it’s Lewis’s best.
23. Divergent – Veronica Roth. I read this because my high-schoolers read it. It was okay…I have a hard time reading from the perspective of teenage female angst. I get annoyed. The concept was interesting, but not very fleshed out. I’d be interested to see what the movies do with it.