A New Reading Method for 2017

My name is Dustin and I have a reading problem. I’ve loved reading since I was a kid. Seemed like I always finished second in the summer reading program in my small Central Illinois town to Matt Augsburger, a country kid who didn’t have a lot else going on. I got a lot of Pizza Hut personal pan pizza certificates that I never used because we couldn’t afford to buy anything else at Pizza Hut and there was a sense of shame at just getting the free thing and nothing else. I suppose that is a subject for another time.

My love of reading continued into high school and my favorite classes, well, the ONLY classes I enjoyed were English, literature, writing, and speech. I love language and words. If I had another life I would teach English literature. In fact, I considered pursuing a master’s in that when I lived in Tampa for a brief stint in 2005. But the call of vocational ministry proved too strong.

In any case, in the last 10 years I’ve typically read 60-70 books a year. It’s my common practice to be reading anywhere up to 5-6 books at a time of various genres and subjects. It’s really incredible how little you have to read a day to finish a lot of books in a year. Kelli teases me because I keep saying that if you just read 2 pages before you go to sleep every night, you would read over 700 pages a year just from that. That could be 2-3 books right there. Like I said, I have a problem. 🙂 It helps that I don’t watch much television. I’m just not real interested in long series. Feels like such a time suck.

But I’ve realized this last year that my practice may not be the best way to read. I’ve found myself in a place where I’m reading more compulsively than leisurely. I think I noticed that as I’ve felt increasingly more stressed to finish books and increasingly obligated to read everything everyone tells me I should read. My goal in the last part of the year has been more finishing books than enjoying the process of learning and discovery that come with reading. None of this is how reading should be!

Therefore, this year I’d like to take a step back, slow down my reading, and be more present to the books I choose to read. So instead of reading multiple things at a time, or feeling an obligation to hit the 60 book mark, I’m going to read one book at a time at home, and one at the office.

I’m going to keep my home reading based in leisure and enjoyment and read mostly novels and keep my work reading focused on theology/ministry/bible. I try to devote 30 minutes a day for further learning at work as part of my rhythm in regard to theology and ministry.

I’ve got a list of some of the things I’d love to read this year and/or next. But I’m gonna take it slow and when I finish one book, I’ll choose what I most feel excited to read next. I’m reading Great Expectations right now and without the distraction of being able to jump to “easier” books when things slow down in the narrative, I stick with it and I’ve connected with the book and noticed more than I have in times past when I’ve tried to read it and have gotten sidetracked with other reading. I’m trying really hard to shake off the impulse to just “finish” so I can get on to something else and rather enjoy a slow, leisurely pace regardless of how long it takes to finish.

Cheers to a great, slow, enjoyable year of reading!

Home Reading:
☐Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
☐Silence – Shusaku Endo
☐The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
☐The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
☐Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
☐Rabbit at Rest – John Updike
☐Watership Down – Richard Adams
☐The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
☐99 Stories of God – Joy Williams
☐American Pastoral – Philip Roth
☐God Drops and Loses Things – Killian Mcdonnell
☐Delights and Shadows – Ted Kooser
☐Laurus – Eugene Vodolazkin
☐Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
☐Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry
Work Reading:
☐Ministry Mantras – Hyatt/Briggs
☐David; The Wounded Heart
☐You Are What You Love – James KA Smith
☐Being Christian – Rowan Williams
☐Being Disciples – Rowan Williams
☐After 50 Years of Ministry, Seven Things I’d Do Different – Bob Russell
☐Generation to Generation – Edwin Friedman
☐Faithful Presence – David Fitch
☐Strange Days – Mark Sayers
☐Spurgeon’s Sorrows – Zack Eswine
☐Playing God – Andy Crouch
☐Fools Talk – Os Guinness
☐The Power of Loving Your Church – David Hansen
☐Transforming Church – Kevin Ford
☐Healthy Congregations – Peter Steinke
☐Friedman’s Fables – Edwin Friedman
☐Presuasion – Rob Cialdini
☐Divine Sex – Jonathan Grant
☐The Road Back to You – Ian Cron
☐Hearing Beyond the Words – Emma Justes
☐Prophetic Lament – Soong-Cha Rah
☐How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All It’s Worth – Christopher Wright

Favorites Reads in 2016

Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance
I can see why this book has received such great reviews this year. It helps to make sense of the thought processes and generational struggles of families in depressed industrial towns in the midwest. This was an insightful but difficult book to read as the small town I grew up in (and family) had some of the same patterns and struggles. I can see, like Vance how my life could have turned out very differently if it weren’t for a number of people who expressed confidence in me and gave me hope for the future.

Between the World and Me by – Ta-Nehisi Coates
In helpful contrast to Hillbilly Elegy comes this short work written as a letter to his young son about being black in America. This particular perspective was interesting to me as it comes from a non-religious point of view while most of what I’ve read in regard to racial issues/justice in America have come from a predominantly faith-based perspective. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of racial reconciliation in this country.

Strong and Weak – Andy Crouch
This may have actually been my favorite book of the year. As the name of the book implies, Crouch makes a convincing case that human flourishing comes from both being “strong and weak” or rather from embracing both authority and vulnerability. I think he has a better grasp on vulnerability than other recent popular works, particularly as he describes it as not simply “personal and emotional transparency”, but rather “exposure to meaningful risk.” Emotional transparency is not always risking something, but sometimes can be “calculated manipulation.” Excellent book! Read it.

M Train – Patti Smith
Before reading M Train, other than a small amount of knowledge of her music career, I knew very little about Patti Smith. I picked this up at the library on a whim and it mesmerized me. She’s gifted in the kind of way that she could write about the most mundane aspects of life and absolutely captivate me with it. After reading this I instantly picked up Just Kids and tore through that as well.

The Imperfect Pastor – Zack Eswine
Eswine’s work is one that I will add to my list of “Must Reads for Pastors.” It’s real, it’s honest about the internal challenges and outward pressures of being a pastor. In the vain of Eugene Peterson, Eswine goes deep and gives us a work to be read slowly and meditated on for a long time. This is one I will return to often.

The Son – Phillipp Meyer
Gritty, violent, and essentially nihilistic, this is a gripping story of a boy who was captured by a Native American tribe and ended up identifying with the tribe more than his family. The rest of the story is multigeneration telling of his families life and how his past would affect generations to come.

The Good and Beautiful God – James Bryan Smith
If you love Dallas Willard, you will love this. JBS invites us to rid ourselves of false narratives and replace them with an understanding of God as seen in Jesus. Full of helpful insights and accompanying practices, if you are a Christian, I highly recommend this.

Seinfeldia; How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything – Jennifer Armstrong
Obviously as one of the biggest Seinfeld fans on earth, any new insight or behind the scenes information is a welcome distraction from reality.

Underground Airlines – Ben Winters
A page-turning work of creative fiction. What happens when a former slave is put to work by the government to hunt, capture, and return other runaway slaves in the north?

The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles
Fascinating and tragic story of American tourists failing to understand their context and eventually leading to their demise.

Fall/Winter Reading List

I’m pretty intentional about what I choose to read and not read. There are an infinite number of books I want to read which is why I hate to waste my time on books that are mediocre or that don’t matter. With each book you chose to read and spend your time on, you are giving that book priority over every other book you could be spending your time reading. That could make you a bit neurotic and anxious but the thought also wants to make me choose quality and important books that will hopefully either stand the test of time or help me with something I’m currently thinking through or want to know more about. Some of the authors on this list like Kathleen Norris, John Updike, or NT Wright are simply authors I would read anything by and tend to connect with. The truth is, I write these seasonal reading lists mostly because I LOVE making lists and accomplishing them. I’m a list nut. It gives me focus and determination to achieve what I’ve set out to do. I’m sure I’ll get to some other books than these, but this at least gives me some focus and intentionality behind my reading for this season. I know the audience for these kinds of posts are small and select, but I know that I love to read what others are reading and some of you may as well. So, enjoy!

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Trial – Franz Kafka
Rabbit at Rest – John Updike
The Circle – Dave Eggers
Winter in the Blood – James Welch
Watership Down – Richard Adams

The Day the Revolution Began – NT Wright
Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance
Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
You Are What You Love – James KA Smith
Embrace – Leroy Barber
Vainglory; The Forgotten Vice – Rebecca Konyndyk Deyoung
Spurgeon’s Sorrow – Zack Eswine
Acedia & Me – Kathleen Norris
No god but God – Reza Aslan
After 50 Years of Ministry; 7 Things I’d Do Differently – Bob Russell
Playing God – Andy Crouch
Many Colors – Soong Chah Rah

Summer Reading List 2016

Summer is a time for enjoyable, restorative, fun, slightly easier reading. Church life slows down a bit, the weather is nice, got some vacation time coming. I try to select books that fit that vibe. Some are pure entertainment, some are authors I’ve had recommended to me, others are simply subjects that grabbed my attention.

Barbarian daysBarbarian Days; a Surfing Life – William Finnegan
To be honest, I have almost no interest in surfing but after all of the great reviews of this book plus a Pulitzer prize, I feel obligated. I also find it helpful to read about things I don’t know anything about. Surfing is one of those!


SupposedlyA Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again – David Foster Wallace
I’ve never read any DFW but excerpts and articles here and there. I LOVE the name of this book (my mind goes straight to Karaoke) and I’ve heard it’s a really engaging book of essays.


selfconsciousnessSelf-Consciousness; Memoirs – John Updike
I’ve really been on an Updike kick in the last year. I’m enjoying the final Rabbit book right now. His long, rambling, stream of consciousness writing really grabs me. I find myself rereading and digesting sentences often while reading him. Insightful, revolting, earthy, spiritual…I’m excited to read his memoirs.

sympathizerThe Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
I’m trying to read the Pulitzer Prize winner each year. Apparently this novel won about everything else too.



canoeing the mountainsCanoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory – Tod Bolsinger
A friend recommended this to me a few weeks ago as we discussed self-differentiation.



unfamiliar fishesUnfamiliar Fishes – Sarah Vowell
I had a friend at the Ecclesia National Gathering recommend this to me. I had never heard of Vowell but it looks interesting.



diary ofThe Diary of a Country Priest – Georges Bernanos
I actually can’t believe I’ve never read this. I’ve owned a copy for years and have watched it sit on my shelf. 😦 One of those books that Eugene Peterson recommends so you know it’s worth your while.



best teamThe Best Team Money Can Buy – Molly Knight
Thank you Rob Grant for recommending this. A summer reading list isn’t complete without a book on baseball.




life's too shortLife’s Too Short To Pretend Your Not Religious – David Dark





the sonThe Son – Philipp Meyer




spectatorThe Spectator Bird – Wallace Stegner




nation of rebelsNation of Rebels; Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture – Joseph Heath




strong andStrong and Weak; Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing – Andy Crouch

Summer Reading List 2015

It’s that time of year again, time to select some fun books for the warm months of summer. I try to pick books simply for enjoyment and save the rest of the year to read some more challenging or demanding books. I’m excited about this summer and have chosen to reread To Kill a Mockingbird in anticipation of the upcoming release of Go Set a Watchman. I’m also really obsessed with Cormac McCarthy after reading All the Pretty Horses a few weeks ago. Exciting and suspenseful story, beautifully foreign terrain (for me), and a lot of bad-assery. 🙂 I’d love to read everything he’s written so this summer is a good chance to finish the trilogy. I also wanted to throw in a Sci-Fi classic that is both a Nebula and Hugo award winner. I read a Hugo award winner last week (Way Station by Clifford Simak) and if that book is any indication, the bar is set pretty low for sci-fi writing. So I’m not sure what to expect from Ursula Le Guin, though I know she’s been nominated for several books. I was really impacted in 2005 when I read Dante’s Divine Comedy so I always love a chance to read how it impacted someone else so I’m excited for Rod Dreher’s book. Finally, Lonesome Dove has been a piece of Western fiction that I’ve never heard anyone speak a bad word about. It’s universally acclaimed and I’m finally going to jump in. No real theme or rhyme or reason with this summer reading list other than books I desire to read and am sure I will find entertaining and enjoyable. That’s what summer is about, right?

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
The Crossing – Cormac McCarthy
Cities of the Plain – Cormac McCarthy
The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula Le Guin
The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
The Final Beast – Frederick Buechner
Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry
The Sign of Jonas – Thomas Merton
A Change of Heart; Personal and Theological Memoir – Thomas Oden
How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem – Rod Dreher
A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel – Bradley Jersak

Sabbatical Reading List

What do you read during the course of a sabbatical? Books for pure enjoyment? Books to enrich your soul? Books to grow you as a pastor? I’ve tried to create an assortment to touch on all of those things to some extent. I’m probably actually a little light on the latter one as this feels like a break from striving to be a better pastor and simply to rest in God and experience some refreshment. To take a step away from pastoring AND from improving as a pastor. We’ll see how things shake out. But I’m excited about this list!

Three books that will daily inform my spiritual life during this time are the following:

The Ignatian Adventure – Father Kevin O’Brien

Retreat in the Real World

Prayers for Springtime – Phyllis Tickle


The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. – Clayborne Carson

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End – Atul Gawande

Blood and Thunder: the Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West – Hampton Sides

Seasons of the Soul – Bruce Demarest

The Art of Pastoring; Ministry Without All the Answers – David Hansen

The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer – William Bostwick

My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer – Christian Wiman 


The Martian – Andy Weir

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Lila – Marilyn Robinson

The Marauders – Tom Cooper

The End of the Affair – Graham Greene

Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

The Diary of a Country Priest – Bernanos

All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy

January-March Reading List

The first quarter of 2015 is more fiction heavy again. I’m really finding a lot of life and joy in novels again whereas a year and a half ago, I was reading all non-fiction. I really go in cycles but have rediscovered the joy of reading novels this past year. I also know that over my sabbatical (starting in April) I will probably read more Christian classics and soul care type books so I’m keeping it light right now. But here’s what’s on my reading list to start the year.  What’s on yours?

Gathering Blue (Giver Book 2) – Lois Lowry

Messenger (Giver Book 3) – Lois Lowry

Son (Giver Book 4) – Lois Lowry

The Residue Years – Mitchell S. Jackson

We Were Liars – E.Lockhart

The Iliad – Homer

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

Tickets for a Prayer Wheel – Annie Dillard

Lila – Marilyn Robinson

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette – Hampton Sides

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense – Francis Spufford

The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

Raising Cain; Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys – Michael Thompson

How (Not) to Be Secular – James K.A. Smith

The Pastor’s Justification – Jared Wilson