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.


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