2015 was a good year in many ways. We had our first kid, we led our first Spanish Bible studies, we joined our first church planting team, we made a successful move across Spain, we got the go-ahead to start working on the types of ministry to which we feel clearly called, and we enjoyed visits from both sets of parents.
We also had–thanks to the first kid–a lot of evenings in which we were home a little earlier, and during which I had my hands on a couple of unexpected hours of free time.
Early in the year, I started to read What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, and as a consequence, spent some useful time thinking through my mission statement. One of the conclusions I came away with was that I should focus my ministry efforts on training Spanish nationals and on writing.
So, I used some of the time to write, and managed to place my first short story, “The Earth Groans,” with Youth Imagination in August. I wrote it a while ago, and it came out of some reflection on Romans 8:19-22. I’m still writing and hoping to get more stories and a couple of articles or essays accepted in 2016.
And I used the rest of the time to read and read widely. Reading helps me to preach and teach more effectively (see Kevin Vanhoozer’s useful comments here: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-reasons-pastor-theologians-should-read-fiction), and it helps me write more competently. In his post, “Read Until Your Brain Creaks,” Douglas Wilson wrote:
“Wanting to write without reading is like wanting to grind flour without gathering wheat, like wanting to make boards without logging, and like wanting to have a Mississippi Delta without any tributaries somewhere in Minnesota. Output requires intake, and literary output requires literary intake….
“Go for total tonnage, and read like someone who will forget most of it. You have my permission to forget most of it, which may or may not be reassuring, but you will forget most of it in either case. Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading, you will not be able to remember.”
And of course, Faulkner’s famous advice to writers:
“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.”
So, I went for tonnage in 2015. I read a lot of books. Some of them very, very good. Some of them just okay. Some of them absolutely horrible. In all, I read 48 books.
The best were (and I recommend these with the caveat that some of them include content that one might find objectionable and so of course, use discernment):
- What’s Best Next by Matt Perman (I can’t recommend this book highly enough.)
- Art & The Bible by Francis Schaeffer
- The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters
- The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy
- The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin
- Neuromancer by William Gibson
- The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe
- Don Quixote, Book 1 by Cervantes
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
So I found 12 books (since Winters’ work is a trilogy) out of 48 to be particularly good. Out of the rest, I counted 11 terrible reads, and the remaining 25 books were somewhere in between. I nearly included some of them in the list above, but for some reason or another, I didn’t find them as compelling or enjoyable as those I’ve listed. If you’re looking for something to read, you can’t go too wrong with any of these.
So, 2016 is here, and I think I want to accomplish two things with my reading: I want to read less this year, and I want to read better. If 2015 was about volume, I would like 2016 to be about value. I’ve picked 24 books (although three of these are trilogies, so I guess it’s 30) to read over the next 12 months.
I chose books that are well-known classics, books by authors that I admire, and some genre books that come highly regarded in their fields. (Also, I already own all of these, and Anna would like me to read what I have before buying more.)
I’m planning to read:
- Don Quixote, Book 2 by Cervantes
- The Life and Death of King John by William Shakespeare
- The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
- Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
- The Turner Trilogy by James Sallis
- The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
- The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe
- The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
- 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
- The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
- The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
- The Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot
- Absolom, Absolom by William Faulkner
- This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
- The Twelve by Justin Cronin
- The Sunlight Dialogues by John Gardner
- The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy
- A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
I might change one or two of these, but for the most part this is what I will attempt to read this year, Lord willing. I’m also reading through the Bible (this app is fantastic!), and I imagine I’ll do some other reading as well. I’m hopeful that at the end of 2016, I will look back on a year of reading many good books.
If you have some reading plans for 2016, drop them in the comments. If you’re interested in reading one or more of these along with me, let me know and we can read them together! I would really enjoy it.