- One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp
Gratitude is a term that is thrown in a lot of circles. From productivity gurus to health and wellness coaches, the benefits of “practicing gratitude” have become mainstream. As I pondered this, I wanted to explore the topic from a christian perspective. Enter Voskamp’s book. From the beginnings of a simple list of “one thousand blessings” to the unfolding of how gratitude leads us to deep communion (eucharisteo) with God, Voskamp invites us into her journey with brutal honesty and beautiful prose. Of course, the prose took some getting used to as Voscamp uses her words to paint poetic pictures upon every square inch of her book. The book was immensely helpful for me to frame gratitude appropriately and to begin practicing it with a God-glorifying end in mind.
I simply made very little time for reading this year. Resolved: Read more in 2022.
- Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns
An amazing read. I devoured it over 3 days at Christmas. Reading the stories of Ida Mae Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Pershing Foster amidst the backdrop of what was happening culturally and geographically across the United States during The Great Migration was powerful, to say the very least. The stories of the Jim Crow south, how it impacted black Americans, and their lives during this 65+/- years period was a painful and necessary history lesson that has left an imprint on my heart, made only more permanent by the intimacy of Ida Mae, George, and Robert’s experience.
- Michael Easter, The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self
This book was gifted to my by the good people at GORUCK. An easy and enjoyable read, Easter uses his month-long journey hunting caribu in the arctic as the overarching story by which to discuss the science behind topics like boredom, discomfort, death, and other topics that many Americans avoid at all costs. His thesis is much of what we attempt to avoid is the very things we need to be, as the title indicates, happier and healthier. Some good overlap with Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success, which I’ve been thinking about revisiting.
- Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day
I didn’t read this one, but rather listened to the audiobook as I prepared for a GORUCK event to remember D-Day. A truly remarkable book that takes you deep into the lives of men, women, leaders, and followers in one of the most pivotal battles in the history of the world. I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding D-Day. I will certainly revisit in in years to come.
- Ring Lardner’s Stories & Other Writings
Lardner’s writing is a joy to read. His use of the common language of the day immerses you into the era and connects you to the characters in a special way. Worth picking up, if only to read a few stories.
- J. Gresham Machen, Things Unseen
In a similar vein to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Things Unseen is a transcript of Machen’s series of radio talks in which he set out to give a clear explanation of Reformed Theology. This format creates a very approachable systematic theology, carrying the warmth of a pastoral voice that speaks directly to you, “the listener.” Since each chapter is a “broadcast,” Machen spends much time recapping what he said in precious “episodes.” While helpful to some degree, the format did wear on me the deeper I got into the book. In the end, this book was simply a casualty of a year where my reading fell to the wayside.
Convicted by the veracity with which the rest of my family reads, I have purposed to read more frequently in 2020.
Below is a running list of all the books that I have read in 2020. In most cases I will attempt to give my brief thoughts on the books, should that be of any interest to you.
- Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter From Birmingham Jail: April 16, 1963
Short, powerful, and convicting.
- Sam Crabtree, Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God
I need to be better at affirmation. This book reminded me of this and, in that regard, was helpful. I appreciate Sam’s attempt to help me think about how to glorify God in my affirmation of others. That said, I didn’t love the book and had a few difficulties as I worked through it.
- Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering
Theological sound and personally helpful. However, if you are walking through pain and suffering, this may or may not be the right book to pick up. While Keller argues, rightly, the wrestling with deep theological topics is important for those suffering, he also states rightly that there aren’t one-size-fits-all “solutions” for those suffering. I am sure that I will return to many sections of this book for help and encouragement.
- Paul Tautges, Comfort the Grieving: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Loss (Practical Shepherding Series)
A good book little book, especially suited for one new to pastoral ministry. I found some helpful reminders, ideas, and resources in the book.
- Nancy Guthrie, What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts)
Wow! This book is gold. If you want to be a comfort to those experiencing grief, read this book. The simple wisdom will help you be a better friend. Also, as you might suspect, this book made me cry more than once.
- Zack Eswine, Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression
I had long looked forward to reading this book. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but this book was a bit of a let-down. As one who has experienced extended seasons of melancholy, I had hoped to hear more of a biographical look at Spurgeon’s journey. While there is some amount of biography in the book, “biography” isn’t Eswine’s goal. I found his approach and style somewhat difficult to follow. Perhaps, in my view, the best contribution of this book is to hear Spurgeon’s exact words about his own depression and what he has to say directly to those who suffer.
- J. C. Ryle, Do You Pray? A Question for Everybody
Given to me by a friend that found it encouraging. The book is short and can be read in 1-2 sittings. While reading it, I didn’t super enjoy it. I kept trying to figure out who Ryle was writing to. I feel like it is almost a tract designed for nominal believers. That said, the book has sat with me and I find that I am asking myself, “Do you pray?” Which, is a helpful question to ask and one I’m thankful to be reminded of.
- J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling With Incurable Cancer And Life In Christ
What does theology look like in real life? This! Billings’ book is a true gift. He works his way through theological topics, applying them to his life–a life with incurable cancer. In many ways, this book is what Keller’s book (listed above) looks like lived out. While I learned so much about what it means to lament, more so I was encouraged to treasure the God of the gospel and his many means of grace. Not an easy read, but worth it.
- David Epstein, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
Short version: I am not going to become an elite CrossFitter. The problem is a little bit of nature and a little bit of nurture. While this was an interesting book, I got less and less interested as Epstein went from gene to gene and the impact it made in certain groups. In a similar vein to this book, I would rather recommend Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.
- A’Lelia Bundles, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker
Born 5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation to former slaves, Madam C.J. Walker’s story is nothing short of incredible. With no education, no resources, and the challenges of both race and gender discrimination, Walker manage to not only create a business that brought her to the upper echelon of wealth (building her mansion just down the street from James D Rockefeller), but she also provided thousands of women the opportunity to create their own wealth, often earning 2-3 times the average wage afforded to black women of the time. Fascinating and well worth reading.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Considered a modern classic, I decided to read this one because I simply never had. Perhaps my motivation of “duty” to read the book hampered my enjoyment and engagement, but I just never really “got into it” and found myself reading it to “just get it done.” I feel like this is a disservice to the book. Perhaps I’ll circle back to it another day.
- Matt Fitzgerald, How Bad Do You Want It?: Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle
I love sports psychology books and this was a pretty good one. This book is the yin to The Sports Gene‘s yang. While the stories mostly revolved around running, they were engaging and I enjoyed the concepts that were analyzed. While Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance is still my favorite book in the genera, I have no hesitation recommending How Bad Do You Want It?
- Dr. Mark Becton, Prayer Works When You Work at Prayer: Following Jesus’ Example in Prayer
A short and encouraging book which I enjoyed very much. Perhaps the most beneficial for me was Chapter 2. Reorienting my thoughts around the one to whom I am praying was (is) tremendously refreshing and helpful.
- Marvin Olasky, Reforming Journalism
This book was a grind. I received it as a freebie from a conference that was canceled and decided to read it because the title was intriguing. Part one was the call for Christian Journalists to truly be Christians. Part two was a lot of journalism 101. Part three was (for me) the best part, giving a history of journalism and the role the Christian community played in its development. It went a little “the left is evil” towards the end. Much of the critique was fair enough. But, it does ignore that the right often does the same thing it complained the left does.
- Ligon Duncan, When Pain Is Real and God Seems Silent: Finding Hope in the Psalms
A very short book that can be read in one sitting. Duncan’s exposition of Psalm 88 is a great help and encouragement for those suffering. I also found Dever’s forward, in which he recounts a story of Andrew Murray’s advice for suffering, to be of great help.
- Jim Afremow, The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive
Honestly, I kinda wish high-school Ryan would have read this. I was never going to be a soccer superstar, but Afremow offered a lot of helpful advice that I could have used on how to be the best player I could have been. That said, there is a ton of what I would consider “fluff” and I wouldn’t really recommend it without some major caveats. But, if you can find the pull out the helpful pieces within all the “wear a gold wrist band to remind you to ‘think gold and never settle for silver'” then it might be a good book for you. And… that’s assuming “you” are someone looking to excel and a sport or athletic endeavor.
- Ben Bergeron, Chasing Excellence: A Story About Building the World’s Fittest Athletes
Such an enjoyable read. As an avid CrossFitter (and occasional coach), I loved hearing Katrine’s story as told through the eyes of her coach. Ben provides a number of great lessons drawn from Katrine’s experience and his overall coaching philosophy. Well worth checking out.
- Alex Hutchinson, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance
I often mention this book when making notes on other books in this genre. Having not read it in a few years, I decided to pick it back up for another read. It was just as good as I remember. A truly fascinating look at the intersection of mind and body. Love this book.
- Jesse Itzler, Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet
This was a super fun read. Knocked it out in two days. While it was a very entertaining read, it was also interesting to read in the context of my other reads in human performance. The book is not looking to explain the mind/body connection. Instead, “SEAL” lives it and pushed Jesse towards it. Just plain fun. And, it reminded me I should do more push-ups. Oh… and if you don’t like F*bombs, you’re gonna have a tough time in these pages.
- Harvard Business Review, HBR 10 Must Reads on Mental Toughness
I have mixed feelings on this one. Some of the articles were enjoyable and helpful, others less so. I think I most appreciated the last article on “Extreme Negotiation” which looked at military officers in combat zones and how they negotiated with local leaders (doing so poorly and well). Also, at a macro level, the corporate lessons of both facing and learning from adversity were helpful.
- Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
This was a helpful resource that gave me a better understanding of terms like “white supremacy” and “racism” (as DiAngelo defines them) and why white people (of which I am one) have such a visceral reaction to the terms. I feel more aware of the systems and structures built into our culture that promote white supremacy (not the KKK kind, though that’s included). I also am more aware of how these systems and structures impact the black community. As a Christian, this book reminded me of the importance of humility and repentance (though I don’t think DiAngelo ever uses those words) as two keys I must utilize to both fight my own “white fragility” and promote justice.
- The Disney Institute, Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service
A neat look into the Disney ethos. Provided some interesting models and concepts that could apply to any business. In the end, it is all magic (aka, nerdy systems and attention to detail).
- David Litt, Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years
I picked this book up after listening to two performances by Litt on The Moth Radio Hour. They were hilarious! I had hoped that the book would be an equally funny behind-the-scene look at White House life through the eyes of a speechwriter. It was… ok. Ultimately, it is Litt’s play-by-play journey from seeing Obama for the first time through his years as a speechwriter for the president. Occasional social commentary, occasional funny story, occasional look behind the curtain, occasional personal history, it just never really grabbed me. At the same time, here’s a 20-something writing speeches for the president of the United States. That is pretty cool.
- David Goggins, Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds
A really fascinating read. Goggins had a rough life. The first couple of chapters were pretty hard to read. I can only imagine how hard they were to live. Throughout the book, Goggins uses the trials and adversities of his life to share challenges with the reader to help them face and overcome their own obstacles. A central theme of Goggins’ is his concept of “calloused mind.” Essentially, take the pain life gives you and embrace it. In many ways, Goggins appears to be masochistic, seeking as much pain as possible. Perhaps not the most healthy life philosophy, as is evidenced by his many near-death exploits. At the same time, there is something inspiring about someone willing to push beyond the ordinary and reach for greatness beyond what seems possible. Even more than that, to see Goggins’ failures and how he pushes through them (I mean, he went through Hell Week THREE times!). In this end, the book was fascinating, inspiring, and at the same time nihilistic and depressing. Like most books, I’ll take the good and leave the bad behind.
- Francis James Grimké, Meditations on Preaching
Born in 1850 to a white South Carolina plantation owner and slave mother, Grimké eventually went to college and seminary after his emancipation. Beginning in 1878, he spent 50 years serving Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This book is a collection of his quotes and thoughts on preaching. While I read the book straight through, it is perhaps better utilized as an inspirational resource, especially for preachers. There is a lot of wonderful encouragement to be found in these pages.
- Christie Aschwanden, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery
Aschwanden essentially says that most “recovery” research is inconclusive at best (except for sleep, which is the gold standard for recovery). A sub-theme that I noticed is that while science doesn’t usually back recovery methods as much as people would like them to, the placebo effect seems to be a powerful constant. So, if it feels good and you think it helps you, go for it. But, to be a party-pooper, it probably isn’t really helping all that much. If you’re an athlete or coach, this one is a quick and interesting read worth picking up.
- Gary Reinl, Iced!: The Illusionary Treatment Option
Summary: Don’t ice your injuries. If you must read this book, Chapter 5 is the only one worth reading (it is proof that this book should be a blog post). Everything else is almost an entire waste of time–useless stories that don’t tell you much of anything about why you shouldn’t use ice as an injury treatment. I haven’t watched the whole thing, but this video is possibly a better investment of time.
- Robin Walker, When We Ruled: The Ancient and Mediaeval History of Black Civilisations
“Ya know what? Start back in Africa. Check out When We Ruled.” This was the advice of a dear friend when recommending some books to check out. At 700 pages, this one took a while to get through. But, the journey was worth it. For those not wanting to go deep into each of the various civilizations, I commend chapters 1-5 and 18. These cover the background and history of black civilization broadly and “The Fall of Africa and The Resistance.” The history is so amazing and detailed. It has given me much to think about. In particular, I think I understand “Wakanda” from Black Panther much better now. The scientific advancements that were made and lost in Africa are staggering.
- Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic: A Discworld Novel
My kids made me read a fiction book. Based on my enjoyment of Dougless Adam’s writing in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, they somehow found/recommended The Color of Magic. And, in some ways, Pratchett has a similar style to his story and prose. However, I find myself laughing out loud when I read Adams. “They hung in the air, much the way bricks don’t.” is the type of both brilliantly unexpected and laughingly funny lines that Adams delivers page after page. Pratchett, on the other hand, only got a few chuckles out of me. While it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t amazing. Though, the cliffhanger ending did leave me with the slightest desire to see what happens in book 2. But, it also made me want to read Hitchhiker again.
- Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success
This is actually a really helpful book. Full of well researched and highly applicable advice on how to work and live at a higher level of performance (or at least stop feeling burnt out and run down). I have applied a number of ideas from the book and they have generally proved useful. I have this one marked as a re-read in the next couple of months.
- Larry E. McCall, Grandparenting with Grace: Living the Gospel with the Next Generation
I know… kinda weird for me to read a book about grandparenting. But, this is a subject that I, as a minister in the church, haven’t really thought about (or ever heard anyone talk about). The book is a great starting point for anyone who is, or is about to be, a grandparent to help think about the ministry that God is giving them as it relates to their grandkids. While I don’t think there is anything radically new within the pages of this book, I think it is a helpful resource for grandparents to think more deeply about the role God has given them at this season of their life. Highly recommended.
- Peter Shankman, Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain
Sometimes I complain about how crazy things are in my brain. Why can’t I just go help my kids mow some lawns? Why, instead, have I priced out trailers, spent an hour trying to learn if stand-on mowers are better than riding, and calculated profit margins for increasing client base and expanding into the neighborhood across the street? My brain just runs wild and takes everything to the nth degree. And, that’s just one small example of what is going on up there. Shankman’s book was helpful for me in hearing examples of people who have a mind like mine. It gave me some terms that were relevant and some tools and resources that were helpful. In reality, Shankman’s book is a lot like Peak Performance, which I read in July. The difference is he’s speaking to specifically to people who, in some ways, have brains like mine.
- Michael Hyatt, Your World-Class Assistant: Hiring, Training, and Leveraging an Executive Assistant
I need to offload some aspects of my side projects in order to create some margin in my life. This book was helpful on a number of fronts. First, it helped me understand what things I needed to consider offloading and, second, it charted a clear path forward on how to find, hire, train, and work with an assistant.
- Jason McCarthy, How Not to Start a Backpack Company.
As evidenced by my side business, The Rucking Collective, LLC, GORUCK is a big part of my life. The book primarily consists of journal entries and emails from around the start of GORUCK. During the time Jason was going through a divorce and traveling the country, trying to launch GORUCK. While it could be subtitled, “Where to Eat in America,” this was a really honest and open look at Jason’s life during the start of GORUCK and it was pretty rough. Not gonna lie, it got me choked up on more than one occasion and I’m thankful for the epilogue, which ties everything together. All that said, it isn’t the book I was expecting, but it was totally a book worth reading.
- David Platt, Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask.
Pastorally written to preserve the unity of the church in the midst of another politically divisive election cycle, Platt offers 7 questions that Christians should consider when voting. Perhaps Platt’s biggest contribution from the book is leading people away from labeling parties, candidates, and policies as “Christian” when there are not any Biblical grounds for doing so. I found this personally encouraging and helpful. Another contribution Platt offers is helping believers understand why someone would vote for a candidate that doesn’t align with what they (the reader) thinks is the clear “right” choice. I fear, however, that for many their deeply held political ideologies are so deeply held that they will not be able to hear Platt’s argument. In the end, this was a helpful resource for Christians who have the opportunity to have a voice in their government.
- Max McLean and Warren Bird, Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture.
My observation is that most scripture readings in the church are flat and, frankly, dull. This is a travesty. The public reading of God’s word should be full of the life contained in the text. McLean’s book is a good encouragement toward this end, as well as a practical guide to assist those wanting to take their public reading of scripture to a greater level of excellence.
- Edward T. Welch, Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness
Picked this one up on the recommendation of a friend. As one who has experienced depression, I appreciated Welch letting the many voices and experiences of depression be expressed. The book, as a whole, is probably most useful for the person wanting to walk along-side of someone suffering from depression.
- Matthew Walker PhD, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
This book is an overwhelming call-to-arms for sleep. So overwhelming is the information related to the disastrous impact of poor sleep, I am at a loss at what to highlight within this brief write-up. If you’re not gonna read the book, here’s a 20-minute TED Talk by Walker that hits some highlights. If you’ve got an hour, here’s his Google Talk. The only thing I’ll add is that as I read about the simply amazing functions that happen in the brain while we sleep (and, I assure you, they are jaw-droppingly amazing) I couldn’t help but ponder how Walker and so many others are sufficiently happy to ascribe this activity to Mother Nature. This “just happened” or “just developed” over hundreds of thousands of years seems as ludicrous to me as I’m sure my belief that this clearly points to a creator does to them. That said, I often found myself in awe at God’s creation of both the brain and what happens while we sleep.
- Drew Hunter, Unfolding Grace: 40 Guided Readings through the Bible: 40 Guided Readings through the Bible
Ultimately, Hunter’s book is a collection of readings from the Bible. Starting with Genesis 1 and ending in Revelation 22, Hunter leads us through sections of scripture, opening each reading with a brief 3-4 paragraph introduction designed to help the reader see the overarching story of God’s grace in scripture. For anyone who may feel “in a rut” with Bible reading, this may be a welcome book to engage. I found Hunter’s selection and brief commentary refreshing and spiritually nourishing. I should note that there is an accompanying journal available for this book. I had a copy and recommend it as well.
- William Zinsser, On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
I enjoy writing. I want to do it well. While there was much in this book I can apply to my various outlets for writing, perhaps the direct impact of this book was the longing I now have to read books by great writers. Throughout Zinsser’s book he uses excerpts from other nonfiction writers to showcase the point he is conveying. As I read these pieces of precise and beautiful prose, it made me want to grab the book referenced and begin reading. I have little doubt that much of 2021’s reading list will be a result of Zinsser’s introductions.