Top 10 Books of 2019 (and all the others)

As a professor, it probably comes as no surprise that I enjoy reading. It kind of comes with the territory. Then again, maybe some who read this post will be surprised at the somewhat random nature of the things I do read once you have a look below. There is a reason for that.

In my college and graduate years, I rarely read for pleasure. I simply didn’t think I had the time, so I focused on going deep with my assigned reading. There was nothing inherently wrong with that and, to be sure, I learned a lot with that approach. But I also missed out on a lot, since it is absolutely not the case that I (or you) don’t have the time for pleasure reading. Thankfully, I realized that early on in my doctoral years. That’s when I rediscovered my love of reading broadly — and as my whims led (as Alan Jacobs commends), which is what I make a practice of doing now. I find non-work-related reading particularly life giving, although admittedly there are some fuzzy boundaries with some books.

How do I get through so many books? Well, I don’t actually think this list is that many, so there’s that. I also don’t consider myself a particularly fast reader (nor is that the goal with joy-reading). Like everyone, I’m a busy individual. Yet pleasure reading can fit virtually anywhere. Here are two major ways I have discovered to fit reading into time I didn’t know I had:

  • Audiobooks: Some people feel hesitant to say they’ve “read” a book when in fact they listened to it. But I reject that entirely. Why? Because for much of western history — even up through the early 18th century — the act of reading was usually the same as the act of listening, since reading was generally an audible and public act (see here for a useful and brief survey). So if you listen to an audiobook, claim it! You have read it. Generally, I listen to audiobooks when I’m exercising, commuting to campus, or doing housework.
  • Kindle: Now, I don’t read everything on Kindle and I am — in general — firmly against digital library building. However, just as there are many books I would never buy and read on a Kindle, so also are there many books that I would never buy and read in physical print. Well, maybe not “never,” but not likely. That is where my Kindle has opened up new horizons of reading for me. In the five years since I’ve owned my Kindle, I’ve read countless books in the ten to fifteen minute period right before I go to sleep — books I probably never would have read otherwise.*

This reading list thing isn’t really a post I wanted to do, but here I am doing it anyway. In part, it’s a way to share with others what I have enjoyed — I know I’m always grateful for others’ book lists in my unending search for decent reading ideas. It’s also to set a benchmark for myself in the coming year that I will hopefully beat. I do actually have a dark corner of this blog where I list what I’ve been reading for recreation. You can see the list of my 2018 books there and you may notice that I didn’t quite get as much reading done this year as I did last year. That might have been due to a few minor things like starting a new job, writing a few thousand pages of lecture notes, completing the ordination process, and having a fourth child. But it could also be because I’m getting lazy. (I’ll let you be the judge.)

With that, here are my lists:

My Top Ten Favorites

Note that these books are not necessarily books that were published in 2019 (though some are), but merely books that I personally read in 2019. These were my favorite of the bunch, listed in no particular order:

  1. Louis Glinert, The Story of Hebrew
  2. Gregg Hurwitz, The Nowhere Man (Orphan X #2)
  3. Michael Crichton, Dragon Teeth
  4. Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles #1)
  5. Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn
  6. Douglas Brinkley, American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race
  7. Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza
  8. Mark Gignilliat, A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism
  9. John A. L. Lee, The Greek of the Pentateuch: Grinfield Lectures on the Septuagint 2011-2012
  10. Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World

All the Others (in no particular order)

And here is the rest of the lot. Some of them were real duds, in my opinion. Others were close contenders for the top ten list:

  1. Gregg Hurwitz, Hellbent (Orphan X #3
  2. Gregg Hurwitz, The Intern (Orphan X #3.5)
  3. Gregg Hurwitz, Out of the Dark (Orphan X #4)
  4. Jeffrey S. McDonald, John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America
  5. Anthony Esolen, Defending Boyhood: How Building Forts, Reading Stories, Playing Ball, and Praying to God Can Change the World
  6. Greg Lanier, How We Got the Bible
  7. Jesús Pelaez and Juan Mateos, New Testament Lexicography: Introduction, Theory, Method
  8. Raymond B. Dillard, Faith in the Face of Apostasy: The Gospel According to Elijah and Elisha
  9. C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia #6)
  10. C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia #7)
  11. C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy #1)
  12. C. S. Lewis, Perelandra (Space Trilogy #2)
  13. C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (Space Trilogy #3)
  14. Alec Motyer, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament
  15. Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism:  Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
  16. Ellis R. Brotzman and Eric. J. Tully, Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction
  17. Matt Perman, What’s Best Next
  18. David W. Daniels, Did Jesus Use the Septuagint?
  19. Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age
  20. Peter J. Gentry, How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets
  21. Aaron Chalmers, Interpreting the Prophets: Reading, Understanding, and Preaching from the World of the Prophets
  22. Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear (Kingkiller Chronicles #2)
  23. Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things (Kingkiller Chronicles #2.5)
  24. George R. Stewart, Earth Abides
  25. Stephen King, The Stand
  26. Rick Brannan, ed., The Acts of Pilate and the Descent of Christ into Hades
  27. O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets
  28. J. V. Fesko, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith
  29. Marty E. Stevens, Leadership Roles of the Old Testament: King, Prophet, Priest, and Sage
  30. Tremper Longman III, Confronting Old Testament Controversies: Pressing Questions about Evolution, Sexuality, History, and Violence

How are you going to read more books in 2020?


* As a side note, for those who are married, I have found the dim, but very readable backlighting of the Kindle to be ideal for reading in bed without disturbing my wife. Moreover, Kindle has a very low (zero?) level of blue light, which has actually been shown to cue your body to wake up, so it is very well suited to nighttime reading. For anxious hearts and minds, ten or fifteen minutes of joy reading can really help disconnect and wind down.

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