My 2021 Reading

It’s that time of year when I post a list of my reading from the previous calendar year along with some commentary. I’ve been doing this for several years now and chronicling it on a reading page here. You can get some sense for how and why I read for pleasure on that page. The short version is I read for pleasure in every spare minute I can find simply because I like to. 

This past year I read a total of sixty-six books for non-work purposes. That’s more than the year before, but still short of my goal. That’s okay because it’s not really about numbers. You will see in the list below that a lot of the books seem like they must be work related. That is because the stuff I read for pleasure often overlaps with stuff I read for work. But there is a separate list of books, articles, and so on that I read or otherwise used for my research and writing — those are not included here.

Like last year, I have put my books into categories, all of which could be debated. Some don’t really fit any category that I have. I don’t particularly want to comment on every book, but here is my annual list of ad hoc faux awards for this year’s reading:

  • Overall Favorite: Turner’s book Philology really blew my socks off. Aside from being a fantastic writer, Turner has digested a huge swath of history and wide array of topics into a compelling, engaging, and often humorous book. Long and absolutely worth it.
  • Best Biblical Studies — Staples’s The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism really is a model of scholarship. The book is well conceived and well researched, with a compelling thesis that actually arises from detailed and extensive analysis of primary texts. How refreshing!
  • Unexpectedly Fascinating — I picked up Irwin’s For Lust of Knowing, which discusses the phenomenon of 19th/20th century Orientalism, not knowing how fascinating the topic would be. This was literally a beach read for me and somehow it worked. 
  • Best Kids’ Book: We have a two-way tie here. First of all, I had never read Tolkien’s Roverandom until I read it aloud to my boys last year. All four of us spent most of the time laughing hysterically. You should read this. Second, I also read them Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, which is just as magnificent as I remember it being from my childhood. 
  • Best Fiction: Hands down the best fiction read from last year was Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary. I love sci-fi and this one checked all the boxes, including a genuinely redemptive story arc. Highly recommended.
  • Most Disturbing: Although I do like books by Stephen King, the three (fiction works) I read by him this year weren’t disturbing in this sense. This award goes instead to Steinweis’s (sadly non-fiction) Studying the Jew, a history of Nazi ‘scholarship’ in Germany. Sobering.
  • Most Overrated — I know that making even the mildest comment about this book is enough to get you in serious trouble with the Very Important People on Twitter, but Barr’sThe Making of Biblical Womanhood was far and away the most overrated book of my reading year. To give only one of my thoughts, this book was unfortunately a tremendous missed opportunity. As you can see below, this one went into the ‘Politics’ category. I hear they’re making this into a Netflix documentary this year. Just kidding. Maybe.
  • Most Debatable — Probably the book that I read that is most debatable in terms of counting towards the year’s total is my own book, co-authored with Greg Lanier, The Septuagint. Oh well. Reading proofs is still reading.

Enough with the commentary. Here’s the list.

Biblical Studies

  1. The Translation of the Seventy: History, Reception, and Contemporary Use of the Septuagint, Edmon L. Gallagher
  2. The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties, Shaye J.D. Cohen
  3. The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?, James R.  White
  4. The Fundamentals of Hebrew Accents: Divisions and Exegetical Roles Beyond Syntax, Sung Jin Park
  5. The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity, Jason A. Staples
  6. An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, the Maccabees, Hillel, and Jesus, Lester L. Grabbe
  7. The Septuagint: What It Is and Why It Matters, Gregory R. Lanier and William A. Ross
  8. The Path of Faith: A Biblical Theology of Covenant and Law, Brandon D. Crowe
  9. An Introduction to Syriac Studies, Sebastian P. Brock

Linguistics & Philology

  1. Language, Mind and Body: A Conceptual History, John E. Joseph
  2. A Short History of Linguistics, H. Robins
  3. Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, James Turner
  4. Postclassical Greek: Contemporary Approaches Into Philology and Linguistics, Dariya Rafiyenko


  1. The Whistler, (The Whistler, #1) John Grisham
  2. Sycamore Row (Jake Brigance #2), John Grisham
  3. A Time for Mercy (Jake Brigance #3), John Grisham
  4. The Institute, Stephen King
  5. Billy Summers, Stephen King
  6. Cell, Stephen King
  7. The Book of Koli, (Rampart Trilogy #1) R. Carey
  8. The Trials of Koli, (Rampart Trilogy #2) R. Carey
  9. The Fall of Koli, (Rampart Trilogy #3), R. Carey
  10. Farmer Giles of Ham, J. R. R. Tolkien
  11. Smith of Wootton Major, J. R. R. Tolkien
  12. Roverandom, J. R. R. Tolkien
  13. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book, J. R. R. Tolkien
  14. Don’t Look Back, Gregg Andrew Hurwitz
  15. You’re Next, Gregg Andrew Hurwitz
  16. Prodigal Son, (Orphan X #6) Gregg Andrew Hurwitz
  17. Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer
  18. Authority, Jeff VanderMeer
  19. The Reincarnationist Papers, Eric Maikranz
  20. Damascus Station, David McCloskey
  21. Children of Time, (Children of Time, #1) Adrian Tchaikovsky
  22. Exit Kingdom, (Reapers, #2) Alden Bell
  23. All the Pretty Horses, (The Border Trilogy #1) Cormac McCarthy
  24. Dawnshard, (The Stormlight Archive #3.5) Brandon Sanderson
  25. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  26. Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir
  27. A River Runs Through it and Other Stories, Norman Maclean
  28. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr


  1. Languages of Paradise, Maurice Olender
  2. German Orientalism in the Age of Empire: Religion, Race, and Scholarship, Suzanne L. Marchand
  3. Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth, Jodi Magness
  4. The Lost Book of Moses: The Quest for the World’s Oldest Bible–and the Man Who Wrote It, Chanan Tigay
  5. For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies, Robert Irwin
  6. A Little History of the World, H. Gombrich
  7. The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time, Keith Houston
  8. A Little History of Economics, Niall Kishtainy
  9. Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, Tamim Ansary
  10. The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny, Ian Davidson
  11. Studying the Jew: Scholarly Antisemitism in Nazi Germany, Alan E. Steinweis
  12. Wittgenstein’s Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers, David Edmonds


  1. The Narnian, Alan Jacobs
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, Humphrey Carpenter
  3. Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, Ellen Vaughn

Politics/Contemporary Issues

  1. People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, Dara Horn
  2. The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler-Colonial Conquest and Resistance, 1917-2017, Rashid Khalidi
  3. The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, Garrett M. Graff
  4. The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, Beth Allison Barr
  5. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution, Carl R. Trueman


  1. The Complete Poems, Philip Larkin
  2. Getting It Published, Third Edition: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books, William P. Germano
  3. Healing After Narcissistic Abuse, Wendy Payson
  4. Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse–And Freeing Yourself from Its Power, Wade Mullen
  5. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Kathryn Schulz