2015 Reading Round-Up

This year I embarked on my biggest ever reading goal: 160 books.
I made it (as of December 30th) to 173. image1

My major thematic goals for this year included reading some classics I somehow made it through a Georgia public school education without reading (The Color Purple, Catch-22, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, One Hundred Years of Solitude), some theology classics I somehow made it through a world-class seminary without reading (Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline, Cone’s God of the Oppressed, Gutierrez’s Theology of Liberation), and some new genres (fantasy, high fantasy, and-oddly- Scandinavian murder mysteries).

I also tried to invest in books by authors of color (Angelou, Cone, Bhutto, Marquez, Gutierrez, Morrison, Walker, Shire, Ishiguro) and books dealing with racially-charged issues (Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart, Ward’s Men We Reaped, Alexander’s The New Jim Crow), as well as books about feminism or with a feminist bent (Truly Our Sister, Men Explain Things to Me, Why Not Me?, Lean In, Sisters in Law) and innumerable books by female authors (among others, let me life up for you Benazir Bhutto, Marilynne Robinson, Tana French, Robert Galbraith, Emily St. John Mandel, Rachel Held Evans, Lily King, Pema Chodron, and Liane Moriarty).

Despite these efforts to branch out, I still spent the bulk of my reading in familiar genres: fiction (90+), memoirs/biographies (25+), and theology (25+). I was proud to find that interspersed here and there were 8 books of poetry, 5 books that could be broadly categorized as sociology or psychology, and 3 books that were straight up history.

So, why am I writing all this down? Partly for myself, because I like to do a book round-up at the end of each year. But also partly for anyone who, like me, makes relatively outlandish reading goals every new year and/or anyone who is always looking for new books to add to their own reading list(s).

So, without further ado, here are my winners for my favorite books I read this year, broken down by category. I highly recommend any and all of these books to any and all people, except that very last category, which I filled with books so bad I nearly couldn’t finish them. Enjoy!

Best Fiction: Ernest Cline, Ready Player One
(honorable mention: Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven)
Best Memoir: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
(honorable mention: Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking)
Best Non-Fiction: Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me
(honorable mention: Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow)
Best YA: Laura Ruby, Bone Gap
(honorable mention: Becky Albertalli, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)
Best Poetry: Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth
(honorable mention: Daniel Ladinsky, Love Poems From God)
Best Theology: Robin Meyers, Spiritual Defiance 
(honorable mention: James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree)
Best Series: Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn trilogy
(honorable mention: Pierce Brown, Red Rising trilogy)
Best Other/Non-Categorize-able: Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy
(honorable mention: Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic)
Biggest Pleasant Surprise: Anna North, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark
(honorable mention: Hugh Howey, Wool)
Book that Won’t Leave Me Alone: Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking
(honorable mention: Lily King, Euphoria)
Best Newly Discovered Authors:
Kazuo Ishiguro
Brandon Sanderson
Tana French
Ernest Cline
And finally……….

Biggest Let-Downs (Don’t Believe the Hype! I Could Barely Finish These!)
Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places
Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance
Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Mary Kubica, Pretty Baby
Mary Kubica, The Good Girl


So, there you have it. For more books I read this year, including reviews and ratings, see my Goodreads page here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2015 (and friend me!).


Some ways that I (and you!) might consider investing in new and diverse authors next year are….

  • More LGBT authors and books on LGBT history, issues, etc.
  • Ethnographies (anthropological and sociological studies into specific cultures, tribes, and peoples)
  • Memoirs by people of other religions, nationalities, races, and socio-economics than you
  • Books of different media, such as graphic novels and books of photography
  • Books from a genre you’ve never before been interested in (ever since failing to fall in love with JRR Tolkien as a child, I’ve given fantasy a wide berth. But thanks to some cajoling from wise and funny friends, I gave it another try this year, and could not be more pleased!)


Happy reading, friends!

A couple random, non-cohesive thoughts on books, Jesus, Nazis, and emergent worship


I continue in my diabolical effort to catch up on what feels like an entire mountain range of books– those that I was assigned in seminary but only skimmed, or skipped entirely; those that came out or were recommended to me while in seminary which I purchased or noted on my Amazon wishlist for later; and those which have come out or been recommended to me in the past year of trying [only sporadicly successfully] to be a fully functioning adult. It adds up to … well, let’s just say I can’t even bring myself to put them all up on my goodreads “to-read” shelf because you’ll judge me and/or think I’m insane.

Anyhow, I’m actively working on about 10 books right now. Anne Lamott said in an interview once,

“Reading various books at once is sort of like doing an enjoyable Stations of the Cross.”

This struck me as stupidly brilliant and also indelibly true. You put one down and pick another up, entering a different stage, a different scene, in an ostensibly different journey, and after a while of reading all of them together you realize it’s all one big journey, after all… we’re all on our way, together, to Golgatha. To Resurrection. To Christ.

Hmm… what was this post supposed to be about?

Jesus and quarters and collars and priorities

Yesterday I was sitting in a line of cars waiting to be released from a hospital parking garage by an attendant who had her mind firmly set on getting her $3 from each and every person coming through that line. From far ahead, I heard her: “No credit cards. Cash or check only.” As a person with no checks (they’re in the mail, okay?) and no cash (there were some quarters in my cupholder, if push came to shove, but that was it), I was nervous.

Then this thought occurred to me: I’m wearing my clerical collar. She’ll for sure let me off. I was visiting congregants. Win for the clerical collar!

And then that sneaky Jesus sneaked in and sneakily said the sad, sneaking truth: If ever I’m in a position where I am tempted to use my clerical collar to earn me something– a free pass, respect, attention– then that is the time to instantly, without passing go or collecting so much as two quarters from my cupholders, take the collar off.

Conversely, whenever I’m tempted to take my collar off in order to earn me something– protection from mockery or questions, cool factor around friends, gratification of my laziness– then that is the time to instantly put the collar on.

It seems to me that this is the meaning behind the “go into your closet and pray” but also “if you’re embarrassed of Me then I’ma be embarrassed of you” dichotomy I’ve always noticed in the teachings of Jesus. I think if you’re tempted to pray in public (or whatever that metaphorically relates to in your life) to make a big deal out of it, get thyself into a closet. But if you’re tempted to pray in your closet because you’re embarrassed of your faith or otherwise don’t want to be seen engaging with Christ, then get thyself out into the street on your knees. It’s not a one-size-fits-all commandment regarding closets. It’s a one-truth-fits-all commandment about intentions and priorities.

Anyway. Yeah, so that was one thing I wanted to say.

and finally, nazis

Speaking of catch-up books and the “one size fits all” theory (look, I’m making connections a little bit), I’m reading a book on Naziism that was assigned to me in not one but two classes I took, one on Barth and the other on Bonhoeffer. Did I read it in either? Nope. Though I read the introduction at some point, because I underlined something. #modelstudent #IgotanAinboththoseclassesthough #mystery

The book seeks to explain how on earth an entire country could get caught up so utterly (and so rapidly) in the rampant, raging, horrific racism and violence of a party which, less than 5 years before Hitler’s rise, comprised only 6% of the voting public.

There is a quote that strikes me: an intellectual Nazi Party member, Carl Schmitt, spoke early in the Nazi rule of “what Nazi society would look like” when it came to fruition. Here’s the author’s succinct analysis of Schmitt’s vision:

“[Nazi society’s] two constituent qualities were ‘homogeneity’ and ‘authenticity.'”

The reason this struck me is that “authenticity” is a big word for emergent worship. Our service, The Hub, claims an unbelievably clever (friendly sarcasm) acronym within our own name, where the H in “hub” stands for “Honest.” Honesty, authenticity, self-knowledge and self-expression within the presence and the grace of a God who created you unique and expressive– these are central tenets to the emergence, millennial style of church. 

So Schmitt and the rest of the Nazis got it utterly and completely wrong. (This is not news to you, I hope.)

Homogeneity and authenticity are mutually exclusive concepts. Homogeneity is where authenticity goes to die. One cannot be authentic to one’s individual and unique self if one is forced into a box with everyone else.  One size fits all is a cultural illusion, whether in the ethnicity of a nation or in our worship styles or the ways we seek and find God.  Though our essence– having been made in the imago Dei– is identical, and our calling– to resemble as perfectly as possible Jesus Christ– is identical, nevertheless in all of our particulars and aesthetics and likes and dislikes and personality types this statement must be true: We were not created by factory molds. Homogeneity is nowhere in the creation plan as we have received it.
At the Hub, we seek a community wherein your truest self is welcome– even if that truest self is weird, or a bad singer, or mentally ill, or terribly broken. We seek a worship space wherein you can lift your hands if you want or you can sit quietly and journal; you can sing or you can pray; you can participate or you can let us participate for you. Whatever you need, whatever is authentic to you– because we know you’re not like us, and that’s why we love you.

so, in conclusion:

Screw the Nazis.