2016 was a landmark year for my reading habits. I'd set myself a target of reading 25 books, but ended up finishing 39.
So for 2017 I thought I'd aim even higher and go for 50. Here they are, listed in order of how much I enjoyed them! I've linked each title to GoodReads - a great site for tracking your reading habits, setting targets and discovering new books.
TOP 10 FAVOURITES:
1. When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi
Remarkably moving and poignant. A very special biography I'd recommend to anyone.
2. On Tyranny - Timothy Snyder
These 128 pages have dramatically changed the way I think about the world. For one thing, I now know that the relative peace the world is enjoying should not be taken for granted. Required reading for anyone and everyone as far as I'm concerned - especially if you need to brush up on your 20th century history!
Fascinating, educational and enjoyable. What more do you want?
4. The Heavenly Man - Brother Yun
Finally read this modern day Christian classic. It didn't disappoint. The hype is well deserved!
5. Garden City - John Mark Comer
Really helpful thoughts on the importance of both work and rest. This book changed the way I think about and do Sabbath. You can hear my 1 hour Profile interview as a Podcast here, or read an edited written version here.
6. Night - Elie Wiesel
This book reveals the full horror of the Nazi regime and the concentration camps. It's a masterpiece and I'm heartened to learn its required reading in many schools.
7. Hillbilly Elegy - JD Vance
A super helpful book for understanding America's cultural moment. The claim it will help you understand Trump and Brexit is overblown, but it's easy to see why so many people have been raving about this biography. Well worth checking out.
8. Unashamed - Lecrae
Even if you've never come across this rapper, you'll love his autobiography. Really well written, engaging and interesting.
9. Unbelievable? Why after ten years of talking with atheists, I'm still a Christian - Justin Brierley
This is an excellent rational defense of Christianity. I highly recommend both this book and the Unbelievable? podcast.
10. Editor - Max Hastings
The ups and downs of editing the Daily Telegraph (1986-1995). Both a lesson in recent political history and an opportunity to learn more about my trade.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (11-26)
11. The Circle - Dave Eggars
A superb, thought-provoking novel. Do not let the terrible Netflix film version put you off!
12. What is the Bible? - Rob Bell
Classic Rob Bell. I love his style and approach. He always makes me think, even though I'd strongly disagree with aspects of this book (and some of his other work).
13. Porcelain: A Memoir - Moby
I read this at great pace in preparation for my interview with Moby (read it here). As a fan of the DJ and New York City (where the book is set) I really enjoyed it. It's a little repetitive, but brutally honest and intriguing in equal measure.
14. Bird by Bird - Anne Lamot
This, together with Stephen King's On Writing is widely considered to be an exceptional book for writers to read. It was indeed excellent, but King's book is my favourite.
15. The Power - Naomi Alderman
One of the most popular and talked about novels of 2017. And rightly so! This is a really well written book which both entertains and provokes thoughts on gender, equality and society. But don't pass over this thinking its just for women or just for feminists.
16. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus - Nabeel Qureshi
One of the best autobiographies I've read. Nabeel was a convert from Islam to Christianity who sadly passed away this year.
Probably the most academic book I've dipped into this year. Thankfully it avoids all of the embarrassing excesses which are sadly prevalent in much of the CZ movement. If you're a theologian I'd love for you to read this and let me know what you think!
18. God Has A Name - John Mark Comer
A very readable study on the most quoted verses in the Bible, by the Bible. Comer's work will particularly resonate with those in their 20s and 30s.
19. Poets and Saints - Jamie George
I really enjoyed this book. It's a combination of church history, spiritual guidance and modern day travelogue. A bunch of American church leaders go traveling throughout Europe, following in the footsteps of poets (CS Lewis) and saints (St Therese) and having their lives changed by the process. Highly recommended.
20. A Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation - Nick Page
This year marks 500 years since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. This 'Horrible Histories' style book is funny, engaging, well researched and challenging. Both this and 'A Nearly Infallible History of Christianity' are highly recommended
21. Equipped - Chris Kilby
Helps Christians communicate God's love with others in a winsome yet powerful way. It's a fantastic resource full of great stories, I highly recommend it!
22. Taking off the Mask - Claire Musters
A call for more honesty in our churches. Recommended!
23. Missing Jewel - Les Moir
The definitive history of the modern worship movement from the 1960s to today. Must-read for anyone involved in church music.
24. Behind Closed Doors - B A Paris
A very good psychological thriller about a married couple whose perfect life is not all it seems... Excited for the forthcoming film version!
25. The Message of Romans - John Stott
Commentary on the book of Romans - and an excellent one at that!
26. The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami
I adored Murakami's non fiction work on running, so was eager to try out his fiction, which he's best known for. This is a collection of short stories from a man considered one of the world's greatest living writers. It's refreshing to read something so far removed from my own culture/worldview. The stories range from heartwarming to bizarre (mainly the latter).
27. The Attributes of God - AW Pink
Old school theology. It feeds the soul.
28. And then there were none - Agatha Christie
Gripping short(ish) story.
29. A Life in Questions - Jeremy Paxman
This book (rightly) received mixed reviews. I enjoyed it because I have a personal interest in journalism. But unless you're a huge fan of Paxman or work in the media it may not be worth the time.
30. Kill the Father - Sandrone Dazieri
The longest novel I've read this year. Translated from Italian and promoted as the next big thing. I don't think it's a gamechanger for the publishing world! But it was good.
31. Ayoade on Ayoade - Richard Ayoade
I went through a period of some weeks this summer where I became weirdly obsessed with Richard Ayoade. His performance in The IT Crowd and this outstanding interview combined to create a persona I found super-interesting. This book is best enjoyed by film buffs. A lot of it went over my head, but I still really enjoyed the comedy and silliness on full display!
32. I can't believe you just said that - Danny Wallace
This was the perfect combination of a superb writer and an interesting subject (rudeness). More entertaining than useful.
33. NYPD Red - James Patterson
A real pageturner of a novel.
34. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People - Toby Young
A fascinating and funny look into the culture of glossy magazines in New York in the 90s.
35. Try Not To Breathe - Holly Seddon
36. The Elephant in the Room - Jon Ronson
Effectively a long article in eBook format about Trump - delivered by one of my favourite journalists. Very good, but not really a book.
37. Art and the Bible - Francis Schaeffer
Thankfully many of the ideas in this book are now widely accepted in the Western Church. So this is perhaps less relevant today than when it was written in the 70s.
38. The Good Immigrant - Various
Each chapter is by a different person on 'the immigrant experience' of living in the UK. Unfortunately the vast majority of the book is very negative. So while the book does a good job of highlighting the challenges facing those who move to the UK, I've seen other reviewers argue the overall tone is too depressing and not representative of the reality.
39. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality - Peter Scazzero
Agreed with the book's argument, but didn't feel there was anything that new here...
40. The Whistler - John Grisham
Not his best work, but still good.
41. Impossible is a Dare - Ben Cooley
Inspiring, short and easy to read book about one man's fight against modern day slavery.
42. Love So Amazing - Martin Lloyd Jones
Originally sermons, now chapters of a book. A little repetitive but great truths are worth being reminded of.
43. Playing to the Gallery - Grayson Perry
A fully paid up member of the art establishment attacks the pomposity of his fellow artists...great fun!
44. New Testament Prayer for Everyone - Tom Wright
Short, easy to read devotional.
45. Finding God in the Waves - Mike McHargue
I really like Mike and had the pleasure of interviewing him this year. I love the first half of this book (his story of losing and then finding faith, thanks to science!) but strongly disagreed with large portions of the second half of the book. Nevertheless, he's a fascinating person who I've learned a lot from.
NOT SO GOOD (46-51)
46. The Bricks that Built the Houses - Kate Tempest
Vivid depiction of living in London without much purpose or opportunity. But this novel didn't particularly grab me.
47. The Spy who came in from the cold - John Le Carre
This was hard work. It wasn't always easy to follow, but given how its considered a modern classic, the problem is more likely the reader than the book!
48. On Living - Kerry Egan
This is in many ways a beautiful book. A chaplain with many years experience ministering to the dying shares stories of what she's learned. Unfortunately I found some of the author's theological leanings grated on me - to the point I struggle to recommend this title.
49. Am I Alone here? - Peter Orner
Despite the short chapters, I found this book quite dense and difficult to get into.
50. Grief is the Thing with Feathers - Max Porter
It got rave reviews, but I must be missing something as I found this confusing and strange.
51. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
It won multiple awards and Robinson is a hugely respected author. And yet...I hated this book. I found it boring and lifeless. Nothing really happens - there's almost no plot. If it weren't for the challenge of completing 50 books in a year, I would have abandoned this halfway through. Sorry...
How did you read 50?
A few people have asked me this, but honestly - it's not as hard as it may sound.
I spend an average of 40 minutes on a train every working day. I'm also entitled to a one hour lunch break. That's a lot of time where I could be either scrolling Facebook or reading a book...
I didn't read on every commute or every lunch break, and I occasionally read late at night. Having a week-long holiday where I did nothing but lie by a pool and read books certainly helped. But I didn't need to dramatically alter my life to get through 50 books, and my hope is you won't need to either. Simply redeem the time you already have.
I'm also aware 50 books in a year isn't anything special. After all, Thomas Creedy managed to get through 98...
Creating a culture of reading
If I were writing this blog 10 years ago I might have blamed television for being the primary reason why few of us read as much as we should. These days I think social media is the issue.
I guarantee you won't look back on 2018 wishing you spent more time scrolling through Twitter or uploading photos to Instagram. But you may regret "not having the time" to read. The truth is most of us do have time to read 30+ books in a year. We just use our time in other ways.
A note on diversity
Some might criticise the above list for being too white or too male. And they may have a point. I've done my best to read widely but haven't gone as far as I would have liked to.
This may be controversial but I think it's important to measure diversity in our reading by subject matter / genre / age of the book as much as we focus on the age, skin colour or gender of the author.
Targets for next year
All of the above books were brand new to me - I hadn't read them before.
So in 2018 I'd like to mix it up and do some re-reading. I intend to dip into some old classics, including The Lord of the Rings which I haven't looked at since I was a teenager.
2018 is shaping up to be busy (I need to train for the Richmond Marathon!) so I'll only be aiming for 40 books. I also need to spend more time reading magazines as that's equally helpful to my day job as reading books will be...
I'd love to know what you've been reading recently which you'd recommend (let me know in the comments).
Happy New Year all!