Lately it seems I keep starting three books at the same time: one audiobook, one digital book that Siri reads to me and one book I have to read the ol’ fashioned way with my eyes! My wife can plow through a book in a day but I tend to read very slowly. If anything my generation has been taught to learn by being quiet and listening, so audio is right up my alley of learning. You can always follow what I’m reading on Goodreads, but here were the top 10 books I read this year.
1. The Unseen Realm by Michael S. Heiser
To say this book is life-changing is an understatement. I knew a fourth of the way through that it would be in my top 3 books of all time. Heiser spent fifteen years researching the supernatural world of the Bible and it shows. Bible scholars often dismiss the supernatural or don’t really get into it, but Heiser dove down as far as he could. This book is quite comprehensive though, so you may want to check out his companion book, Supernatural, if it feels too much. Read here.
2. The Facade by Michael S. Heiser
Whenever an author changes your life, you read everything else they’ve ever written. I really don’t read a lot of fiction because I get lost when there’s too much description. I have rarely ever had the experience of being unable to put down a book because I had to know what was going to happen next. But then I read this book. I couldn’t believe how well Heiser could write fast-paced, enticing fiction. All the chapters were super short but all of them seemed to have cliff-hangers. It’s intense fiction based on real evidence so you feel like you’re learning something at the same time. Read here.
3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
It’s odd to me that the most prophetic thing I’ve ever seen on TV is Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. He says the hard things no one wants to hear and doesn’t hold back. He fights for justice and calls out injustice wherever he sees it. Then I read his book and came to understand how he naturally grew up to care about such things. It’s a wonderful and funny read (though not always appropriate). Read here.
4. Single Gay Christian by Gregory Coles
I waited a long time for someone to write this book. This is a heart-wrenching, honest account of a Christian who is gay but has decided to remain single. Already I can feel all kinds of comments coming from all sides of the table on that statement. I’d suggest you read it all the way through before you say anything. Read here.
5. Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns
I guess this book was a big deal when it came out and eventually caused Peter Enns to make arrangements to leave his job. I don’t understand why. I don’t recall anything in this book being speculative—it was all research to help us see the Bible for what it is so that we might read it and understand it in a fuller light. His statements on the Bible are even pretty conservative for a Bible scholar who is willing to dissect the Bible to the length in which he does. It’s a bit more comprehensive, but an important read for pastors. Read here.
6. The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by James Martin
James Martin felt called to live a life that many wouldn’t dream of as there’s plenty of restrictions in the Jesuit community to make sure that you’re not living too worldly. Martin unpacks the way of life of the Jesuits and it’s quite a beautiful picture. One of the biggest parts that stood out to me was his chapter on living a life of poverty. Well worth a read. Read here.
7. Jesus the Ex-Con by Scott Smith
When an author from Texas reached out to me to narrate his book about his time spent in Michigan’s Jackson State Prison, I couldn’t say no. After all, I live in Jackson and have driven by the prison often. When I informed him of that, he was surprised by the coincidence. I don’t bring this book up because I narrated the audiobook (there are others I did that I don’t mention here), but because it’s really good and really honest. Scott Smith recounts his sex addiction among other things that eventually led him to a life sentence. It was there in prison that he met Jesus and found himself getting out in a few short years. Read here.
8. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
This is a giant book that gets into all the fine details of Bonhoeffer’s life, a Christian leader trying to navigate theology and life in the light of the oppression of Hitler. It will submerge you into a world that will force you to wonder what you would have done and therefore is quite valuable. And honestly, I felt quite a few parallels to today’s church and government while I was reading it, so it was important for that reason too. Read here.
9. Significant Zero by Walt Williams
This book is a really well written memoir of a man entering into working in the video gaming world. It can be crass, but altogether it’s quite interesting, especially if you love video games. It becomes quite important towards the end when Williams begins to talk about what people want in video games. There are some important conversations there about how dark video games are getting and some disturbing thoughts at that point, which is something we should be aware of as gamers. Read here.
10. Legends of Localization: Earthbound by Clyde Mandelin
There are still several books I want to talk about, but I can’t help but write about a book based on Earthbound, my favorite video game of all time. Since this RPG is full of text, Mandelin spends 400 pages dissecting some of the more interesting translations made in the game from it’s original Japanese to English. That may sound really boring, but it’s actually quite intriguing and important to my job. You begin to realize that you can’t just simply translate word for word between languages because it just doesn’t mean the same thing. Idioms and expressions need to be completely done away with or exchanged with other idioms and expressions. Or a new joke has to be put in place that honors the original comment in Japanese but is a completely different joke in English. The translators of Earthbound did a lot of really interesting translations to honor the original game and give us the quirky text we have in English. This book kept me wondering about all the work Bible translators have to do and how important it is for me as a pastor to make sure the things I’m saying are relatable at the diverse urban church I attend. Read here.