Books I Read in 2013

It seems that every time it comes around to write out these year-end book posts, it always gets a little crazier, and I’m always left feeling like I should have spent less time reading and more time being a productive member of society. But I didn’t. And reading is fun.

I set out to read 90 books in 2013, which is admittedly insane. I completed 2/3 of my goal — 60 books!

Presented below is a list of all of the books I read in 2013.  As I finished each book, I added them in. So this is, more or less, chronological throughout the year. Following that is some highlights and favorites. And I finish with some trivial statistics and self-indulgent nerdery. Here we go!                          book cover of Ways of Going Home byAlejandro Zambra                                                                    

Now for the superlatives…

Favorite Fiction Book

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is an incredible book in all of the ways that every review says it is. Read it with all of the awe and incredulity that’s meant to accompany its reading. Stay up late to finish it. Then later this year, go and see it in the movie theater. But whatever you do: READ. THE. BOOK. FIRST.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is another wonderful book. It’s a story that you can get lost in as it follows a boy from his childhood through adulthood in a bizarre North Korean setting. You yearn with the character as he strives to survive and thrive in the midst of a brutal totalitarian regime. Here’s an interview with Johnson (who won a Pulitzer for this book) from the SF Weekly. Check it out here.

The Circle by Dave Eggers was one of the more recent books I read and got completely lost in. If _Brave New World_ would have been written when Twitter existed, this is what Huxley would have had in mind. Very engaging story that made me question and scrutinize the way I use social media and interact with everyone for a long while after I finished.

Favorite Non-Fiction Book

Anything by Brené Brown! If you’ve seen some of my posts on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know that Brené was my big literary/intellectual/social work crush of 2013. It sounds weird, but I stand by it. If you’ve never read any of her books, she recommends reading The Gifts of Imperfection first, Daring Greatly second, and finish up with I Thought It Was Just Me. Highly recommend all of her stuff. Seriously. Read it. Now.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber is a must read for anyone who’s worried they screw up too much to be a Christian. It’s a seriously good book that deserves all of the credit it has received. The way Nadia weaves through stories — both from the Bible and from her own life — is flawless. Can’t recommend this book enough.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey is an excellent companion to Nadia’s book. Sarah is an incredibly poetic writer and beautifully explores her own experience as a follower of Jesus with the male-centric messages that are often implicit in popular (read: evangelical) Christianity. She finds that it’s actually Jesus who calls her to be a Feminist. She also writes about feminism in a loving, kind, and compassionate way as well. Again… Just read it. It’s awesome. I promise.


Total Pages Read (compiled by using Amazon’s pages numbers for each book): 16,267

Total Pages Read (adjusted for accuracy — subtracted 10% to count for indices, footnotes, and other numbered, but not read pages.): 14,640

Pages Read Per Day: 40.1

Average Number of Days It Took to Read One Completed Book: 6.1

What were some of your favorite books from 2013? What are some that you’re looking forward to in 2014?

Here’s to another great year of reading in 2014!


Death & Resurrection: A Review of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s ‘Pastrix’

I won’t lie, the only words that ran through my head when I put this book down after finishing it were, “Holy shit.”

Which is actually quite apropos for Nadia and for the incredible narrative journey that is her newest book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint.

This book is at times both funny and heartbreaking, irreverent and beautifully sacred. It has to be one of the best books to combine narrative and theology that I’ve ever read. If there’s a better one, I can’t think of it. She brilliantly weaves her story of growing up in a Fundamentalist church, to substance abuse, to meeting her husband [whom she lovingly describes as a Lutheran unicorn], and ultimately to her calling as a pastor in one of the more diverse Lutheran communities in the country (not that that’s very difficult.)

All the while, she reminds us of the stories of the Bible that so wonderfully fit alongside the stories of our messes and shortcomings. I want to buy a copy for friends of mine who have been disenfranchised by the church and have given up faith altogether.

She has a way of writing that strips faith of its pretension and speaks to the heart of the gospel story. She writes,

“…the Christian faith, while wildly misrepresented in so much of American culture, is really about death and resurrection. It’s about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small. This faith helped me get sober, and it helped me (is helping me) forgive the fundamentalism of my Church of Christ upbringing, and it helps me to not always have to be right.”

The thing that speaks most from this book, however, is that while Nadia could have relied on her life stories and experiences, she’s constantly getting out of her own way to let the stories of grace, mercy, and radical inclusivity do the talking. It’s an incredible thing for a writer, particularly a pastor-writer at that, to do.

I can’t help but read Pastrix from my perspective as a Lutheran pastor. That being said, it speaks words of incredible grace and acceptance to leaders in the church as well. I always feel like I need to read another book, or attend another webinar or conference to keep growing my skill set. But one of the things that was so refreshing about Pastrix was Nadia’s invitation to let go of that need to control everything, and instead be open  to where God is moving in the community — to be open enough to have people pray for you when you’re pissed off and tired and the Rally Day extravaganza you had planned fell on its face.

That’s going to be one of the things that sticks with me the most. Ease off the control. Keep yourself open to God and people, to the death and resurrection that comes everyday.

Pastrix did for the 27-year-old me what Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies did for the 17-year-old me.

When it comes down to it, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s the best I’ve read in a long time. If it has even close to the same effect on you as it had on me, it will help nourish your faith, restore your hope in the church, and give you encouragement for the journey we all walk with God and with our neighbor. It will remind you in the most refreshing way that you don’t have to be naïve or cynical in order to be a follower of Jesus. Ultimately, it will push and pull at your heart to gather under the umbrella of God’s grace.

I do have one disclaimer on the book. If you’re easily offended by profanity, then I might skip this one. It’ll distract from your reading.

If you have never heard of Nadia and are contemplating checking out Pastrix, this is a good introduction to her. It’s from last summer’s National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. Enjoy!



Books I Read in 2012

I set out at the beginning of 2012 with a challenge: Read 5 books per month or at least 60 throughout the whole year. I wanted to read all kinds of different books that spanned through different genres and time periods.

I wound up reading 82 books. Everything from finishing up the Harry Potter series, to leadership, theology, and politics. Here’s a list photo representation of my “Finished” bookshelf after this year.


Favorite Fiction Book of 2012

I really enjoyed Hologram for a King by Dave Eggers and The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Both were fully engrossing to me. I would highly recommend them if you’re in the mood to get lost in a book for an afternoon.

For people looking for something on the funnier/slightly off-kilter side of life, Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander is a must-read as well.

Favorite Non-Fiction Book of 2012

I thought the David Foster Wallace biography Every Love Story is a Ghost Story by D.T. Max was pretty incredible. It’s a very thorough and intimate portrait of DFW in a way that you always can see lurking behind his writing, but has never quite been brought to light. I have a new appreciation for him after reading this. And a renewed sadness that he’s gone.

What were your favorite books of 2012? I’d love to add them to my list for the coming year! My goal for 2013 is to read 90 books. We’ll see how it goes.

Happy reading!


The Answer is Always Books

Sarah Bessey has a synchroblog going on right now called What’s Saving Your Life Right Now?.

In short… It’s this.

The books that made me excited to be a pastor + 3 weeks of vacation in the Midwest

That’s what’s saving my life right now.

What’s saving yours?


[Click the link above to go to Sarah’s blog and read from all kinds of other people about what is saving their life.]

4 Sentence Book Review & New Damien Rice Tunes

“One ought, every day, to hear a song, read a fine poem, and, if possible,
to speak a few reasonable words.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There were a few things I wanted to write for today, but I think I’ll save them until next week, when I have the chance to give them some more thought. Instead, I really wanted to share 2 things: My thoughts about Jonathan Franzen’s book Freedom, which I just finished yesterday, as well as share 2 brand new Damien Rice songs that I found yesterday. Clearly, yesterday was a big day for me.

The Book: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom follows the Berglund family from inception to demise in what feels like a too-real episode of a reality tv show. The characters lie, cheat, steal, and try to sleep with (most are successful) almost every other character in the book — family excluded. No matter how badly I wanted there to be, there’s not a single character in this story that, when faced with a choice between right and wrong, chooses the right thing to do. Though that may be the point.

The Music: Those of you who know me, even if you just read this frequently, will know I’m somewhat of a music hoarder. If there was a show on TLC about hoarding music, I may be their cover boy. Anyways, I was realizing yesterday that I hadn’t heard a lot of new Damien Rice music lately. So I went to YouTube/iTunes/Filestube to see what I could find and found some pretty good stuff.

Turns out he just helped Melanie Laurent (the French actress from Inglorious Basterds) record her first cd and stepped into the studio on a couple tracks. So here they are, in all their splendor.
“Everything You’re Not Supposed to Be”


Bonus: Damien Rice busking with Glen Hansard singing “Blower’s Daughter” and going into Radiohead’s “Creep” in Dublin last Christmas Eve.



[photo taken from]

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