Finished reading: Dylan Goes Electric! by Elijah Wald


I’ll be honest here: I’ve never been a big Bob Dylan fan. I like a few of his songs, but have somehow never managed to get into him as an artist. (I’ll keep trying.) Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties by Elijah Wald is a short history of the American folk music scene in the early 1960s, leading up to that night in 1964 when Dylan brought an electric guitar on stage at the Newport Folk Festival and shook up the folk music scene for good.

Dylan Goes Electric is very readable, and does a nice job of filling in the musical history of the era for people like me who have heard the names Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and the like, but know very little about most of them.

Nothing too deep or too profound, but a nice snapshot of a particular short era in American folk and popular music.

Finished reading: Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber


This one was kinda hidden in those photos I posted yesterday. But after wading through Heim I was ready for a shorter, easy read, and Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber was just the ticket.

It’s more of Nadia at her best, telling stories about her little parish in Denver and how she has experienced God at work in her life.

Nadia is a polarizing figure. Sure, you may have concerns about her attitude, language, and bits of her theology. Regardless, every time I hear or read her, I come away wishing that my faith, embrace of the Gospel, and walk with Jesus looked a little more like hers. That’s enough for me.

Finished reading: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


I didn’t get as much read on this business trip as I’d thought I might – French schedules have you eating dinner late with little time left for recreational reading before bed – but I did manage to finish All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This novel, set in WWII, tells the parallel stories of a blind French girl and a German boy with a precocious engineering streak.

It’s a beautifully told story, capturing a smaller slice of life than you often get from a World War II novel. The intersections between the two main characters become clear by about half-way through the book, and I spent the rest of the time hoping against hope that the ending would be satisfactory. It was.

All the Light We Cannot See won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and while I haven’t read that much 2014/2015 fiction yet, I can understand why this one took the prize. Highly recommended.

Finished reading: Hackers by Steven Levy


I hadn’t heard of this one prior to listening to an Incomparable podcast episode last year – for the life of me I can’t figure out which one – but it stocked my Amazon wish list with several tech history books, which my mother-in-law then generously gave me for Christmas.

In Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Levy tells the story of software hackers who for the most part aren’t household names. Sure, there are quick mentions of Jobs, Wozniak, and Gates, but there are a dozen others you’ve never heard of who are similarly fascinating.

Levy talks quite a bit about the hacker ethos and principles that were pervasive from the early 1960s until, well, business and money got significantly involved in the late 1970s. It was a fun read for me since I recognize my own potential to become one of these heads-down, computer-obsessed hackers who barely notices when the sun rises or sets. (A course I have thankfully avoided thus far… for which my wife is both thankful and probably largely responsible.)

Yes, I’m shamelessly picking up John Halton’s habit of blogging reading progress this year, if for no other reason than it gives me 60+ additional posts a year… and maybe give a reader a good recommendation for a book to read. (Or to stay away from!)

My 2012 reading

Time for my annual roundup of what I read over the past year. While I’m often lousy at cataloging things, this list is easy enough thanks to Goodreads and their nice little iPhone app.

(If you just want to look at the list, go check it out over on Goodreads.)

I read 59 books this year. 36 were fiction, 23 were non-fiction. Most of that non-fiction was theology, with just a couple of biographies / histories thrown in. (I need to read some more history. I don’t read enough of it anymore.)

I rated far more things with five stars this year than I have in previous years. (15 books got 5 stars! That’s more than a quarter of everything I read!) I don’t know whether that means my rating standards are slipping or that my book selection standards are improving, but at least it means I have some good books to recommend.

There are five novels I gave five stars this year:

  • The Fiddler’s Gun by A. S. Peterson – a fun Revolutionary War novel focused on the adventures of a teenage girl. (I’ve got the sequel, The Fiddler’s Green, sitting in my to-read pile… should get it read in 2013 sometime.)
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – a short Young Adult novel focused on two teenagers who are dying of cancer. It’s not as painful as it sounds, but it’s challenging and insightful.
  • Redshirts, by John Scalzi – an odd sort of meta sci-fi romp that otherwise defies comparison
  • The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr. – a fascinating fantasy story which I’m indebted to the Rabbit Room folks for recommending.
  • Gathering String, by Mimi Johnson – a top-notch suspense/mystery novel whose author is a lovely lade I met once at a tweetup in Cedar Rapids.

On the non-fiction side, there were more 5-star books, but a few among those that particularly stood out:

I’m back at the reading for 2013, trying to finish up some Thomas Merton that I started back in December. If you’re so inclined, add me as a friend on Goodreads so we can interact about our reading throughout the year!

My brain is full, part 2

Yesterday’s post wandered a bit in talking about the relevance of God’s Word even as it is found in the daily readings and prayers of the church. When I started writing I was aiming for an appreciation of the BCP daily prayers and how they have ministered to me even in just the bit I have used them privately. Where I wandered, though, was to the observation that “my brain is full; it is my soul that needs fed”, and I’d like to work through that thought a little bit more today.

Certainly my personal quirks and characteristics help cause this condition: I read a lot. My mind never seems to let go of details and trivia. (Let’s put it this way: I was the kid who at the age of 9 or 10 was reading through encyclopedias in the morning when I’d wake up early.) I do a lot of synthesizing, by which I mean that I’m not so good at creatively staking out my own position, but that I can listen to two or three other positions, evaluate them, and then pull together the pieces into a unified whole that makes sense to me. I also don’t re-read much, because my brain says “yeah, been there, read that”, and it becomes hard to slow down and concentrate on something for a second time.

As a teenager and into my twenties my voracious book appetite combined with the wealth of good books on theological subjects served me well. I read a lot, learned a lot. My bookshelves are still filled with Lewis, Piper, Keller, Wright, Chesterton, and Spurgeon. I read through a lot of Schaeffer. I had a hard time finding the patience to appreciate some of the older theologians; how can you use so many words to say seemingly the same thing over and over? I could sit and talk theology with my church leaders, and before long that desire and aptitude, combined with the ability to apply it in practical ways, drew me into church leadership myself. (Somewhere along the way we had three kids, I over-committed to almost everything, burned out, and changed churches. But that’s another story.)

Our current evangelical culture, and especially the neo-Reformed subculture within it (wherein I find currently myself) seem to highly favor this intellectual, bookish approach. Pastors like John Piper pen profusely. Pastor Mark Driscoll established his own publishing line of theological literature. Tim Keller seems to crank out a book a year (at least). It’s as if you’re not anybody until you’ve published a book. But with very few exceptions, these books don’t seem to really say anything new; the publisher is just pushing an update or a rehash with new cover art and the current big-name pastor as the author.

Now that I’m in my mid-30’s, things seem to have changed in my reading appetite. I can think of only three or four books I’ve read in the past 5 years that have really made me just stop and go “wow, what did I just read?”. Now, maybe I’m just failing to choose the right books. (In that case, I’m open for recommendations, so please leave me a comment or send me an email, FB message, or tweet with your ideas.)

But maybe I’m at a plateau where more head knowledge is not the answer. And this is where I file my desire (expressed yesterday) for the daily corporate practice of Scripture, prayer, and worship. Even that is undoubtedly not the magic answer. Maybe the struggling pursuit of the seemingly elusive daily “quiet time” is a more practical answer. But that, by itself, seems to private and insulated to me. I need community to go with it. Not community for study purposes; I just want to be with people who, like me, have that need in their soul to pray, worship, confess, and hear the Word on a regular basis. If you know where to find it, please let me know.