my reading strategy for 2013

I love reading. Over the years I’ve developed a sort of reading strategy to guide my reading selections to ensure I read some things that will not only engage me, but advance my learning on several fronts that matter to me. So here is my crazy strategy, unpacked, and my 2013 list!

the strategy:

1. A book on South African history or culture. I have many friends from South Africa, I’ve traveled there a few times and I’m always confronted with the complexity of this place, this history, these people. My curiosity over the years drove me to read Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness and God’s Dream for the World and Krog’s stunning trilogy. But that reading also introduced me to some of the most nourishing thinking I’ve encountered from any one region. So I keep reading about South Africa and learning from South African wisdom each year.

2. A book on the Middle East. This is a complex region in the world. I figured out long ago that I couldn’t read one or two books and capture the deep history, all the nuance and pathos of this place and these peoples. So I committed to read at least one book a year from or about the region to advance my lifelong understanding and care for this part of the world. (Previous reads include Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, Mark Braverman’s Fatal EmbraceThe Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan and Out of It by Selma Dabbagh.)

3. A book about Islam. Our world is changing. Our relationship with other faiths in a pluralistic society require us to be more intentional and intelligent about one another. To me reading about Islam is a matter of respect. Brian McLaren (Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddah and Mohammed Cross the Road) and Miroslav Volf (Allah) got me started in this direction as well as Mark Siljnder’s A Deadly Misunderstanding.

4. A commentary. I think there is value in reading a good commentary from cover to cover to get the sweep of the book, give studious attention to the sustained argument of the scholar and go deep into the context of one book. I’ve benefited from reading Umberto Cassuto on Exodus, Walter Brueggemann on Genesis, Richard Horsely on Mark, Ellen Davis on Ruth and Marcia Falk on Song of Solomon (that was a very spirited read!).

5. A tome of some sort. I try to select one large or thick volume to conquer each year to really challenge my mental stamina and deepen my understanding of something larger in scope or richer in texture. I’ve read Leonardo Boff on Trinity, Richard Friedman’s The Disappearance of God and Richard Herzog’s Parables as Subversive Speech.

6. Walter Brueggemann, always Walter Bruegemann and always more than one. The man is prophetic and prolific, so it is easy to read multiple books penned by him each year. (Note: Walter speaks to me and has transformed my thinking more than any other scholar. Following his developing thoughts over the years is profitable for me. But find yours… and follow them over many texts and many years. It’s a way of being mentored by a master.) Some highlights for me include The Prophetic Imagination, Journey To The Common Good, Testimony to the Otherwise, The Land, Living Toward a Vision, The Word Militant (a must for preachers), The Creative Word, The Bible Makes Sense… I told you he is prolific!

7. A book on creativity or the craft of writing. Long before I discovered I was a writer, I loved reading about creativity and writing because the language was akin to descriptions of prayer. Maybe its the mystic in me, but to talk about creating is to have a conversation about faith, prayer, trust. Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life is the gold standard for me. But I also have benefited from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland and most recently Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldburg.

8. A re-read or two. I’m a firm believer in reading good books again and again to continue gleaning the goodness. Some books have come to mean more to me over time like Frederick Buechner’s Now and Then which I read on the eve of entering seminary and brings me to tears with each subsequent reading as I add my own seminary story to his. Or The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard which continues to teach me, Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr which I understand more year by year or Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life which instructs me annually.

9. A recommendation or two. I trust my friends to direct me to good material, especially the ones who know me best and share my passions. So I take recommendations seriously. This is how I discovered so many of the books mentioned above! So props to great recommenders like Brian McLaren, Bart Tarman, Idelette McVicker, Greg Spencer, Marius Brand and Rene August.

10. New interests galore! These are the books that I just want to read because they intrigue or interest me somehow. They are often current books or about current issues. Sometimes the books are related to projects – like when I read books on economics for Amahoro Africa’s conversation on Gospel Economics or on ecology for our conversations on creation care or agriculture to educate me more deeply in our community development endeavors. This is where there is a fair amount of spontaneity in my strategy – books that surprise me as the year progresses. This might even be the bulk of my reading list, truthfully.

the list:

Ah but Your Land is Beautiful, Alan Paton (recommended by Caroline Powell)

No god but God, Reza Aslan (recommended by Ryan Bell)*

Isaiah, Walter Brueggemann

Colossians Remixed, Brian Walsh (Recommended by Brian McLaren & Rene August)*

Conversations with Scripture: Gospel of Mark, Marcus Borg

A Theology of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez

The Politics of Jesus, John Yoder (recommended by Brandon Thiessen)*

Living Countertestimony: Conversations with Walter Brueggemann, WB

Remember You Are Dust, WB

The Prophetic Imagination, WB*

Hopeful Imagination, WB

Consulting the Genuis of a Place,  Wes Jackson (currently reading)

Quiet, Susan Cain

Help, Thanks, Wow, Anne Lamott

Standing by Words, Wendell Berry

Inspiration and Incarnation,  Peter Enns*

The Undocumented God, Ched Myers

Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan*

Pedagogy of Indignation, Paulo Freire

Jesus, Justice and the Reign of God, William Herzog

No Life Without Roots, Thierry Verhelst

Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg (recommended by Preston Yancey)

Jesus and the Spiral of Violence by Richard Horsley

Living Gently in a Violent World by Stanley Hauerwas & Jean Vanier

Prototype by Jonathon Martin (anticipated release: May 2013)

Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey (so excited for this one I can hardly stand it!!!)*

Obviously there are some books that I am missing. I know more recommendations will be forth-coming and more re-reads will occur. There will be fresh releases or new topics that pique my interest mid-year. But this is the list that I begin with for 2013.

How do you determine what you’ll read? What are some books on your 2013 list? Do tell!

* We are starting a reading in transit book club this year. These are books we plan on reading together, conversing and learning together. Please join us – we’ll begin in February with Inspiration & Incarnation by Peter Enns.




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20 thoughts on “my reading strategy for 2013”

  1. Ryan Bell
     ·  Reply

    So many books, so little time!

    (also, The Lemon Tree is non-fiction! 🙂 )

    • kelleynikondeha
       ·  Reply

      made the correction…. thanks!

  2. Ryan Bell
     ·  Reply

    And…Colossians Remixed is fantastic. I probably recommend this book more than any other.

  3. fiona lynne
     ·  Reply

    I love that you have a strategy! My reading is much more random and spontaneous but I think maybe I’d benefit from being more like you. There are so many books that have been on my “to read” list for months and possibly years without my getting around to ordering them. Walter Brueggemann is someone who’s long been on the “should” list but your enthusiasm for him is convincing me to bump him up the list!

    • Kelley Nikondeha
       ·  Reply

      My strategy developed over years. Maybe just start with a few things in mind, like one topic you want to learn more about, one thinker you want read from, one re-read… just a few choices are a great beginning!

  4. Joanna
     ·  Reply

    Another fascinating list! Would love for you to share how you discipline yourself to do this much reading – do you have an equally compelling strategy for carving out the time? And can I recommend a superb book about writing – Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead. (Only disadvantage – she is so well read I ended up with about another 20 books on my ever-expanding list)

    • Kelley Nikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Joanna~ thanks for the recommendation! I’m looking for some books on writing so that is an apt suggestion. And remember, I’m in Burundi for an entire summer, so I get lots and lots of quiet time there to read!

  5. Erin Wilson
     ·  Reply


    Can I just say that I’m completely blown away by your approach. You’ve created your own syllabus for a year of study and learning. Intentional. Depth, and breadth. I bet this approach has an incredible impact!

    Quite inspired to try out this strategic approach. You’re an amazing teacher/mentor of learning. Appreciate your generosity!!

    • Kelley Nikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Thanks, Erin. It came about over the years, but having some long-term learning goals has served me well!

  6. d.l. mayfield
     ·  Reply

    this is soooooo inspiring. i would really like to be in a book club with you! you should totes pick a book a month and i will commit to it. you stretch me!

  7. Caris Adel
     ·  Reply

    Oh I love this. What an organized way to study. I read Beirut to Jerusalem a few years ago and it’s already on my kids’ high school syllabus. That was an amazing read.

    • Kelley Nikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Caris, that book was the first Middle East read, and I knew that this had to be a life-long study! I think its a good place to start.

  8. Sarah Bessey
     ·  Reply

    You should seriously run a monthly book club link up or somethin, Kel. This is amazing. I want to start with your Walter this year. Which one is the best one for an intro to him and his works?

    • Kelley Nikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Ah, you’re aching for some WB? I think Prophetic Imagination, which is his seminal work, is a great start. But another favorite, which is brief and accessible, is Journey to the Common Good. But don’t overlook his sermons! I find his collection of sermons to be the best kind of daily reading – short, great theology, great challenge!

    • Kim Waggoner
       ·  Reply

      Sarah, can I chime in with a suggestion as well? Walter’s prayers are some of the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever read. If you haven’t taken a look at “Prayers for a Priviliged People” or “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth”, I couldn’t recommend them more highly. They have revolutionized how I pray.

  9. Ali Valdez
     ·  Reply

    Good stuff! I have my own stack, mostly about the mahasiddhis, Mircea Eliade comparative religion, etc but looking for new places to expand my reading and frankly, miss basic fiction. Too much philosophy and commentaries (School of Bihar reading list much like your’s on WB). I might go back and dip my feet in some indulgence of fancy like rereading Jane Austen novels, or my beloved Jane Eyre. I agree, rereading is a great thing to do. Happy New Year!

  10. J. R. Goudeau
     ·  Reply

    I love this list so enormously! Can’t wait to read along!

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