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!
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 Embrace, The 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.
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.