Hi Dojo readers,
An article I came across and shared on Facebook last week revealed that a stunning number of people in our culture have not even read a single book in the past year. As our smartphones and social media bombard us with text, sound-bytes, and viral lists, there is a need (I would argue) for us as a society to exercise our long-term reading and comprehension mental muscles. It is not uncommon for people to see even a standard magazine-length article online as far too much effort and give the “TL:DR” response while at the same time thinking their grasp of the subject matter is sufficient to opine upon it. This is an inevitable aspect of the digital cultural shift, so one of the ways we can better arm ourselves against such erosion of sustained coherent thought is by making it a point to…well…READ BOOKS.
Whether one chooses digital or paper format (or even the someone-maligned audiobook format…which, for the record, I absolutely believe it be just as valid as the others!), the mental benefits gained by reading and digesting book-length literature is basically undeniable. We make time to do all sorts of other activities (commenting on social media, sharing awesome and/or hilarious videos of dogs or monkeys, taking pictures of our dinner for some reason, or going to the gym for our hot yoga or kettle bell workouts), so the idea that anyone is “too busy to read” is 100% bogus. Barring severe learning disability or illiteracy, there is arguably no good excuse to not read books.
Most of you, of course, already know this. Dojo readers seem to be quite literate and well-read based on the comments and emails I’ve received over the years. However, some may want to read more but be at a loss when it comes to suggestions. So I wanted to put together a quick list (yes I recognize the irony!) of books I would recommend for anyone looking to beef up their reading in 2017. Some are classics, some are new. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction. But all are titles that I would wholeheartedly recommend. Feel free to share your own in the comments section below…
- “Watership Down” by Richard Adams – Yes, it’s fiction. And yes, you may have seen the gosh-awful cartoon version as a kid and been traumatized by it. But to this day, this story of a small group of rabbits seeking the safety of a new home after theirs was destroyed is in my mind one of the most epic stories ever written in the English language. The main character, Hazel, is the epitome of heroic leadership (if you don’t believe me, listen to this podcast about him) and the supporting characters are some of the most endearing and inspiring you’ll ever come across (Bigwig’s unwavering loyalty in standing against General Woundwart still gives me goosebumps!) I promise you will never look at those rabbits scurrying away in your backyard when you let the dog out the same way ever again.
- “God Loves Sex: An Honest Conversation About Sexual Desire and Holiness” by Dan Allender & Tremper Longman – If you’ve done our new “To Know and Be Known” DVD course, you will recognize this title immediately. A seasoned counselor (Allender) tells the story of a small group going through the book of Song of Songs together and the disparate sexual baggage they each bring to the table as they encounter this strange erotic poem in the middle of the Bible. Interspersed are chapters by a renowned Old Testament scholar (Longman) which unpack and explore the Song itself in its ancient Near East setting in order to bring to the surface its meaning for readers today. Rarely have I come across a combination of fiction and biblical scholarship in a single book…and never one as insightful as this one. Put it on your list for this coming year and rediscover a basic, but often-overlooked, Biblical truth.
- “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” by Nabeel Qureshi – What would drive a young man from a devout Ahmadiyyah Muslim family to risk everything by choosing to follow Jesus as his savior? Nabeel’s story provides a solid balance between recognizing the truth claims of the Gospel and still loving and honoring our Muslims friends or family members. It combines personal memoir, New Testament apologetic, and emotional struggle in a way that few other books on Islam and Jesus have been able to do. Whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, or an equal-opportunity skeptic, this book will provide you with a unique window into the intersection of the worlds two largest faiths.
- “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” by John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt – The relationship between America and the modern state of Israel is one of the most enduring and unshakable in modern geopolitics. But why is this the case? Why do politicians from both political parties give such unique and unwavering support for another nation, even at times when that nation acts in ways that are contrary to America’s interests abroad? Mearsheimer and Walt push past the simplistic narratives and cliche answers we often hear in the media (as well as from many pulpits!) and explore the impact of the most dominant and well-funded lobbyist groups in the nation. As with any book dealing with Middle East and foreign policy issues, this one has received harsh criticism from those who hold to various Neoconservative/Neoliberal or Christian-Zionist positions (and the authors have responded to the critics HERE). But any understanding of the political realities on the ground, both in the U.S. and in Israel, must take into account Mearsheimer and Walt’s study.
- “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality” by Wesley Hill – Given the culture war that rages around us when it comes to LGBT persons and religious freedom (an issue that doesn’t seem likely to get settled anytime soon…despite the simple proposal that we’ve offered here on the Dojo blog which would do away with the vast majority of it), it is becoming quite rare to find voices within the culture which seek to uphold both the dignity and humanity of gay communities as well as the orthodox Christian sexual ethic that has only within the last 40 years started getting abandoned by some within Christendom. As a celibate gay evangelical theologian, Wesley Hill’s reflections on growing up with exclusive same-sex attractions and the deep struggle he has endured bearing what seems to be an overwhelming cross is one of the most moving accounts I have ever come across. It inspires not only a greater commitment to the concept of Christian Discipleship, but also a genuine desire to love, respect, nurture, and stand alongside those in our churches, families, or communities who are struggling with issues of sexuality (whether hetero-, homo-, bi-, trans- or other).
- “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel” by Russell Moore – Piggybacking off of the last suggestion, this book is probably the best overall approach I have ever come across to dealing with how the Gospel comes to bear on all sorts of issues modern American Christians face. Everything from patriotism/nationalism, to partisan politics, to sexual ethics, to social justice. Moore is one of the most engaging, thoughtful, charitable, and faithful voices within modern evangelicalism. This book basically shreds every simplistic stereotype of Christianity that we regularly see put forth from both the Right and the Left. Like the savior he follows, Moore does a phenomenal job keeping a balance between the partisan extremes, while letting the message of Jesus challenge both sides equally.
- “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis – Seriously…there is no valid reason not to have read this series. Period. Especially if you only remember reading it as a kid. It blows my mind every time I read it with something new.
- “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline – If you grew up in the 70s or 80s, this book will resonate 100%! It tells the story of a world in the not-too-distant-future where an online virtual reality game made by a fantastically rich and fanatically-obsessed-with-all-things-1980s programmer dies and leaves his entire fortune to the first person who can beat the game. An entire subculture arises based on the game and those who devote their lives to hunting for the treasures within it, as well as giant corporations bent on beating the game and gaining access to the financial means of controlling the entire world’s communications through it. The story follows teenager Wade Watts as he digs deeper and deeper into the worldwide virtual scavenger hunt. And it’s FILLED with nods to all things 80s pop-culture (including a Big Trouble in Little China reference, which it would have been sorely lacking as a literary work had it not!)
- “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford – All my life I’d thought that Genghis Khan and the Mongol/Mogul empires were just bloodthirsty barbarians with little cultural awareness or philosophical contribution to the world. This is probably due to a combination of not being taught much about them in high school, and Genghis’ portrayal in “Bill ‘n Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Weatherford’s book gives a biographic look at this feared/respected/loathed/admired military leader and sheds new (at least to me!) light on the cultural developments that came along with his meteoric rise to power over the largest empire in human history at the time. Whether you’re a history, military, travel, or geography geek, you’ll gain something by reading this one.
- “Silence” by Shusaku Endo – This classic has been made into what looks to be an absolutely gorgeous movie adaptation by Martin Scorsese and will soon be released in theaters. Regardless of the movie’s success or failure, the book is a classic that is both somber and poignant. It follows the story of two Jesuit Priests in feudal Japan on a quest to find a colleague who has been said to have committed apostasy. It deals with issues of faithfulness, persecution, and the seeming absence of God Himself during times of intense suffering on the part of His people. As someone who has wrestled with this firsthand on more than one occasion I found the book to be somewhat like Ecclesiastes or some of the Psalms in its ability to express the inward groaning we all feel when we face times of God seeming utterly silent in our lives.
So there you go, Dojo reader. There are 10 books I recommend picking up this year if you haven’t already. There are SOOOO many more I was tempted to add, but I’ll save them for next year’s list perhaps. 🙂 Let me know which ones you’d recommend, or if you have thoughts on any of these you’d like to share.
Blessings from the Dojo and happy reading in 2017!