So I took a totally opposite approach to book reading in 2016 than I have in years past, and I’m going to take it into 2017 as well. And in 2017 I plan on re-reading a lot more of the authors and books that I love.

In the past 17 years I have primarily read theology, philosophy and psychology books…and if I read literature, it was mainly what was considered classical literature. I usually ended up reading 2-3 books at a time and finished with 40-55 books in a year. Even though I loved the books, I always felt like it was about how many books I could read in a year, rather than just reading for the sake of reading and learning.

In 2016 my goal was to read less books than in years past, so I set out some criteria:

  • I wanted to only read one book at a time so I was more focused.
  • I wanted to spend more time with a book. Essentially, I wanted to sit with a story or concept more and let it work through me, rather than having to rush through it.
  • I wanted to read more widely, and get away from all the theology and psychology and philosophy.
  • I wanted to be challenged by perspectives that I didn’t grow up with or don’t have as my norm.
  • I wanted to read more works in the “adventure/exploring” genre
  • The book had to be great. So If I thought the book was only okay or good, I didn’t read it.
  • For the most part, I read something if I felt like I would come out a different person in some way (new insight, new growth, changed, person, etc.). I rarely read as a means of just entertainment or escape. That’s just me though. I should probably work on just reading for entertainment or escape, but I prefer to try and stick with books that help me grow in some aspect of my life.

So I picked only 16 books to read all year.

And I have to say, this was the most enjoyable year of reading that I have had, and one of the most transforming in terms of how I was challenged and what I learned.

Here are the 16 books I read (or re-read this year)

Brothers Karmazov by Fyodor Dostoyevesky
–Re-read this book this year. Still my favorite novel of all time. Maybe some of the best writing ever on faith, and doubt, and forgiveness and freedom, etc. I spent 3 months between January and March working my way slowly through this book.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
–So many great things about this book. I wish every parent would read this book, especially so they may understand some of the pressures they put on their kids. And her understanding of the the link between flow states and deliberate practice is worth the read itself.

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin
–Mind blowing read. Phenomenal story.

Natural Born Heroes: Mastering the Lost Art of Strength and Endurance by Christopher McDougall
–Like his other book Born to Run McDougall is a master storyteller and his applications to real life have you wanting to go out and try things right away. He changed the way I think about fitness, especially as I get older and determine what that looks like.

One Breath: Freediving, Death, and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits by Adam Skolnick
–This book was another mind blowing read. I had very little knowledge of this world of freediving. But after reading the book I was instantly looking up freediving classes in the DFW area. Made me realize how much our mindsets either limit us or help us expand.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
–I can’t say enough about this book. It was the most gripping adventure narrative I have probably ever read. And I constantly questioned whether I would have what it takes to survive in certain situations in life. No wonder this book has been used by so many leaders.

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi
–Best sports autobiography I have ever read. EVER. Such an amazing psychological journey into Agassi’s family of origin, how that shaped him, and how he navigated the tragedies and triumphs of this tennis career and life. I couldn’t put this book down and was so sad when it ended.

Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann
–I re-read this book this year. I have read it 3 times and will continue to read it. Nothing sums up the anxiety that our consumer culture produces more than this book. His juxtaposition of Yahweh and Pharaoh in the Exodus story is a gripping read…God is constantly calling his/her people to be and to find their identity in that relationship. While Pharaoh and culture calls us to constantly produce and find our identity in things and doing.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine American and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
–This was another book I couldn’t put down and was sad when it ended. What a story of a group of young men from varying backgrounds coming together to work as a team. I was mesmerized by the craft of boat building and the art of rowing a boat. I will never look at rowing the same again.

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
–I loved the movie and had always heard the book was great. After I “learned” to fly fish a couple of summers ago, and the more fascination I have with it, and with rivers and mountains….I thought this would be a great read. The writing is beautiful.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
–I picked this book up this summer to try and better understand the racial tensions in America and to also have my viewpoints challenged. And this book did that. It also opened up lots of new conversations with my African-American friends, and led to some amazing insights in my counseling sessions with my clients. It changed my view of the world.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
–This may have been one of the best books I read this year. It revolutionized my view on the prison system, and it shined a light on all the presidential candidates the last 100 years and their contribution to the problem. This book like Ta-Nehisi Coates made me very uncomfortable in some ways and that was a great thing as it led me to wrestle with a lot of my own biases and view. Game changer which has led to some new initiatives in my own counseling and community work.

Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination by James Alison
–I’m still digesting this book, but this was another game changer and came recommended by my good friend C. Wess Daniels — thank you Wess. This book alone has me wrestling with a lot of theological issues in my life currently. His use of Rene Girard’s mimetic theory led me to outlining a book I hope to write some day.

Praying the Truth: Deepening Your Friendship with God Through Honest Prayer by James A. Barry
–My dad sent me this book and it’s one of the most helpful books I have read on prayer in a long time. I realized that I tend to often overcomplicate my prayer life, and his insights in the book freed me up to think freshly about my relationship with God and how prayer deepens that relationship.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
–This is the only audio book I listened to all year. Heather and I listened to it on a road trip. This was the one book I engaged in for simply pleasure and entertainment. And it was a wild ride. I can’t wait for the movie. And I learned a lot about myself as I questioned a lot of things about technology, virtual reality, and how I live my life.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
–This book was a game changer for me. Van der Kolk absolutely opened my eyes to trauma in a fresh way. His insights into trauma based on all the new brain science is mind blowing, especially since I work with a lot of trauma in my practice. I can’t say enough about this book. I hope every therapist reads this. And I hope if you have suffered some trauma in your life, that you read this book. He also expands what you may think what trauma is…more than likely you have some level of trauma and it’s being unaddressed. This book took me October through December to work through. It was just so intense.

Training Essentials for Ultrarunning: How to Train Smarter, Race Faster, and Maximize Your Ultramarathon Performance by Jason Koop
–This is an ongoing read. I am reading this more like a reference book as I hope to run another 50 miler this year, and one day a 100 miler.

I recommend every book. You won’t be disappointed with one of them.