Back in January, I jumped on board Tim Challies’ 2016 Reading Challenge (which looks like this). Working full-time, finishing my final year of study, and expecting our third child, this seemed a little ambitious even on the lightest plan (complete 1 book every 4 weeks). What I learned in the early months was that all I needed was to break away from my conventional reading style (I’m a physical book kind of guy) and by tapping in to resources like Audible and Kindle I could keep my attention span longer, and get through more because of that. Accepting this challenge was in no way a head-over-heels scramble to simply achieve the number though; rather I tried to be intentional about every book I invested time in. While I almost couldn’t finish one, and tossed one away altogether, the end result was that I managed to complete 54 books (exceeding my goal by 2) and experienced a little of the joy of reading widely; even the bad books had value to add in getting to know better my likes, dislikes, and a pet peeve (or two) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Below is a summary of my best picks from the 2016 Challenge.
Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb
What is most attractive about Robin Hobb is not simply that she writes the best fiction I have ever read, but her ability to write volumes set in the same world, and then tie them all together. To explain, Hobb has written 5 trilogies (16 books since 1995 – one comprised of 4 books) all telling stories from different regions of ‘the Realm of the Elderlings’; the final trilogy bringing in all the loose ends from all previous stories into one epic final set (the last book of this trilogy is due to be published in 2017). In short, Hobb was writing amazing stories that fit into an overarching meta-narrative before Marvel made it cool. Reading my way through the adventures of this world will continue into next year’s challenge.
Knowing God, J. I. Packer.
Every Christian should read this. Regularly. Whether you preach or you simply need a quality resource to help you when it comes to discerning the truth of what you hear from the pulpit, Packer’s clarity and insight is both accessible and helpful for grasping key matters of faith. His economy of words means every chapter is bursting with content (my reading group picked this up at a pace of one chapter a fortnight, and we didn’t cover all that could be said). This book should absolutely be on every shelf. Actually, buy two.
The Flash (DC Universe Rebirth), Joshua Williamson
I think it would be fair to say that my household are fairly committed Marvel fans. That said, it’s not beyond us to venture over into the DC Comics camp; in particular being able to unwind this year with some quality TV viewing (Arrow, DC Legends of Tomorrow, and The Flash). 2016 has been nothing short of amazing for DC characters, and reading back through some of these older stories has added richness and fun to the new stories as they unfold in the ‘rebirth’ that DC has launched this year. The only regret is that budget doesn’t allow me to follow all the new stories, so I’ve been selective… but far from disappointed.
The Mission of God, C. H. Wright
The mission of Israel was to live as God’s people in God’s land for God’s glory. But what of the Christian living in the twenty-first century under the New Covenant? How should the story of Old Testament Israel influence our reading of Scripture, and by application transform how we live? In short, I actually had to buy a new highlighter half way through this book. Aside from the fact that it was required reading for my final semester, after less than one hundred pages it went straight to my Top Ten list, and I know that I’ll need to return to it with more attention over the years. To summarise Wright’s answer to this particular question, he says
“Having been chosen, redeemed and called into covenant relationship, the people of God have a life to live – a distinctive, holy, ethical life that is to be lived before God and in the sight of the nations. This too has crucial missional relevance, for… there is no biblical mission without biblical ethics.”
Wright’s perspective of reading Scripture (and approaching life) as our participation in the ongoing mission of our Creator and Redeemer is wonderful, life-giving, provocative, and powerful.
What Did I Learn?
Takeaway #1: Like C. S. Lewis famously remarked, I now better understand the importance that comes from reading fiction. Not only for the break it gives me from the academy, but also for what Lewis called the “enlargement of [my] being”. It is through works of fiction that I learn to be a better story teller; to write, to illustrate, to engage … better. This helps me to become a better preacher, a better disciple-maker, and a better communicator in general (at least, that’s the hope!) . In 2017, I’ll certainly be throwing more fiction into the mix.
Takeaway #2: I tend to operate better when I have at least 2 or 3 books on-the-go at once. It can be one electronic, one audio, and one paperback, or three of a kind. Whatever the combination, taking a break from one and picking up the other enables me to find extra endurance. Just like life where a balanced diet is important for maintaining health and well being, so a varied diet of fiction, biographies, comic books, and non-fiction has helped my brain to focus when it needs to, and relax when it can.
The 2016 Reading Challenge was a wonderful, educational, rewarding experience; and one that I’ll likely continue. You can check out the full list of books I read in 2016 on my Goodreads page.