2015, in 21 Book Reviews

My reading in 2015 took a bit of a nosedive. Having read 53 books in 2013 and 45 in 2014, I only managed a paltry 21 last year. A mixture of a busier workload and a shorter commute meant that I haven’t read a whole book in my work time or on a train in the past twelve months. No doubt there have been a few other factors – I usually read a lot when on holiday abroad, which didn’t really happen in 2015, and I’ve also listened to many more podcasts this year… plus maybe I’ve been more lazy. Who knows?

Anyway, I’m not always good at remembering to review books as I go, but it does me good to stop and remind myself of what benefit I gained from a book. So here are 21 very short reviews of the books I completed. These reviews represent how I feel about them now, which may mean that they differ a little from how I felt about them at the time. And I listed them in roughly the order in which I read them, hence the rather jumbled and eclectic list. But hey, have a look through – there may be a few that catch your eye and make your 2016 reading list:

Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice – A classic book on bread baking. The theory sections are comprehensive, very insightful, and well worth reading and re-reading. The recipes are less helpful to me. Designed for the American palate and larder. One for the serious baker, but not a beginner’s book.

Peter Reinhart, Bread Upon the Waters – The combination of world-renowned baker and monk seemed intriguing, so I read Reinhart’s autobiography… And I wish I’d just known him as a baker! He sound like a fascinating guy (and may be perfectly orthodox these days! I know not.) but the description of his religious past is – how to put this – peculiarly eclectic! Stick to his baking books.

Bill Hybels, Simplify – One of three books I read, trying to get my diary under control! Very challenging and practical, and with insights into various areas: finance, time, relationships, thought life, etc. Check out this post.

Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy – Another very helpful book on busyness. Which also has the benefit of being short! Challenging and insightful. More info here.

Tim Chester, The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness – Bad title. Worse cover. But otherwise, another helpful, practical book on busyness. Personally, I preferred DeYoung’s, but this is well worth reading, if you have the time (!!) More info here.

Preston Sprinkle, Charis – A brilliant book that shows the Old Testament as a ‘kaleidoscope of grace.’ It will do your soul good to read this! Review here.

Chad Robertson, Tartine Bread – This book by the king of San-Franciscan sourdough contains some great tips and great recipes. I’ve not cooked many of them yet, as they often require some scaling and time-consuming builds, but what I have tried has been amazing! A must have if you’re serious about bread.

Roger Scruton, I Drink Therefore I Am – A philosopher’s guide to drinking wine, which I read in the run up to giving this talk (which was one of my favourites ever, due to having a good glass in my hand during the talk!) Some interesting historical material, but a little dry.

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential – A guttural insight into the inner-workings of professional kitchens. Not for the faint hearted! Review here.

Luc Ferry, Learning to Live – A great, accessible overview of the history of philosophy. Full review here.

Donna Tartt, The Secret History – A brilliantly written ‘why-dunnit’. Clever, erudite and gripping, even if ultimately I may have preferred The Goldfinch. Review here.

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – A quirky novel with an interesting concept, which I can’t really describe without giving the game away. It’s nothing amazing, but a light enjoyable read. Review(ish!) here.

Preston Sprinkle and Francis Chan, Erasing Hell – A great, accessible book on a not-especially cheerful subject. Tackles universalism nicely, although further engagement with annihilationism would have been helpful.

Rabbi Moffic, What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover – An interesting book on Passover by a Jewish Rabbi. Hardly ground-breaking, but with some interesting insights, particularly related to the development of the tradition and practices.

Shuman Basar, Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist, The Age of Earthquakes – This was a fascinating “read”. “Read” is deliberately in quotation marks, since there are few words and many drawings and infographics. Full of interesting insights on the effects of technology on culture.

Francis MacNutt, Healing – Probably the best book I’ve ever read on healing. Really thoughtful and practical; theologically strong, with great pastoral wisdom. A little dated in places, so that – along with the Catholic language and theology – means that it requires some translation for my context at least. But it’s great!

Andrew and Rachel Wilson, The Life You Never Expected – A brilliant book on parenting children with special needs. At first that may seem like a rather niche subject, but this book has a lot to teach on a wide range of subjects: parenting, suffering, battling a sense of entitlement, handling loss, and fighting for joy. This was a really moving read.

J.K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Relativism? – A thought-provoking little book, engaging with some of the major contributors to relativist and pragmatist philosophy, and considering whether their work may have something to teach us as Christians. I enjoyed working through this in a reading group… even if I did make a bit of a blunder at the beginning!

Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things – An interesting sci-fi novel, which will make you think about evangelism, contextualisation, and what it means to be human. Not the greatest of novels, but perhaps worth a quick read. Check out my review here.

J.K.A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular – This was a re-read. A brilliant little book on the nature of secularism, and how to effectively think about and communicate faith in our secular age. A commentary on Charles Taylor’s far larger work A Secular Age.

Douglas Coupland, Life After God – One of my favourite collections of short stories. Moving, painful and deeply honest. I think it’s the third time I’ve read these, and I love them every time.

So, that’s my completed reading for 2015, and it totalled out at pretty much 50:50 Christian to secular. There were plenty of others I started, stopped, and will never return to. And also some that I will pick up and complete in 2016, including The Skeletons in God’s Closet, Keller’s books on Prayer and Preaching, Greg Boyd’s The Benefit of the Doubt, Peter Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader, and a bunch of commentaries that I’m still working through on Joshua, 1 & 2 Kings and Ecclesiastes.

Now, let’s hope I can pack some reading into the first few months of 2016, before little Thatcher arrives, as I suspect my reading will decrease after April. Although come to think of it, I may be able to include multiple readings of Peppa Pig on my end of year post this year!!

Image: Blackened Books, by Giulia van Pelt, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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