A few years back I started writing down all the books I read each year because it was getting difficult to keep up with all of them. I’d start to forget if I read a book, and if I did, when, and all that. Plus, it has made it easy to go back and reflect on the best stuff I read over the past year. I don’t read like most people. The vast majority of what I read is a few years old. Did you know if you wait a year or two, books are cheaper? That’s the gist of my philosophy on reading. So if I really want a new book, I’ll but it on Amazon, but, but mostly my books come by the whim of a Goodwill store of a Half Price bookstore.
A few notes on the genres in which I spent my time reading. 1 – I finished the bulk of my research for my dissertation, so there I read a whole lot of books on the sociological and theological connection of sports. That’s becoming the sweet spot in my reading. That’s where I like to spend my time. 2 – I decided last year that I was going to begin to read all of Stephen King’s novels in the order in which they were published. As a rule, I don’t read a ton of fiction, but I have long enjoyed Stephen King’s books. I find him to be a great story teller, and I often resonate with these stories. Throughout the year, it provided a nice break from nonfiction. 3 – I’m hoping to diversify my reading more this year. We’ll see what happens.
Best book I read in 2014
They Played Their Hearts Out is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a wonderfully told true story of the grassroots basketball machine in Southern California. The author, George Dohrmann, was allowed behind-the-scenes access to a coach trying to break into a lucrative, grassroots, corporate-sponsored coaching career as well as about two dozen different players who Dohrmann followed from middle school through college (some of the biggest basketball schools in the country). It is inspiring at times, disheartening at others, and really eye-opening throughout. As I discovered in my research, AAU basketball isn’t really thrilled to have journalists probing around behind-the-scenes, and Dohrmann’s book provides an essential perspective. He goes where few journalists have ever gone before and has provided a realistic insight into the very youth sports machine that my dissertation is critical of. Kobe Bryant’s recent comments along with LeBron James‘ helped bring light to the same topic even more recently. Anyone who wants to think seriously about youth sports should read this book.
Best Stephen King Book I read in 2014
At this point, I think I’ve read about 20 of Stephen King’s books. Next up this year is his work of non-fiction Danse Macabre. As I said earlier, I’ve taken up Stephen King’s books, because he is one of the few authors of fiction I’ve especially resonated with. And of all of his books I’ve read, this was probably the one I enjoyed the most (with the exception of the Dark Tower series). I remember watching the mini-series that was based on the books back in the early 1990’s, and have been rewatching it on Netflix. I enjoyed the show, but the book was absolutely brilliant. I lost myself in it over the weeks that I read it. I read the abridged version, and plan to read the longer version when I get to the point that it was released in perspective of the others. This novel proves, once and for all, that Stephen King was post-apocalyptic before post-apocalyptic was cool. While the subject has become a staple in literature, on television, and in the movies, The Stand remains as one of the best of the lot.
Book I Should Have Read Earlier than 2014
I like Rob Bell, but have never been part of his cult of personality that many others have been. I read Velvet Elvis and enjoyed it, I read Jesus Wants to Save Christians and enjoyed it even more, I watched the NOOMA videos and thought some were brilliant, and others were weird, but it wasn’t until this past year that I finally got around to reading the copy of Sex God and wondered why I waited so long. I read it as I was studying to teach a class on the controversial topic of homosexuality (you can check it out online here) and it really helped provide me a framework to teach the class. I wish I was as creative as Rob, and I appreciate his out-of-the-box way of seeing things. It’s a really nice book on sex.
Book that I Keep Coming Back to from 2014
If sports ain’t your thing, sorry to bore you with these contributions from last year, but as I said, that’s where my head’s been the past couple of years. John O’Sullivan has provided the youth sports industry in America with a resource that I hope more and more people will take a look at. In all my research in this area, I didn’t find any resources quite like this. He’s recognized many of the shortcomings in today’s youth sports industry and is setting out to address them. If you want to see a synopsis and have a few minutes (about 10) his TED Talk is excellent and summarizes what his book is all about. If you are a coach or have children involved in youth sports, this is the one book I would suggest above all the others. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXw0XGOVQvw
Book that Most Surprised Me in 2014
I had kind of a low expectation for The Unlikely Disciple. I didn’t expect to hate it, I just kind of expected it to be a typical caricature of either the Left or the Right political worlds by the other. It certainly was that (a Liberals insider-tale of the tight-knit conservative world of Liberty University). However, I thought Kevin Roose was able to somehow avoid extremes in his honest memoir, and provide a heart-warmingly honestly picture of a world that he was incredibly unfamiliar with. Essentially, the uber-liberal Roose, brought up in an extremely (and admittedly) Ohio home and, at the time, current student at Brown University, decided to embark on a year-long undercover experience at “America’s Holiest University” – Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The book takes quite a few surprising turns, and Roose proves to be gentle and honest about where he was wrong about the people who became his friends, and at the same time, holding steady to his beliefs. I was surprised to find myself coming back to the book so often after I had finished it.
Funniest Book I read in 2014
My wife and I have read many books together through the years, but it’s taken a bit of a hiatus through my dissertation process. It was nice to be able to enjoy reading Amy Poehler’s new book over the Christmas break. Reading her book as a pastor, I had the following observations (of which I shared with my church yesterday): 1 – We should laugh more. Christians, as a rule, take themselves way too seriously. Mary Beth and I have long enjoyed watching SNL (the book we’ve begun for the new year is Live From New York and chronicles the history of the show. Poehler’s book is, as expected, hilarious. When I think about faith and God and the way that it is often expressed in church, I just wonder, why don’t people laugh more? 2 – Amy’s situation in comedy (along with many other women on SNL) is eerily similar to women in churches. Amy tells of often being the only women in the room full of men. Most comedies have exclusively male writing crews. For all my Christian brothas and sistas . . . doesn’t that sound a bit familiar? Amy Poehler along with Tina Fey, Maya Rudolf, and many others who have gone before them – represent a new era of strong female leaders in comedy. I wonder how they would fare in church? 3 – Speaking of Christianity, Amy never mentions Jesus or churches, but she does, quite noticeably, quote quite a few Hindu and Buddhist platitudes. I find it interesting to see how many celebrities opt for Eastern religion over Christianity. When someone is in search of inner peace and meditation and stillness, the last thing they think of is the noise of mega churches or the shallowness of many preachers. We should take note.
I don’t know if anyone cares too much, but it’s nice for me to spend a few minutes and reflect on some of the good books I came across. A few other honorable mentions were, from my dissertation field (sports and religion): Michael Novak’s beautiful The Joy of Sports (if you are a Christian, and you love sports, you really should read this), Young Athletes, Couch Potatoes, and Helicopter Parents (I dropped a buck to get this one, but it was worth it – a whole lot of youth parents need to read this one), and Lincoln Harvey’s A Brief Theology of Sport.(if you’re interested in the topic, but wish I’d stop giving references, this is a good, short one that is worth the read).
A a few non-sports and theology related: I have finally read the first two books of the Harry Potter series, with my daughter, and think that J. K. Rowling is brilliant, absolutely brilliant; Stephen King’s The Dead Zone is a fantastic book and not talked about enough – incredible how many original stories he’s been able to write, ‘Salem’s Lot was great too, and, just to prove that I don’t blindly read Stephen King, I was a little disappointed with his newest book Revival. With a former pastor as a main character, the book advertises following his journey through doubt, but I thought that faith ended up playing much more of a background for the plot than actually carrying it along. I thought he could do a lot more with that, and I thought his earlier book published this year, Mr. Mercedes, was much more fun and original. I had high hopes of Revival, and thought that it was just OK. Might have been better as an novella or even a short story.
The very first book I read last year was Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, and many people have said a great deal of nice things about it which I would concur. It’s been a year, so I’m a little foggy on it, but I will say, her kindred spirit may just find herself at home for the new blog I am working to roll out here before too long. Anyway, I’m ready for another year of reading.