By Keith Simon
I don’t read because I think I should. I read because I love everything about it. Reading helps me be better in just about every area of my life from pastoring to parenting. But I also read to escape the busyness of life or the problems that any particular day seems to bring my way.
So this year turned out to be no different than most others in that I read a lot of books. Some short and some long. Some were distinctly Christian; most weren’t. A majority of the books were worth my time but a few were very hard to get through.
What I don’t particularly enjoy is ranking books especially when they fall in completely different categories. How does one compare a novel with a theological or political work? So while I will share my overall favorites at the end, I decided to group these by categories.
Best Books I Read This Year
I only read a few novels each year so if this is your thing, you’re better off consulting my wife who reads many more novels than I do or perhaps another friend of yours. These two stood out due to interesting characters and exceptional writing.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
I’ve always been a huge sports guy but the older I get, the more I’m interested in the story behind the scenes. Both of these books deliver the goods.
Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss.
The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
Biographies and Memoirs:
This is one of my favorite categories. The chance to learn from someone else’s life story has proved invaluable to me. However in 2016 I don’t think this was a particular strong category in my personal reading. The first book was by far the best as it was filled with raw perspective on disappointment and dying. The other three I enjoyed but I thought of them more as fun and interesting rather than important.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kilanithi
Kill’em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
One of the main reasons that I read (maybe the main reason?) is that’s the way I learn. These books really taught me something this year.
Understanding what it means to be African American:
I think as faithful Christians we have an obligation to continue to learn what it means to be a racial minority in America. These three books aren’t necessarily the best I’ve read on the subject but they’re the best I read this year and each has important insights.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Understanding the poor:
God cares about the poor so I should too. But how do you care about someone you don’t know much about? Both of these books breakdown stereotypes and helped me understand a little more about what it’s like to be financially poor.
Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Understanding the police:
I have friends that are police officers and attend The Crossing. What’s their life like? What kind of challenges do they face on a daily basis? This book is both fun and interesting.
400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman by Adam Plantiga
Understanding the presidential election and the divided nation we live in:
As I watched the presidential primaries unfold, like everyone else, I became aware of just how divided our country is. And while I never found Donald Trump an attractive candidate, it was obvious many others did. It felt like these books explained everything I needed to know.
Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
Understanding human nature:
Behavioral economics is a fascinating field that opens up human behavior and motivation.
Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Phillip Tetlock
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir
Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
John Tinnin told me Brene Brown was worth reading and, as usual, he was right. I couldn’t stop with just one book. The books below are placed in the order that I found them helpful but that might be because it’s also the order that I read them.
Understanding our need for God:
Human beings cannot live without meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, justice, and hope. Christianity has the best answers to each of those needs.
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller
If pressed for my favorite books I read this year, I would say that in no particular order they were…
Hand to Mouth
Making Sense of God
When Breath Becomes Air