Books I’ve read, or re-read, in 2020

In the back of my daily journal I keep a list of books I read. I share it each year, not in a competitive spirit, but more as a tool for reflection.

This year I’m almost embarrassed by the length of this list. But then, as I reflect, I realize that it’s not surprising how highly reading figured in my list of relaxations. Covid-19 caused many things to grind to a halt, including substantial holiday trips, attending open stages, holding musical evenings in our home, and any real motivation for songwriting (I hate to admit it, but when I can’t share songs live and see people’s reaction to them, I find songwriting a little pointless).

One thing that stands out on this list for me was how much fiction I read this year. I would further define the parameters and say, how much easy reading fiction, including re-reads. I re-read a lot of Ursula LeGuin, Suzanne Collins, Catherine Fox, C.J. Sansom, and Jane Austen. I also read a lot of Bernard Cornwell (historical fiction with a lot of violence in it), and Ann Cleeves (murder mysteries). Conclusion? I wasn’t interested in working too hard at my reading. Daily life already required enough effort.

Some of the really good books I’ve read this year have been ones Marci and I read together. The best one was her choice: Camilla Townsend’s Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs. We also enjoyed Pierre Berton’s The Arctic Grail, a re-read for me, but first time through for her. I also note that on December 22nd Marci and I, and our four kids, got together on Zoom for two hours and did a family read of Oscar Wilde’s brilliant play The Importance of Being Earnest, which was more fun than anything we’ve done together for a long time!

I’ve been using the little Bible commentaries in the ‘For Everyone’ series (Old Testament by John Goldingay, New Testament by N.T. Wright) in my devotional reading and as resource material for Bible study groups this year. I don’t always read them all the way through, but the ones I’ve finished, I’ve listed here.

Best reads? For fiction, I would probably list the two Richard Wagamese books I read this year: Medicine Walk and Starlight. If you haven’t yet read anything by the late Richard Wagamese, you’re in for a treat; in my opinion he was one of Canada’s finest authors of recent years, and also a great introduction to indigenous writing if you haven’t dipped into it yet. For non-fiction, my favourites were probably the two David Runcorn books: Love Means Love (on same-sex marriage and related issues) and The Language of Tears. On a side note, David and I have become friends this year, which adds a whole new dimension to reading an author’s work.

Also, I re-read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina this year and I still think it’s the finest novel I’ve ever read.

Least enjoyable read? Probably Shane O’Mara’s In Praise of Walking, which was full of information but ultimately rather boring!

Interestingly (to me), fully 38 of these 75 books were read on my Kindle. Sometimes this is because books are so easy to get in the Kindle store, and are usually cheaper. But also, as I get older, I find my wrists get tired faster from holding a big book (I especially noticed this with Sansom’s Sovereign), and a Kindle is just lighter and easier to hold.

So, here’s the list, in the order in which they were read.

  1. Ann Cleeves: The Long Call
  2. Ann Cleeves: Raven Black
  3. Thomas Cahill: How the Irish Saved Civilization
  4. Ann Cleeves: White Nights
  5. Brené Brown: The Gifts of Imperfection
  6. Richard Wagamese: Medicine Walk
  7. Ann Cleeves: Red Bones
  8. Ursula K. LeGuin: The Tombs of Atuan
  9. Ursula K. LeGuin: The Farthest Shore
  10. Ursula K. LeGuin: Tehannu
  11. Ursula K. LeGuin: Tales of Earthsea
  12. N.T. Wright: John for Everyone: Part 1
  13. Ursula K. LeGuin: The Other Wind
  14. Rowan Williams: Tokens of Trust
  15. Ann Cleeves: Blue Lightning
  16. Philip Gulley: Home to Harmony
  17. Ann Cleeves: Dead Water
  18. Philip Gulley: Just Shy of Harmony
  19. John Goldingay: 1 & 2 Chronicles for Everyone
  20. Philip Gulley: Signs and Wonders
  21. Michael Frost: Keep Christianity Weird
  22. Shane O’Mara: In Praise of Walking
  23. Richard Wagamese: Starlight
  24. Eugene Peterson: Run with the Horses
  25. Pam Smith: Online Mission and Ministry
  26. Ann Cleeves: Thin Air
  27. Catherine Fox: Acts and Omissions
  28. Catherine Fox: Unseen Things Above
  29. Catherine Fox: Realms of Glory
  30. Catherine Fox: Angels and Men
  31. Ann Cleeves: Cold Earth
  32. Catherine Fox: Benefits of Passion
  33. Ann Cleeves: Wild Fire
  34. Marcus Green: The Possibility of Difference
  35. Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games
  36. Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire
  37. Suzanne Collins: Mockingjay
  38. Camilla Townsend: Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs
  39. Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
  40. Natalie Jenner: The Jane Austen Society
  41. N.T. Wright: Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 2
  42. David Runcorn: Love Means Love
  43. Nicholas Sparks: The Lucky One
  44. C.J. Sansom: Dissolution
  45. Pierre Berton: The Arctic Grail
  46. C.J. Sansom: Dark Fire
  47. N.T. Wright: Acts for Everyone, Part 1
  48. Bernard Cornwell: The Last Kingdom
  49. James D.G. Dunn: Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels
  50. Bernard Cornwell: The Pale Horseman
  51. Bernard Cornwell: The Lords of the North
  52. Vicky Beeching: Undivided
  53. Bernard Cornwell: Sword Song
  54. Bernard Cornwell: The Burning Land
  55. Bernard Cornwell: The Pagan Lord
  56. Bernard Cornwell: The Death of Kings
  57. Bernard Cornwell: The Empty Throne
  58. L.C. Tyler: A Cruel Necessity
  59. N.T. Wright: Acts for Everyone, Part 2
  60. Bernard Cornwell: Warriors in the Storm
  61. Joanna Trollope: Sense and Sensibility
  62. Alexander McCall Smith: Emma: a Modern Retelling
  63. Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility
  64. Jane Austen: Persuasion
  65. David Runcorn: The Language of Tears
  66. John Grisham: A Time for Mercy
  67. K.M. Elizabeth Murray: Caught in the Web of Words: James A.H. Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary
  68. N.T. Wright: Matthew for Everyone, Part 1
  69. Stephen R. Lawhead: Hood
  70. Julia Zarankin: Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder
  71. N.T. Wright: Revelation for Everyone
  72. Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest
  73. Richelle Thompson, Ed.: Watching and Waiting: Advent Word Reflections
  74. C.J. Sansom: Sovereign
  75. Jonathan Evenson: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

Books I read (or re-read) in 2019

In the back of my journal, I keep a little list of the books I read. I don’t do this as a kind of score-keeping exercise; more as an aid to reflection. Here’s the list for 2019, in the order in which they were read:

Kate Moorehead: I Witness: Living Inside the Stories of Advent and Christmas
Rachel Kadish: The Weight of Ink
Roy McGregor: Original Highways: Travelling the Great Rivers of Canada
Rachel Kadish: Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story
Philip Yancey: Disappointment with God
Ian Cowley: The Contemplative Minister
Karen Swallow Prior: On Reading Well
Louise Penny: Still Life
Karen R. Keen: Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Marriage
Simon Armitage: The Unaccompanied
Rudy Wiebe: Collected Stories 1955-2010
Jonathan Bate: John Clare: A Biography
C.S. Lewis: An Experiment in Criticism
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Emmy Kegler: One Coin Found
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Billy Bragg: The Three Dimensions of Freedom
Richard Wagamese: One Story, One Song
Andy Weir: The Martian
Adrian Plass: The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass
Charles Martin: Water from My Heart
David Lyle Jeffrey, ed: English Spirituality in the Age of Wesley
John Goldingay: Psalms for Everyone, Part 2
John Grisham: The Last Juror
Mark Noll: The Rise of Evangelicalism
Heidi McNaughton: Forever My Girl
John Grisham: Grey Mountain
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
George MacDonald: Thomas Wingfold, Curate
John Grisham: The Reckoning
John Grisham: Sycamore Row
George MacDonald: Paul Faber, Surgeon
Alan Jacobs: How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds
C.S. Lewis: The Discarded Image
Rudy Wiebe: Big Bear
Gary S. Selby: Pursuing an Earthy Spirituality: C.S. Lewis and Incarnational Faith
Thomas Cahill: Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter
Paula Gooder: Phoebe
Ada Bezancon-Spencer: 2 Corinthians
John Grisham: The Broker
Anthony Bloom: Beginning to Pray
Thomas Cahill: Mysteries of the Middle Ages
Anthony McGowan: How to Teach Philosophy to Your Dog
Rupert Shortt: God is No Thing: Coherent Christianity
John Grisham: The Guardians
C.S. Lewis: The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings
Rupert Shortt: Does Religion Do More Harm Than Good?
The Revised English Bible, with Apocrypha

And now, a few reflections.

Best book of 2019? Rachel Kadish’s brilliant novel The Weight of Ink. Superb plot, very vivid writing style, amazingly believable characters, superbly researched (it’s set in London, partly in the 17th century and partly in the 21st).

Runner up? Probably Paula Gooder’s Phoebe, a brilliant imagination of what life may have been like in one of the house churches that first received Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paula says it’s not really a novel, but I think it is! However, the scholarship behind it is superb.

Least enjoyable book of 2019? Probably Ada Bezancon-Spencer’s commentary on 2 Corinthians in the People’s Bible Commentary series. It may have been our fault; we were reading it as a daily devotional commentary, but we found the readings so often lost the wood for the trees. Too much extraneous detail.

Best re-read: Anthony Bloom’s brilliant little book Beginning to Pray, which I think i last read in the 1980s when I certainly wasn’t ready for it. Simple but profound treatment of contemplative prayer, which I will re-read again in 2020 and take as a spiritual guide.

I also enjoyed re-reading the Harry Potter series. I see I re-read some John Grisham as well; he appears to be my go-to relaxation when I’m not feeling 100%!

Finally, I used the ‘One Year Bible’ reading plan to make my way through the entire Revised English Bible day by day through the year. The REB has been on my shelves for years but I have never read it all the way through, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now, on to 2020!

Books I Read (or Re-Read) in 2018.

In the back of my journal, I keep a little list of the books I read. I don’t do this as a kind of score-keeping exercise; more as an aid to reflection. Here’s the list for 2018, in the order in which they were read:

Palmer Becker, Anabaptist Essentials
Khaled Hosseini: And the Mountains Echoed
Matt Haig: Reasons to Stay Alive
Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie: The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity
Columba Stewart, OSB: Prayer and Community: the Benedictine Tradition
Esther DeWaal: Seeking God: the Way of St. Benedict
Joanna Trollope: Sense and Sensibility
William L. Lane: Hebrews: A Call to Commitment
Alexander McCall Smith: Emma: A Modern Retelling
Timothy Fry, Ed: The Rule of St. Benedict
James D.G. Dunn: Romans (The People’s Bible Commentary)
Jane Austen: Emma
Kate Bowler: Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved
Adam Shoalts: A History of Canada in Ten Maps
Michael Bond: A Bear Called Paddington
Sarah Ruden: Paul Among the People
David Hackett Fischer: Champlain’s Dream
Karl Vaters: Small Church Essentials
Chaim Potok: The Gift of Asher Lev
Gregory Alan Thornbury: Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock
Tom Wright: Mark for Everyone
Wendell Berry: Hannah Coulter
Mark D. Baker: Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross
John Grisham: The Last Juror
Karen Swallow Prior: Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More
Ariana Huffington: The Sleep Revolution
Bruce Hindmarsh: The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism: True Religion in a Modern World
John Goldingay: Psalms for Everyone, Part 1
Donald C. Posterski: True to You
Pat Barker: Regeneration
Winnfried Corduan: A Tapestry of Faiths
Pat Barker: The Eye in the Door
Pat Barker: The Ghost Road
Rudy Wiebe: Sweeter than All the World
Randy Ingmarson: How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method
Alexander Fullerton: Love for an Enemy
Alexander Fullerton: Submariner
Michael Frost: Keep Christianity Weird
Madeleine Thien: Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Jaron Lanier: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
Roger Coleman: New Light and Truth: The Making of the Revised English Bible
Dante Alighieri: The Portable Dante (translated by Mark Musa)
Stephen P. Dawes: 1 & 2 Kings (People’s Bible Commentary)
C.J. Sansom: Dissolution
Katharine Welby Roberts: I Thought There Would Be Cake
Richard Bauckham: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
C.J. Sansom: Tombland
Catherine Fox: Angels and Men
Alan Kreider: The Patient Ferment of the Early Church
Susan Pitchford: Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone
Catherine Fox: Acts and Omissions
Catherine Fox: Unseen Things Above
Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol
Catherine Fox: Realms of Glory

And now, as is my custom, a few reflections.

Most enjoyable read of the year? This was a tough one to choose this year, because I read41TIyKAbOpL._SY346_ many really good books. However, if pushed to select one, I’d go with Gregory Alan Thornbury‘s ‘Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?I was a Larry Norman fan in the 1970s and 80s but lost touch with him after that. I heard stories about his failings, but was never really familiar with his story. So I was excited when I heard about this book, and it did not disappoint. Larry emerges from these pages as a real human being, one who struggles with weaknesses and failings as we all do. And yet, his influence on my life as a Christian and a musician was entirely positive, and I suspect thousands of others could say the same thing. I expected to think less highly of him after reading this book, but the opposite was the case. I now go back to the old records and listen to them again with more appreciation for the real human being who created them, and I gladly own up to being a Larry Norman fan. Five stars.

51k74TM4QqLIf I could add a second choice, I’d go with David Hackett Fischer‘s ‘Champlain’s Dream‘. I love Canadian history but my knowledge of it is heavily skewed toward the west. I knew very little about Samuel De Champlain, but this book has more than redressed the balance. Meticulously researched (there are 270 pages of appendices and notes) and beautifully written, it is one of the best historical biographies I have ever read. Also five stars.

Least enjoyable read of the year? Probably Alexander McCall Smith‘s Emma: A Modern51KGPkNsVeL Retelling. Maybe it’s asking too much of a modern writer to try to relocate a classic Jane Austen novel in the modern world. So many of Austen’s story lines depend on social conventions (regarding the roles of women, for instance) that just no longer apply today. This is one of the books in the so-called ‘Austen Project’, in which all of Austen’s novels get a modern makeover. I’ve read several of them and I have to say that only Joanna Trollope’s retake on Sense and Sensibility comes anywhere near success for me.

Important discoveries:

Catherine Fox. I didn’t enjoy her Angels and Men, and it took me a while to get into her51mdHKJtjnL Lindchester Series, but by the end of Acts and Omissions I was hooked, and I gobbled up Unseen Things Above and Realms of Glory. I would describe them as being part Barchester Towers, part Susan Howatch’s Church of England series, but much more lighthearted (though, paradoxically, there’s a real depth to them as well) and with a much broader range of brilliantly developed (and very honestly portrayed) characters. The omniscient narrator is not a style of writing I’m used to, nor is the present tense narrative, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying myself.

51szsJbYt-LKaren Swallow Prior is another writer I’ve never come across before but I loved her biography of Hannah More, Fierce Convictions, and am looking forward to reading her newest book On Reading Well.

Bruce Hindmarsh is not exactly new to me as I read his book about John Newton some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. So I was 512CP34YQtLlooking forward to his book about eighteenth century evangelicalism and its interaction with the arts and sciences of its day, and I was not disappointed. I highly recommend The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism to anyone who suspects there’s a lot more to this movement than praise bands and Trumpian politics.

51TBxH8M5VLFinally, a new novel by C.J. Sansom is always a delight, and Tombland was excellent. I was not familiar with the historic incident the book is based on – the Norfolk rebellion in the reign of Edward VI – but the character of Matthew Shardlake was as compelling as ever and the historical research behind the novel is meticulous.

I was surprised to discover that the only poetry book I read this year was a re-read of The Portable Dante. It’s not that I haven’t read any poetry; I simply haven’t finished any collections! I’ll have to make a point of that this coming year, as I do find poetry hugely rewarding.

And now – on to 2019!

Books I read (or re-read) in 2017

In the back of my journal, I keep a little list of the books I read. I don’t do this as a kind of score-keeping exercise; more as an aid to reflection. Here’s the list for 2017, in the order in which they were read:

Stephen King: On Writing
Paul Kalinithi: When Breath Becomes Air
Rowan Williams: Being Disciples
Mark Ireland & Mike Chew: How to Do Mission Action Planning
Elma Schemenauer: Consider the Sunflowers
Mark Ireland and Mike Booker: Making New Disciples
C.S. Lewis: Reflections on the Psalms
Harry Mowvley: 1 & 2 Samuel (People’s Bible Commentary)
Joanna Trollope: Sense and Sensibility
William Paul Young: The Shack
Duane Pederson: Larger than Ourselves
Andrew Marr: We British: the Poetry of a People
Thomas Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge
Mary Oliver: Blue Horses
Seamus Heaney: Selected Poems 1966-1987
Seamus Heaney: Human Chains
Timothy Keller: Preaching
Michael Harvey: Unlocking the Growth
Barbara Tuchmann: The Guns of August
Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Michael Frost: Surprise the World
Alan Hirsch: The Forgotten Ways
W.O. Mitchell: Roses are Difficult Here
Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking
Jennifer Robison: Goodnight from London
Adam S. McHugh: Introverts in the Church
Clive James: Injury Time
Sarah Perry: The Essex Serpent
Loveday Alexander: Acts (People’s Bible Commentary)
Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows
remper Longman, Philips Long & Iain Provain: A Biblical History of Israel
Kate Rademacher: Following the Red Bird
Yuval Noah Harani: Sapiens
Justin Welby: Dethroning Mammon
Andrew Marr: A History of Modern Britain
Justin Brierley: Unbelievable?
Chaim Potok: The Chosen
Chaim Potok: The Promise
Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner
Chaim Potok: My Name is Asher Lev
C.S. Lewis: The Four Loves
Chaim Potok: In the Beginning
Ros Wynne-Jones: Something is Going to Fall Like Rain
Chaim Potok: The Book of Lights
Stephen Dawes: 1 & 2 Kings (People’s Bible Commentary)
Melvyn Bragg: William Tyndale: A Brief History
Chaim Potok: Davita’s Harp
Siddhartha Mukharjee: The Emperor of All Maladies
Ursula K. LeGuin: A Wizard of Earthsea
David Daniell: William Tyndale: A Biography
Rowan Williams: Tokens of Trust
George Pitcher: A Dark Nativity
Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns

And now, as is my custom, a few reflections.

Most enjoyable read of the year? Definitely Andrew Marr’s We British: The Poetry of a People. Marr is both a good historian and also a lover of poetry, and he manages to combine them both in this volume, which is part anthology, part history of English poetry, and part a social history of Britain and its people. Marci and I read it together and we hugely enjoyed it. And – here’s the rub – Marr introduced me to some poets I knew little about, but who I have since read more of and thoroughly enjoyed.

Honourable mention must go to Susan Cain’s Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking, which not only helped me to understand myself better, but also made me think about the way we do church and what we ask of people – which may be less well suited to the introvert temperament – and how we might make it more inclusive of all temperaments.

Least enjoyable read of the year? Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay. I read and enjoyed the first two books in the Hunger Games trilogy, but this third and final book just didn’t cut it for me. There was plenty of horror in the first two books, of course, but it was contained by the device of the Hunger Games. The third book, however, describes in horrifying detail an all-out war, in which child soldiers fight and commit acts that will give them (if they survive – most don’t) nightmares for the rest of their lives. Collins is a wonderfully skilled writer, but I thought she could have imagined a better and stronger ending to the trilogy than this.

I found myself comparing Katniss’s role in the war against the Capitol with Frodo’s in the War of the Ring. Like Katniss, Frodo is a small and seemingly insignificant person, and the major battles happen in places where he is not present, but in the end, because of the plot device of the Ring, he turns out to have the decisive role in the story. What a pity that Collins couldn’t have thought of a way to make Katniss – supposedly the heroine of the novel – the actual centre of the story! Most of the significant moments in the struggle for freedom actually seem to happen when she’s unconscious (she spends a rather large proportion of the book lying convalescing), and in the end, her role in the struggle seems rather peripheral – she’s the centre of the rebels’ P.R. efforts, but that’s about it.

Important discoveries:

Paul Kalinithi: When Breath Becomes Air. I can’t say ‘His first book’, because there won’t be any more – he died of cancer before it was published. An amazingly honest account of what it feels like for a brilliant doctor to become a cancer patient himself. And while we’re talking about cancer, Siddhartha Mukharjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer was a brilliant history of the diagnosis and treatment of cancer from earliest times to the present day. I learned a huge amount from reading this book.

On a completely different subject, Michael Frost’s Surprise the World describes a simple rule of life for missional Christians based on the acronym ‘BELLS’: ‘Bless’ three people this week, ‘Eat’ with three people this week, ‘Listen’ to the Holy Spirit for one period this week, ‘Learn’ Christ for one period this week, and journal this week about the ways you have been ‘Sent’ in mission. I read it twice and then lead a book study on it in our church which was very well received. I highly recommend it.

Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns were both excellent reads. I’m a little late in discovering Hosseini; he is my first encounter with a country I knew almost nothing about – Afghanistan – and his books have given me a vivid picture of what life is actually like in that long-suffering country. They are not easy reads – they describe hard events in the lives of people – but they are powerfully written and I look forward to reading more from him.

Finally I should mention Rowan Williams’ Tokens of Trust which I read just before Christmas, and hugely enjoyed; it is certainly one of my favourite theological reads. I loved his description of the Christian life as learning to believe that God can be trusted. He covered some pretty basic theological themes – creation, incarnation etc. – but as my friend Clarke French remarked, over and over again as I was reading the book I found myself saying “Wow – it’s never been said quite as well as that before!”

And now – on to 2018!

You don’t need a Kindle or a Kobo to be able to read Kindle or Kobo e-books

kindleappLittle known fact: you don’t actually need to actually own a Kindle or Kobo to be able to read e-books for Kindle or Kobo.

You can download a Kindle or Kobo app for your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Then you can go to the Kindle, Kobo or Indigo stores, buy e-books, and read them on your device.

For, go to the Kindle store section of the website and then click on the linkunnamed ‘Free Reading Apps’. It will take you to this page, where you can download the app for your device (computer, iPad or other tablet, iPhone or other smartphone). On other Amazon sites, search for the appropriate tab. (You can also download the app directly from the Apple App store; I’m assuming you can do the same thing from the equivalent stores for apps for other platforms).

For Kobo, go to, and at the very top of the page you’ll see a link for ‘Apps and E-Readers’. Follow that link to download the appropriate app for your device. For Apple, it will direct you to a link in the iTunes store for iPhone and iPad, or on the Kobo site itself for desktop or laptop computers. There are similar links for other platforms.

meadowvalecover-smallOnce you’ve done that, your next step is to purchase Meadowvale for Kindle on or your own local Amazon site, or at Indigo or the Kobo store for Kobo! What could be better?!

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for owning a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle or Kobo. You’re not so distracted by the temptation to check your email or browse the web. And you don’t have to deal with backlit screens either, so they won’t keep you awake at night.

But if you already have a device and don’t want to fork out the extra cash for a dedicated e-reader, you don’t need to miss out on reading books that are only available as e-books – books like Meadowvale, that is!


Books I Read (or Re-Read) in 2016

In the back of my journal, I keep a little list of the books I read. I don’t do this as a kind of score-keeping exercise; more as an aid to reflection. Here’s the list for 2016, in the order in which they were read:

Ursula K. LeGuin: The Farthest Shore
The Rule of St. Benedict
Daren Wride: DNA of a Christ-Follower
Dante: Divine Comedy Vol. 1: Inferno
C.S. Lewis: The Weight of Glory
Dante: Divine Comedy Volume 2: Purgatorio
Elsie H.R. Rempel: Please Pass the Faith
Richard Giles: Here I Am: Reflections on the Ordained Life
Dante: Divine Comedy Volume 3: Paradiso
Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and David Wright: Write, Publish, Repeat
John Clare: The Shepherd’s Calendar
Leah Kostamo: Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community
Dante: La Vita Nuova
Ursula K. LeGuin: Tehanu
Richard Foster: Celebration of Discipline
Ursula K. LeGuin: Tales from Earthsea
Ursula K. LeGuin: The Other Wind
John Goldingay: Joshua, Judges, and Ruth for Everyone
The Collected Poems of Oscar Wilde
Paul Torday: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Alan Jacobs: The Narnian
Dave Ferguson and John Ferguson: Finding Your Way Back to God
Mark D. Baker and Joel B. Green: Recovering the Scandal of the Cross:Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts
Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Denny J. Weaver: Becoming Anabaptist
Tony Hillerman: Skinwalkers
Stuart Murray: The Naked Anabaptist
Tony Hillerman: The Blessing Way
Bill Bryson: Shakespeare: The World as Stage
A.N. Wilson: The Elizabethans
Harold Percy: Your Church Can Thrive
John Grisham: Gray Mountain
Wendell Berry: The Way of Ignorance
Brian Zahnd: Water Into Wine: Some of My Story
Simon Winchester: The Map that Changed the World
Joel B. Green: Conversion in Luke/Acts
Jonathan Merritt: Jesus is Better Than You Imagined
Hilary Mantel: Bring Up the Bodies
Andy Weir: The Martian
John Goldingay: Jeremiah for Everyone
Alain de Botton: The Course of Love
W.O. Mitchell: Who Has Seen the Wind?
Walter Brueggemann: The Prophetic Imagination
C.C. Humphreys: Plague
Joel B. Green: Body, Soul, and Human Life
Robert E. Coleman: The Master Plan of Evangelism
Peter Dale: A Poetry of Place
John H. Walton: The Lost World of Genesis One
N.T. Wright: John for Everyone: Part 1
Karl Vaters: The Grasshopper Myth
Patrick O’Brien: Master and Commander
William Cowper: Selected Poetry and Prose
Ann Cleeves: Raven Black
Tobias Haller: Reasonable and Holy
Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See
Brother Andrew: God’s Smuggler
N.T. Wright: John for Everyone: Part 2
Ann Cleeves: White Nights
Timothy Keller: Making Sense of God
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Wendell Berry: A Small Porch
W.O. Mitchell: Jake and the Kid
Thomas Hardy: The Return of the Native
J.D. Vance: Hillbilly Elegy
Kent Haruf: Benediction
David Augsburger: Dissident Discipleship
W.O. Mitchell: The Kite
Thomas Hardy: Tess of the D’Urbervilles
C.S. Lewis: The Magician’s Nephew
Francis Spufford: Unapologetic
Holy Bible: New International Version (2011)

A few reflections in no particular order:

Most enjoyable read of the year? Definitely, hands down, with lots of space between it and the next-most-enjoyable, Dante’s Divine Comedy. In fact, I loved it so much I read it twice. My first time through I was using Mark Musa’s three volume, profusely annotated edition; I read each canto through once by itself, then re-read it, scrupulously reading every single footnote as well. The notes were enormously helpful; Dante is surprisingly earthed in the contemporary political/cultural/religious scene of his day, and he assumes a vast amount of knowledge of names and events, which Musa helpfully tracks down. But when I was done I re-read the whole thing without any footnotes in Musa’s one-volume edition (‘The Portable Dante’), which also includes Dante’s Vita Nuova – which I also enjoyed.

I loved Dante’s imagery (even though his cosmology is of course completely outmoded). Two theological points especially struck me. First, in the Inferno almost all of the punishments are in fact logical and natural consequences of the sins being punished. I think Dante’s point (or part of it) may be that sin is its own punishment. Second, Dante believed that sin is essentially loving the wrong things (I should explain that his concept of love is far closer to Eros than to the New Testament idea of Agape), and that our love-choices need to be educated by the light of reason and revelation.

His final canto in the Paradiso? I defy any Christian to read it without being overwhelmed by the beauty of what he is describing.

Honourable mention also of Andy Weir’s The Martian. I watched the movie on Netflix, really liked it, so bought the book and found it to be even better than the movie. I hope he writes some more good science fiction for us.

Least enjoyable read of the year? Definitely William Cowper’s Selected Poetry and Prose. I only have one word to describe these pieces: tedious.

Important discoveries:

The writings of Joel Green, especially his work in Body, Soul and Human Life which challenged a lot of my concepts of what a soul is (it turns out that it’s all in the brain and is intrinsically physical).

W.O. Mitchell. Oh my – why had I never read any of his stuff before? His descriptions of small town prairie life in the mid-twentieth century rang a lot of bells with my experience of Arborfield in the early 1980s (some of Mitchell’s heroes, had they been non-fictional characters, would have been the same age as our Arborfield old-timers when Marci and I first arrived there). Wonderful characters, superbly authentic dialogue, great storytelling – hugely enjoyable reads. I know I’ll read everything by him I can get my hands on.

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy was as illuminating and disturbing as I had been led to believe it would be. Superb book; I highly recommend it.

Karl Vaters’ The Grasshopper Myth is an excellent book about small church ministry (Vaters defines ‘small church’ as less than 200 people). I don’t know that there was anything in it I didn’t instinctively know already, but it was very helpfully set out in a memorable way. I will re-read it regularly along with Dave Hansen’s The Art of Pastoring and Eugene Peterson’s books on pastoral ministry.

I read a good bit of poetry this year: Dante, John Clare, Oscar Wilde, Wendell Berry, William Cowper, Peter Dale. Later in the year I got snagged in the massive Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy, which I still haven’t finished (it’s 900 pages long). Hardy is brilliant, but he’s hard work and I find I can only take him in small doses.

Finally, I’m glad to say that I read the Bible all the way through again this year. I read the Bible daily, but I haven’t been very successful over the years in finding a Bible-reading plan and sticking to it. This year I chose the One Year Bible, and I picked the New International Version 2011 as my translation for the year. I really enjoyed the daily mix of Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, and by the end of the year I had definitely formed a habit. I’ll do it again this year, I know, possibly with the New Living Translation. (Note: there are now four translations of the Bible I’ve read all the way through: the Living Bible, the New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha, the King James Version with Apocrypha, and the NIV 2011).

Books I Read (or Re-Read) in 2015

In the back of my journal, I keep a little list of the books I read. I don’t do this as a kind of score-keeping exercise; more as an aid to reflection. Here’s the list for 2015, in the order in which they were read:

The Poems of Wilfred Owen
Rudy Wiebe: Come Back
John Grisham: Gray Mountain
John Grisham: The Litigators
John Clare: Poems (selected by Paul Farley)
Matt Garvin: Six Radical Decisions
Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath
Wendell Berry: That Distant Land
Bill Hybels: Too Busy Not to Pray
Kent Haruf: Plainsong
Kent Haruf: Eventide
Lesslie Newbigin: Proper Confidence
Rudy Wiebe: The Blue Mountains of China
John Goldingay: Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone
Guy Vanderhaeghe: The Last Crossing
Carrie LaSeur: The Home Place
Greg Ogden: Transforming Discipleship
Thomas King: Medicine River
Guy Vanderhaeghe: A Good Man
Bill Hull: The Disciple-Making Pastor
Wendell Berry: The Memory of Old Jack
N.T. Wright: How God Became King
Guy Vanderhaeghe: The Englishman’s Boy
Francis Spufford: Unapologetic
Scot McKnight: The King Jesus Gospel
Salman Rushdie: Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Marilynne Robinson: Gilead
Wendell Berry: A World Lost
Tom Wright: Simply Jesus
R.T. France: Mark (Doubleday Bible Commentary)
N.T. Wright: Simply Good News
Elizabeth Gaskell: Cranford
C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity
O. Hallesby: Prayer
Wendell Berry: Hannah Coulter
Thomas Hardy: The Woodlanders
Elizabeth Gaskell: The Moorland Cottage
Michael Curry: Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus
Craig Johnson: A Cold Dish
Wendell Berry: Remembering
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall
Jack Nisbet: Sources of the River
John Goldingay: Numbers and Deuteronomy for Everyone
D’arcy Jenish: Epic Wanderer: David Thompson and the Mapping of the Canadian West
Craig Johnson: Death Without Company
Craig Johnson: Kindness Goes Unpunished
Francis S. Collins: The Language of God
William E. Moreau, Ed.: The Writings of David Thompson, Vol. 1: The Travels, 1850 Version.
Craig Johnson: Another Man’s Moccasins
C.S. Lewis: The Screwtape Letters
Ursula K. LeGuin: A Wizard of Earthsea
C.S. Lewis: Miracles
Paula Gooder: Heaven
C.S. Lewis: The Problem of Pain
Ursula K. LeGuin: The Tombs of Atuan
Sarah McLean: Pink is the New Black
Arthur Ransome: Swallows and Amazons
Vera Brittain: Testament of Youth
N.T. Wright: Luke for Everyone
C.J. Sansom: Lamentation
Harold Percy: Your Church Can Thrive
Dan Rubinstein: Born to Walk
Nick Baines: Why Wish You A Merry Christmas?
Stephen Cottrell: Walking Backwards to Christmas
St. Athanasius: On the Incarnation of the Word of God
John Grisham: The Rogue Lawyer
Adam Hamilton: Making Sense of the Bible
Wendell Berry: This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems


A few reflections.

First, this is a much longer list than the one I posted this time last year. I was disappointed in myself at how little I’d read last year, when I remembered what an avid reader I used to be. This year I’ve intentionally spent a lot less time surfing the web and reading blogs, and more time on reading books, both light and substantial. And I’ve enjoyed it.

Some of these were books I worked on for a while. The Writings of David Thompson, for instance, was one I worked on, on and off, for a couple of months, and so was the big fat Wendell Berry poetry book This Day.

I’ve discovered a few authors I’ve really enjoyed this year. Guy Vanderhaeghe’s trilogy about the old Canadian/American west was hugely enjoyable; I’ll look forward to reading anything new he comes out with. I read my first Salman Rushdie book and really liked it. I enjoyed Craig Johnson’s Longmire mysteries way more than the Netflix TV series based on them. And (how come it took me so long) I started reading Ursula K. LeGuin and I know I’ll go on to read a lot more of her books.

A couple of broadly ‘Christian’ books stood out for me. Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible is one of the best introductory books I’ve ever read; he tells the story of how the Bible came about, discusses issues like biblical authority, ‘inerrancy’ etc., and then goes on to consider specific issues: creation and science, violence, homosexuality. Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic was a fresh way of approaching the whole issue of commending Christianity to others, not so much by intellectual argument as by reflecting on our emotional makeup as human beings. Ole Hallesby’s old classic Prayer was refreshing and inspiring, and again I found myself asking ‘How come I waited so long to read it?’

Finally, I’ve decided to slowly re-read my C.S. Lewis collection, and I made a good start this year. I hadn’t read Miracles or The Problem of Pain since the 1980s, and I remembered them as being a difficult read, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I didn’t find them anything like as hard as I had expected; I thoroughly enjoyed them, in fact.

What’s ahead? My good friend Daren Wride has written a book called DNA of a Christ-Follower; he was kind enough to ask my opinion of an earlier draft of the book, and I’m looking forward to reading the final text. I’ve also decided to read Dante’s Divine Comedy; I read the Inferno and half of the Purgatorio a few years ago, but then ran out of steam. I’m going to have another go at them. I’m looking forward to more Ursula LeGuin, more re-reading of C.S. Lewis, and some more poetry, too: I’ve got some volumes of Thomas Hardy, John Clare, Oscar Wilde, and John Keats in my pile. Also in the pile are Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the 1541 French edition of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (quite a bit shorter than the final version), and Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. And I’m sure that when I want an easy read I’ll read a few more of Craig Johnson’s Longmire mysteries!

That’s just the stuff I know about, but of course, there will be surprises – even surprisers that are already on my shelves. Like most readers, I’ve bought books I’ve left unread, for one reason or another. I know from long experience that at least once this year I’ll probably have the experience of taking one of those ‘undiscovered countries’ down from the shelf, starting to read it, and finding it unexpectedly good.

Happy reading in 2016, folks!

Quote for the Day

C.S. Lewis in the introduction to his book The Problem of Pain:

‘I must add, too, that the only purpose of the book is to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering; for the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I was never fool enough to suppose myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.’

Actually, Mr. Lewis, I think you might have something to teach us after all…

I need more binge-reading

Yesterday I travelled from Edmonton to St. John, New Brunswick, where I will be participating in meetings of the national board of this ministry.

It’s three hours and forty-five minutes flying time from Edmonton to Toronto, and then another two hours from Toronto to St. John. I did some sitting in airports, too; ‘hurry up and wait’ is of course one of the slogans of airline travel.

I brought my Kindle with me, and on the trip I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Cranford‘. All of it. It’s 185 pages long (so my Kindle tells me); I started it before takeoff in Edmonton, and I finished it about ten minutes before landing in St. John.

It’s been a long time since I read a novel like that. There’s nothing like it for grasping the big picture of the story the author is trying to tell. Characters grow; plot lines develop; little hints earlier on in the book materialize into full-blown chapters later on. It was an amazing experience.


Like most Christians, I tend to read the books of the Bible in small daily snippets. I blame lectionaries; they’ve made us into snippet-readers, rather than big picture readers.

A few years ago I read Paul’s letter to the Romans through in one sitting. Once again, it was an awesome experience; I was able to take in the whole sweep of what Paul was trying to say, in one go. But the sad thing is, before that, I can’t remember the last time I did that with a biblical book.

Note to self: when it comes to the Bible, I need more binge-reading.

Who are the must-reads?

Seth Godin had a great blog post on Thursday about knowing who the must-reads are in your field. It ended with these words:

We would never consent to surgery from a surgeon who hadn’t been to medical school, and perhaps even more important, from someone who hadn’t kept up on the latest medical journals and training. And yet there are people who take pride in doing their profession from a place of naivete, unaware or unlearned in the most important voices in their field.

The line between an amateur and professional keeps blurring, but for me, the posture of understanding both the pioneers and the state of the art is essential. An economist doesn’t have to agree with Keynes, but she better know who he is.

If you don’t know who the must-reads in your field are, find out before your customers and competitors do.

Too much doing, not enough knowing.

So the question is, for us pastors, who are the ‘must-reads’ in our field? And how do we decide?

The reason I ask this question is because we have a fair amount of latitude in our work. An old clergy friend of mine once told me that you can do the absolute non-negotiable tasks of an Anglican parish priest in about 24 hours a week. If you work twice that many (as many of my colleagues do), you have a certain amount of freedom in deciding how you’re going to spend the other 24 hours. And many of us will tend to spend it on projects and tasks that interest us, rather than asking ‘What would be of most benefit to my parish?’

Do we make decisions about our reading the same way? Instead of asking ‘Who are the must-reads to better equip me to do the work God is calling me to do in this parish?’ do we ask instead, ‘Now, what would I most like to read next?’ ?

I suspect that’s how we often make that decision. I know that’s true of me.

So my questions are:

  1. Who are the ‘must-reads’ for us as pastors?
  2. How do we decide who goes on that list?
  3. How do we make sure that we don’t neglect the classics that have stood the test of time in favour of the ones who happen to be making the waves today?

Please discuss…