There are always many reasons for not writing enough. Writing is hard. Writing involves sweating your soul out of your fingertips.
Reading is one way of enriching your soul and feeding those muses. Reading gets the fingertips buzzing again. Writers need to read widely to understand how to write well, to learn what is being read by others and to find their niche in a busy market. This past year I tackled my own reading by challenging myself to see how many books I could complete, noting each one down as I finished it. The rules were fairly simple. I could already have begun the book, but needed to have finished it completely within 2019. This rules out books I only read a portion of to my son, or ones which are still ‘live’, but rules in books I had almost finished at the end of last year. Magazines, articles, essays, chapters of books didn’t count, no matter how erudite or obscure. Only completed volumes could be added to the list.
As I went through the year I found more questions arising and various patterns emerging in my reading. I have been working through a number of books at any given time, but wanted to vary the genres, authors and lengths. I kept long books for trips and read short chapter books to my son or read them myself. I worked on books for my research in my morning quiet time and easy reads in bed at night. I challenged myself to complete the New Testament in Greek, which I had begun a year before (this only counted as one book, but might easily have been 23) and allowed myself to count Genesis and Exodus in Hebrew as a book each. I included Molesworth (a four-volume book) as one. I included poetry, autobiography, devotional, fiction and academic works. For the first time, I actually read the Harry Potter canon, and found that I really enjoyed the series. I’m now working through the spin-offs. I read books by friends and those I’ve met at events, and books by people with completely different world-views to mine.
Today I finished three books, taking the total for 2019 to 70 completed volumes.
Of these, half were fiction, 29 were children’s books and 6 were poetry. I read 14 autobiographies and a couple more biographies, 28 books by Christian writers and 6 which were definitely academic or theological. The number of ‘live’ current reads is, I think, another 6-10. In all this, I am not aware that my ‘to be read’ pile has shrunk in any way.
I rated each book out of 10 for how much it impressed me, and 26 of those I finished scored a 10. The others varied a lot, but generally did very well.
Here are my 12 recommended reading highlights from 2019. Links take you to Amazon, but there are many alternative and very worthy sellers: I recommend buying from independent sellers wherever possible. See these links for reviews and information on each.
Eye Can Write, written against the odds, challenges the reader on a number of levels. Jonathan Bryan is a poet, deep thinker and baker of cakes. He also lives with severe cerebral palsy and was thought not to be able to communicate at all.
I am amazed that Jonathan wrote this while only 12 years old.
I want to be as good a writer as he is one day.
Rooftoppers is #1 in ‘Home Improvement Roofing’ on the Big A, but that’s not all.
This page-turner has rich characters, a clever plot and amazing writing.
Great for children and those reading to them.
Wonder is worth reading before you watch the film adaptation: it is told beautifully and is a great way to get children (and adults) thinking about how we act when we encounter difference.
For People Needing Purpose:
Liz Carter has managed a great feat in producing this book: Catching Contentment is readable and full of empowering truths. Satisfaction is hard to come by, and Liz knows a thing or two about that. She shares her story and challenges and encourages us to look at what contentment really means and how we can experience it ourselves.
Lysa TerKeurst is another woman with a powerful testimony of huge disappointment and how to find strength to rebuild a life. It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way may be a bestseller, but its popularity demonstrates how important this topic is for so many of us.
Disclaimer: I’ve not finished reading Image of the Invisible, but that is because the daily readings last until 6th January. So far it’s been excellent
I was drawn to Amy’s book because I like to be challenged when I have devotional readings and Amy has an intelligent, godly and articulate voice. She connects biblical truths intuitively with experiences many of us resonate with, and I highly recommend this book for future Advent readers.
For Those Who Love Wit:
Brian Bilston signed my copy of Diary of a Somebody when he came to Cambridge recently. I love his marvellous wit, original ideas and allusions to works of literature, films and music. His tweets made him famous through his clever poetry; this longer book is great fun and a super read whether or not you like poetry.
(But particularly if you do).
For Those Who Love a Well-Crafted Story:
Madeline Miller is both an academic and an astonishingly good writer. I felt drawn into her world of ancient Greek myth and I thoroughly enjoyed reading Circe. I would like to read her Song of Achilles before long. I aspire to be able to write as beautifully as Miller, and to be able to evoke the ancient mind and place so well.
Until this year I had only read the first in the Harry Potter series, but I wanted to read the set, especially now I have a child at high school.
I was spell-bound. The stories are full of adventure and the plotting is superb. The characters were mischievous and lovable and I enjoyed the names and the details. I found all of the books great in their own way, but Deathly Hallows brought everything together neatly and was the most satisfying for me, despite some scary moments.
For Theologians with too little time:
Peter Williams is the Principal of Tyndale House in Cambridge and a renowned New Testament scholar. This short and very readable book is a super look at the reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, looking at details such as undesigned coincidences, outside sources, local knowledge and textual variant questions.
Williams makes a strong case and references his points well. A good book for pastors and biblical teachers, as well as discerning seekers.
Technically, I don’t know whether I have finished reading The Marriage of Heaven and Earth: A Visual Guide to N.T. Wright so I’ve not included it in the book count, but I have read over 80% of it at various times in preparing for my most recent lectures.
If you have time, read N.T. Wright. If you have read some of Tom Wright, but don’t have much time, read this too.
Very clever. Punchy text and illustrated with diagrams to help the visual learner.
This is an amazing resource, and works best in conjunction with the free videos on Youtube. I’ve not read all of Read Scripture: Illustrated Summaries of Biblical Books but as a biblical scholar I love what the team have done. Each book of the Bible gets a large spread and there are lots of details as well as overviews. The book is actually quite big, but it comes with a cover to slot into; it needs to be big to fit some of the many details in.
If you have written a book which I haven’t reviewed here, I may not have read it (or finished it) yet – send me an email or drop a comment below and I will read and review it as soon as I am able.
In 2020 I intend to progress further with my own writing projects and will continue to note down all the books I read as I go. I wonder how many books I’ll be able to complete in the coming decade?
Well, ideally I will need to focus more time and attention on my own writing: all being well at least one of those ought to have my name on the cover.
A very happy new year to you, and happy reading!