Read This, Not That

June 20, 2011

Congratulations to Jon Fulk and Jason Miller, who won free copies of “Revolutionaries!”  For the rest of you, the book is a steal at $2.99 on Kindle.

It’s that time of year.  Time for vacations and road trips, and that means lots of hours in the car that need to be filled.  Kids today don’t really know what it means to entertain themselves on car trips, since most family cars now come equipped with DVD players.  They only have to occupy themselves during the time it takes to walk from one glowing rectangle to another.

In ancient times, before 2005, cars were not equipped with DVD players, so people had to find more primitive forms of entertainment in the car.  Looking at license plates, or talking to family members were common car trip activities.  For me, entertainment meant making sure the dog stayed on my brother’s side of the backseat, and bringing a stack of books along.  Books were a lot like DVD players in that they were rectangles.  Just non-glowing, silent, motionless, paper rectangles.

Today, I’m sharing with you what I’m reading this summer, and asking you a very simple question: what should I bring to read in the car, so my wife doesn’t go nuts with me trying to talk to her incessantly?

I always have several books in my queue that I’m reading and skipping around between.  Here’s how I’m entertaining myself with some non-glowing rectangles.

Why People Make Mistakes

My reading has taken a sharp turn toward pop psychology lately.  I fancy myself an armchair counselor, so I eat up books like this.  If you want to be simultaneously amazed by the power of the human brain and humbled by how many mistakes it makes, this is your book.  This is a phenomenal little book full of anecdotes about just how amazingly dumb people can really be, without even knowing it.  Perfect for me because I treat anecdotes like party favors.  Check it here.

The Man Who Forgot How to Read

Again with the light psychology.  Last year I read Dr. Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. This year, I’m following it up with this account of an author and avid reader who, due to complications of an illness, lost the ability to interpret even words he had just written.  It makes you realize just how fragile we really are.  The first edition also carries the honor of having the most delightfully indiscernible cover art.  Buy it here.


Boys Adrift / Girls on the Edge

I want to personally buy a copy of these books for all of my friends with kids.  As a teacher and pastor who cares about our tender youth, I often wonder just what the hell is wrong with kids these days.  Dr. Leonard Sax lays out the real causes of why so many boys and men my age are unmotivated while so many girls and women my age are anxious and depressed.  And even more importantly, real solutions for parents.  These books are also extremely reasonable in their arguments and solutions, rather than being an extreme fanatic, which is good for a skeptic like me.  I made some genuine personal lifestyle changes that I had resisted because Dr. Sax convinced me.  Buy them here and here.

Surprisingly, I haven’t had a really good faith based book in quite a while.  I’m having kind of a dry spell where most of the faith books I pick up all seem to say the same things.  So that’s why there isn’t one on the list.

Tell us what you’re reading this summer, or taking with you on your car trips.  I’ve heard dozens of people tell me I just have to read The Hunger Games. Do you have any good faith book recommendations?

52 responses to Read This, Not That

  1. Some of what I am reading is probably a bit sociology nerdish for most people so I will spare you that. A few suggestions others might like

    – The message of the old testament by Mark Dever- It is quite a big book (944 pages!) but is easy to read and provides a good overview of each old testament book. I think there is a new testament version too

    – Notes from a tilt-a-whirl by N.D Wilson- The book takes a poetic approach to questions of faith. It is really well written and quite thought provoking.
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    • I’ve seen Mark Dever speak, and even though I don’t think I see eye to eye with him on Biblical history, I can see why you’d say his extremely long book is easy to read. He’s very charismatic to listen to as well.

  2. Here are some we recommend:
    HOPE UNSEEN non-fiction about a platoon leader who was blinded in Iraq; here’s a link to our review:

    FLIGHT TO HEAVEN–A PLANE CRASH, A LONE SURVIVOR, A JOURNEY TO HEAVEN AND BACK by Capt. Dale Black; here’s a link to our review:

    JESUS–90 DAYS WITH THE ONE AND ONLY by Beth Moore is a devotional book all focused on the Life of Christ.

    ARMED WITH GOD’S POWER–CHANGING BROKENNESS TO VICTORY THROUGH GOD’S LOVE by Nora White is about her faith journey and domestic violence; here’s the link to our review:

    THE BOY WHO CAME BACK FROM HEAVEN by Kevin and Alex Malarkey is about a little boy who died in an auto accident, visited heaven briefly and lived to tell about it; here’s our review:
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  3. Hi Matt,

    Sorry to have been away from commenting for so long but lightening hit my computer and knocked me off the internet for a while.

    Since I could not browse, I read six or eight books to stimulate my mind, educate me for the future, and uplift my soul.

    In other words, I’ve been reading Charles Schult’s “Complete Peanuts”. Yes, the Fantagraphic Books company out of Seattle, Washington, is publishing a series of books, each one featuring a year or so of Peanuts cartoons–Schultz drew 17,897 of them over a 50 year period.

    In a couple of day, God willing, I plan to write a book review in my blog posting, but yesterday my kids took me to Hooters for Fathers’ Day and that posting draws my attention this morning.

  4. I want to read Skye Jethani’s new book, With, when it comes out in August. It’s based on how much of Christians’ faith nowadays is based either on activism, or doing good so God will give us stuff. In the midst of this, we’ve lost what God intended: abiding in Him.

    The first chapter is online for free,and it’s already helped me rethink the way I approach God.

    I also want to read This is Water by David Foster Wallace, an author who could write compassionately about pretty much anyone. It’s a graduation speech that covered a way to pursue loving one’s neighbor. Those might be all I can afford to read this year, till I get that library card.

  5. I read constantly, interspersing fiction, biography and Christian living.

    Here are a few suggestions:

    1. The Lost Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
    spoiler alert: it’s written from the dog’s perspective and spans the life of the dog – it has an Marley & Me ending

    2. Son of Laughter, Frederick Buechner
    It’s an account of the life of Jacob, with a lot of artistic license.

    1. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls
    If you love psychology, I think you’ll like this memoir – it’s a study on (of sorts) on the Spirit of Poverty

    2. Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls
    The memoir of her grandmother, she is mentioned in the book above but her story is developed more fully.

    Christian Living
    1. The Jesus Manifesto, Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola
    This book was different than others I’ve read because I understand you when you said you haven’t read a Christian book in a long while. I can’t read them all the time either.

    Have a great summer, and I envy your ability to read in the car. I get carsick but I make up for it when I’m on solid ground. In a week of vacation, I easily read 3-5 fiction books.
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  6. I’m reading Quitter, 48 days to the work you love, and the War of Art.
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  7. Wow, I love faith books – well, not the teaching kind. I like the ones filled with testimonies about how awesome God is. My all time favorite is Like a Mighty Wind by Mel Tari; an Indonesian. It’s $7.99 on Amazon. You really might enjoy it before you head off to Mexico.

    2. I Believe in Miracles – Kathryn Kuhlman

    3. Smith Wigglesworth: Complete Collection – Smith Wigglesworth

    Those are real faith books with lots of testimonies, not some how to have a better prayer life type of thing.

    I do like the psycho-babble books myself.

    So here’s my offer: Buy the books and read them; if you hate them, I will send you a gift card at Amazon for the amount you paid. I think they are that important.

    Here’s to a great summer, Matt.
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  8. You have no choice. You HAVE to read The Hunger Games. They’re about as addicting as crack, and a lot better for your health (and cheaper). Truuuuust me.

    Another book that I enjoyed reading recently, though, was “Out of a Far Country” by Christopher and Angela Yuan.
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  9. “The Disciplined Life” by Richard Taylor

    “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola

    “The Will of God as a Way of Life” by Gerald Sittser

    Or, of course, you can always find the latest emergent flavor-of-the-month author with a cool, hip, cutting-edge radical (oooh!) book designed to basically challenge The Scriptures and remake God into their image.

    Just sayin’.

  10. my vacation read is going to be Unbroken by Hillenbrand. not a “faith book” per se…more like a novel of faith.
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  11. Okay, this is a children’s book, but as an artist you would probably dig it: The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Lots of cool sketches and a pretty good story to boot. I’m not so sure you would like The Hunger Games series. I think you would find the main character annoying. I just finished Water for Elephants. Pretty visceral. Great writing. Have you read Do the Work by Pressfield? A short follow up to The War of Art and worth a read I think.
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  12. Matt,
    Thanks for your choices. Here are mine.

    Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won


    Poke the Box

    The Externally Focused Quest: Becoming the Best Church for the Community
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  13. I would definitely encourage you to read The Hunger Games but I don’t want to oversell it. I hate when people pump up a book and your expectations- there’s usually a letdown! I resisted reading the series for awhile but once I gave in, I couldn’t put the books down.

    Have you read A Prayer for Owen Meany? It’s my all-time favorite fiction book. Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics are not pop psychology- they’re more like pop economy books- the authors got me thinking about the most interesting and random of connections. Definitely check them out if you haven’t already!
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  14. And thanks for the book recommendations, BTW. Especially the Boys Adrift/Girls on the Edge ones. I was going to order them on Kindle, but I’m thinking I’ll get the paper versions so I can highlight.

  15. I just finished “The Help”. Wow. I couldn’t put it down!
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  16. I just finished “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”. It does have a cool psychology-related angle to it, only in that the narrator is a high-functioning autistic teenager. It makes for an interesting read.

  17. Oh yeah, and I don’t understand how you can watch DVD’s in the car without getting carsick. Kids these days.

  18. I know they’ve been around for 30 years, but have you read all “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” books? Great summer reading, and pure entertainment.

    If you want meaningful, how about “Scared” and “Priceless,” both by Tom Davis? They’re fictional accounts of true situations–one about an AIDS orphan in Africa, and the other about human trafficking. Just make sure you have kleenex handy.

    I love when you write posts like this… I can restock my to-read list!

  19. I gotta read the Alchemist for our work book club…

    on road trips we used to name all the capitals of the united states…awesome!!!!
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  20. I read the books that my boys read and recommend to me.

    My favorite so far is “the Alex Rider Series” by Anthony Horowitz. There are 9 or 10 books of action packed adventures about a british teenaged boy ‘forced’ into being a spy for MI6

    My all time favorite book is “Long way from Chicago” by Richard Peck.
    Two children from Chicago spend the summer with their resilient and crafty grandmother in rural Illinois in the 1930’s. It will have you laughing so hard you will cry.

    We borrow books from the public library on c.d.’s so everyone in the car can listen. And then we talk about the books.

    Matt, I am really curious about your wife. She thinks you, an introvert, are super social. And she doesn’t want you to talk to her for very long in the car? Are you sure she’s a real person? Do other people see her…?

  21. I love “Irresistible Revolution” and “Jesus for President” by Shane Claiborne.

    If you want to be wowed and not left off the hook with sappy feel good Christianity read anything by Oswald Chambers, I’ve recently read “The Shadow of an Agony” and am just finishing “The Highest Good”. Amazing.

    Also Ravi Zacharias is a great read, but dense and takes some concentration (but so does Chambers). Some good ones of his are “Deliver Us From Evil” and his “Jesus Among Other Gods” series. Ravi is a brilliant apologist and will really help you understand the truth of Christianity in comparison to other world religions.

    Anything by AW Tozer, he rights prolifically on the Holy Spirit. Lots of wisdom here.

    I mentioned earlier about Smith Wigglesworth, you’ll read some amazing testimonies as well as loads of wisdom.

    Last year I read “Fasting” by Jentezen Franklin and it was very informative about the power of fasting in our prayer lives. I would recommend it to any serious Christian.

    Can you tell I like to read??

    For “light” fiction I would recommend the short stories of Flannery O’Connor or some early John Irving (A Widow for One Year, The World According to Garp). If you like psychology these will interest you.
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  22. I have just started Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D Wilson. I agree with Joanna (first comment) its worth a read. Very inspiring and creative.

    I also just finished The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace by John Piper. It was very helpful to me in seeing all that God is for me in Jesus Christ.

    Relax and have fun

  23. I just finished reading “Faith Without Illusions” by Andrew Byers. It is about Christian Cynicism. I loved it. He basically calls out Christian cynics and invites them (us) into a better way.

    I highly recommend it.
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  24. I really enjoyed _Almost Home_ by Randy Alcorn. It has fictional characters but discusses Christian persecution in China. I initially bought it because my pastor recommended it, almost didn’t read it because it was inspired by an incredibly sappy painting, but really enjoyed it. It has a “Marley and Me” ending.

    My husband enjoyed _Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” by Oliver Sacks, the same man who wrote _The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat_. I am planning on reading it, too.

    I am currently reading _Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe_ by Mark Driscoll and somebody named Gene beause our church is going through a series based on the book. For a book about doctrine, it is pretty engaging and always has applications for something that seems dry and esoteric (my big word for the day).

    For history, National Geographic published a great book called _George Washington–Spymaster_ It was in the children’s biography section, but I really reading it to my kids. It discusses how the Americans were more successfull at getting Britain’s secrets and plans and thus were able to win the war.

    I have started reading travelogues, which was started when I read _Waltzing Australia_ by Cynthia Clampitt. She is a woman who was successfully climbing the corporate ladder and decided to get off and spend six months traveling around Australia. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, but it also didn’t involve plans for what happend after the trip. You can tell she loves Australia and her descriptions of the countryside are marvelous. She also throws in a little history of Australia and the towns she visits as well as some of the customs. I also read _Blue Nile: River of Mystery and Magic_ by Virginia Morrell, which is not as good. It had continuity and maybe even some depth problems. Plus she whines too much about the tour guide leader, mostly behind his back to other National Geographic leaders during the trip and through the book after the trip.

    I am also planning to feed my inner child and read the Harry Potter series. My oldest has read it and I want to read it before we watch the second movie.
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  25. Great suggestions, Matt and all!

    Business and History:

    The Elephant and the Dragon (India and China – a few years old, but a must read)
    The Forgotten 500 (World War II aviation)
    The Bloody Shirt (African Americans after the Civil War)
    The Big Short (subprime mortgages)
    The First Billion is the Hardest (T. Boone Pickens)

    I still haven’t picked up “Quitter”.

  26. So manny great titles offered already, it seems like literary lunacy to pile on anymore….however, you did ask so I would recommend two non-fictions:
    1.) “Millenials” by Jess Rainer – 20-somethings and faith
    2.) “The Birth Order” by Dr. Kevin Leman – the impact of sibling birth order and personality

    The only fiction book I’ll recommend is “Jennifer Government” by Max Barry. It is a great satire regarding the future state of our society. One of my all-time favorites….

  27. I just recently finished “The Next Christians” by Gabe Lyons. I thought it was a good book. It was an encouragement and a challenge to me because you can read about how many Christians in America today living the way Jesus called. It was challenging to me because I saw how I fall short of how Jesus called us to live.
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  28. A good little book on how to address poverty from a Christian worldview is “Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life” by Lupton.

    A good commentary on 1 Peter to read is by Edmund Clowney from the Bible Speaks Today series. Entry level, not to technical. Loved it.

    To help you become a Calvinist you can read “Finally Alive” by John Piper!!!

  29. Hi Matt,

    This is John again.

    Yesterday, when you invited comments about good books, I praised the Charles Shultz Peanuts collection. Then, last night the thought came to me, “John Cowart you idiot, why didn’t you puff one of your own books”?

    Just hadn’t thought of it.

    For the past 35 years I’ve earned a meager living as a freelance writer, but I’m not very good at promoting my own stuff. But, as the ought-to-be Scripture verse says. “He that tooteth not his own horn, the same getteth not tooted”.

    So, here goes:

    I’ve written or edited 20+ books over the years and some of them are ok.

    The one I like best is “Glog: A Dinosaur Novel… Of Sorts” at . On one level it is an adventure story about a carnivorous dinosaur; on another level it questions problems involved in divine guidance–how do we find God’s will in adverse circumstances when the heavens remain silent?

    My other books are so-so, but I like Glog and I’d recommend it for your consideration.

    John Cowart

  30. Here’s a good one for people who are trying to undo their Calvinism:

    “The Hammer of God” by Bo Giertz.

    Great theology played out in three lifelike, but fictional stoires.
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  31. Cool recommendations, Matt. Thanks. I got to read a bit on vacation and really enjoyed Dreaming with God by Bill Johnson. I’ve been reading Heaven is for Real to my kids and we’re all enjoying that too.
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  32. I’m glad to hear another positive review on “Boys Adrift.” It’s on my list! I’m getting ready to start reading “Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys.”
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