If you were asked to name those books that shaped your life in 2018, which ones would make your list? It is a question worth pondering, given that books are a big part of influencing the mind and forming the soul. What we read says a lot about us.
An article in this morning’s New York Times gives a list of Barack Obama’s favorite reads in 2018. Regardless of how one feels about him or his politics, his list gives us some insight into his interests, as well as how this past year shaped his life. And that’s what books do—if they are read well. Read “virtuously.”
This is how Karen Prior puts it in her book, On Reading Well (a book that has made my list in 2018). If a book is read well, it will make a difference in one’s conduct. If not read carefully, if it has made no real impact, maybe it does not belong on our list. Reading well takes time and attention, something that is becoming more and more difficult. Given the impact of current technologies, “the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts.”
This is how Nicholas Carr puts it in his The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Reading that devolves into habitual skimming is for the mind what a steady diet of fast food is for the body. Lots of calories, but little nutrients. Speed reading is not only inferior to deep reading; it may actually bring more harm than good.
Sure, some books should be read with speed—those that are thin or meant to merely entertain. Books that are largely anecdotal, that, like some sportscasters (and pastors), keep repeating themselves. Books that, like used rubber bands, do not stretch.
Prior notes that the best books make demands on you, “books with sentences so exquisitely crafted that they must be reread, familiar words used in fresh ways, new words so evocative that you are compelled to look them up, and images and ideas so arresting that they return to you unbidden for days to come.” I long, l—o—n—g, for books like these. Books that invite you—compel you—to read well. Books that not only teach you what to think but how to think.
All of this is forcing me to rethink my list for 2018. Here are some that compelled me to read well—
-Roberts, Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership. Given my task of finishing a global leadership book, Missing Voices, I spent a fair amount of time reading on leadership. This is a fascinating examination of what their leadership looked like.
-Goodwin, Leadership in Turbulent Times. What Lincoln, Roosevelt, Roosevelt, and Johnson—all different lives, yet united by fierce ambition
-Peterson, 12 Rules for Life. I have read and re-read. We do live by rules, and some of these serve as good course corrections to the chaos we face
-Deere-Even in Our Darkness. A troubling look at what happens when outward ministry does not align with what happens behind closed doors
-Harari-21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I am just into this, a futuristic book that gives a picture of 2050. Scary
-Endewrs-Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ. Speaking of fast food, this book will encourage you to rethink what enters the body
Rosling-Factfulness. We could be making a lot of false assumptions about the world as it really is
-Godin-This is Marketing. Marketing is the act of making change happen—and you haven’t made an impact until you have changed someone.
-Kagan-The Jungle Grows Back. There is an emerging jungle that may be taking us back to a time when the world spun out of control. Is history repeating itself? Another book challenging leadership assumptions
-Galli, Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals. A man I was discouraged from studying in seminary, but now I am discovering what I missed
-Vincent-Indianapolis. The very best WWII book I have read in some time
-Wright-The Third Third. Maybe I keep going back to this book because I am in this season of life, asking lots of questions like–how does one shift from doing to becoming?
-Bascomb-The Winter Fortress. One of the greatest stories of heroism.
Some on the radar for 2019—
-Sides-On Desperate Ground
-Moon-Becoming Dallas Willard
–Johnson-Missing Voices. Who knows? Maybe it will be worth ready well.