Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Life Issues


I set an audacious goal to read fifty books in 2017. It was too ambitious. Too many distractions. Too many excuses–travel, surgery recovery, writing a book, Longmire, grandkids (wait, I don’t have grandchildren).

Still, I did find time enough to read some amazing books, beginning with Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. I should have gone back to re-read. I might have made my 2017 goal. Another favorite was Mark Galli’s Karl Barth. In my early training I was taught to consider his theology suspect, but, as Galli puts it, “if you want to travel the vast country of God’s grace and get a sweeping view of the wonder of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ, there are few theologians better equipped to help you travel the exquisite highways.” 

Given my greater attention this year to writing, I read several books on the subject. I am still learning the art, and The Art of War for Writers pressed me forward like a drill sergeant. “The biggest mental obstacle—in writing, in war, and life itself—is fear.” I am developing the necessary rhino hide writers must have to deal with rejection letters.  I also loved Stephen King’s Stephen King: On Writing. His warning stays with me: “If a writer knows what he or she is doing, I’ll go along for the ride. If he or she doesn’t…well I’m in my fifties now, and there are a lot of books out there. I don’t have time to waste with the poorly written ones.” Annie Dillard’s, The Writing Life, is also helping me to avoid wasting people’s time.

Other books hard to put down included Apollo 8: The Thrill Story of the First Mission to Mars. Now I understand the telegram sent to Frank Borman: “Apollo 8 saved 1968.” In the Garden of Beasts kept me on the edge of my seat, like all of Erik Larson’s books. Mission at Nuremburg is a must read after Larson’s book. If you want a study in grace and forgiveness, read this story of a Lutheran army chaplain in charge of ministering to the most evil men on earth. Given my son’s journey with Asperger’s, Lamar Hardwick’s I Am Strong, was a message of hope. One can overcome.

I did fall off the wagon near the end of the year and read one of Lee Child’s books describing the exploits of Jack Reacher. Mindless, but fun. I did not quite finish The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse, but I must. I have 16 more hours. As impressed as I am with many of the students I work with at Western, too many others are coming out of university intellectually and emotionally unable to engage ideas uncongenial to them. Too much screen time is creating a zombie like passivity, and too much enablement has led to endless adolescence. This does not bode well for the future.

Along this line, one other book worth mentioning is The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols. He sounds a similar warning as Sasse. It is rare to find principled and informed arguments. “The foundational knowledge of the average American is so low it has crashed through the floor of ‘uninformed,’ passed ‘misinformed,’ on the way  down, and is now plummeting to ‘aggressively wrong.’” We no longer to defer to experts. The internet has made us all experts.

It’s these last two reads that press me to take the risk of setting a bold goal of reading wide and deep in  2018. Fifty books might be too few. Does it matter? Consider this question by Mark BauIerlein in First Things: “What becomes of a faith that places a book at the center of worship if the rising generation doesn’t read? I don’t mean illiteracy. The problem is what reading researchers call a-literacy—being able to read but not wanting to.”



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