2018 Reading Challenge Review

I met my goal of 30 books this year. Actually, I surpassed it with 37 (that is 11,167 pages according to Goodreads, if you like that kind of thing). That being said, reading over what I wrote I wanted to read, I feel like I’ve failed. I had 13 book specifically listed, but only read six of them. I guess I’ll try to carry on those attempts next year. You can see my Goodreads 2018 Challenge page here, if you want them in list form.

I said I was going to do less review books in 2018, but instead ended up doing 16, 13 of which were Baker, one was Crossway, and there were two new publishers I that had never sent me books before. That is probably the main reason I didn’t get to the actual books I wanted. It is interesting to ‘challenge’ yourself, when really it was supposed to be a list of books I wanted to read. Instead, it turned into a goal of reading X number of books. Also, I enjoy getting free books, but the more I requested, the less I enjoyed. I’ll have my 2019 Challenge up in a bit, but this year I want to focus on specific books, and will likely due far fewer review books, especially from Baker.

My longest book, and an unexpected addition was The Stand. I added it because of the PBS Great American Novel contest. I also started taking Sprout the library every other Saturday, so I grabbed a few random books that I didn’t have on my shelf, all of which were non-fiction. I only read a few other novels and was short on fiction this year. I read three devotionals, where were all decent, but I really didn’t read any theologically intense books, something I plan to change in 2019. I also had a few commentaries on the list, which is something I’m unsure should count towards the challenge.

Overall, the 2018 Challenge was a mixed-bag, I met my goal as far as numbers go, but didn’t really hit all the books I wanted. Oh well, as always, I’ll try to do better next time.

Top Posts of 2018

The end of the year is always a good time to look back over the past 365 calendar days of your life in general, but is even better for a lowly blogger, because it gives you fairly quick and easy post. So, with that, my top most read posts in 2018:

  1. Book Review: Sapiens
  2. Biblical Studies Carnival 150
  3. Book Review: The Imperfect Disciple
  4. Book Review: Disciplines of a Godly Man
  5. Book Review: We’re Pregnant
  6. Book Review: Believe Me
  7. Book Review: Practicing the King’s Economy
  8. Book Review: Darkness is My Only Companion
  9. Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines for a Godly Life
  10. Book Review: Four Views on Hell

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see Sapiens once again leading the pack (despite being published over two years ago), as it is led last year and is my all time viewed post since I discovered that WordPress gives me stats. As I’ve said since then, I’ll write a follow up soon.

My second and final Biblical Studies Carnival was the only non book review post in the top 10 (one of only three in my top 25, my post on Trump and the Supreme Court was 17th this year, and the picture from my 10th Anniversary was 21st).

Only four of the book review posts were actually written this year – We’re Pregnant, Believe Me, Practicing the King’s Economy, and Darkness is my Only Companion – inexplicably all coming in a row. So, that’s half of my top read being actually written in the year, I have no idea if that is common or not, but it sounds about right.

The next five most popular actually written this year included the above two non book review posts and three book reviews – Fall of Hyperion, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, and On Pills and Needles.

By all reasonable logic, if I want this blog to grow (which I do), I should do more book reviews, however, as I’ll discuss in a few weeks with my reading goals, I will have less book review coming this year and plan to write on a few more random topics. One of my writings on Thessalonians came in at 34, while my Money in Marriage ranked 37. I’ll have more on this in a later post, but I plan to do more writing and less reading in 2019.

So, that is it for 2018. I appreciate everyone who has read or commented on my posts. Thanks for playing along, I’ll try to do better next year.

 

Book Review: On Pills and Needles

On Pills and Needles: The Relentless Fight to Save My Son from Opioid Addiction

My Rating: Put it on your list

Level: Easy, moderate length (250+), but reads quickly

Summary
A detailed summary of the book is difficult to do. The subtitle more or less says everything you need to know about the book. Van Warner writes a first hand account of watching is his son struggle with addiction to opioids, starting as a teenager and extending through his mid twenties. The book is broken into 25 broad chapters that generally follow a chronological pattern of thought, but not always. There are a few bits of information regarding the pandemic that is the opioid crisis, but these are mostly scattered throughout the narrative of his son’s life. If you seeking answer to the problem, or even just the ‘Christian response’ (the publisher is Baker Books, after all), you will not find any in this book. However, if you are somehow lucky enough not to know anyone with this addiction, it is worth the read, if for nothing else than to gain an understanding of what happens, what addiction look like, and the impact of family and friends of the addict.

My Thoughts
Van Warner is a great writer in a narrative sense, and I found myself compelled to keep reading this book just to see what happens next. It is an emotionally enthralling book, and if you have normal level of empathy and emotions, it is likely you will not get through this book without crying multiple times. That being said, be aware that there is little else to this book than the story of his son. I’m not really sure what I expected when I ordered it, but there isn’t really any resolution or response to the issue. No ‘warning signs’ or way to prevent this from happening. Nothing along the lines of, how to help those hurting or what we should do as a church. All of  which is fine, it is clearly not the intention he had in mind while writing this, but be aware if that is the type of book you are looking for.

Outside of the lack of resolution, the only thing I didn’t like about the book is the typically evangelical hypocrisy of being anti-government, while blaming the government for not doing enough. While he rightly attributes the initial problem to the Pharma Companies, specifically the one that falsely claimed Oxcy was non-addictive, he does lament the government hasn’t done enough. He also point out that Florida is ground zero of the crisis, with an astonishing 93 of the top 100 opioid prescribing doctors working there. Of course, FLorida is notoriously lax in government regulation and I’m sure this and the low tax (meaning less government) environment is partly what brought him there from New York. He himself doesn’t necessarily rant that much against government in his book, but it is odd to read from the perspective of evangelicals, knowing that most of us are heavily pro-business and anti regulation, inexplicably claiming that the free market couldn’t lead us astray, and then, when they inevitably do, we wonder why the government didn’t help. Those critiques are a little past the realm of this book review, but if you become aware of them while reading, it tends to gnaw at you.

Likewise, he blames ‘bureaucracy’ for his son spending two months in county jail, while he supposed to be transferred to another county jail. All this happens in context of his sons possession and intent to distribute charge being dropped. Being dropped. He doesn’t seem to realize how lucky he is that his son is well off and white. Poor people and minorities don’t tend to have felony drug charges just ‘dropped’, but instead spend years in jail.

I’m hesitant to leave that in for just a book review, but the author does seem to be misguided often. Regardless, his story is revisiting, if lacking insight in to solutions. I have a colleague whose son is currently in the grips of heroin addiction, after starting with Oxcy. The things the author writes about, the stories, the pain, the interactions with counselors and police, could have come from her. There is a shocking amount of similarity. I’m sure that is the same for many others out there. If you are looking for a story to help you internalize the crisis, this is a must read. It is probably helpful for anyone in pastoral ministry, counseling, or youth/child workers. There isn’t a list of things that parents/teachers can look for as far as signs of drug abuse, but there are gleanings from the detail of his story. For those with any interest in the epidemic that is currently among us, this is a book you need to add to your list.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion

This is the second book in a series, check out my review of the first book – Hyperion.

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Quick, easy read; fairly long at over 500 pages.

Summary
This is a continuation of the first book, Hyperion, so the story line of the Pilgrims in continued, but there is also the introduction of another main character story line. To avoid spoilers (if that is a think for a book published over 20 years ago), I’ll say the Pilgrims all meet the Shrike, all have their stories (more or less) meet a resolution, and find out that their stories are even more intertwined than they knew.

The additional character is Joseph Severn, a Cybrid for the personality/memory of John Keats. Much of the book takes place from his vantage point. Not only his own story, but he is inexplicably tied to the Pilgrims and view what is happening to them in his dreams. CEO Gladstone puts him up in TC2, so that he can keep her apprised of the Pilgrims.

Severn/Keats and the Pilgrims stories also mix together, as does the Ousters, for a few twist and turns you don’t expect coming, including a few new back stories.

My Thoughts
One quick thought, that I didn’t put together form the first book, but become more apparent in this one, why does the cover art show the Shrike with only two arms?

As for the actual content of the book, as much as I enjoyed it, I have to admit, it wasn’t as good as the first. However, if you’ve read the first, this is still a must read. If you haven’t read the first, go read it, then come read this one. This is still a great work of fiction. He is writing during the early days of the internet, but his future thoughts on what it could be come are frightening and a little ephemeral, and in some parts could best be described as ‘trippy’. Smart phones were more than a decade away when the book was published, but the equivalent he uses, sure sounds like them, especially if we were to lose them now; from page 480

“After seven centuries of existence and at least four centuries where few citizens existed without it, the datasphere…simple ceased to be. Hundreds of thousands of citizens went insane at the moment – shocked into catatonia by the disappearance of senses which had become more important to them than sight or hearing.”

The Pilgrim story conclusions are interesting, though some are unsatisfying, and at Severn is not an interesting character. However, the book touches on some of the wildest ideas of AI and has so many intertwined stories and crazy new back stories, it is well worth the read.

Book Review: Work and Our Labor in the Lord

Work and Our Labor in the Lord (Short Studies in Biblical Theology)

Rating – If you are looking for something.

Level – Short, moderate read, feels a little redundant at times

Summary
Hamilton attempts to concisely write a theology of work – why we work, what it means to work, and what it would look like to ‘labor for the Lord’. The book is broken into four main parts: work before the fall, work after the fall, work now after Christ’s coming, and finally, work in the new heavens and new earth.

My Thoughts
I’ll start off by saying I think this is one of the most difficult topics for which Christians can write. Not necessarily because the Bible is unclear on work, it is, and not because I thought Hamilton didn’t handle the theological points well. In fact, I thought he did a masterful job from a Biblical perspective; though there were occasionally odd section that appeared to have political undertones, but I guess that’s to be expected from an evangelical publication (or maybe I just read too much into it, and watch too much politics).

No, the problem is the reader. Especially me – educated, white-collar, upper-middle class reader, who has actual opportunities to think about different careers or finding fulfilling jobs. Due to the reader problem, I think books on work are hammered twice. First, because the reader looking for answers, such as what should I do with my life, do not find any and may come away disappointed. Second, because those are the readers, the authors tend to focus on that demographic. Hamilton avoids some of these trappings, probably due to his focus on theology, but they do show up. I won’t digress any further on that point.

The strength of this book is the first section, work before the fall. In our Biblically illiterate, 140 character limit culture, we miss too much of what the Bible actually says. For most of my life, I believed work was punishment for sin. I was around 30 before I heard someone point out that we worked the garden, it was one of the first commands from God and our original role in this world. So, work isn’t our punishment for sin, but our sin has corrupted out work. Hamilton does a great job of teaching and explaining this Biblical truth.

This point is expanded on in the work after the fall section as well. I especially liked the references to Ecclesiastes; which is always a great reminder of the way we view life in general, but I’m not sure I’ve seen it related specifically to work.

Overall, it is a solid book, but it left me wanting a little more. I’m probably a little too critical of Christian books focused on work, so if that is a topic you are studying you should put this book on your list. If not, you might want to skip. It is short, so that is a positive (why not just knock it out) and a negative (maybe not as in depth as you’d like). The Biblical Theology is strong, so that would be another reason to read it. So, grab this book, if you are looking for something.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

2018 Reading Challenge

I sightly exceeded my goal of 25 books last year, by reading 29 books. Now, the prior year, I had a goal of 30, but pretty well passed that, reading 52. I lowered my goal last year as I took some Counseling courses, but as I am not doing that this year, I am raising the goal back to 30. I’d love to set the goal at 48 or 52, to match my 2016, but Sprout doesn’t sleep as much as she used to (bedtime moved back and naps went from 3/4 to zero), so I don’t think that is reasonable, but in the back of my mind, I am kind of hopeful.

So, what am I reading? I have 13 books specifically planned (check out my Goodreads 2018 Shelf for a quick list). I’ll probably tack on another 12 (or less, mostly likely, as I ratchet down the number of review books I request) and then leave myself a little room for randomness in the other five. Of those five, two or three will probably be novels, and at least one will be another counseling book. The 13 I have set out already include:

Devotional – I’ve typically read a whole year devotional, such as My Utmost for His Highest (my review), but this year I’m doing something a little different. I have one, Shalom in Psalms, that goes through, well, the Psalms. This won’t take a whole year, so I have a Lenten one, From the Grave, and an Advent one, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy“, lined up. That should finish out the year, but I may have to find a 30-40 day one in addition and toss it in there. So, kind of sneaky with the numbers, typically the devotional gets me one book, this year it might net me three or four.

Biography/autobiographyA Full Life: Reflections at Ninety was on my list last year, but I didn’t make it to it, so I’ll stick it back on this list.

Non-fictionGödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, at 822 pages, this is the second biggest book on my list for this year and one of my top five life goal, big book, non-fiction books to pick up. Unless this takes me all year, I’ll probably have another, shorter, non-fiction in this list.

FictionThe Fall of Hyperion, the sequel to one of my favorite books last year, Hyperion, and the only book I’ve already started reading. At 864 pages, Anna Karenina, will be my biggest book this year and the second longest single volume fiction book I’ve ever read. If that wasn’t enough Russian Literature, I’d also like to work through the two stories (which come packaged in one book, so I’m counting it as one) Notes from the Underground and The Grand Inquisitor. Hopefully, I’ll get to a few more in this category.

Christian-y type books – because two 800 page books won’t take me long enough, I’m also picking up two more 500+ page books. First, I want to get back into finishing Bavnick so I have Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, on the list with the ridiculous hope that I will actually make it to the even longer (912 pages) Volume Four. Second is what I’ve heard is the best in Christian history – Church History in Plain Language. Outside of the big ones, I had Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy on my list from 2017, but also didn’t get to it, so I’ve move it to this year; Work and Our Labor in the Lord, which is also technically a review book; and finally, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. This general category will be the biggest, as I fill it out with review books and commentaries.

That is the plan for 2018, a few less books than I think I could probably handle, but a few of them probably to large. Feel free to share your goals in the comments.