My Top Ten Books of 2018

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2018, I thought that a list of my favorite reading material would be good. I make a habit of reading every day, but I’m pretty slow and methodical. At first, I wasn’t completely sure that I had even finished ten books this year. But after sorting through my personal library, my record of loans from the library, and my journal, it turned out my reading list was more substantial than I initially estimated. Depending on how one counts (i.e. books skimmed, books partially read, etc.), I read between 15 and 20 books in 2018.

So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Books of 2018, in ranked order:

  1. The Bible, by various authors
  2. Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock, by Gregory Alan Thornbury
  3. Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, its Chaotic Founding, its Apocalyptic Weather, its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis, by Sam Anderson
  4. Grant, by Ron Chernow
  5. The Color of Church, by Rodney M. Woo
  6. The ABC’s of Elliot’s Driving, by Elliot Asp, Olivia Asp, and Cor Asp
  7. Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission, by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
  8. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
  9. Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
  10. A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami

And again, for those who would appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:


#10 – A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami

This book was recommended to me by my friend Dylan. We regularly talked about this book through the months of September and October, when he was reading through it — and then he loaned it to me for my own enjoyment towards the end of the year. It’s a weird story: kind of a combination between magical realism, philosophical musings, and a detective novel. But I came to genuinely enjoy it and engage with the novel over the holiday season, when I had extra time for reading.

#9 – Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell

I’m not usually big on business books — but Malcolm Gladwell’s voice is not typical within this genre. All 285 pages are worthwhile (whereas most business books feel like they turn 25-50 pages of content into a 200-250 page tome that looks better on the bookshelf). Gladwell writes with thought, elegance, and fresh perspective. And I was sincerely fascinated by the facts, figures, and philosophical theories of what makes successful people successful. I particularly latched onto the idea that one must put in 10,000 hours into any endeavor before becoming fully proficient or successful in that field, and that this factor — more than talent, or genius — is often the biggest influence towards who comes out on top in a field.

#8 – The Giver, by Lois Lowry

This book was recommended to me by my friend Morgan. My son Elliot already had a copy from a school reading assignment — so I started reading this book at bedtime with my kids (especially Olivia and Cor). I know they’re getting a bit old for “bedtime stories,” and the truth is that our schedules often kept us from reading together more than two or three nights a week. But we enjoyed reading this story (as well as two sequels) throughout the year. We still haven’t finished the third book in the trilogy — which seems to outline various parallel communities in some kind of dystopian world — so there are still unanswered questions about the world described in these books… But I think it says something that we’re still working our way towards finishing the series, considering all the obstacles that we have to fight through at this phase in our lives.

#7 – Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission, by Bob Drury and Tom Calvin

This book was recommended to me by my another pastor from the Collegiate Church Network named Jay. He used the story from this book as an illustration of leadership courage and perseverance, during a message at one of our conferences — and his summary intrigued me enough to read the story for myself. I also love history books, especially from the Second World War, so this book was right up my alley. I learned a lot about the Pacific Theater of the war, through this book. And it is crazy what the men from this story went through to serve their country.

#6 – The ABC’s of Elliot’s Driving, by Elliot Asp, Olivia Asp, and Cor Asp

I already wrote about this book in a recent post, but it deserves mention again, here. This book chronicles the adventures and misadventures of a teenage driver and his adolescent passengers, with images and words corresponding to the year of Elliot getting his driver’s permit, learning to drive, and passing his license exam. The book’s snarky, cynical tone is a perfect reflection of my kids’ phase in life. As I said in my recent review: “I expect that I will cherish it for many years to come. Adolescent angst is especially enjoyable in the past tense.”

#5 – The Color of Church: A Biblical and Practical Paradigm for Multiracial Churches, by Rodney M. Woo

This book was recommended (and gifted) to me by my friend, Eric — and it represents a handful of books that helped to teach me about the challenges faced by people of color in our society and even (as the title of the book suggests) in our churches. Racism remains one of the great sins of our country (and, indeed, within my own heart), and it can feel overwhelming to try and figure out a way forward. But I appreciate the helpful, hopeful tone offered in this book.

#4 – Grant, by Ron Chernow

It took me forever to get all the way through this book — covering the life of Ulysses S. Grant from childhood, through failed stints in the military and business, through a meteoric rise to power during the Civil War, and eventually two terms as U.S. President — but I’m glad I made it through. Grant was certainly a flawed figure, but that’s kind of what makes his story all the more compelling.

#3 – Boom Town : The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, its Chaotic Founding, its Apocalyptic Weather, its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis, by Sam Anderson

I heard about this book on a podcast, and I felt like I had to read it because of the way it combined many of my favorite areas of interest: American History, origin stories, and NBA basketball. It’s a super-quirky, multi-layered story about a super-quirky, multi-layered city — but it’s done very effectively, and I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.

#2 – Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock, by Gregory Alan Thornbury

I discovered the music of Larry Norman during my college years, and he’s been something of a hero of mine ever since. I got to meet him once, before he died, and I’ve long been inspired by the way he seemed to live as a student of scripture and culture. So when I heard that this book had been published, I quickly bought a copy and read it from cover to cover. The portrait of Larry Norman that emerges from this biography is complicated and messy. It details his failed family relationships, his struggles with power structures (both in media and ministry), his artistic expression, and his battle with brain injury and illness towards the end of his life. He’s not the classic “hero” that we typically look for in ministry or in popular culture, but that actually kind of made me appreciate his heroism all the more.

#1 – The Bible, by various authors

I know, I know. It’s a cliche — especially for a pastor — to put the Bible as the Top Book in my Top Ten Books of 2018. It feels like a cop-out. But my reading of the Bible this year was notable for a few reasons. First, I got to read all the way through the Bible, following a reading plan called the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan (developed by the Navigators) — and I really liked the way it structured the readings. Second, I became more familiar with an app called Olive Tree, which allowed me to track my reading process and study the Bible more meaningfully, across multiple devices and translations. And third, I deepened my admiration of the New Living Translation of the Bible, as I studied it alongside the original Greek manuscript and noticed the way that it captured the original meaning in conversational English. And, of course, every time I read through the Bible I am freshly convinced that “the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12).

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