2016 in reading

Key: must read, situational read, could skip, unfinished

I put down 13 books this year, not including readings from class or science papers (probably doubling my count, as I probably read 1,500 pages for class and 30-40 science papers this year. I’m also not including writing I’ve read online: blogs, fiction, news, or otherwise. My criteria for this post only covers fully read, published books. The list:

  1. Reality Dysfunction: Emergence. Peter F. Hamilton, 1996.
  2. Hear the Wind Sing / Pinball, 1973. Haruki Murakami, 1980
  3. A Wild Sheep Chase. Haruki Murakami, 1989
  4. Injustice: Gods Among Us, Comic
  5. Courage and Calling. Gordon T. Smith, 2011.
  6. A Spirituality of Fundraising. Henry Nouwen, 2004.
  7. Sabbath Keeping. Lynne M. Baab, 2005.
  8. Santa Biblia. Justo Gonzalez, 1989.
  9. Divided by Faith. Emerson and Smith, 2000.
  10. From the Garden to the City. John Dyer, 2010.
  11. Good Faith. Kinnaman and Lyons, 2016.
  12. Discipline and Punish. Michel Foucault, 1975.
  13. Are Prisons Obsolete? Angela Davis, 2003.
  14. Breaking the Code. Burce Metzger, 1993.
  15. Vocational Credo. Deborah Lloyd, 2015.

13 was a far cry from my goal of 50, but it’s a good start. Below are some brief reflections, split into themes (Fiction, Devotionals, Faith+Culture, Research) and using this format:

  1. What is it?
  2. You should read this if…
  3. Highlight/Lowlight
  4. Verdict


Reality Dysfunction: Emergence. Peter F. Hamilton, 1996.

  1. The first half of the first book of the Night’s Dawn Trilogy, a hard sci-fi series that deals with death&immortality, demons&faith, family&distance, and a humanity that spans many planets and many cultures. There’s a juxtaposition of depravity and decadence that makes it kind of uncomfortable to read, especially as it was written in the mid 90s. Summary: humanity wages war against past souls possessing the living. 
  2. You really like hard sci-fi, universe building, multiple plot lines, and high tension situations.
  3. Lowlight: there’s a lot of sex. To be fair, it’s definitely fitting for the decadence/depravity theme, but I just don’t really want to read all that.
  4. I have the second book but I’m putting it down for a while. I don’t have the bandwidth to follow all of the characters and plot lines right now.

Hear the Wind Sing / Pinball, 1973. Haruki Murakami, 1980

  1. Actually 2 novellas – Murakami’s first real writing project, not really well distributed until 2015 because of the author’s dislike of his early work. Part of the Trilogy of the Rat, the third being A Wild Sheep Chase (see below). Written as the narration by the main character, who interprets the world around him. Not a plot-driven story; it’s incredibly post-modern. I’m going through all of Murakami’s works chronologically.
  2. Read this if you have eyes, honestly. In particular, Hear the Wind Sing is the main character near the end of college, and Pinball has the main character in his early 20s, navigating adulthood; it was perfect timing for me right now as I’ve just finished college and am heading out into the world.
  3. Highlight: I’ll have another blog post with more explanation, but the way Murakami writes the everyday into the mystical gave me a unique mixture of nostalgia and the feeling of being known in my current situation. Lowlight: there’s only 3 books.
  4. Amazing read, though I’d do some research on whether you want this as your first taste of Murakami. It’s possible that the experience of reading this one might be better once you know what he develops into.

A Wild Sheep Chase. Haruki Murakami, 1989

  1. Conclusion of the Trilogy of the Rat. It’s longer than the previous two, and has a bit more plot to drive it – a very different experience, and actually quite a jarring one. But this one strikes the deepest emotionally; while the other two books felt like captured moments, this is a complete journey.
  2. This book takes a bit of time, so give yourself headspace to read slow and take it in. I gave myself a daily chapter limit.
  3. Highlight: the constant tension of overwhelming… not despair, but close to hopelessness of reality, constantly juxtaposed with mystical imagination and a magical re-interpretation of the world: as if everything had a narrative, but sometimes that story doesn’t work out. Lowlight: I finished it.
  4. Just read it ok?

Injustice: Gods Among Us, Comic

  1. Comic book series that serves as a prequel to the game of the same name. Main premise: what if Superman accepted the totality of his godhood?
  2. This one gets kind of dark, which is my favorite kind of superhero story. It’s a harsh, gritty, but imaginative plot-line.
  3. Highlight: the beginning of the story is absolutely amazing. Lowlight: 5 “seasons” make some plotlines feel a bit inconsequential.
  4.  A great, different distraction during the early winter. Too bad the games are kind of meh.

Devotionals, Faith

Courage and Calling. Gordon T. Smith, 2011.

  1. A book about, well, calling. In this sense, a well articulated distinction between calling to God and vocational calling, or our work, community, identity, and daily habits.
  2. Great for Myers-Briggs Intuitives. Unlike Vocational Credo, this book relies less on personal experiences and concrete examples and organizes vocation with a few different axes: life stages/time, relational/organizational presence, and a sense of growth, both emotional and in our sense of identity. These broad themes don’t really do much service, but it’s a different experience than reading about individual experiences, and I got a lot more out of this theoretical approach.
  3. Highlight: ironically a personal story. I read this during my first month of being on InterVarsity staff, and it helped me understand what I was doing and where I’m headed. During my last year of college, I was sure I was headed to graduate school, but God changed my plans rather abruptly and, in part through this book giving me the language to do so, I feel very confident that where I am now, in the long run, is the best place for me.
  4. Read it if you’re graduating or making a life transition! It still has personal stories, but it doesn’t rely on them.

A Spirituality of Fundraising. Henry Nouwen, 2004.

  1. A short book (~50 pages) on why fundraising is a key part of Christian life, either in giving or receiving funds. It’s an invitation into something new, something risky and fearful, and the beginnings of a life of prayer and gratitude.
  2. Read if you’re raising funds or supporting those who are. It’s really short and there’s not much of an excuse really…
  3. Highlight: This book convinced me that the fundraising process of my work is not just a challenge, but actually a key and critical part of my personal spiritual development. “We are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing” through our partnership.
  4. Here’s some quotes to check out to decide if you want to spend the 20 minutes it takes to get through it!

Sabbath Keeping. Lynne M. Baab, 2005.

  1. “A practical and hopeful guidebook for all of us to slow down adn enjoy our relationship with the God of the universe,” according to the back.
  2. Give it a look if you’re not convinced that weekly sabbaths are necessary, need some encouragement for yours, or just need to hear that your productivity is not the measure of who you are. Ironically, as I write that, I realize I should probably read a little bit more of this again.
  3. Lowlight: “Video games promote a ‘win at all costs’ agenda. The Internet puts information at our fingertips and allow us to order products with the touch of a button. Taking a day off from that competitiveness and acquisition can provide a helpful rest. In addition, turning off the television, video game, or computer makes space for relational connections and combats technology’s isolating tendencies” p. 60. What a frustrating, out of place, and short-sighted claim. To be clear, I chose a lowlight because the book has a lot of highlights; still, it’s frustrating that few people seem to think about the way digital media actually gives space for community and rest… She makes it very clear that sabbath’s aren’t necessarily a socially isolated day.
  4. Really holds a lot of truth, but I didn’t get out of it as 1) I was learning how to work, not rest when I read through it, and 2) I needed ideas of how to rest more than needing to believe I needed it. I’ll have more thoughts on this in an upcoming post.

Faith + Culture

Santa Biblia. Justo Gonzalez, 1989.

  1. Presenting a theology from “Hispanic Eyes,” Santa Biblia is a prophetic piece – it speaks to issues we have today and asks to the majority: “what are you missing?” It’s organized around 5 paradigms that shape a Latino understanding of God. Gonzalez bridges the gap between the experience with and the knowledge of God.
  2. Read this if you can read – especially today, it begs the question “how do other people uniquely experience God in ways that we don’t?”
  3. Highlight: This came after KALI, InterVarsity’s Filipino American leadership conference. What does scripture through Filipino eyes look like?
  4. It’s a short book and barring getting a copy, there’s not much reason not to read it, especially if you’re thinking about today’s racial climate.

Divided by Faith. Emerson and Smith, 2000.

  1. A sociology book about how thinking about race has affected the church.
  2. Read if you want a great entry point into thinking about race and the church, OR if you’re interested in beginning that conversation.
  3. Highlight: the chapter on the church’s history with segregation. It’s a bit sobering that a lot of things haven’t changed.
  4. I read this for a book club at my church, and by the end we were disappointed that the book doesn’t offer much action. It presents the (well researched) facts, and kind of stops. It highlights both the difficulty of the situation – how can you introduce racism as a problem but finish with, “but there’s no solution” – and the complexity of even having this conversation. Our book club was 6 people very invested in these issues and it was still difficult to share language.

From the Garden to the City. John Dyer, 2010.

  1. A theology of technology as tools – not just the electronics we associate the word with, but as enabling us to do.
  2. Read for a great beginning in thinking more about what technology is. I especially appreciate that the author has worked in tech for a large part of his career, and his theoretical basis is great.
  3. Highlight: everyone should read ch.4 (“Definition“) and ch.6, section “Philosophy of Technology“. Great, great framework of how to think about technology.
  4. Worth the time, even just so you can talk about technology well and appropriately.

Good Faith. Kinnaman and Lyons, 2016.

  1. Being a Christian when society thinks you’re irrelevant and extreme,” according to the front cover.
  2. Read because it introduces a lot of hot topics in the church rather well.
  3. Highlight: recent and relevant sociological data (mostly surveys).
  4. I had a lot of tension reading this book. Part because I was adjusting to a new lifestyle in OC, meeting new people at church, and figuring out life post-college. Also though, something about the perspective of the book feels frustratingly limited, especially compared to the other 3 in this section – Santa Biblia is just wholesome; Divided by Faith and From the Garden are both well researched and (mostly) theoretically sound. But this… feels like a reaction to a situation that isn’t actually the case. That is, I don’t think that society believes Christians to be irrelevant; rather I think Christians aren’t engaging society well, and end up not seeing the nuances between what they consider to be “secular” society. I think I’m a little biased as well, but maybe I’m not the intended audience of this book.

Academic/Research (not a complete list as most of my class readings weren’t actually full books)

Discipline and Punish. Michel Foucault, 1975.

  1. Understanding how power perfects itself.
  2. Read if you want your brain to melt (in my case, I got a lot better at reading dense academic works…).
  3. Highlight: everything really, except the parts where it talks about how terrible society is, which is the whole book. So it’s also kind of a lowlight.
  4. Kind of joking with the above two points. Great read and I’m very proud of myself to get through it last year as a side project to other class readings.

Are Prisons Obsolete? Angela Davis, 2003.

  1. A great introduction to the prison abolition movement – and yes, abolition and not reform. It sounds crazy right? “That is a measure of how difficult it is to envision a social order that does not rely on the threat of sequestering people in dreadful places designed to separate them from their communities and families” p. 2.
  2. I really think anyone interested in social justice should read this book. It’s not too dense and rather factual. Even if you don’t incline to agree, it’s mind-opening and raises a lot of questions about how society is set up and how it came to be. In this case, the book answers the question, “why the heck are there so many prisons and so many people incarcerated?”
  3. Highlight: Angela Davis is a wonderful woman.
  4. See 2.


Breaking the Code. Burce Metzger, 1993.

  • Goes through and exposits Revelation.
  • Read through a class offered at my church; was traveling during most of the classes, and I haven’t been able to sit down and read Revelation on my own alongside it.

Vocational Credo. Deborah Lloyd, 2015.

  • Similar to Courage and Calling; about your vocation and how to identify and live it out.
  • Had a hard time reading it because it was filled with personal experience, and I don’t learn that well from that.


Heres to 50 books in 2017! (Or, more than 13!)


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