52 Weeks; 52 Books

Last year I set out to accomplish something I'd never done before: read 52 books in one calendar year. It took me until the very last week of the month, but I made it. I've had an incredible time and feel like I've spent 10-20 hours a week with people much smarter than I am (most weeks, anyway). Here are a few notes about the experience along with a list of the best books I read all year.

I wore out the library card. Looking at the prospect of spending roughly a grand on books in the year (and being a notorious cheapskate), I decided early on to search my local library for titles I might be interested in.  I was surprised at the diverse collection, and this was where I got the majority of the books I read this year. The downside of this path was it did not allow me to dog ear, underline, or write in the margins.

I went through several mental trends.  I'm a curious person, and this led me in all sorts of directions. It seems there's a scholar who's written a book on every subject, from bread making to soccer's relationship with foreign policy. Several times I found myself particularly interested in certain theme and reading 2-5 books in a row on history, food, or theology. And then I would grow weary of the subject and not want to touch it again. (American History, a subject I didn't think I could ever get enough of, became an anathema to toward the end of the year.)

I listened to ten audiobooks. I joined audible.com in September. Some would call it cheating (i.e. not "reading"), but I call it efficient. I have an hour total daily commute, and audiobooks were a great way to make up for some of the weeks that I slacked.

It's your turn. My hope is that this inspires you to set a similar goal. If you think you're too busy, try scaling back a little and setting a goal of reading two a month. In our screen-centric culture where opportunities for instant gratification scream at us at every turn, reading a good story is one of the last deep and thoroughly satisfying pleasures that remains. And in the end your brain will feel heavier, your vocabulary will have grown, and you'll have gained insight into many subjects you didn't have 365 days ago.

You can see the full list after the jump, but here are the best I read by category:

Best Culture: The Shallows: How the Internet Is Affecting Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
-If the title sounds ominous, it should. A fair and fascinating examination of unintended and undesirable consequences multitasking in front of a screen all day has on society. Well researched and hands down the most affecting book I read this year.

Best Novel: All Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka
-Colorful story about a former history professor who gets so involved in his subject (the Middle Ages) that he begins refusing to eat, dress, or use tools that were made after the twelfth century. We get to watch the equally dramatic and humorous ways this plays out in his family life.

Best Religious: Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
-Thoughtful biblical response to the "just me and Jesus," and "where two or three are gathered" mentality prevalent in modern Christian circles.

Best History: Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis
-Ellis paints elegant scenes and expertly breaks down six fascinating hinge moments in the founding of America.

Best Audio/Nonfiction: The Big Short by Michael Lewis
-Lewis uses five colorful characters to tell the story of the housing bubble and Wall Street meltdown of 2008. Incredible storytelling that weaves an explanation of the financial crisis through the story and helped a novice like me understand what the heck happened. (Warning: contains quite a bit of colorful language.)

Best Political: Republocrat by Carl R. Trueman
-Challenging analysis of the Christian faith's relationship to politics and how believers should think about policies both domestic and foreign that there are no biblical mandates for.

Best on Writing: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
-Not a technical book, but full of what I'll call "aggressively inspirational" essays to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers tapping the keys.

Best on Management: Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell
-Excellent book with great ideas for building positive company culture. Recommended for anyone in business.

Here's the full list in the order I read them. Those I recommend (if you're interested in the subject) are in bold:

Bad Trip by Joel Miller
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
Moving to Higher Ground by Wynton Marsalis
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis
How to Really Love Your Child by Ross Campbell
Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuck
Not Everyone Gets a Trophy by Bruce Tulgan
Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman
The Revolution by Ron Paul
Rules of the Red Rubber Ball by Kevin Carroll
Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
The Art of Influence by Chris Widener
Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell
Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips
Wisdom of Our Fathers by Tim Russert
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
The Carrot Principle by Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick
All Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka
The Five Most Important Questions by Peter Drucker
How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer
The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry
Ghostwriting by Andrew Crofts
Home Game by Michael Lewis
Mars and Venus in the Workplace by John Gray
The Ascent of Money by Niall Fergusson
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
War of Art by Steven Pressfield
The Grand Delusion by Heath Sommer
The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
Money for Nothing by Edward Ugel
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
The Plague by Albert Camus
Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton
The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich
In the Neighborhood by Peter Lovenheim
Iron Sharpens Iron by Sayers
How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein
The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's by Charles Cerami
Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung
Why an Economy Grows and Crashes by Peter and Andrew Schiff
Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo
Republocrat by Carl Trueman
52 Loaves by William Alexander
Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis
Father Fiction by Donald Miller
Financial Peace Revisited by Dave Ramsey
The Beckham Experiment by Grant Wahl


Becky said...

This is inspiring! I was hoping to read 1/month! LOL And that doesn't count books I read to the kids while schooling them. :)

Doreen McGettigan said...

I read one a month and thought I did well!
Very inspirational and a great list.

Shay said...

I love the fact that you encourage reading. You're right. And the book selection you chose was right on!

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