Best Books of 2013

Time for my annual list of the best books I’ve read this year.

Every year, I set a goal to read at least 52 books – one per week. I finally met my goal in 2011; last year, I fell just a bit short at 42. This year I read even fewer – 25 by the time I wrap up the one I’m currently working on. In my defense, I read fewer books because I spent considerable time writing my thesis, which is a book-esque 145 pages. Also, much of my leisure reading time was dedicated to reading and re-reading several technical texts regarding the nature of qualitative research.

That being said, here’s the list. If you want to access previous lists, click the tab on the right labeled “Books” under Pages.

  1. The Passage by Justin Cronin. I’m not sure why I decided to read this book back in January. I don’t remember anybody recommending it to me and at over 800 pages, I sure didn’t choose it because of its brevity. Whatever the case, I’m really glad I did. Cronin has delivered a post-apocalyptic masterpiece on par with some of my favorite works of fiction, particularly McCarthy’s The Road and The Stand by Stephen King. This sweep of this novel is grand, the characters fully realized, and the plot is well paced. To write a detailed analysis is to reveal too much, and I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you. But trust me: this book is epic. You should also know that this book is the first installment in a planned trilogy. See #5 on the list for more.
  2. Discourses by Epictetus. My doctoral thesis explores the nature of discipling in the ancient world, particularly the practices of the Stoic philosophers. As a result, I spent a lot of time reading Seneca and Epictetus this summer. Although his ideology is decidedly Stoic (and non-Christian), the Discourses offer a compelling moral imperative that parallels Jewish and Christian thought in many regards. My specific interests regarded Epictetus’ discipling methodology as giving contour to a modern understanding of the relationship between Paul and Timothy, but I also found Epictetus to be a wise guide, preaching patience and practice to his hot-tempered proteges. In an increasingly unphilosophic age, we could all benefit from reacquainting ourselves with this sage voice.
  3. The Power of Appreciative Inquiry by Dianna Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom. For my thesis, I’ve also read a lot about Appreciative Inquiry, a social systems theory that emphasizes the power of positive questions as a means of eliciting an organization’s best memories and hopes. Sounds a bit abstract, and I suppose it is, but the implications are pretty powerful. Asking positive questions might be the first step in moving your family or organization toward a better future. Based on social constructivist theory, AI posits that organizations are maintained by their conversations; therefore, positive conversations — whether around the dinner table or in the board room — hold great potential for positive transformation. A great read.
  4. The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow and Michael Duca. Baseball has always been a game governed by “The Code”, a confounding mass of unwritten rules and by-laws. Want to steal second when your team is already up by 5 in the 7th inning? Expect a fastball up near your chin in your next at-bat. This is an entertaining and enlightening read that any true fan will love.
  5. The Twelve by Justin Cronin. Part two in Cronin’s trilogy. Not quite up to par with the original, but it sets things up beautifully for the finale, set to be released this spring. This series is so good.
  6. Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals by Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley. This was an assigned reading for one of my final classes. It’s a work of practical theology, examining the relationship between story and ritual, particularly in the practicing life of the faith community. In particular, I thought the section on story was well written and insightful. Given our congregational emphasis on story this year, it proved to be extremely helpful. A solid read.
  7. Spy the Lie by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero. “Three former CIA officers teach you how to spot deception.” This is the tag line for this captivating look at deceptive behavior — and how to identify it. I was blown away by the stories these guys tell. Highly readable and interesting.
  8. Mike and Mike’s Rules for Sports and Life by Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. You know what you’re getting with this one: an entertaining take on sports sprinkled with illustrations from the family lives of ESPN’s popular morning radio anchors.
  9. The Duck Commander Family by Willie and Korie Robertson. I enjoyed reading Willie and Korie’s story. A fun read.
  10. Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians by Ben Witherington III. This year, I also spent a ton of time reading through commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles. Witherington’s might have been the best of the lot.
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