End of the Year Review: 2015

Some have encouraged me to speak about my most favorite books of the year, so the following are some highlights of the best books I’ve read in different genres:

Best Book of the Year: It would have to be “The Unseen Realm.” Michael Heiser’s ability to capture the imagination with solid biblical doctrine will change the way you see the Bible and the spiritual realm. I devoured this book in just under 4 days and I hope to read it again soon. Runner-Ups: In the Kingdom Of IceAbove All Earthly P’wrs.

Best Non-Fiction: I thought Philip Zimbardo’s “Man(Dis)Connected” was one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time. His ability, from a secular perspective, to engage in a conversation to encourage men to be men is an important topic for discussion and will continue to be in an ever-connected world. Runner-Ups: MissoulaHow Should We Then Live.

Best Fiction: Many of you know I’m not a huge fiction reader, but if I had to pick, “A Confederacy of Dunces” is an incredible book that engages the imagination but also has an underlying theological message. Runner-Ups: Ready Player One; Out of the Silent Planet.

Best Biography: If you’ve been following my blogs for awhile, you know that I am a huge Ron Chernow fan. His biography on Alexander Hamilton took me awhile to get through, but was one of the most thorough and interesting biographies I’ve read in a long while. Runner-Ups: Martyn Llyod-JonesMartin Luther: Here I Stand.

Best History Book: I know this falls under non-fiction, but Hampton Sides “In the Kingdom of Ice” is too good to not be on this list. His book is almost like a fictional account that at times, you don’t know if you’re reading something made up or something that actually happened. Runner-ups: In the Garden of BeastsGenghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.

Best Theological Book: This is a hard one. I’ve already mentioned Unseen Realm but it could easily take the cake here. I think that Greg Harris’ book “The Darkness and the Glory” was one of the most impactful books I read this year. For that reason, I think it gets the go ahead here. Runner-ups: Above All Earthly P’wrsIs Jesus the Only Savior?; No Place for Truth.

Reflecting on this year, many people asked me how I read so much. So what I thought I’d do is give some suggestions as to how to be a better reader in 2016. These are some things that I have learned as I have become a more mature reader:

1)    Take a book wherever you go. To the doctor, to the grocery store, to a meeting, when seeing friends: I always carry a book with me (either on my person or in my car) so that if I ever have any down time, I can squeeze in a few pages. These will add up: a page standing in line here, a page or two while waiting for your coffee partner and soon your book will be finished.

2)    Do everything you can to FINISH your book. When I first started reading, I tended to get really bored 100 pages in and I’d shelve it. What I have learned is that reading takes time and it’s ok if a 250 page book loses your attention half way through. I would recommend pushing through that chapter that you seem to be stuck on because I bet that next chapter will re-engage your attention. Don’t get discouraged: take your time and don’t give up too soon.

3)    Maximize your time by listening to audiobooks. I do so much driving in Southern California (for example: church is just about an hour drive for me) that I decided to get an Audible account when I moved here. 2 hours round trip is about 1/8th of an audiobook. This way, I can maximize my time while I’m in the car. Some complain that they can’t focus while listening to an audiobook and I agree that sometimes I find my mind wandering. More often than not however, I think that’s a cleverly disguised excuse.

4)    Mix up what you read. I already said I don’t read much fiction, but sometimes it’s nice to break up the monotony of non-fiction to slip in a fun read every once and awhile. I also find topics that interest me and try to read those books. Not every book is worth reading, which leads me to number 5…

5)    If a book isn’t worth reading, shelve it. I know this kind of goes against my earlier advice to finish a book, but if you read 50 pages and hate the book, there’s no reason to finish it. Shelve it and move on. At any given time, I have probably 10-15 books that I’ve started but haven’t completed.  For some of these books, I’ll come back to it at a later time and find that I am refreshed and ready to give it another go. This helps keep things interesting and I don’t get so discouraged when I don’t finish one (also starting 100 pages in is a real psychological advantage).

6)    Set aside a time to read. I did this a lot my first year reading. Reading is like anything else where it takes time to grow into it. That first year, it took me forever to get through a 250 page book. But what I did was set aside an hour for reading every night before I went to bed. That sustained reading helped me mature in my reading to the point this year where I read some 3 and 400 page books in about 8 hours. After working on being a better reader, you will find that you are: faster, you can retain more, and you enjoy it more. If your attention span is short, try for a less ambitious goal: 15 minutes a day for a month and then slowly increase how long you spend reading. This combined with a good book will help you to sustain long periods of reading.

7)    Minimize distractions while you read. Sometimes I find that putting on soft classical music helps me read better. Anything with words will probably not be good however. Put your phone away and stay off the computer for the best results. You want to get into a flow of uninterrupted reading and text messages and facebook will just distract you.

8)    Books are meant to be written in! I just began practicing this this year. Find a system that is helpful to you and do it. Don’t just underline things arbitrarily. Think of it this way: if you were to read this book again or wanted to reference something in it, you want what you wrote in it to be helpful and not a hindrance. If you want some other tips for what I do, message me!

9)    Like anything, reading is a priority. If it’s important to you, you will do it!

Statistics show that Americans are reading less and less every year. If you are a high school graduate, studies show that you will finish somewhere around 5-8 books a year! College graduates are not much better with the number being somewhere around 10-15. Reading to me has become an important pastime and I hope to get even better at it next year. Here is my goal: 100 books in 2016! Looking at my output these past few months, I know it is possible. Here’s to 2015 and looking forward to 2016: if you are not a reader, start today!

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