It’s no secret – I’m a man of lists. I love making lists, whether shopping lists, to-do lists, book lists, running and biking lists, hiking lists, blood pressure and heartrate lists, and even list lists. I agree with the sentiments of Sheldon Cooper, from The Big Bang, who once said, “If there were a list of things that make me more comfortable, lists would be at the top of that list.”
Way back in 1986 I followed the advice of motivational speaker Jim Rohn and started keeping a list of books I’d read. It wasn’t a hard decision. I love to read, and my reading habit precedes my list-making habit by decades.
I don’t expect everyone to love reading as much as I do, or like the same books I like, but I know all of us would be better people if we read a book or two every year. And so, here are some suggestions. These are listed in the order I read them; I didn’t try to rank them by importance or enjoyment … that’s a paralyzing and pointless exercise. However, if you’re interested, give me your email address and I’ll send you my entire Excel reading list for 2022. In fact, I’ll send you my complete list going back to 1986 if you want, but it isn’t a quick glance. And send me your own list. I’m always searching for ideas.
These books that turned out to be the most meaningful for me over the past twelve months. Should you choose to read one of these books, I’d love to hear from you. I enjoy different takes on books that made my year better. And if you have any recommendations for me, I’d love to hear those, too.
- No Wrong Turns: Cycling the World, Part One: Paris to Sidney, by Chris Pountney … The author’s memoir of the ride of a lifetime. He bicycled away from the Eiffel Tower in the vague direction of the Sydney Opera House, hoping to become the first person to circumnavigate the planet using only a bicycle and boats. With a list of seven challenges to guide him (but no real map), he headed east, not knowing what he might find along the way.
- Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon, by Malcomb Gladwell and Bruce Headlam … part memoir, part investigation, and unlike any creative portrait you’ve ever heard before. The conversation flows from Simon’s music, to his childhood in Queens, NY, to his frequent collaborators including Art Garfunkel and the nature of creativity itself.
- Liturgy of the Ordinary, by Tish Harrison Warren … How do we embrace the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred? Framed around one ordinary day, this book explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices, and habits that form us.
- A Burning in my Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson, by Winn Collier … offers unique insights into the experiences and spiritual convictions of the iconic American pastor and beloved translator of The Message.
- All About Me: My Remarkable Life in Show Business, by Mel Brooks … the never-before-told, behind-the-scenes anecdotes and remembrances from a master storyteller, filmmaker, and creator of all things funny.
- God, Improv, and the Art of Living, by Mary Ann McKibben Dana … We are all improvisers! The principle of “yes, and…” in improvisational theater has produced a lot of great comedy. But it also offers an invigorating approach to life in general, and the spiritual life in particular. From Moses to Ruth, to Jesus, scripture is full of people boldly saying “yes, and…” as they accept what life throws their way and build upon it.
- One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, by Brian Doyle … Doyle writes with a delightful sense of wonder about the sanctity of everyday things, and about love and connection in all their forms: spiritual love, brotherly love, romantic love, and even the love of a nine-foot sturgeon.
- The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life, by John LeCarre … le Carré gives us a glimpse of a writer’s journey over more than six decades, and his own hunt for the human spark that has given so much life and heart to his fictional characters.
- The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain, by Annie Murphy Paul … A host of “extra-neural” resources – the feelings and movements of our bodies, the physical spaces in which we learn and work, and the minds of those around us – can help us focus more intently, comprehend more deeply, and create more imaginatively.
- Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God, by Manning Brennan … A sequel to The Ragamuffin Gospel that shows how true and radical trust in God can transform our lives.
- Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, by Mary Roach … the curious science of human-wildlife conflict, a discipline at the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology.
- Grace Notes, by Brian Doyle … The author writes about his discovery of the incarnated Spirit of God every time he turns around, often in the most unlikely of people, places, and things. In 37 short snapshots, he captures the spiritual essence of everyday life from the perspective of a committed Catholic who loves his faith, his family, his community, and his church, even with all their warts and failings
- God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America, by Larry Eskridge … The Jesus People movement was a unique combination of the hippie counterculture and evangelical Christianity. It first appeared in the famed “Summer of Love” of 1967, in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, and spread like wildfire in Southern California and beyond, to cities like Seattle, Atlanta, and Milwaukee. In 1971 the growing movement found its way into the national media spotlight and gained momentum, attracting a huge new following among evangelical church youth, who enthusiastically adopted the Jesus People persona as their own. Within a few years, however, the movement disappeared and was largely forgotten by everyone but those who had filled its ranks.
- A Poor Priest for the Poor: The Life of Father Rick Thomas S.J., by Richard Dunstan … When he heard God’s call to the priesthood, Rick Thomas set out on a journey he could never have imagined. He turned his back on a life of wealth and worldly success. In more than half a century with the Society of Jesus, he not only served the poor tirelessly, but embraced poverty in his own life—so completely that he spent the majority of his career eating tortillas and beans and sleeping on a cot wherever he was working. For over 40 years, he led a multifaceted set of ministries to the poor of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, relying on God to guide decisions and provide the resources. This book is the story of that life’s journey.
- Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui … Swimming is an introspective and silent sport in a chaotic and noisy age; it’s therapeutic for both the mind and body; and it’s an adventurous way to get from point A to point B. It’s also one route to that elusive, ecstatic state of flow. These reasons, among many others, make swimming one of the most popular activities in the world.
- From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, by Arthur Brooks … Drawing on social science, philosophy, biography, theology, and eastern wisdom, as well as dozens of interviews with everyday men and women, Brooks shows us that true life success is well within our reach. By refocusing on certain priorities and habits that anyone can learn, such as deep wisdom, detachment from empty rewards, connection and service to others, and spiritual progress, we can set ourselves up for increased happiness.
- The Five Masculine Instincts: A Guide to Becoming a Better Man, by Chase Replogle … Today’s men face a dilemma. Our culture tells them that their instincts are either toxic or salvific. Men are left with only two options: deconstruct and forfeit masculine identity or embrace it with wild abandon. They’re left to decide between ignoring their instincts or indulging them. Neither approach helps them actually understand their own masculine experiences nor how those experiences can lead them to become better men of God.
- These Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett … Life often takes turns we do not see coming. Patchett ponders this truth in these wise essays that afford a fresh and intimate look into her mind and heart.
- My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering a Life of Adventure, by Alastair Humphries … Seasoned adventurer Alastair Humphreys pushes himself to his very limits – busking his way across Spain with a violin he can barely play. The journey was his most terrifying yet, risking failure and humiliation every day, and finding himself truly vulnerable to the rhythms of the road and of his own life. But along the way, he found humility, redemption and triumph. It was a very good adventure.
- Slow Horses: Slough House, Book 1, by Mick Herron … If you loved reading John Le Carre (I do), Herron is probably just right for you.
- Blowing My Own Trumpet, by James Morrison … One of Australia’s best-known and best-loved musicians, jazz virtuoso James Morrison is also a great storyteller. His adventures include getting feedback on his haircut from Ray Charles (think about it…), living on a derelict sailboat in freezing New York in justified hopes of making it big there, sneaking over the wall of Government House with his girlfriend, who turns out to be the Governor’s daughter, and much, much more.
- Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle, by Jody Rosen … The bicycle is a vestige of the Victorian era, seemingly at odds with our age of smartphones and ride-sharing apps and driverless cars. Yet we live on a bicycle planet. Across the world, more people travel by bicycle than any other form of transportation. Almost anyone can learn to ride a bike—and nearly everyone does
- Where the Light Fell: A Memoir, by Philip Yancey … Searching for answers, Yancey dives into his family origins, taking us on an evocative journey from the backwoods of the Bible Belt to the bustling streets of Philadelphia; from trailer parks to church sanctuaries; from family oddballs to fire-and-brimstone preachers and childhood awakenings through nature, music, and literature. In time, the weight of religious and family pressure sent both sons on opposite paths — one toward healing from the impact of what he calls a “toxic faith,” the other into a self-destructive spiral. In piecing together his fragmented personal history and his search for redemption, Yancey gives testament to the enduring power of our hunger for truth and the possibility of faith rooted in grace instead of fear.
- Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry … Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, Lonesome Dove, is the grandest novel ever written about the last defiant wilderness of America.
- The One Year Chronological Bible, published by Tyndale … I read through this every year, and nothing has influenced my relationship with God more.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.”