Best Books I Read in 2018

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Here are my favorite five books from my past year of reading. I hope that this list will point you to something you'll enjoy.

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide
Compiled by Sarah Arthur (2016)

Between Midnight and Dawn is one of three books that guide you through the church calendar in a wonderfully unique way. Each week presents a loosely themed collection of prayers, Scriptures, fiction excerpts, and poems. Though Arthur clearly put a lot of thought into organizing the book, she does so in a way that does not spoon-feed you. Rather, the hope is to make space for God to speak to you however He will through the various writings.

As someone who rarely enjoys "devotional" books, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Needless to say, I picked up the two other books in the series: At the Still Point (for Ordinary Time) and Light Upon Light (for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany).

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
by Anne Lamott (1995)

First of all, I cannot remember the last time I laughed out loud this much while reading a book. Anne Lamott says things in the most hilariously straightforward, absurd, and delightful ways. She is one of the most engaging writers I have read and this book is just plain fun.

But Bird by Bird is not a shallow book. Lamott's advice on writing, including her famous section on "shitty first drafts", is must-read material for any writer. I particularly appreciated her exhortation to see writing as its own reward rather than looking to publication for satisfaction—a principle with application far beyond writing (see her subtitle: "on Writing and Life").

But please… go read everything the way she says it. No summary can begin to do her words justice. This reminds me: I need to go read more Anne Lamott.

Ordering Your Private World
by Gordon MacDonald (1985)

Thai Christian Students (IFES Thailand) has all their new staff read this old InterVarsity Press book. I am so glad they do! Though the book is as old as I am (!), it is still a timely word to those of us wrapped up in over-busy lives 33 years later.

The thesis of the book is simple: if we want to live a more effective and organized life outwardly, we need to regularly tend to our inner world. Caring for our souls is like keeping a house clean: it is never done. Our souls get cluttered and dirty over time and we must constantly attend our inner lives to keep from falling into disorder.

MacDonald explores five areas of our inner world: motivations, time, intellectual development, intimacy with God, and rest. This is a book you are too busy not to read.

Sit, Walk, Stand
by Watchman Nee (1957)

This very short Christian classic speaks to the same issue as MacDonald's book above. Nee, a persecuted Chinese Christian, flies us over the book of Ephesians to highlight one major thread in the book's structure: before we do anything for God, we need to sit in our identity with Him. Only from that place can we walk forward in his service and ultimately stand firm against the enemy.

I read this book in California during a particularly busy season of our life. I was (and am) so grateful for these much-needed pastoral words from this Christian brother half a century and half a world away.

Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse
by Mary Oliver (1998)

Since you're probably not interested in writing poetry, note that this book is also for readers of poetry. It's sort of like wine-tasting lessons, because sometimes old poems taste funny at first. Also note that "metrical verse" means, you know, most of the English poems ever written, so there's a lot of payoff from this little book.

Oliver uses only 100 pages—17 short, easy chapters—to explain the various poetic elements in metrical verse. Her succinct primer is chock full of marked-up, concrete examples so it never stays merely theoretical. The last 79 pages are a mini-anthology of the (complete) poems used to illustrate concepts earlier in the book — a wonderful place to dip your toes into the vast ocean of poetry.

For more recommendations, check out my Best Books of 2016-2017 and 2015 lists. What were some of your favorite reads this year?

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Friday, November 23, 2018
This Thanksgiving weekend, I am thinking of this poem "Love (III)" by one of my favorite poets, George Herbert. These words are such a rich, beautiful illustration of God's love for us through Jesus.

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

See this post on Instagram.

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Like Soap Does

Friday, November 16, 2018

Somewhere in the midst of writing several poems about really heavy topics (just scroll down!), I entered a fun "Soapku" contest with Christie in an attempt to get published on hundreds of bars of soap. Neither of us won, but here's mine:

Let me love you like
Soap does—give myself to you
Until I am gone.

Originally published as an honorable mention in Whole Life Soaps' 2018 Haiku Contest.
See this post on Instagram.

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Monday, November 12, 2018
Some perspective on the rise and fall of this world's powerful nations, courtesy of Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias".

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

See this post on Instagram.

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The Train

Saturday, November 10, 2018

My poem The Train has been published in the The Sunday Edition (October 21, 2018) of Poets Reading the News. Click the link to read it!

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The Wound

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Here is a poem visual I made for my poem, The Wound, which was published as the poem of the day (October 17, 2018) in Indolent Books' What Rough Beast project. Click the link to read it!

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Permanent Separations

Friday, August 10, 2018
A Sonnet

Here is a poem visual I made for my poem Permanent Separations, which was published in Faithfully Magazine (Issue #4). Click the link to read it!

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

At the top of fame’s staircase
She stopped and stared, caged
By pathways too frail
For ambition to trace,
At the foot of the mountain of God:
Originally posted as part of a One Line Poem prompt I hosted on Chalkboard.
Special thanks to Jeremy Paillotin for letting me use his beautiful painting. (© 2016-2018 Jeremy Paillotin)

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Best Books I Read In 2016-2017

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Since I didn’t do this last year — my family moved halfway around the world and I wasn’t really blogging much — here are my favorite five books from the past two years. I love finding the next good book to read, and I hope these suggestions will point you toward a book (or a few) well worth reading.

Widen: A Collection of Poems
by Chris Rice (2016)

More than any other book, Widen compelled me to write poetry.

A veteran singer-songwriter, Chris Rice presents himself as an amateur poet; yet I found myself enjoying and re-enjoying this humble collection more than any poetry anthology I have read.

If you, like me, are wary of wading into the often-intimidating world of poetry, this is a place be at ease, explore, and widen your appreciation. Perhaps you too will be inspired to

“Create, create, create!
Rearrange the molecules
Of the already astounding universe.”

Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey Through the Book of Revelation
by Darrel W. Johnson (2004)

“Things are not as they seem.”

In this accessible book, Johnson makes the case that Revelation, the last book of the Bible, is not intended to be a detailed play-by-play of the end times. Rather, it intends to help Jesus’ disciples live courageously now by revealing (hence “Revelation”) to us a fresh and wildly artistic picture of the spiritual reality in which we all live.

This is less a commentary than a collection of sermons written with a pastor’s heart and an eye toward application.

The Martian
by Andy Weir (2011)

People sometimes describe this best-seller as a futuristic Robinson Crusoe. While Weir’s novel lacks the spiritual depth of Defoe’s classic, Weir weaves his own stellar story, relentlessly driven by the fight for survival.

The protagonist’s life-or-death ingenuity engaged me throughout, and some of the plot twists literally made me set the book down — jaw dropped — before reading on. The Martian is a thrilling and believable tale that, like most good books, is even better than its (very entertaining) movie.

Nineteen Eighty-Four
by George Orwell (1949)

This makes my list not for great storytelling (that would be The Martian, above) but for its prescient depiction (however hyperbolic) of key aspects of our current political climate.

This book didn’t impress me much when I first read it, yet it hasn’t stopped coming to mind since. Nearly seven decades after its writing, Orwell’s classic remains thought-provoking, illuminating, and shockingly relevant.

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked
by Adam Alter (2017)

Do you feel like you lack self-control when it comes to social media, smartphone apps, online gaming, and all things Internet? If so, it’s largely because the design teams behind these websites/apps/games are experts at keeping us coming back for more.

Alter insightfully examines today’s widespread behavioral addictions and offers suggestions for how to engage with technology in ways that are sustainable, appropriately cautious, and beneficial.

What were your favorite books last year? Leave a reply and let me know.

P.S. You can also check out the Best Books I Read in 2015.

Originally posted at Be Yourself.

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Friday, January 05, 2018
A One Word Poem

Sweet seas sew saber sweaters,
Brass stars beset rarest tears,
Berries brew,
Wait, bait.

We see, stir…
Bear a stare…
Bestir, rise…
Sit, bite.

Waters arise,
Assert, arrest,
Awe, sate — 
Art, ate.

Each word in this poem is contained in the word "Strawberries".

Originally posted at Lit Up. Photo by Pezibear.

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