In no particular order, here are the best books I read in the second quarter of 2018:
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
Okay, so I didn’t read this book this quarter, but the death of Anthony Bourdain hit me harder than expected, so I’m going to use it as an excuse to briefly pay my respects.
I don’t like travel shows or food shows, but I liked Bourdain’s travel food show. He simultaneously entertained and informed. A rare feat. His authenticity was alluring. He called it like he saw it. He kept it real, as the kids say. In an age of shiny, showy, seemingly perfect celebrities, he was refreshingly imperfect, refreshingly human, refreshingly himself. In his own way, he also brought us all a little closer together. Each episode left you with a more neighborly perspective on the world. Merely by visiting an oppressed, forgotten, or misunderstood place, eating a few of its classic dishes with a few of its locals, and highlighting an aspect or two of its history (sometimes its triumphs, other times its defeats or struggles), he was able to humanize its inhabitants, to show us they are just like us. And in doing so, he subtly made us all a little less ignorant, a little less fearful, a little less bigoted. What a stud. He will be missed.
As for the book, it’s classic Bourdain—routinely perceptive, frequently witty, occasionally crude, often insightful, and always entertaining.
A Flexible Faith: Rethinking What It Means to Follow Jesus Today by Bonnie Kristian
Kristian provides a fantastic overview of the theological issues that have birthed the myriad of Christian denominations in existence today (and also provides a helpful summary of those denominations toward the end of the book). On each issue, she reveals the (reasonable) diversity of thought and belief within orthodox Christianity. It’s a beautiful reminder that no one has ever, or will ever, completely and perfectly understand the complex and sometimes ambiguous Bible. As Greg Boyd writes in the forward, this book calls all Christians to a “theology of dialogue over dogmatism,” one “that is solidly anchored in essentials but is graciously flexible in everything else.” In an age when the church needs to do a much better job of disagreeing Christianly, this book is exactly what the doctor ordered. Of all the books on my list this quarter, this one is the easiest to read and the most needed.
Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby
This was a nostalgic read for me. I grew up idolizing Jordan—and I don’t use that term lightly. I’m fairly certain my adoration for him was sinful. To a kid in love with basketball, he was a god. (Larry Bird once said he was “God disguised as Michael Jordan.”)
Lazenby provides great insight into what made Jordan Jordan: rare athletic gifts combined with a pathological competitiveness, a superhuman amount of natural energy, and a corresponding world-class work ethic. He was so competitive, in fact, that even his off days and nightlife revolved around competition, mostly in the form of golf and cards (and gambling on both). And, in a league where most players usually conserved energy during games so they could weather the 82-game season (plus playoffs), Jordan didn’t even conserve energy in practice, approaching each one like game seven of the finals.
Lazenby also does a commendable job of showing how Jordan not only changed the game of basketball but also transcended it. He rocketed the NBA’s popularity to new heights, made the entire league adjust its style of play to him, forever changed player salaries, almost single-handedly birthed shoe deals and product endorsements, and, in the process, became the most famous person in the world.
Grab yourself a book about a subject central to your childhood and take a little trip down memory lane. You’ll thank me later.
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards & Brandon J. O'Brien
Although you might not know it, your biblical interpretation (and consequently your theology) is culturally biased. Everyone’s is. If you want to better understand how, this is the book for you. Not only will it make you more self-aware, but it’s another good reminder to be humble in our beliefs. I wish I had read it before writing my book. I could’ve used it to bolster my assertion that the Old Testament writers were heavily influenced by their Ancient Near Eastern culture, particularly in how they attributed violence to God.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
I finished reading this, my first Tom Wolfe book, shortly before he unexpectedly passed away this past May. It’s a witty, fast-paced, highly entertaining nonfiction narrative about the military pilots (most of them test pilots, some fighter) who became America’s first astronauts. It’s one of the more fun reads I’ve had in a long time, partially because of the highly competitive and frat-like pilot culture, partially because the national stakes were so high (we had to beat the Russians!), partially because the media operated so differently in the late 50s and early 60s (almost as the government’s public relations department), and partially because I listened to the audible version narrated by Dennis Quaid, who absolutely nailed the pilot accents and vernacular.
- The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists by Ravi Zacharias
- American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road by Nick Bilton
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