[This is Day 11 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A biography of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic distance runner who is shot down while flying missions in the Pacific theater of World War II and survives 6 weeks adrift at sea only to be captured and held as a POW by the Japanese.
Why You Should Read It: Biographies can be powerful things when they avoid hagiography and give us insight into people as they truly are. In Unbroken, Hillenbrand shares what seems like a fully-orbed story of a man who was heroic and noble but certainly no alabaster saint. His “unbrokenness” is as much stubbornness as courage, and after [SPOILER] surviving such horrific ordeals, he returns to the States psychologically damaged. What the original film version of this story underplays (though I hear this is corrected in the straight-to-video sequel) is that it is through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Zamperini is able to forgive his oppressors and find emotional and spiritual healing. That’s why, as great as the film version is (and it is), you should read the book first, because you get a clearer picture of the man in full.
[This is Day 10 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A spy novel set during the Cold War that is more a psychological thriller than a James-Bond-like adventure story. In this story, Alec Leamas, a British intelligence agent is sent “over the wall” to run a counter-intelligence op against a high-ranking East German spook. Soon, Leamas begins to wonder which side he really can trust, if any.
Why You Should Read It: This is the third novel in LeCarre’s “Smiley” series, technically speaking, though George Smiley is at most a background presence in this story. LeCarre’s tales of Cold War spycraft are incredibly grounded and almost mundane (at least, compared to Ian Fleming’s flash-bang approach), but this provides a sense of realism and real stakes. The fact that LeCarre may or may not have real-world experience in such matters certain adds to it. But this particular selection of his works is an easy and engaging entrypoint to the world of Smiley and “the Circus,” and the battle of wits and psychological sparring between Leamas and his German counterparts transform extended scenes of two guys talking across a table into a high-tension pot-boiler. All of this leads up to a final scene that is riveting and memorable. If you want to dip your toes into some classic genre fiction, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold is a great place to start.
[This is Day 9 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: An approachable explanation of the Heidelburg Catechism, broken down into 52 weekly readings, with a few pages of commentary and application for each section.
Why You Should Read It: Growing up as a Southern Baptist, we didn’t use creeds or confessions for spiritual education. If anything, such things were distrusted as being too “high-church” and formalized. However, I’ve learned in my adult years the great benefits from a good catechism for both instructing and encouraging believers in the core truths of the faith. When I first read this book years ago, I was unfamiliar with the Heidelburg, but DeYoung’s friendly and inviting tone in this book drew me in and helped me to appreciate the value of this 16th document. This book would be great for personal or family devotions and would be a benefit to any believer, regardless of denominational background.
[This is Day 8 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A multi-volume printing of the Bible that removes the chapter and verse numbering and any cross-references or notations, so that all you have is the text itself, with the occasional major section heading.
Why You Should Read It: When it comes to personal Bible reading, I tend to bounce back and forth between a simple format and a more complex one (like a study Bible with commentary notes). But the most pleasing experience I’ve ever had as a reader was with this “reader’s Bible.” The volumes are well-made and tactilely pleasing. The paper is high-quality with zero bleed-through. The type setting is spaced out and open, and the lack of chapter-and-verse divisions helps to encourage extended reading. Approaching texts like the Epistles in this format are a great reminder that these books were cohesive documents, not snippets of text with interstitial headings. Approaching your Scripture reading in this manner helps you hang onto the “big picture” of the text. The price-point for this set is a bit higher-end (you may be able to find it on sale for $60-80 over the holidays), but I think it’s worth it because it will be a Bible you will return to again and again for personal reading (as I have).
[This is Day 6 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A four-book fantasy series geared toward younger readers (but absolutely delightful for all ages) telling the story of a family living in a formerly-peaceful kingdom that has been overrun by an army of terrifying monsters controlled by a dark and mysterious lord, who are forced by circumstance to take their stand against their terrible foes.
Why You Should Read It: Peterson, who already built a career as a phenomenal singer/songwriter, has crafted an imaginary world so engrossing that it can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with Hogwarts and Narnia. That sounds like hyperbole; it’s not. Peterson’s characters are fleshed out and relatable, the storyline is gripping, and the world-building details are present at every turn to draw the reader into the adventure even further. Like all good fantasy tales, there are mysteries, perils, thrilling escapes, harrowing monsters, plot twists, tear-jerking moments, and so much heart that you can’t help but read with a smile on your face. As I noted, the books are geared toward younger readers (though not childish or dumbed-down in any way), written in short chapters that are perfect for curling up to enjoy with the family right before bedtime. If you want to hear a bit more, my effluvient praise continues here. PLUS: The volume pictured is a re-released version of Book 1. All 4 books have been re-released with new artwork and maps and are just beautiful to look at. Don’t miss out on these!
[This is Day 6 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A stirring, devotional examination of the issues surrounding “Marrow Controversy” from 18th century church history, and why those issues still matter today.
Why You Should Read It: Ferguson writes about theology in a way that is devotional, challenging, and encouraging. He walks the reader through the various issues surrounding the Marrow Controversy, as a springboard for a discussion of the key theological ideas involved: the relationship between grace and works, assurance of salvation, and the believer’s union with Christ. Rather than being dry and academic, the book stirs the heart and affections for Jesus. It is still one of my favorite books so far this year.
[This is Day 5 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: Newport applies his principles of deep work and intentional excellence to the arena of our digital lives, and he proposes a countercultural approach to find freedom from screen-slavery while living in a digitally-obsessed culture.
Why You Should Read It: If you’ve ever complained about how much time you spend on social media or how lousy it makes you feel, this book is a must-read for you. I’ve written about it in more detail here, but to summarize: Newport’s prescription for how to tame the digital beast is hard to swallow for some and requires a great deal of intentionality and thoughtfulness, but it makes a lot of sense. As with any good, hard thing worth doing, putting it into practice is the challenge, but it’s plain to see that he’s on the right track here. Read this book, and let Newport help you take a step back and reassess your relationship with your gadgets and online life.
[This is Day 4 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: An allegory of the Christian life, written in two parts by the Puritan great John Bunyan, while in prison for preaching according to his convictions.
Why You Should Read It: This is still the second highest-selling book of all time, behind the Bible, and for good reason. Bunyan’s tale of “Christian,” a pilgrim travelling from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City of Zion, has been a touchstone for Christian readers for three and a half centuries. While its critics point out that the book is too didactic and the narrative and characterization are too thin, I think they’re missing the point that it’s supposed to be a teaching tool. Bunyan was a pastor, not a novelist. Yet there is still something charming and heartwarming about following Christian through his many dangers and mistakes as he travels toward the city of his King. And don’t miss reading Part 2, in which his wife and children follow in his footsteps and meet different trials of their own. If you’re a Christian and you’ve never read this book, I can’t recommend it enough. It would do your soul some good to read a novel that’s so richly Biblical.
[This is Day 3 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A two-part rapture-novel parody, following an ever-growing cast of characters through thrilling adventures and escapades that feature a celebrity Christian athlete, End-Times prophecy, corporate conspiracies, football heroics, questionable pharmeceuticals, Catan-based homesteading, titanium knees, wharf guys, and much, much more.
Why You Should Read It: The moguls behind Gut Check Press have finally released the much-anticipated second-half of their Re:Raptured epic in this nice paperback omnibus, and it’s an absolute hoot. The first book begins as a straightforward parody of the Left Behind phenomenon, but then expands in Part 2 (Re:Raptured Again) into a friendly takedown of conservative/Reformed evangelical sub-culture as a whole. If you’re a homeschooling family (or homeschooling-adjacent), if you’ve played more than a few games of Settlers with folks from church, if you’ve had a few disagreements with family members over eschatology, or if you’ve transacted regular business in a Lifeway or Mardels, you’ll likely be in on the joke here. Just don’t take yourself too seriously.
[This is Day 2 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A manual teaching key disciplines and practices to make you more effective and productive in your life and career, illustrated by real-world examples from the author’s military and post-military career.
Why You Should Read It: While my description fails to do it justice because it makes it sound like every other personal productivity and business/marketing book, this one really does stand out because Willink brings to bear his years of military service in the SEALs and his experiences as a corporate leadership consultant after leaving the military to provide some simple yet effective strategies for being a more focused, productive, and reliable person. To be clear, if you don’t think you’d find his stories from the Iraq War interesting, steer clear, because every chapter sets up the key principle, then illustrates it with a war story and a business application story. But if you’re looking for something to help you improve in your career or personal productivity, definitely read this book.