2021 Reading Report

I have stopped doing traditional ‘best of’  lists the past couple of years. Instead, I have written about what has impacted me in different areas. Below I also give some stats on the diversity of the authors of my reading and the topics of my reading.

Confronting History

The Myth of Colorblind Christians: Evangelicals and White Supremacy in the Civil Rights Era cover imageHistory is a significant interest of mine. It is hard to understand our current era without understanding the influences that led to our time. That history matters, whether it is large-scale societal history or smaller stories. The Myth of Colorblind Christians: Evangelicals and White Supremacy in the Civil Rights Era told the recent history of Evangelicalism and its adoption of a colorblind approach to dealing with racial issues. It is an excellent follow-up to Color of Compromise, which is a popular introduction to racial issues within the church.

Reading Evangelicals: How Christian Fiction Shaped a Culture and a Faith cover imageReading Evangelicals: How Christian Fiction Shaped a Culture and a Faith was a surprise. I am not a particular fan of Evangelical Christian Fiction, and I do not read much of it. But using five novels that shaped Evangelical Christian Fiction to tell the story of Evangelical publishing and give context to the recent history of Evangelicalism was very effective. I think there could have been more critique of the quality of the literature, but I came to the book fairly blind and was very pleased with how much I enjoyed it.

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith is one of the top handful of books I read. It is a lyrical and powerfully written book. Using the power of place and personal narrative, Smith visited sites of importance to American racial history and told the story of those places in personal terms. I listened to this as an audiobook, and his narration is perfect. With the eye of a historian and a journalistic confrontation of how these places frame racial history to people today, Smith reminds the readers that history is not just in the past but is important to how we tell our story.

Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair by Duke Kwon and Greg Thompson is directly about historical confrontation. Few topics are less popular among White Evangelicals than reparations; according to polling I have seen, between 1 and 3 percent of White Evangelicals support large scale reparations for slavery. But Kwon and Thompson make the historical and theological case for why they think that reparations are an important response to both slavery and the larger reality of racism. Also, they make the case that churches and individual Christians should attempt smaller forms of reparations not just advocate for larger governmental reparations programs.

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together is not really history, but sociology or public policy, but I think it fits here best. The central metaphor of the book is the public swimming pool. In the 1920-40s, thousands of public swimming pools were built by local communities. As desegregation slowly occurred in the 1940s-1970s across the country, many communities chose to permanently close public swimming pools, removing a community asset that had already been paid for rather than integrating it. That metaphor shows how racism extracts a cost on the whole of society, not just racial minorities. The book highlights how many White people, especially those of lower economic status, are harmed by policies originally put in place based on racist ideology. Areas as diverse as health care, jobs, housing, voting, and education continue to be impacted by racism. It is irrational to continue to support policies that directly harm ourselves, but it continues to happen.

Other Perspectives

Shoutin' in the Fire: An American Epistle cover imageShoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle by Dante Stewart, along with How The Word Was Passed, are the two best-written books I read this year. Both show the importance of the craft of writing. Shoutin’ in the Fire is hard to categorize. It is not quite a memoir and not quite a collection of essays, but it is an interesting mix that highlights his skill as a writer to tell his own story and how racism continues to impact the church.

Permission to Be Black: My Journey with Jay-Z and Jesus was not a book written for me. But one of the reasons I want to expand the diversity of authors I read is to overhear stories that expand my world. Primarily this is a book that confronts mental health, generational trauma, and relational health as a Black man. All of these topics are important for many groups, but I think the particularity of this book for Black men can still be helpful for others to overhear.

I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation cover imageI Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation is the book that I think most clearly articulates my vision for racial reconciliation in the church. The Womanist approach that Chanequa Walker-Barnes articulates I think is the way forward, even if it is a difficult path.

Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation by Jennifer Harvey is explicitly targeting the work of Mainline (mostly White) churches on racial issues. Mainline churches have a history of paying more attention to racial issues than Evangelical churches. Still, that awareness does not necessarily translate to healthier communities for racial minorities to be in as Christians. There will be a lot of disagreement with this book. Still, I think it is helpful to reveal that political or theological liberalism does not necessarily solve race problems.


Buses Are a Comin': Memoir of a Freedom Rider cover imageI did not know who Charles Person was before a friend recommended Buses Are a Comin’: Memoir of a Freedom Rider. Still, it is a good example of why Civil Rights history needs to be about more than Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks. My only complaint is that I wish the memoir included more of his life after the Freedom Rides. The Civil Rights Era needed those public leaders, but the actions of those mostly unknown really brought about change. Charles Person was one of a small group of original Freedom Riders. But by the end of the project, there were hundreds of riders. These riders were essential to forcing all levels of government to enforce Supreme Court orders for interstate desegregation of transportation.

In a very similar way, I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals is the memoir of one of the Little Rock Nine, but this time it is focused on her time after high school. She was one of the first Black television reporters before returning to graduate school, getting her doctorate, and becoming a professor. Little Rock shut down their high school for a year after that first year of integration, and Beals went to California to live with a family that agreed to host her to finish high school. She married and divorced relatively young and made her own way in a sexist and racist society. One of the points that I think many will be surprised about is her many descriptions of overt racism in the California housing market, including relatively recently as an older woman. This overt racism is illegal, and many deny it continues, but it is real, and it is important that it is detailed and described. Many figures of the Civil Rights Era lived very normal lives, but these stories must be read in part because of how many people were involved in the Civil Rights Era and how recent all of these events are. Melba Pattillo Beals turned 80 last month. Charles Person will turn 80 this year. They were children during the early Civil Rights Era. This is also a book that is overtly Christian, and I think it matters that so much of the Civil Rights movement was acting out of Christian conviction and acting against people that were also verbally Christian.

In This World of Wonders: Memoir of a Life in Learning cover imageIn This World of Wonders: Memoir of a Life in Learning by Nicholas Wolterstorff. I did not really know anything about Wolterstorff when I picked up this memoir other than he wrote Lament for a Son about grieving for his son’s death. I was glad that he reflected on both the book and that experience of grief 30 years later in this memoir, but the rest of his life was also fascinating. I am continually inspired by people that attempt to live out their Christian faith well, and Wolterstorff’s memoir was one of the more inspiriting books I read this year. It was inspiring in part because he was so honest about his weaknesses and the areas where he thought he made mistakes. He is an internationally recognized philosopher and important in philosophy and justice and the arts and educational theory. But this memoir connected those things with his calling to the life of the mind and his faith.

Exactly as You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers by Shea Tuttle book coverI will combine these next four because they are all biographies and because I loved them for similar reasons. They are all inspiring figures for me. All of the biographies are explicitly about their Christian faith. And all four were, in their own ways, non-traditional figures who became famous for doing what they felt called to do, not because they were trying to become famous. The four biographies, Against the Hounds of Hell: A Life of Howard ThurmanExactly as You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister RogersA Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson and His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope helped move me to keep reading biographies this year. When so many leaders are disappointing me, not because they are flawed or human but because they are not ending well, these are examples of men who did end well and would love to emulate in many ways.

The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet cover imageThe Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green is on the face a bunch of reviews. But as he says early on, product reviews say as much about the reviewer as about the product, and this is a sort of memoir disguised as a compilation of reviews of things or events, and it is delightful.


Light Perpetual: A Novel cover imageLight Perpetual by Francis Spufford is an example of what I want in fiction, a good story, some important ideas, and a bit of a twist. As I said in my original post, I nearly gave up, but I kept going, and I am glad that I did.

I started reading The Mysterious Benedict Society because of the Disney show, but I kept reading because they are enjoyable. There are four main books and a prequel, and I think I enjoyed each one more than the last.
Honorable Mentions that I am not going to write about but probably should be on this list as well

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction

James Baldwin: A Biography

After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging

The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended

Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest

Subversive Witness: Scripture’s Call to Leverage Privilege

Where the Light Fell: A Memoir by Phillip Yancey

2021 Reading Diversity Report

As part disclosure and part accountability info about the authors, I am reading I track the authors’ diversity. My authors were too White and too male again this year. Overall, I read about 66% male authors and about 60% White authors. And about 80% non-fiction. Part of this is schoolwork; I have only been assigned White authors and only a handful of women throughout the whole program. This is the program’s weakness, and I have been supplementing on my own, but not enough. Reading diversely takes me more intention than I am giving it (as I have said every year I have reported this).

When I break data out, 48% of authors were White Males, 18% were White Females, 18% Black Males, and 10% were Black Females. All others 7% total. Topically, 20% were Biography or Memoirs; a lot was Civil Rights era. 19% was Fiction; another 19% was assigned or supplemental Spiritual direction books. Racial issues that were not bio/memoir was 12%, 11% was general Theology, 10% Christian history, and 9% was the rest of the categories. Many of these had overlapping categories, and I only put in the main one.

There is always tension in tracking because I want to pay attention and lean toward diversity, but I do not want to create an obligation because reading is fun. And I have had some intention at reading white authors around race this year, primarily history or biography; those White, primarily male authors accounted for 10% of my reading. Most of the books were excellent, but they did not increase my reading diversity. My intention at reading some White authors on racial issues is to understand how White authors can speak clearly to White audiences, that is important, but those voices can’t be my primary voice on racial issues.

I continue to need to increase diversity; simply doing better than the average white guy doesn’t mean I am doing enough. I continue to have a goal of keeping White authors to less than 50% and to be near parity in gender. I also would like to move toward 30% fiction (I did move in the right direction with my fiction). But overall, my numbers are almost exactly what I had last year, and I made very little progress. I will commit to checking in on my reading four times this year to make more course corrections as necessary.

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