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Books Read 2018

My goal is to read 40 books a year in addition to journals, articles, and commentaries. Here is my 5-star rating for the books I read in 2018. Other than giving a ranking, the books are not listed in any further order. Mostly, within the categories they’re listed in the order that I finished them. Click on the title to find it online. At the end of this post, you can find a list of “Books Read” posts for previous years.

Five Stars

The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr. Excerpt here.

The Lord of the Rings. Sixth time thru. (Excerpt from the appendix here.)

The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. This has been turned into a TV mini-series which I didn’t think was very good at all. Don’t let the poor TV adaptation make you bypass the book. It’s a fascinating look at what led to 9/11.

The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers. Entertaining read about a young man attempting to restore the coffee trade in war-torn Yemen, where coffee as a beverage began. As well as a good story, it gave me a much better appreciation of all the hands my coffee beans have to pass through before making it into my grinder.

Abide with Me, by Elizabeth Strout. Excerpt here. Good review at WaPo here.

Fathered by God, by John Eldredge. Wonderful reminder about what the fatherhood of God means.

Ten Rules of Writing, Elmore Leonard

Close Range: Wyoming Stories, by Annie Proulx. Fine writing here.

He Held Radical Light, poems by Christian Wiman

The Coming Storm, by Michael Lewis. Available only as an audiobook from Audible. It’s about the people who make weather forecasts accessible to everyone–and how commercial interests and neglect by politicians endangers this access.

What Happened to Sophie Wilder? by Christopher R. Beha. Excerpt here. I asked Karen Swallow Prior and her Twitter followers to recommend books that have a Christian conversion as a main character development. The list included Sophie Wilder as well as the next two titles below. (Two other titles were recommended, but I’ll have to read Moll Flanders and The Robe in 2019.)

Leave Her to Heaven, by Ben Ames Williams. Written in the early 1940s, a study of jealousy and its consequences. Irrelevant observation on my part, being a new fly fisherman: Given that the characters pull up a lot of trout in the outdoor scenes in this book, the author must not have known about fly fishing or there must have been many more trout in upstate New York waters in the 1930s and 40s.

The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene

From a Limestone Ledge by John Graves. Entertaining essays on life in the rural Texas Hill Country.

Goodbye to a River by John Graves. Observations from a solo canoe trip Graves took in the 1960s on the upper Brazos before all the dams were built. The book is regarded as Graves’s legacy, and though it’s definitely worth a read, I liked From a Limestone Ledge better,

Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. I started Morris’s trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt a decade ago. Finally got around to finishing the third book in the series.

Four Stars

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. An interesting premise: Gods from various mythologies trying to make a life in the twenty-first century United States.

The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath

The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, by Kay Ryan

Joy: 100 Poems, edited by Christian Wiman

The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, by Frances FitzGerald. This is a pretty good review of evangelicalism, though it’s limited to white political involvement in America. White, political, and American is way too narrow to sufficiently understand the evangelical tribe of Christianity.

Forty Lashes Less One, by Elmore Leonard

Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, The Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde, by John Bossenecker

A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. You should really get in the audio format so you can hear the recordings of the actual sermons instead of just reading a transcript. I was intrigued by all the sermons, though disappointed with his most confessional sermon, “Unfulfilled Dreams.” He hinted at moral regrets but knew that God would judge his heart was in the right place. This is simply not the gospel. However, his prophetic calls for the nation to deal with racism is stirring, and his criticism of the futility of the nation’s continued involvement in the Vietnam War proved prescient.

The Meanest Man in Texas, by Don Umphrey. The true story of Clyde Thompson of Eastland, Texas, a murderer whom everyone had regarded as unredeemable. A Bible–and the Savior–turned him around. This is an old book, and someone should update the story.

Three Stars

Nine Horses: Poems, by Billy Collins

Twelve Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. I wanted to know what was generating such interest in Peterson. The book was an interesting enough read, with mostly obvious advice (though I guess that’s an indictment on contemporary culture that obvious advice seems so fresh to many). I thought his Jungian take on Christianity was silly.

Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin

Civilwarland in Bad Decline, by George Saunders. I loved Tenth of December and Lincoln in the Bardo, so I checked this collection of his earliest short stories. I should give this Four Stars, but I didn’t like the last story, and the longest, so here it sits on the Three Stars list.

Oil Field Fury, by Boyce House. Life for a newspaper editor in Eastland County in the early 1900s.

Chaos and Grace by Mark Galli

Two Stars

The Second Coming, by Walter Percy

The End of Our Exploring, by Matthew Lee Anderson

The Lynching of the Santa Claus Bank Robber, Tui Snider and H.E. Cameron.


Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford. Maybe the audiobook narrator made the male characters too effeminate.

Lists from Previous Years

(The links for Books Read 2013-2017 will take you to pages on this blog. You can access the “Books Read” lists from 2009-2012, but the links on those page take you to a blog I no longer update.)

Books Read 2009

Books Read 2010

Books Read 2011

Books Read 2012

Books Read 2013

Books Read 2014

Books Read 2015

Books Read 2016

Books Read 2017

“After all this time, people still can’t do without God”

“It’s like Graham Greene or something. I mean, who converts anymore? Unless they’re converting away.”

This is what the publicist says in hopes of putting the best spin on the oddity of Sophie Wilder, the critically acclaimed young writer, converting to Christianity, in Christopher Beha’s novel, What Happened to Sophie Wilder?

It’s intriguing to see a recent novel take conversion seriously, like Graham Greene or something. Here is the description of Sophie’s turn to God:

It is in the nature of what happened next that it can’t be conveyed in words. The few times Sophie tried to explain it later, even to herself, she fell back on cliche: something came over her; she walked out changed. It got closest to it to say that she was, for a time, occupied. After all her reading in the week leading up to that day, she thought of that occupying force as the Holy Spirit. But mostly she knew that it was something outside of herself, something real, not an idea or a conceit or a metaphor. Once it passed on, she knew that her very outline had been reshaped by it, that this reshaping had been long awaited though she hadn’t recognized as much. More than that, she knew that she wanted the feeling back. She would chase it forever if need be. Everything later followed from that. That was the part she couldn’t explain to others. It couldn’t be explained. It didn’t come from books; it didn’t allow itself to be argued for or against. 

The author does have a passing moment on one page where he refers to Sophie not knowing that such a sensation was quite independent of any particular religion. That’s the only interruption of the flow; the author’s bias otherwise seems to stay off the stage and Sophie is allowed to be a real character who processes her conversion to (Catholic) Christianity intellectually and emotionally. 

There are plenty of observations throughout the book on how the Christian message is regarded in our day, such as this one:

“It’s funny,” he said. “After all this time, people still can’t do without God. I never would have guessed that He’d survive to your generation. Even the atheists are militant. They can’t quite get over Him.”

“Most of my friends don’t think one way or another about it,” Sophie told him. “They’re not for it or against it; they’re just beyond it.”

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe. The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

“You’ve got a real way with words,” she said.

“That’s Kant….”

The book was recommended when I posted on social media a request for recommendations of books, preferably recent books, that included a Christian conversion of one of the characters as part of the plot.

It’s March 25: Happy New Year!

“In Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King.”

Gandalf, The Return of the King


“For centuries theologians and leaders of the church had affirmed that the key date in human history was March 25, on which date occurred the Fall itself; the angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, which heralded the birth of the One who would undo the effects of the Fall; and the Crucifixion, which defeated the forces of evil, which had been unleashed on this world by Adam’s sin. It was with these events that Dionysus Exiguus, the sixth-century monk and calendar-maker, determined that the year itself should begin on March 25, which it did throughout Europe for a very long time. It was England’s official New Year’s Day until 1752, though by that time January 1 had been celebrated by most English people for hundreds of years.”

Alan Jacobs, Original Sin, p 43.

“A morally convincing account must be given”

Richard John Neuhaus:

An atheist can be a citizen, but he cannot be a good citizen. A good citizen does more than abide by the laws. A good citizen is able to give an account, a morally compelling account, of the regime of which he is part – and to do so in continuity with the constituting moment and subsequent history of that regime. He is able to justify its defense against its enemies, and to convincingly recommend its virtues to citizens of the next generation so that they, in turn can transmit the order of government to citizens yet unborn. This regime of liberal democracy, of republican self-governance, is not self-evidently good and just. An account must be given. Reasons must be given. They must be reasons that draw authority from that which is higher than ourselves, from that which transcends us, from that to which we are precedently, ultimately, obliged.

The American experiment in constitutional democracy was not conceived and dedicated by those who today call themselves “atheists,” and it cannot be conceived and dedicated anew by such citizens. In times of testing – and every time is a time of testing for this experiment in ordered liberty – a morally convincing account must be given. One may ask, Convincing to whom? One obvious answer in a democracy, although not the only answer, is that it must be convincing to a majority of citizens. Minorities, including the minority of atheists, are assiduously to be protected in their legal right to dissent. It is the responsibility of their fellow citizens to give a moral account – an account that atheists cannot give – of why that is the case. Giving such an account in continuity with the truths by which this political order was constituted is required of good citizens, not least because those who cannot give such an account depend on others who can.

American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile (pp. 116, 118)


Here’s a good comedy piece. It’s created in the form of an old AM radio broadcast of a Fundamentalist preacher by the name, Dr. G.I. Barber. A fitting name, given his passion is “hairology,” a theology of hair. It’s an old spoof, and I can’t find any information on the creators.

I recalled the comedy piece as I was getting ready for today’s sermon. In my Sunday morning sermon series through 1 Corinthians, I’ve reached that passage in chapter 11 that confuses people. Verses 2-16 have to do with head coverings and hair length, which seems to have no relevance to twenty-first century culture.

Here’s “G.I. Barber’s” 16-minute sermon on hairology:



Click here for my sermon on the subject.

About Tom

ANCHOR COURSE LOGO Tom Goodman is a graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, and he holds a doctorate from New Orleans Seminary. He has served as pastor in Louisiana, north Texas, and overseas in Grand Cayman before becoming the pastor of Hillcrest Church in Austin, Texas. Diane and Tom have been married since their days at Baylor University, and they have two sons, Michael and Stephen. Tom enjoys scuba diving, watching the latest Netflix DVD with Diane, and chasing mis-hit golf balls.