The Pastor’s 2021 Reading List

It’s that time again. Every year, I collate the library of books I read. Unlike other lists, which merely serve as wish-lists for what we want to read, I only list what we read. Sometimes I don’t finish the whole book, but that’s not the point.

What is the point? To let you know what this pastor reads, and to inspire you to read too. Let God not accuse me of adding to the illiteracy of ‘Merica.

Connecting the Dots, by Fred Craddock. My favorite preacher, now two years gone, writes of his early life and calling to the ministry. Although the book is not typical Craddock (he is a much better oral storyteller than writer), it is captivating to see how God planted the seeds of a ministry that became world-renowned.

The Craft of Preaching, by Fred Craddock. I figure since I read his memoir, I would snag his latest collection of lectures and lessons on preaching. Filled with practical tips and whimsical stories, Craddock is at his best in discussing the mechanics of sermon formation and biblical narrative exegesis. I have used at least three or four of his stories in my sermons in the past two months already…

The Young Minister, by Peter Goulding. I thoroughly enjoy reading books and religious material from the early 20th century. In fact, I would say that it makes for some of my favorite reading. What frustrates me most, however, is when I stumble upon an amazing book for which there is little information on the internet. My research shows that Goulding’s book, about a young minister settling into what it means to be pastor in the New England town of Knotty Ash, is a novel.

The library of congress categorization of such affirms it to be fiction, but it certainly doesn’t read like fiction. Goulding, writing from first-person narrative, uses his own name in the narrative and writes as in keeping a real-time memoir. His dedication is to “Stella”, who plays prominently in his story. That doesn’t sound fictitious to me. But, true to form of other books I’ve read from the 1940s, it is a real page-turner, and I can relate to many of Goulding’s antics and circumstances in the ministry. I am thoroughly enjoying it, and I am grateful that one of my own parishioners, Jane, gave me the book, “A gift,” she said, “From my mother who has been deceased for quite some time.” Thank you, Mom! I’ll cherish it and add it to my religious literature collection from that era, right alongside Harry E. Fosdick and Paul Scherer.

New Every Morning, by Philip Howard. Touted as an “uncommon devotional book,” this book of short entries provides a pastor’s musings on nature, humanity, the vocation of ministry, and on biblical lessons in every day life. I enjoyed the content, and started my own spiritual autobiography based on its rhythm and tone. And the line drawings interspersed within its pages, by Howard’s brother, James, also inspired me to pick up my own pen-and-paper while I went on a retreat to St. Simon’s Island this past winter. It is a first edition published by Zondervan in 1969, right at the tale end of my favorite era of religious literature, and you can tell that I enjoyed it immensely. I am uncertain at the moment how I acquired this treasure of a book.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Imagine a world where firefighters start fires instead of extinguishing them, and that’s what you get when you read Bradbury’s timeless dystopian novel. Writing in a nuclear age of uncertainty, Bradbury envisions a future in which big government censors education and critical thinking not only by banning and burning books, but by keeping people addicted to opioids, screens, and talk radio on “ear seashells” — his version of ear buds. When I read this in March, I would sometimes look up from my book to see my children and wife on their respective screens, be it laptops or phones, listening to earbuds. And then I wondered just how Bradbury knew what our future would bring!

I was supposed to read this book in 8th grade, but failed to do so. When I read it now, some 30 years later, I wonder why any middle school would assign the book. It is not the easiest book to read for that age group. But I’m glad I read it now in my old age. I get Bradbury’s future, but more importantly, I feel that in many ways–especially with cancel culture on the move–that I am living it.

Mrs. Dallaway, by Virginia Woolf. My first foray into the world of Modernist literature did not fail me. I always wanted to read Woolf, whom many claim was ahead of her time. I found that to be true–and her insight into every little “thought” — read: stream of conscience — is both engaging and inspiring. That kind of writing can get tedious at times, but it is a world of wonder to see how authors of Woolf’s caliber created a world within a world. I was impressed, but I don’t think I can read this kind of literature long-term!

The Book of Revelation, by Robert Mounce, The New International Bible Commentary of the New Testament. Every once in a while, I come across a commentary that I want to read for fun. Since I enjoy the book of Revelation, and read something on Revelation almost once a year, I chose this book this year because I have had good luck with the NIBCNT before, especially in my studies on the Gospel of Luke. I recognized Mounce’s name because he wrote a textbook on Greek, and his writing in this commentary is no less powerful. I found the commentary to be engaging, accessible, and–in some ways–creatively balanced in scope and scholarship. Mounce doesn’t play into any theological agenda, but gives the facts straight on a biblical book that is near impossible to pin down.

My only critique is that he wrote before a time when “reading from the margins” became important in the life of scholarship. For that reason, Mounce does not address the subversive, satirical nature of Revelation, a reading that is most comfortable in liberationist readings of the text. Something is always missing when we fail to read Revelation from a “bottom up” approach in which we don’t take into account how oppressed, marginalized communities might find hope in a book written from the oppressed, margins of the Roman Empire.

KnuckleBALLS, by Phil Neikro. I am currently reading this book by the late Hall of Fame pitcher of the Atlanta Braves (and others…), Phil Neikro.

Alien: Prototype, by Tim Waggoner. This was my “vacation gift”, for our summer vacation. Spotted this novel, newly published in the Alien series, at Books-a-Million and dropped more money on a new book I wouldn’t have otherwise spent. The book was worth it, however, as I enjoyed this stand-alone novel about a rogue alien, who is also a carrier of a deadly disease, on a corporate colony on Jericho 3. I also enjoyed the book because it got me back into the Alien universe since I have been building up my Alien movie collection since the start of COVID.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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