Category Archives: Books

You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators

Three years ago—in 2015—I came up with an idea for a book giving a pep talk to church communicators. Last month we officially launched You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators by Kelley Hartnett and illustrated by Erica J. Hicks.

The Backstory

In 2015 I was in the middle of reading Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome by Robby Novak and Brad Montague. It’s hard to read that book without smiling and being inspired. It’s just full of such pep.

I’ve worked with church communicators as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks since 2004. If there’s any group in need of a pep talk, it’s church communicators. I read Novak and Montague’s infectious good cheer and thought we need this for church communicators.

So I put a proposal together for a pep talk for church communicators. Continue reading You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators

Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

It’s fitting that I close Black History Month by reading Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. It’s a quick read: one-page biographies (and fun illustrations) of 40 black women throughout history.

I quasi-intentionally read a fair number of black writers this month, including Luvvie Ajayi’s I’m Judging You, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Night Masquerade, Marley Dias Gets It Done, Ronald L. Smith’s middle grade Black Panther, They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery, and Stride Toward Freedom by Martin Luther King Jr.

All were good, and while King and Lowery were perhaps the best examples of black history I read this month, Harrison’s Little Leaders really gives that broad taste of history that leaves you wanting more. Continue reading Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

2017 Reading Statistics

In addition to tracking my reading, for 2017 I started grabbing some more stats.

The biggest numbers I’ve been tracking are for diversity, and I’ve been keeping an eye on those for a few years now. Being more intentional makes a difference (Just compare my favorites from now with a few years ago—if you have very few diverse reads among your favorites, you’re doing it wrong). If you ignore the numbers and hope it all works out, it’s eye-opening how it doesn’t.

Of course counting these numbers is tough: I base gender simply on the author, counting a book if any contributor is a woman. For race I count a book if a contributor or main character is a person of color.

This year’s numbers:

  • 64% POC books.
  • 55% female authors.

Here’s how that stacks up historically:

Books read by people of color and female authors

Here’s what that looks like compared to my total reading:

All time total books read, people of color authors, female authors.

I’m pretty thrilled to see those diversity numbers getting higher. If you think that’s silly or ridiculous, well, talk to my kids. It matters to them, and it matters to me.

Quick Trends

I also tracked some other details this year, which revealed some interesting trends:

  • New is always better: 75% of the books I read were published in the last five years. I only read 10 books that were more than 20 years old. (The oldest? A Wrinkle in Time, 1962.)
  • Nerds forever: As much as I love sci-fi, I don’t always read that much of it. This year I did. It was the top genre with 37% (last year it was 10%). Next came non-fiction with 18% (last year 6%). Then comes graphic novels and YA at 10% each, followed by fiction at 9%.
  • That’s how we’ve always done it: 82% of my reading was print books. Audio snagged 11% (mostly car rides) and digital 7% (thanks to the library not having Octavia Butler’s full collection in print; last year digital was only 0.6%).
  • Spring slump: For the months of March, April, and July I only managed to finish four books each month. For August I rebounded with 15. (Not sure that means much, and it’s easy to game, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I read the most during the month I took a vacation.)

If you want help reading more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

Top 5 Non-Fiction of 2017

I read 95 books in 2017 and have some favorites to share. I already shared my fiction favs, now here’s a look at the best non-fiction.

  1. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson – The best book on race I’ve read yet.
  2. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson – The best history on race in the 20th century I’ve read yet.
  3. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – This book really pissed me off. The way we approach criminal justice needs to change.
  4. One: Unity in a Divided World by Deidra Riggs – A great, balanced book on division in the church.
  5. You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators by Kelley Hartnett – It’s totally biased to put this book on the list (I did edit it), but I love it.

And an honorable mention to Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe. I didn’t rate this book well, but I did blog about it and it’s stuck with me.

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

Top 10 Fiction of 2017

I read 95 books in 2017 and have some favorites to share.

I struggled to find books I loved this year and coupled with my relatively low reading count, that makes it hard to come up with a top 10.

I actually re-read several books that deserve to be on this list, but it doesn’t seem fair to list a book I’ve listed in a previous year’s top list. The last two are probably more honorable mentions than actual top books.

That’s not to say these aren’t great books. I gave the top 8 books 5 stars on Goodreads (and I’m stingy with my 5-star ratings).

But I’m parsing.  Let’s get to it.

Here’s a look at my favorite fiction of 2017:

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – The best book I’ve read in a while.
  2. American War by Omar El Akkad – A second American civil war that can help us understand terrorism. (read my blog post)
  3. Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View by Various – I don’t like short story collections, but this one is great. (read my blog post)
  4. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai – Great time travel story.
  5. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – Great multi-dimension story (kinda like time travel, but not quite).
  6. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin – A novel about Congressional sexual misconduct before all the actual sexual misconduct.
  7. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – This was a tough, but necessary read.
  8. March Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell – The finale in the series that hits the biggest points.
  9. Time Salvager by Wesley Chu – A really unique futuristic time travel story.
  10. Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler – A very unique turn in a series. I’m not sure anyone else could pull that off.

And an honorable mention to Patina by Jason Reynolds and The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (I wanted to quit it a few times, but I’m glad I stuck it out).

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

2017 Reading List

I read 95 books in 2017.

That’s a bit off the mark for me. Last year I complained about a reading slump while still reading 158 books. That sounds ridiculous, I know, but that slump continued to plague me all year.

Total books, 2001-2017
My total annual reading, 2001-2017.

Last year I blamed fewer audio books while running , reading fewer books aloud to the kids, and just a general slump. All three problems continued.

This year I all but gave up on YA and middle grade books. Those books usually make up a significant portion of my reading (a third? half?), and this year they’re probably 15% (helped along by some Star Wars books in December). I do love those genres, but this year I was just tired of kid stories. I was tired of whiny YA protagonists and problems that just so happen to feature child-size heroes. Meh.

But my real problem was finding books I loved. I started and stopped a lot of books this year. I gave up on more books than I ever have before. All that quitting did result in finding some gems. But it’s hard.

I re-read several books this year. That’s one way to deal with a slump.

I also read a lot more non-fiction than I usually do. Sometimes it’s easier to tell when a non-fiction book is going to be hard to put down.

So that’s where I am this year. I’ll talk favorites (fiction and non-fiction) and statistics in other posts.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 20162015201420132012201120102009200820072006, 2005200420032002, and 2001. Continue reading 2017 Reading List

I Love the Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View Short Story Collection

I’m not a big fan of short story collections or Star Wars novels. But I loved Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View. It’s a collection of 40 stories offering unique points of view surrounding the original Star Wars: A New Hope movie.

The stories offer glimpses of the main characters—Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, etc.—and even some dialogue straight from the movie, but mostly we’re following the stories not told in the movie:

  • How the Imperial gunner who didn’t fire on the escape pod with no lifeforms used bureaucratic paperwork to cover his ass.
  • An excerpt from the celebrity memoir of one of the Cantina band performers.
  • The untold story of what really happened with the red R2 unit that Uncle Owen almost bought instead of R2-D2.
  • The harrowing saga of how the trash compactor monster came to be on the Death Star and the larger role it had to play.

Continue reading I Love the Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View Short Story Collection

How a Book Lover Deals With a Reading Slump

People who know me know that I like to read. A lot. I read 158 books last year, and that was pretty average for me. This year? Not so much.

We’re exactly halfway through 2017, and so far I’ve read 40 books. Last year at this time? 104.

40 books is still a lot of books to read in a single year, let alone six months. But it’s still way below par for me. For the last five years I’ve read well over 100 books a year, once over 200.

So what happened?

I’ve been in an extended reading slump.

Continue reading How a Book Lover Deals With a Reading Slump

Author Readings & American War by Omar El Akkad

This week I finished reading American War by Omar El Akkad. It’s a fascinating speculative story about a second American Civil War 50 years from now.

Two days after finishing, I turned on the radio and there was Omar El Akkad talking about his book. Even better, he was making an appearance in St. Paul the next day. Score.

A Word About Author Readings

I love seeing authors in person. It’s such a unique way to get a glimpse into who they are and how they create. It’s an opportunity that takes the book reading experience so much deeper.

And they’re almost always free.

I wish I had done a lot more of that in college when I was still learning how to be a writer. (One of my first experiences of it came in college—Wendell Berry reading Jayber Crow.)

Continue reading Author Readings & American War by Omar El Akkad