Welcome to “Reading with Randy”
For many years I have set the goal of reading 20,000 pages per year. Sometimes I do a little more and sometimes a bit less. But as a preacher and an undergraduate teacher, I've always thought that reading widely is one of the very best forms of preparation. In fact, I recommend that preachers read at least 10,000 pages per year.
Now, there are plenty of blogs out there that review the constant stream of theological and biblical studies books coming out every year. I also assume that most people are fairly familiar with the list of classics that they know they should have read but never quite got around to it. If you haven't read Moby-Dick (the American Bible) or The Brothers Karamazov, it is high time.
I’m not here to reinvent that wheel, but I thought I might help out in a different direction. To that end, I intend to offer mini reviews of 100 very good books—50 fiction, 50 nonfiction—that have been written since the year 2000. On both the nonfiction and fiction side I aim to present a wide variety. I will post two per week (one fiction, one nonfiction) for the next year and perhaps give you some good ideas for how to widen your reading.
But before we dive in, we need to get down to the ground rules.
My list is admittedly idiosyncratic. I wouldn't begin to suggest that these are the best 100 books of the last 20 years, though I don't think there are any bad books on the list. Fiction especially can be a matter of taste. Similarly, the list reveals my interests, so some categories are probably overrepresented while others are likely underrepresented. Even so, I’m trying to include a little bit of everything. Also, there are some highly regarded writers whose works I have not reviewed. Thomas Pynchon and Roberto Bolano come immediately to mind, but I'm not a huge fan of either.
I have confined myself to one review of each author in each category, but in some reviews I’ll take the opportunity to point out other books by certain authors. Thus, although I will be sharing 100 reviews here, I may end up suggesting closer to 200 books. Ian McEwan, for instance, would have five of the 50 fiction books if I hadn't given myself this limitation.
Reviewing fiction in a Christian blog presents some difficult dilemmas. Some of the best fiction of this century may contain scenes of unsettling violence or sex or immoral behavior of every sort. For example, the Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) is an absolutely superb novel, and it has disturbing scenes of rape and torture in its Vietnam War setting. Readers have very different levels of tolerance for such matters in works of literature. So I will do my best to provide appropriate warnings, though I can't guarantee I will do that perfectly. If I remember there is something in a book that some readers are apt to find offensive, I will try to point that out. Ultimately, I trust you to be your own judge and censor of what you want to spend your time reading.
It is hard to know what to do with some works that are so widely read that any review would seem superfluous. Although there might be a few people out there who would actually be interested in what I think about the Harry Potter books (yes, I've read them all), I’m not including them in this series. On the other hand, I am including a Stephen King novel simply to suggest that, if you're only going to read one, this is the one it should be.
I am not posting the reviews in any particular order. That is, I'm not going chronologically from 2000 to 2020, nor am I posting them from best to worst or worst to best. Rather, I’m attempting to create some variety with how I post them—intermixing short books and long books, great literature and simply entertaining reads, and spreading out certain topics so you don't get all the war books clumped together.
A great many readers have discovered the joys of audiobooks. I probably listen to as many books as I read, so if the book is available on audio I will indicate that along with the number of hours it requires to listen.
In a few of the reviews I will include several books in a particular category rather than write a separate review for each book. For instance, in one article I might review three excellent books on classical music, because I don’t assume you love classical music as much as I do, so you might not want to read a separate review of each book.
I am aiming this blog at preachers but hope that anyone who loves books will find that these little teasers encourage them to read a book they might not read otherwise. Sometimes I make explicit connections about why think a particular book is a good read for a minister, but I don’t always do that. Even without an overt tie-in to preaching, the simple act of reading widely is one of the best ways to stimulate the preaching imagination. (And okay, I think it is likely to make you a better human being as well.)
So come along with me, and let's discover 100 excellent reads from the 21st century.