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Books I read in 2012

This thing gets more bananas every year, don’t you agree? If you don’t, just scroll down a ways. See? I’ll let you get to all of the information below, but I do just want to quickly say that while I really enjoyed many of the books I read in 2012, the year of reading felt kind of weird on the whole. It might be because I was sick for a while or that I didn’t finish a bunch of books, but for whatever reason when I look at the image at the top of this post it almost doesn’t feel like it belongs on my blog. But anyway. Enough with the existentialism.

Presented below is a full list of the books I read in 2012, my “favorites” from several categories, a bunch of trivial statistics, and some other equally self-indulgent stuff. Enjoy. Oh, and feel free to leave a comment. Previously: 2011, 2010, 2009.

E-books notated with a bracketed superscript “e,” like so[e].

Disclaimer: All book links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

Favorite Fiction Book

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Ready Player One is set in the year 2044 in a world that’s pretty much crumbling to pieces, save for a massive virtual reality called OASIS. Within a few pages I was, like OASIS itself, totally jacked into this book; I was completely entertained by the unabashed escapism and nostalgia it provides. The narrative takes the reader on a massive treasure hunt and pits David versus Goliath in a sort of massive homage to 1980s culture. I breezed through this book in a matter of days — much faster than my average of 2+ weeks — and Libby read it immediately after me. She read it just as fast, and was equally captivated by it. Really, the book is just fun, and I recommend it to anyone with A) a fondness of 80s culture, B) a love of video games, C) escapist literature,1 or D) all of the above.

Favorite Non-Fiction Book

Pulphead: Essays[e] by John Jeremiah Sullivan. This collection of essays placed John Jeremiah Sullivan securely in the top five of my Favorite Contemporary Writers list,2 and certainly in the #1 position of my Favorite Contemporary Journalists list. That’s both good and bad news: The good news is, of course, that it’s always a pleasure to read good writing, while the bad news is that because I’m now reading anything Sullivan publishes, I will have probably already read his entire next essay collection, so here’s to hoping that his next book is something other than an essay collection. The book’s essay’s topics are all over the thematic map (a good thing, in this case); my favorite one was probably “Michael”, a piece about Michael Jackson that originally ran in GQ under the title Back In The Day. Pulphead was also, notably, the first e-book I’ve ever read beginning-to-end, no doubt making last year’s “Physical books read vs. e-books read” pie chart the last of its kind.

Favorite Non-Fiction Book, Runner Up

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max. My wife and I had a book-themed wedding, and as part of the theme we both had several books from our favorite author placed on the table where we sat during our reception. She chose some Steinbeck books, while I went with some David Foster Wallace books. Which is really just a circumlocutory way of saying that Wallace is clearly #1 on my Favorite Writers of All Time list and so of course I would read his biography.3 I have to say that the book left me somehow feeling whole and incomplete simultaneously, like I both gained something and left something behind from having read it, if that makes any sense. Nevertheless, because of the subject matter alone I am pretty much obligated to be favorable toward this book. When it comes down to it, I agree with Matt Bucher, who says that Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story “might inform your mental impression of [David Foster Wallace], but the authentic, more enduring part of him is still there in the stories he left behind.”

Books I Feel the Weirdest About Having Read

Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card. I’m not really sure why I started reading these books (known collectively as the Ender quartet), though if I had to guess, I’d say it was probably at the urging of someone on /r/books. The first book, Ender’s Game, is actually pretty good. It’s in the same vein as books like The Hunger Games; while it’s set in the future and there are a lot of science-fictiony things about it, the plot itself is compelling enough that the science-fictiony stuff takes a back seat.4 The last three books, however, are pretty much just straight-up science fiction, and the fact is I just don’t think I’m a Science Fiction Guy. I’m not really even sure why I kept reading, honestly. But I did, and now I feel kind of weird about it. It’s probably similar to what someone who’s had a few less-than-enjoyable karaoke experiences feels like after their friends peer-pressured them into singing “Sweet Caroline” (“Oh come on, everyone knows that song! No one will even hear you!”) on stage feels like after they’ve finished. It wasn’t awful, but I’m pretty sure I won’t do it again any time soon. On the bright side, I can now condescendingly say “The book was way better” when the Ender’s Game movie comes out.

The Complete List

  1. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
  2. The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
  3. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  4. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
  5. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
  6. Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card
  7. Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline
  8. A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
  9. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir by Nick Flynn
  10. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  11. The Art of Fielding: A Novel by Chad Harbach
  12. Wool[e] by Hugh Howey
  13. That’s Not a Feeling by Dan Josefson
  14. The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness[e] by Timothy Keller
  15. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
  16. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max
  17. Harvest of Joy and Renewal: The Emerging Missional Way in a Rural Church[e] by Melissa Rudolph
  18. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan
  19. Pulphead: Essays[e] by John Jeremiah Sullivan
  20. Narcopolis: A Novel by Jeet Thayil
  21. Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ by Dallas Willard
  22. Every Riven Thing: Poems by Christian Wiman

Unfinished Books

This list is 350% longer than last year’s list, and while I feel like I should maybe be embarrassed and/or ashamed by that fact, I am becoming a subscriber to the You Can’t Possibly Read It All, So Stop Trying school of thought. If a book doesn’t hold my interest for some reason (and there are legitimate reasons other than the book not being quote-unquote good, including said book not jibing with my current fleeting interests) then I may as well move on to something that really straps me down.

Lars Rood makes a convincing point as well:

Stopping points are notated parenthetically,5 and § denotes I.T.F.S.6

  1. The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive[e] by Brian Christian (p. 102)
  2. Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson§ (p. 168)
  3. Robopocalypse[e] by Daniel H. Wilson (p. 205)
  4. The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever[e] by Alan Sepinwall (188 pages)7
  5. Three Treatises by Martin Luther (145 pages)8
  6. Personae by Sergio de la Pava (p. 144)
  7. A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava (p. 112)9
  8. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (p. 64)
  9. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (p. 118)
  10. Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus (p. 61)
  11. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell§ (p. 47)
  12. Both Flesh and Not: Essays by David Foster Wallace§ (p. 175)
  13. Gravity & Grace by Simone Weil (p. 90)
  14. The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith by Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp§ (p. 47)


(N.B. Page count stats include unfinished books.)

Total pages read (compiled using the page count on Amazon’s product pages, even for e-books): 8459

Total pages read, adjusted for accuracy (i.e., subtracting 15% from the total page count to account for front and back matter that are included in the total page count, but aren’t actually read): 7190.2

Percent difference in total pages read (adjusted for accuracy) from 2011 to 2012: -0.99%

Average number of pages read per day: 19.7

Average number of days per completed book: 16.6

Average stopping point for an unfinished book (excluding the two books from which I intentionally read excerpts): Page 111

Fiction vs. non-fiction completed

Books read per year

My bold prediction: In 2013 I will equal, if not surpass, 2010’s total of twenty-seven books completed.10

Physical books completed vs. e-books completed

As I mentioned above, 2012 was the tipping point for me with regards to e-books, and it seems I’m not alone. According to Pew Internet, “In the past year, the number of those who read e-books increased from 16% of all Americans ages 16 and older to 23%.” Before 2012, we didn’t own any devices that really made e-reading enjoyable,11 but that changed in March when we purchased a third generation iPad. I like-but-don’t-love the experience of reading an e-book, but my not-quite-love for it may be due to the fact that all of my e-reading has been done exclusively on our iPad. Meaning, maybe the experience is best on a Kindle or Nook? Who knows. I have a suspicion that I would really love reading e-books on an iPad Mini, but I’ll wait until the retina version appears in due time.

One of the things that I really love about e-reading is the ability to download samples of books. I love the freedom of being able to browse an entire bookstore (bigger than a bookstore, really) while I’m laying in bed at 10:00pm, find something that piques my interest, download a sample, and read a decent-sized chunk (around 20-30 pages, in my experience). In fact, that’s how I got into several physical books, including The Art of Fielding — I read the digital sample, and then eventually picked up the physical copy.

Physical pages read vs. e-pages read (includes unfinished books)

The implication of the above chart of course being that let’s not get ahead of ourselves with considering the significance and varied implications of the chart above the above chart, okay?

(And Finally) Most Anticipated Book of 2013

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. When I started writing this post, I had Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff in this slot,12 but then I came across Going Clear. You may recall that another Scientology exposé, Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman was my 2011 “Scariest Book” — before that book, I had “at best a vague understanding of what Scientology is… and reading through it left me nothing but terrified.” Terrified, but still and nevertheless totally intrigued.

From The Millions’ always excellent annual book preview:

“[Going Clear is] shaping up to be as controversial as anything that crosses Scientology’s path: Wright has been receiving numerous legal missives from the church itself and the celebrities he scrutinizes, and his British publisher has just backed out—though they claim they haven’t been directly threatened by anyone.

This book expands on Wright’s (excellent) article from 2011 in the New Yorker, Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology.

  1. Although: “Arguably, the vast bulk of popular reading is escapist in nature.” 

  2. I.e., I’ll read anything these writers put out, regardless of subject matter, length, etc. 

  3. To further drive home the point that DFW is indeed #1 on my Favorite Writers of All Time list, a true story: For the first seventeen months of our marriage, we had a David Foster Wallace portrait prominently featured in our apartment’s modestly-decorated living room(!). It has since — much to my chagrin — found its way elsewhere, having been replaced by (wait for it…) photos of the two of us reading books. 

  4. To be fair, the last three books do have plots, but they pale in comparison (the plots do) to Ender’s Game, in my opinion.  

  5. In the case of the one Kindle e-book, I arbitrarily decided to convert the percent read to a physical page number, which page number was taken from the product’s Amazon page. So, e.g., my Kindle app says I stopped at 32% of The Most Human Human, and 32% of the print version’s stated 320 pages is 102.4 — which is pretty darn close to accurate. Meaning if you “Look Inside” the book on Amazon, the actual page I stopped on was 99. But for the sake of consistency (and, frankly, ease of investigation), I’m (again, arbitrarily) going with the Percent-Converted-To-Physical-Page calculation over attempting to ascertain actual page numbers. This is more for future years’ “Books I Read” posts, really, in case I end up devouring, like, fifteen Kindle books in 2013. Then I’ve already set the precedent and I’m not stuck in some sort of nauseating page-counting dilemma (at this point, only some Kindle e-books have actual page numbers). Apple’s iBooks has actual page numbers, natch. 

  6. Intent To Finish Someday. 

  7. While technically “unfinished,” I purchased this book with the sole intention of only reading three chapters — the ones on LOST (ch. 6), Mad Men (ch. 11), and Breaking Bad (ch. 12) — after having read this excerpt from ch. 6 on Grantland

  8. I was only required to read the second of the three treatises (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church) for a seminary course. 

  9. This book was last year’s Most Anticipated Book of 2012. 

  10. Unless I get cancer again, in which case, goddamnit. 

  11. Pre-iPad, I tried reading a bit on the Kindle app for my iPhone, but ew. 

  12. Rushkoff was the writer of and correspondent for one of my favorite Frontline episodes of all-time, The Persuaders. And his short little book Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age should be required reading for ninth grade students. 


Since October 2011, my colleague Erik and I have been working to craft a youth- and young adult-friendly biblical purity curriculum out of Dr. Ritva Williams’ grant-funded research on the topic. The result of our collaboration is called Wholeness & Holiness. It’s an eight lesson curriculum that includes comprehensive leader guides, engaging student sheets, images, movie clips, and lots of other supplemental resources that can be utilized right out of the box.1

Ritva’s research sought to “reclaim” the word purity to encompass all of the oft-ignored aspects of biblical purity. These include temporary contact impurity, ingested impurity, how purity practices have changed throughout time, what you should or should not wear or tattoo on your body, etc. Now, just one of the eight lessons is about sex and sexuality, and this is intentional — the idea of biblical purity includes sex and sexuality but is by no means limited to it, regardless of what you may be lead to believe while browsing the aisles of your local Christian bookstore.

Needless to say, we are really excited about this resource and look forward to getting it into the hands of church leaders. And so (as you no doubt surmised by the graphic leading this post) we’re offering a 12 Days of Wholeness & Holiness sale starting on Christmas Day, which sale allows you to purchase the curriculum for as low as $25, which is over 55% off the full retail price.

I encourage you to poke around the Wholeness & Holiness website to read some reviews, and take a look at what’s included in the curriculum, including a free download of lesson four, “Loving the Skin You’re In: Purity on Display.”

For continued updates on Wholeness & Holiness be sure to follow @ElbowCo on Twitter and on Facebook.

  1. The phrase “right out of the box” is a bit of a misnomer, however, since the whole curriculum is delivered as a digital download


About a month ago, a couple of coworkers of mine got together to brainstorm some ideas for our church‘s upcoming Advent worship season. We came up with a few exciting ideas, including themed postcards and magnets (like the image above), a three-part skit, beautiful liturgy settings, etc.

Additionally, I (sheepishly) volunteered to compose a song using our theme, “Coming Home.” So that’s exactly what I did.

The words are essentially straight out of Psalm 121, with a few additions. You’re welcome to listen and/or download it as you please. If you can’t see the embedded song below, click this link to listen.



The beginning of the (sort of) end [+Video]

Hey everyone. Long time no talk. Let me get you up to speed.

With our oncologists blessing, I had my chemo port removed yesterday. A short video update detailing the experience is below (Don’t worry, you can’t actually “see” anything surgery-related). And if you don’t remember what a port is, feel free read this blog post from March. If you’re unable to see the embedded video, click here to watch it on YouTube.

The occasion of having my port removed is the reason this post is titled “The beginning of the (sort of) end.” While both chemotherapy and radiation treatment behind me, I will continue to have regular check-ins with my oncologist, the next one of which is in November. The worst parts of this whole ordeal are now behind me… all that’s left is the occasional routine examination with some bloodwork, x-rays, etc. As I have mentioned previously, I don’t have cancer any more (it still feels so good to say that), but I’ll always be a cancer patient.


All told, I had seventeen individual radiation treatments over the course of 3 1/2 weeks in August. I took very little video during that time, for several reasons. First, each appointment only lasted about 15 minutes from start to finish, with the radiation portion lasting 3 minutes at most, and it was the same every single time. That would make for a pretty boring and repetitive video blog, to say the least. Second, Nate joined me a few times and got lots of great footage of the radiation experience. So while I didn’t post a radiation-centric video here, it will still feature in the documentary.

And finally, the side effects I experienced from radiation were minimal — shockingly minimal when compared to chemo. The skin that was in the radiation field got a little dry and pink, and at times it felt like I had a frog in my throat (totally normal side effect, I was told), but that was it. I received the fewest amount of treatments called for — had I been given 30 treatments, say, the side effects would likely have been worse.


During the majority of my chemotherapy treatment, I would often try to mentally escape by imagining myself sitting on a beach with a drink in one hand and a good book in the other. I’m happy to say that this dream is becoming a reality. In October (43 days from now, but who’s counting?), Libby and I are heading to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for a week of beach-filled rest and relaxation. In addition to having our birthday trip to Las Vegas cancelled this past February, we weren’t able to properly celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary in May. So think of this trip as a Happy Birthday!/Happy Anniversary!/Happy Cancer-Free! mega-celebration. We can’t wait!


I’ll continue to post here as we make progress with the documentary, but don’t expect very many more video updates (I’m looking at you, mom). Now that I’m well on the way back to health, I’ll be devoting most of my time and energy into returning to my graduate studies, supporting my wife as she continues hers, and pouring myself into the work that I love.

As always, thanks for your prayer, support, and love. We couldn’t have done this without you!


Abigail Rian Evans on Cancer & Theology

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There are two books that are helpful which directly address the question, “Where is God in the face of the suffering and death from cancer?” David Watson’s Fear No Evil and M.R. Thompson’s Cancer and the God of Love. The theses of both these books is that God has already gone before us, experiencing suffering, agony and ultimately death so because of this we need fear no evil. The freeing part of the Christian message is we need not deny sickness and the ultimate questions of why suffering but rather the knowledge that God walks with us and when we can no longer walk God carries us. As C.S. Lewis wrote, the ultimate test of our Christian faith in the face of loss, illness, and death of loved ones is whether we believe God is a Cosmic Sadist or a loving parent. In answering this question, we are reminded that we cannot celebrate the Easter of resurrection and new life until we have passed through the Good Friday of pain and suffering.

Ultimately the theodicy question of why a good God permits suffering and is still all-powerful and -loving is veiled in mystery. Any rush to rational explanations of this paradox reduces God’s mystery to our limited knowledge and explanations which ultimately must fail.

For Christians our theology must be translated into action, deeds, and a life that makes a difference in Christ’s name. It is especially when someone is facing a slow and certain death that deeds of kindness can say more than all the theological truths. Instead of the words, “Can I help?” the more concrete words, “What do you need?” help to empower the ill person to name what would be helpful to them, from bringing food to their family, doing chores around the house, reading poetry, taking their child to school or the doctor. One of the most difficult aspects of being chronically or terminally ill is the loss of control. Where in many cases there is little you can do to wrest the progression of the disease, others can help empower you to still participate in decisions and their implementation about your treatment and life.

For people with terminal cancer the question may often be, “How should I live while I am dying?” One wise friend, whose husband died of cancer, told me her words to her husband were, “Your disease does not change who you are, and you are still the wonderful person you have always been.” On the other hand, Eric Cassell, oncologist at Cornell, wrote that illness is not like a knapsack fastened on to you, but rather it changes everything about you and your world. While it is true that the world of the dying person shrinks and the peripheral matters of life recede, still the essence which makes us who we are is always there. In other words, nothing can alter that we are a child of God, made in God’s image.

These truths should form the heart of the Christian message of hope that we share in the face of the terrible ravages of disease.

Our greatest call, however, is to stand with and by people in their illness. Sometimes in silence, sometimes with comforting words, thereby incarnating the love of Christ for them in all circumstances.

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Abigail Rian EvansDr. Abigail Rian Evans has over thirty years of experience in the development of innovative approaches to health and wellness. Currently she is a senior scholar in the Center for Clinical Bioethics and an adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. Evans is the Charlotte Newcombe Professor of Practical Theology emerita at Princeton Theological Seminary, where she was also Director of the Intern and Clinical Pastoral Education programs. Earlier, Abigail was the Founder and Director of Health Ministries for the National Capital Presbytery and one of the early leaders of the Faith Community Nurses and Health Ministries Association. Her books include Redeeming Marketplace Medicine, The Healing Church, Healing Liturgies for the Seasons of Life, and Is God Still at the Bedside: Medical, Ethical and Pastoral Issues in Death and Dying.


Hey everyone. The latest video update is below. If you’re unable to see the embedded video, click here to watch it on YouTube.

As you can see from the video, I’m all set up to start my radiation treatments. The radiation oncologist said I would have between 15 and 20 treatments, and they will begin shortly after I return from a trip with the youth at my church — so, July 24-ish. I’m still waiting to get word from the folks who do the official scheduling.

A few other updates:

  • Libby and I will be interviewed on Iowa Public Radio’s Talk of Iowa with Charity Nebbe this Thursday, July 12 from 10:00 — 11:00am. If you live in Iowa you can listen by tuning in to one of these radio stations (longtime 101.7 FM listener here)1, and it will be streamed online as well. As with the Des Moines Register article, I’m excited for the opportunity to give Hodgkin lymphoma some more exposure and (hopefully) spread a little bit of hope.
  • In case you missed it, Libby and I were interviewed on a show called Right This Minute after the video of us receiving the good news went viral.
  • Thanks again to Mike for taking me up in his Cessna 150. In case you couldn’t tell from the video, I had an absolute blast!

That’s it for now… Apologies for the brevity. Lots to do in preparation for the National Youth Gathering next week!

  1. Mini geek-out: I’ve probably heard 500+ episodes (or episode fragments) of Talk of Iowa over the last several years, and now I get to actually be inside the show. Pretty dang cool.