What I read in 2021
All the way back in 2020 I thought it would be fun to make a record of what I was reading. I’d never done it before and was surprised by how much I read (although 2020 was lockdown year). When I came to putting the list here I merely added ‘Excellent’ by way of recommendation. Although I read less in 2021 (it was an even more crazy year), I thought this time I’d add a comment about some of the books. This could spark some interest in an author or topic that may be new to you. My hope is that perhaps one or two of these books will open up a new area of delight and discovery for you. I’ve tried to organise the books in each category chronologically, rather than in terms of recommendation.
Old Books (or books about old books)
New King James Version (Re-read) – I generally move from translation to translation reading the whole Bible through. This is the second time I’ve read the NKJV and enjoyed it very much. What could be better than to be grounded in the Book of Books?
Plato – Gorgias (c.380 BC) in which Socrates debates with a couple of friends, and reaches as close to the gospel (from a moral point of view) as you could possibly get without actually knowing it.
Two quotes: ‘I make it my aim to present my soul to its judge in the soundest possible state.’
‘All the other theories put forward in our long conversation have been refuted and this conclusion alone stands firm, that one should avoid doing wrong with more care than being wronged, and that the supreme object of a man’s efforts, in public and in private life, must be the reality, rather than the appearance, of goodness.’
Ovid – Amores translated by Guy Lee (16 BC). This should probably be in the Poetry section. And it was thoroughly enjoyable, and quite often funny. Over the years I’ve found myself wading dutifully through whole volumes of modern poetry only finding refreshment in one or two poems: Ovid was much more fun.
Procopius – The Anecdota, or Secret History (AD 550) Was this a behind-the-scenes exposé? a craftily written guarantee of allegiance to the next emperor? or a pack of lies written by a bitter servant? We don’t know, but fascinating 6th C memoir nonetheless.
Abelard and Heloise – Forbidden Fruit (Letters) (c.AD 1120) A tragic story of love, scandal, castration, and monasteries. Yes. You read that correctly.
Simon Sebag Montefiore – Titans of History comprising of brief biographical sketches of hundreds of key historical figures. Therefore, some of it engaging. But great if you just wanted to fill in the gaps.
Tom Holland – Dominion Not a church history, but a fascinating look at the parallel history of (mainly) the West and how the story of the church changed and then influenced so much of what we now assume is normal, decent, humane morality. Well worth reading although, if you’re a believer and haven’t read a decent overview of church history I’d begin elsewhere, and then come back to Dominion. A few years ago Sociologist Alvin Schmidt offered a direct ‘Christian’ exposition of the same type of material in his How Has Christianity Changed the World (Zondervan). Also worth reading.
Bruce Shelley – Church History On Audible, this is just under 22 hours of our story including those non-Protestant bits that are not always as interesting to read. I was slightly disappointed at the US focus towards the end, redeemed somewhat by the addition of material from Philip Jenkins and the mighty growth of Christianity through the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement in the global South in the second half of the 20th C.
Cecil M Robeck – The Azusa St Mission and Revival Fascinating and very helpful. I was unaware that ‘singing in the Spirit’ in church meetings was a feature of the Azusa St meetings.
The World of Samuel Pepys Being fascinating selections from his Diary. He was an unrepentant scallywag of epic proportions, and someone we would not allow into church membership without a thorough renunciation of the behaviour he describes. He was a lecherous, entitled opportunist in a puritan world. Having said that, his very detailed descriptions of life in London, the great fire, and many other aspects of 17th C life make addictive reading.
John Suchet – Beethoven Not brilliantly written, but not a bad introduction to the life of arguably the greatest music maker in history. The anger, the fire, the passion, the pathos. It all springs out of Beethoven’s inner turmoil.
Laura Tunbridge – Beethoven, a Life in Nine Pieces A better edited book, but start with the Suchet if you can get hold of it.
Robert Greenberg – The Life and Times of Beethoven I listened to this Great Courses series on Audible and was gripped. Greenberg is a fabulous communicator. Again, the anguish of Beethoven’s life gives additional depth (is that even possible?) to his incredible music. Beethoven represents the pinnacle of musical achievement (with the Beatles coming in a distant second – I’ve just noticed wordpress won’t let me put a laughing emoji here).
Theodore Vrettos – The Elgin Affair More of a biography of Elgin than a discussion on the Marbles. And there’s more than one affair, as the cover implies. Elgin’s life is tragic too. Like many of the statues of antiquity, he lost his nose (was it syphilis or something else?) and lived in physical and emotional pain for a significant part of his life. Regarding the Greek marbles, of course, the fact that it was the occupying Turks who gave Elgin permission to remove them from the Parthenon in Athens reinforces the ethical weight of Greece’s claim for their return. I can fully believe that Elgin did in fact save many of the works from being chopped up and sold off to wealthy tourists (many of the artefacts on the Acropolis already had been lost in that way), but – especially now with the state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum completed – what serious argument remains to keep the Parthenon marbles separate from the rest of the structure from which they have been separated?
HG Wells – HG Wells in Love You may have suspected he was a scallywag. You were right.
Anthony Burgess – Flame into Being For those interested in DH Lawrence.
Dylan Thomas – Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog
Dylan Thomas – Adventures in the Skin Trade Thomas’s prose is outstanding, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading beyond his poetry. His sense of humour is irrepressible. These two books are autobiographical. Come and enjoy the English language, said a Welshman who outdid most of his English friends.
Eva Schloss – Eva’s Story Like all Holocaust survivor stories this is both haunting and inspiring. What makes the copy I have so special to me is that it is signed by the author. I was unaware of that when I bought it from a local charity shop. And that simple fact hit me very powerfully as I read it: that I have a first-hand testimony of one of the world’s worst atrocities actually signed by a survivor. That’s how close it all is to our own time.
Eva Mozes Kor – The Twins of Auschwitz A similarly powerful autobiography.
Spike Milligan – Where Have all the Bullets Gone? I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading the earlier volumes of his autobiography, but Milligan is going deeper with each volume. I am currently reading the final one, but can’t get hold of the Mussolini. If you’re in Seffrica and you have it, drop me a line. The world needs Milligan.
Abigail Santamaria – Joy A lengthy biography of Joy Davidman, the love of CS Lewis’s life (Well, apart from Mrs Moore, if you believe that line of thought). Davidman was further to the Left than Lewis, having been a committed Communist in her earlier years. And part of her need to stay in England was to avoid the McCarthy trials in the US where she may well have fallen foul of the rampant anti-Communist fervour at the time. Lewis, himself very definitely on the Left, and having rejected a CBE because it was offered to him by a Conservative government, had political as well as aesthetic sympathies with her. I’ll post an article about this some time, but Lewis’s refusal of the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) was because he did not want to give the impression that Christianity was in favour of right wing politics. And he was nervous of misrepresenting the gospel.
Jeremy Lewis – The Life and Times of Allen Lane I loved this. My copy is a big beautiful hardback and I loved every page. It’s the story of Penguin Books and the drive to put good literature into the hands of ‘the man in the street’. What Pygmalion toys with, and Howard’s End promotes, Allen Lane actually helped accomplish. What a character! And what a debt we owe this man.
Anthony Burgess – Little Wilson and Big God Roger Stott, a friend of mine from pre-Christian days used to speak highly of Burgess and, having read A Clockwork Orange in 2020, I thought I’d get to know this writer a bit better. Little Wilson is the first volume of his two-volume autobiography.
Larry King – My Remarkable Journey I enjoy interviewing folk during our Sunday services and thought I’d pick up some tips from the most famous of all, but this is more of a life story.
Carol Wimber – John Wimber: The way it was For some reason I’d missed that Wimber had been a Quaker. At first he was very much a non-quaking Quaker, but, following his mighty baptism in the Spirit and the resultant controversy in his local Quaker church, he quickly became a quaking non-Quaker. Such is denominationalism. It’s not brilliantly written but gives some great insights into John and Carol’s early journey towards the Vineyard, and does reflect the breadth of Wimber’s generosity of spirit.
Khaya Dlanga – To Quote Myself Superb South African story of resilience and success. Full of good humour and hope.
Dom Joly – Here Comes the Clown Refreshing. Funny. Self-effacing. Better than any of the clips of Trigger Happy TV that I subsequently watched on youtube.
Eben Alexander – Proof of Heaven Well, yes, but…It started out OK and gradually pulled further and further away from anything biblical, like a resolutely squiffy supermarket trolley.
Trevor Noah – Born a Crime As with Khaya Dlanga, Trevor Noah’s story is a micro-history of South Africa as well as being a tough, passionate, joyous ride towards professional success.
Mortimer & Whitehouse – Gone Fishing Hilarious. I haven’t seen the print version of this but the Audible is heartwarming and full of what seem to be spontaneous moments of hilarity and silliness. Bob Mortimer is a humble wonder.
Martin Amis – Inside Story Amis calls this a novel – perhaps the safest way to blend a brilliant novelist’s gift with memoir. Cover-to-cover enjoyable if you are interested in the literary world of the 20th C. As with his other autobiographical work, Experience, the presence of Kingsley pervades all.
Bob Mortimer – And Away Genuinely funny, sad, touching, inspiring – all in one. Back to back interesting stories. Had me laughing out loud on several occasions. The humility is refreshing.
CS Lewis – An Experiment in Criticism Excellent, as you would expect.
Harold Bloom – Hamlet: Poem Unlimited
Clive James – Latest Readings
Stephen King – On Writing I haven’t read anything by Stephen King except this. It was superb, and got me writing.
John Piper – Filling up the Afflictions of Christ (Tyndale/Paton/Judson)
John Piper – The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Augustine/Luther/Calvin)
Rebecca McLaughlin – Is Christmas Unbelievable? She’s done it again! A brilliant, snappy, winsome explanation of the gospel and why we should give serious thought to its claims.
John Sherrill – They Speak with Other Tongues (re-read) An absolute pleasure to revisit this brilliant little book. If you have questions about the New Testament gift of tongues – such a normal feature of New Testament Christianity and yet still so controversial in today’s conversation – get hold of this book. It’s the story of a sceptical journalist investigating this apparently ‘new’ feature of modern Christianity.
Billy Graham – Nearing Home Reflections on old age, retirement, weakness, and the inevitable approach of death. An encouraging volume to give to those in our congregations who are older.
Dane Ortlund – Gentle and Lowly Beautifully written, devotionally rich. The closest modern book to the great English Puritan writers. Definitely worth buying.
David Cross – Soul Ties Although I disagree with the essential premise, the prayers of renunciation at the end of the book are very good, and may prove very helpful to someone who feels stuck in the past.
Brandon J O’Brien/E Randolph Richards – Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes Written by modern American missionaries, but these guys are not like the caricature of American missionaries you’ve read about. A sensitive and helpful discussion, with many examples, making us aware of our blindspots and assumptions as we approach the text of Scripture itself.
John Lennox – Have No Fear A short and welcome exhortation to evangelism.
David Devenish – Succession or Multiplication? The story and thinking behind the expansion of Newfrontiers into different apostolic ‘spheres’ based on existing apostles working into the churches they’ve planted and overseen.
Francis Spufford – Unapologetic Hmmm. Beautifully written. Perhaps a little flamboyant in places, but why not? This would do if you wanted to know what a church-going Anglican believes, although I suspect most Anglicans don’t enjoy as much effing and blinding as Spufford does. Several points of difference but, as you’ve probably picked up, I think it’s good to read beyond one’s own preferences. If you’re a beginner don’t start here. Start with Keller’s Reason for God, or CS Lewis, or try John Piper.
Timothy Keller – The Prodigal God Starts slowly but every pastor should read, with trembling, the chapter on the Elder Brother. Chapter 4. Go and get your copy and read it!
Jonathan Leeman – Church Discipline Again, we’re not on the same page on some things but worth reading nevertheless.
Voltaire – Candide I expected fisticuffs, or something of a tussle at least, but I was genuinely delighted with how funny this short book is. In fact, I started noting down each time I either laughed or chuckled to myself. 32. It reminded me of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels because of the biting satire, as well as how modern the whole thing feels (it was published in 1759). Humour does carry us over the centuries.
James Weldon Johnson – The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man Gut wrenching and powerful. I assumed it was autobiography until I looked online, but the author is clearly drawing on his own and others’ experiences.
Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Grey I assumed I’d read this before, as it’s such an iconic story. It’s good but, eish, the language is too flowery, and there’s was a whole unnecessary chapter. But, as with Jekyll and Hyde, A Christmas Carol, and others, it’s a powerful moral fable.
Franz Kafka – Metamorphosis Reminiscent of the Theatre of the Absurd, or a Monty Python, or Reeves and Mortimer, sketch. There is little doubt in my mind that Kafka intended this as a satirical poke at the expectations of family and society. You know the kind of thing: man wakes up to find he is now a loathsome bug, and is primarily concerned not with his bugginess but with what excuse he will make for being late for work, and how embarrassed his parents will be etc… Also, I thought I should read at least one Kafka before I die, and this was the one my daughter was studying at university. Her lecturers don’t seem to agree with my ‘hilarious absurd satire’ interpretation by the way, but load it with serious meaning about the modern condition.
George Orwell- A Clergyman’s Daughter Surprisingly bad (I mean properly bad and breaking half of Orwell’s Why I Write rules). It’s also weighed down with Orwell’s characteristic pessimism. Probably not worth reading unless, like me, you’ve decided to read everything by him.
George Orwell – 1984 (Re-read) A haunting triumph. As with Animal Farm, this is one of the all-time must-reads.
Martin Amis – Time’s Arrow The idea of telling a story in reverse order is not new. But oh how brilliantly written, with the strangest haunting image of the air growing blacker, forming into clouds, funnelling down from the heavens into high chimneys and producing a persecuted, and then ultimately triumphant and gifted Jewish people.
Francis Spufford – Golden Hill Well written. A bit naughty.
George Bernard Shaw – Pygmalion (re-read) What’s not to love?
The Love Songs of Sappho (b.630 BC) translated by Paul Roche – Sappho was apparently considered the world’s greatest poet for about a thousand years. Only fragments remain, and these just don’t give us enough. The mystery around her is largely due to the fact that so little of her work has been preserved. So I found this particular version frustrating.
William Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
William Shakespeare – All’s Well that Ends Well I read at least one Shakespeare play each year and have always found it invigorating. This is a play with a very modern feel, with some powerful themes touching on ‘Me too’, and on the stupidity of classism.
George Herbert – Selected Poems As with the Ovid, I enjoyed most of these poems. I have to be honest and acknowledge that so much modern poetry is practically indecipherable, or boring. Herbert had the sherbet. Try him.
John Donne – Love Poems
Libertine Lyrics (Pauper Press, 1940) I emphasise the date there as the title (as with many of the more recent anthologies of love poetry) sounds more racy than it is.
George Orwell – The Complete Poetry Awful. Avoid.
Penguin Modern Poets 6 (Clemo/Lucie-Smith/Macbeth)
Penguin Modern Poets 7 (Murphy/Silkin/Tarn)
Penguin Modern Poets 8 (Brock/Hill/Smith)
Carol Ann Duffy (ed.) – Hand in Hand
Wendy Cope (ed.) – The Funny Side (101 poems)
Kate Tempest – Hold Your Own I genuinely enjoyed this. Pace, insight, cheek. I liked it.
Seamus Heaney – Beowulf Probably 8th Century, so this is an ‘older’ work. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed some of Heaney’s poetry. But no. I just couldn’t get into it.
George Orwell – Essays (Penguin:Great Orwell), incorporating:
Inside the Whale/Decline of the English Murder/The Lion and the Unicorn Like CS Lewis, some of Orwell’s best writing is in his essays. It’s so rare to read a single volume of essays and enjoy every one, but Orwell always rewards your attention. As with the end of Down and Out where he sharply, and I think unfairly, criticises the Salvation Army for its work among the homeless (he experienced them as being emotionally cold and sterile), he takes a few pot shots at Christianity, but that’s OK. He’s also great in terms of literary comment. His insights are still relevant.
David Baddiel – Jews Don’t Count Baddiel convincingly exposes the strange acceptability of, or acquiescence in, anti-semitism. And the callousness of the caricature, ‘it doesn’t matter because they’re rich’. Yes, Fagin in Oliver Twist; a nasty, insulting, Jew caricature right in front of our eyes. This is a necessary reminder.
Anthony Storr – Freud Helpful overview which will add to the impression you already have that Freud was a bit pervy, but that it’s good to listen to people and let them talk.
Nigel Warburton – Free Speech A concise and helpful introduction. It’s very useful for all communicators to read up on the thinking around free speech, wherever the legislation currently stands. We always want to be helpful in our communication (‘the goal of our instruction is love’, says Paul). There are inevitably moments of frustration in this book, of course. But good to read.
Margaret Walters – Feminism Again, very helpful. She honestly and fairly gives the Christian roots of feminism and traces its development through the first two ‘waves’. She doesn’t seem to acknowledge a third wave which Naomi Wolf and others certainly do (cf. The Beauty Myth). The Christian will likely be in agreement all the way up until abortion on demand.
Odds and ends here, really…
David Quantick – How to Write Everything Nah. But I was looking for a jolt to get into the discipline of writing (I’m working on a memoir).
Brown & McNeil (ed.) – DADS Mostly humorous comments from celebs on fatherhood. I was able to use some of this for a sermon.
Jonathan Perks – Inspiring Leadership Some good reminders here, particularly about motivating and serving our teams and staff.
John Maxwell – The Right to Lead I found it helpful to read a paragraph or two before leading meetings of various kinds.
Michael Pollan – Caffeine I can’t remember why I read this. After a coffee it’ll come back to me.
Faith G Harper – Un**** Your Brain Not recommended, but I wanted to hear how ‘hard-ball’, tell it like it is secular psychologists help people. As the title implies, this is not an academic treatment of the subject.
Roy Lilly – Dealing with Difficult People Wait? What? I can be difficult too? Good to read.
Henry Cloud – Necessary Endings Some very helpful stuff here also. Cloud is the Boundaries guy.
Laura Mucha – We Need to Talk About Love Conversation-based reports of a wide variety of peoples’ views about relationships, from friendship to marriage. Again, not recommended necessarily, but a kind of check-in to see where the thinking is.
Wow! You made it to here. Well done. My advice to you for 2022 is this: spend a bit more time reading. And, with all the books out there, don’t forget the Book of Books.
©2022 Lex Loizides / Church History Review