Posts Tagged ‘books’

18 Month Reading List

January 17th, 2013 No comments

Beth, Mikayla and I are approaching the 18 month mark of our time in Swaziland and that means it is time to do another update of what I have been reading.

Before I get into my reviews, a couple things I noticed about my list:

  • I read less books in this period than the prior two periods, but this is probably due to the fact that I read next to nothing for the month and a half we were in the states.
  • I have to thank David Altmaier for shaping my reading list the last six months. He turned me on to Bill Bryson (through A Walk in the Woods) and also recommended How I Killed Pluto and Why.
  • Speaking of Bill Bryson, as you can see, I really got into his writings. I would have probably read even more, but I wanted a bit of variety (you can expect more in my next posting).
  • Looking at what I have read in the past 12 months I realized everything was on the Kindle. I haven’t read a hardcopy of a book in over a year. Doesn’t really surprise me because I actual prefer the kindle, but I found it noteworthy.
  • I also noticed that I everything I read in this period has been non-fiction. Obviously this is what I am drawn to.

Okay… on to my reviews of the books I have read in the last six months.

  1. A Short History of Nearly Everything – This was probably my favorite of the Bryson books that I read. It is what it says it is… a sprint through the history of science and what we have learned about where the world has come from. It was like 400 pages of clicking through Wikipedia articles without ever finding a bad one.
  2. A Universe from Nothing – I started this 6 months ago and set it down. I picked it up again two weeks ago and forced my way through it. The book focuses on super-interesting topics like particle physics and quantum mechanics, but the author is exceedingly arrogant and instead of sharing fascinating discoveries, he prefers to bash religion. It ends up being an unfortunate diversion (regardless of what your theological beliefs are).
  3. A Walk in the Woods – The first Bryson book I read and I loved it. It is a great mix of candid revelation and literary brilliance. The fact that I have walked parts of the Appalachian trail (and am now ridiculously out of shape) really made the book resonate with me.
  4. Ada BlackJack – I read this book because it was cheap and a bestseller on Amazon. It was a good read, (especially if you like polar exploration books) and covered some history I was unaware of (an Eskimo woman who survived an exploration trip no one else did).
  5. At Home – Another one of Bryson’s wandering inquiries into the history of stuff. If you are a linear thinker, this book would drive you nuts, but it was a great book to pick up and read for 10 minutes or two hours.
  6. Bill Bryson’s African Diary – Super quick read about Bryson’s trip to Kenya. The writing was great as I have come to expect, but it was short and lacked a unifying direction.
  7. How I killed Pluto and Why – This book is the polar opposite of A Universe from Nothing that I mentioned above. It is another “science” book, but the author is incredibly humble and prefers to explain topics rather than talk down to his audience. It is a great walk through of his career in planetary astronomy and the massive changes that occurred during the time period. Well written and fascinating.
  8. How to get away with Murder in America – This was one of several short non-fiction read after finding it on the Amazon best seller list. A bit of conspiracy theory mixed with mob sensationalism, but the result was not great.
  9. John McAfees Last Stand – This was an interesting read and I found it to be a foray into a new style of literature: long-style current event reporting. It covered the unfolding events around the curious life of a tech giant turned nuts. You can read my full review here.
  10. Journey to Ki – a short book about a journey to a Tibetan temple. Simply put, this was not worth the time. Free on Amazon, but it was more of a college personal narrative assignment than a real read.
  11. Lost at Sea – ughh… it took everything I had to finish this book. I found the author recommended amongst several of my favorite authors, but the book ended up being a rambling collection of short articles that had nothing in common.
  12. The Devil in the White City – This book has been on my “to-read” list for quite a while and I am very glad I finally got to it. It is a great blend of excellent writing with an interesting subject matter (Chicago world’s fair and a crazy serial killer). The conclusion was a bit short, but the overall quality of the writing easily made up for it.
  13. The Last Explorer – I think this was a free (or cheap) book I found on Amazon and it was actually very interesting. It was about an Australian adventurer / explorer who despite amazing contributions ended up on the sidelines. Very interesting.
  14. The Violinist’s Thumb – I love Sam Keane’s writing style. The Disappearing Spoon was one of my favorite books for last year and I was excited to read his newest work on DNA and heredity. I didn’t think it was as good as his first book, but he still presents a top-notch blend of interesting science and crazy back-story.

So what books ended up on top? Well to be honest, I had a harder time deciding than usual. The books spanned a pretty broad range of subjects and writing styles and they tended to fall into two categories. Those I was glad I read and those I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on. Here is how those designations flesh out:

Worth Reading: A Short History Of Nearly Everything, A Walk In The Woods, Ada Blackjack, At Home, How I Killed Pluto And Why, The Devil in the White City, The Last Explorer, The Violist’s Thumb

Not Worth Reading: A Universe From Nothing, African Diaries, How To Get Away With Murder In America, John Mcafee’s Last Stand, Journey To Ki, Lost At Sea.

So there you go. You can look forward to the year-end summary of Ben Kickert’s reading in July.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

6 more months of reading

July 18th, 2012 3 comments

A year ago we started our move to Swaziland (it is tough to say what day we actually moved because it took us 72 hours to get from BG to St. Philips).  It has been a great year and the adjustments have been exceptionally smooth.  Some adjustments have been difficult (the heat, loss of electricity, poor internet access, being away from friends and family) while other have been incredible (touring Africa, working for a great organization, meeting wonderful people).  One of the adjustments I have absolutely loved is that I have been able to read much much more.

At the six month mark I had read 23 books (and posted my thoughts here).  Now that the year is over, my grand total is 41.  Here is what I read most recently and a few quick notes on them.

Auschwitz – This is a true account of a Jewish doctor who was employed at Auschwitz and the horrors he experienced.  Excellent reading but a very difficult subject matter.

Beneath the Neon – I heard the author of this book on NPR many years ago and had always wanted to read it and finally did.  It is the story of a journalist exploring the storm tunnels underneath Las Vegas.  It wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped.

Death by Meeting – A practical book about how to hold better meetings.  It was used when I was at Broadway and there are several concepts we can use at Cabrini.

Desert Solitaire – Just finished this book up tonight.  My father always held it high regard and I have enjoyed reading some of Edward Abbey’s other stuff.  It was a bit ironic to read it on an ipod since it is all about connecting with the earth, but that did not diminish the excellent writing.

Desperate Passage – A book about the Donner party.  It was a top seller on Amazon and a pretty good read.

Diamonds Gold and War – technically this one should not be on the list since I haven’t finished it yet, but it is a good historic account of how the British and Afrikaans established themselves in South Africa.  Pretty dense with a lot of names to keep up, but a good read.

Finding Amelia – I watched a show on history channel about Amelia Earnhardt and wanted to know more so I read the book.

Germs Genes and Civilization – Fascinating book on how disease has shaped civilization.  The author outlines some pretty significant ideas that are quite relevant since I literally live in culture that has been shaped by a disease.

Love and Death in the Kingdom of Swaziland – a story about the sisters who run Cabrini that primarily takes place during the first months we were in country.  You can find more information here.

Marine Sniper – An odd book for a pacifist to read, but it is an account of the sniper with the highest kill rate in Vietnam.

Particles and the Universe – Nerdy science book about sub atomic particles.  What can I say… I really dig that kind of stuff.

Physics of the Impossible – Similar to above in its subject matter but deals with quantum physics.  Both books filled my need to geek out on science

Rats – Dad read this book about rat colonies in NYC several years ago and we gave him a hard time, but I finally gave in and read it myself.  It was very enjoyable and well written.

Speaking in Tongues – I needed to read some fiction so I picked up this book by Jeffery Deaver.  Nothing special, but was an easy read.

Spook – This was the only Mary Roach book that I hadn’t read yet.  I love her writting, and while it was not my favorite of her books, it was still very good.

The case of the missing moon rocks – Free book on Kindle that I read quickly while flying all over the place in the states in March.

The Disappearing Spoon – A captivating book about the periodic table of the elements, its history and how the different elements have shaped the world.  Rather long, but I loved every page of it.  I just bought a book by the same author about how DNA and genes affect a variety of things.

Tipping Point – Interesting read about cultural trends, especially after reading Freakonomics.  Fun concepts to think about, but both books paint with too broad of a brush.

Triangle – Short story by Jeffery Deaver.  It was a great read before bed.

Looking back over the last 6 months of reading, I would give the title of "Best Read" to The Disappearing Spoon although Desert Solitaire comes in a close second.  And then, if I rank my top 5 books from the last year, I would put them in this order:

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

6 Months of Reading

January 21st, 2012 3 comments

As of this week, we have been in Swaziland for six months.  In my last blog post I talked about just how much has changed in the past year and how I now feel we are settling into our "new normal."  One part of our new routine that I am very grateful for is that ability we now have to read much more.  I have always enjoyed reading – especially historic nonfiction – but now it is easy to fit reading into our days.  What is crazy is that I don’t feel like I have turned into a bookworm; however, that must be the case since I just realized that I had read well over 20 books in 6 months.  Here is the list in alphabetical order.

1984 – I started reading "Hunger Games" but Beth took the kindle from me, so I started reading the classic dystopia book.

Animal Farm – At one point a few months ago I found an old paperback copy of this book in the closet and decided it was probably one of those books that everyone should read.

Bonk – I love Mary Roach and after reading all her other books, I figured I should read this one too.

Cold Death (or something like that) – I am not sure of the title, but this was another paperback I found in the closet.  It was about a bunch of trappers that died in Canada.  Not a great read.

Fear and loathing in Las Vegas – Another one of those books that I felt obligated to read if for no other reason than to connect with the cultural references it creates.

Flight to Heaven – Thought it was "survival story," but quickly realized that was not the main point.

Freakonomics – I had a pdf copy of this given to me and really enjoyed reading it.  I love the "approachable science" type  books.

Heart of Darkness – I have had this book on my kindle for a while, but finally found the time to read it.  Unlike some "classics" that I feel like I should read, I really enjoyed this one.

HIV/AIDS: A very short introduction – I read this book on the airplane over.

Hunger Games Trilogy – Beth got me to read these.  I enjoyed the concept, and found them very engaging, but I thought the last book ruined the trilogy.

  • The Hunger Games
  • Catching Fire
  • Mockingjay

Journey on the Estrada Real – This book was written by an author whom we met here in Swaziland while he was doing a story on the Cabrini sisters.  I really like his wry humor and crazy stories.

Kitchen Confidential – yet another book I found in our closet.  It was entertaining.

Lab 257 – I just finished this book tonight and found it interesting, but a bit wandering in terms of the topic.

Love Mercy – It was very interesting to read this book since it is about friends of mine from Kentucky going on a trip to Swaziland.  It was odd to read a book about people I know going on a big journey to the place I live.

Stieg Larsson Trilogy – I hardly every read modern fiction, but absolutely loved these books.

  • The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest
  • The girl who played with fire
  • The girl with the dragon tattoo

The Communist Manifesto – Another book I have had on my kindle for a while and felt like I should read.

The five dysfunctions of a team – Since I am getting more and more into the management side of things, I wanted to have some fresh ideas to have bouncing around my head.

The Red Badge of Courage – I read this book when I was in school and had downloaded it awhile ago. I didn’t like it then, and thought I might have just been too immature to appreciate.  But unfortunately no… I still didn’t like it.

Unbroken – This was a great true story of an olympic runner turned solider turned POW.  Excellent!


Of all the books, Unbroken was probably my favorite.  I also really enjoyed Freakonomics.  I enjoyed reading the fiction books more than I expected I would.  I also found myself fascinated by the classics "Heart of Darnkess" and "1984."

Who knows what the next 6 months will hold.  On one hand, I have read a lot of the books on my "to read" list and I don’t have a lot of books I am dying to read.  However, I actually expect to have more time to read now that things have started to settle down.  All I know is that the next book I will be reading will be Tipping Point because I already have it on my kindle.

If you have any suggestions on what I should read next – especially in the exploration/survival and "approachable science"  genres – please send me an email or leave me a comment.

Categories: Thoughts Tags: ,

Amazon loses on shipping

December 6th, 2010 No comments

I ordered a book on Amazon the other day that cost $24.95.  That price put it just $0.05 away from qualifying for free shipping.  Rather than cough up the $7 in shipping costs, I searched around for something cheap that would put me over the threshold and since I know I have some electrical work to do on my car, I picked up some wire shrink wrap for $.18.  It worked out and I saved some money on shipping.

Then things got weird (and expensive for Amazon).

A day or two after placing the order, I got an email from Amazon saying they had divided my order into two shipments.  The irony made me laugh: I had only ordered the cheap tubing to save on shipping for the book, and now they were doubling their costs to get me my tubing that costs less than a quarter.

When the tubing package came in, I realized just how much Amazon lost on the deal.

Painting and pig clip 002

Instead of shipping it in a 3"x4" bubble envelope like I expected, this tiny bit of tubing (flexible, and about the thickness of a pencil) came in a 4′ plastic tube that was then in a super reinforced cardboard mailer.  The shipping label didn’t have a price on it, but it did list the weight at 6 pounds.

Not only did Amazon lose money on shipping the original book, but they had to have thrown at least $10 down the drain to ship me my 20-cent tubing (which, as it turns out, is too narrow and I won’t even use it).

I am not complaining, but the inefficiency certainly made me chuckle.

Categories: Random Tags: , ,

Books: Keep, Loan, Sell, Give away

May 19th, 2010 No comments

A couple weeks ago I wrote about having to whittle down my book collection.  With much difficulty, I have decided which books I am ready to get rid of.

Most of these are available

I basically have created 4 lists.  I have The Keepers that are staying with me, The Give Aways that are up for grabs, The Sellers that are being listed on Amazon and The Indefinite Loaners which are those books I want to keep, but can’t take with me.

The books that are listed as Give Aways are free to take as long as you will use them.  The represent a smorgasboard of reading: everything from real life adventure stories to Christian reference.  We can arrange for you to pick them up or ship them if you are interested.

The books that are listed under Indefinite Loaners are books that I want to keep in my collection, but probably won’t be able to use when we move to Swaziland.  I want to make sure they have a good home.  They are yours until I may need them again (probably in 5-10 years) but again, only only if you will use them.

The books I have down as For Sale are being listed on Amazon.  These are books that have been helpful to me, but still have a decent market value.  I have included the going rate for each of these.  Funds generated from these books will go towards our move to Swaziland (which is after all the reason I am selling these books).  Here is the deal though, if you as my friends and family have a use for one of these books, I would gladly pass it along to you.  But, I would ask that you consider making a donation to help pay for our move.

Sound good?

Here is a list of the lists:

I have also included an embedded version of the Sellers since those are generally the most significant:

Categories: Random Tags: , ,

We can’t take it all: Books

May 4th, 2010 No comments

We are two and half months away from our summer trip to Swaziland and just a little over a year away from when we actually plan on moving.  That has Beth and I looking at things in new ways.  We are asking questions like “What are we going to do with our dishes?” and “Who is going to keep Shiloh?” We have spent close to two years trying to accumulate less and downsize where we can.  In my mind I have already begun making a list of what things we will want to take with us and what needs to be given away, sold, loaned out or put in storage.

I knew early on the hardest thing for me to part with would be my collection of books.  Not because they are so valuable (although I do have several thousand dollars wrapped up in them), but because in many ways they define me.  To help the transition, I moved most of my academic collection out of my house and to the church.  That way other people could use them and if I left them there I wouldn’t feel like they were lost.

Now, as we are beginning to investigate actually job opportunities, and we realize there is a decent chance I will be able to teach at either a school or the University, I have begun thinking about what resources I would need.  That, along with our overall planning for the future, has prompted me to start a list of books I already own that I want to take with me.  Since my training is mostly in Biblical Studies (especially the Hebrew Scriptures) a majority of the books are from this field .  I have also included books from fields like Christian History and Theology to have as a reference, but I must admit I do not feel qualified to teach anything but basic topics in these areas.  Finally, there are a few books that have been so influencial for me that they had to be included.  You will note I have not included any fiction or pleasure reading — I figure I can pick that up while I am there.

Stack of books from my first semester at Asbury. Only one of these made the list.

Here is my list of “Keepers” (shoot me a comment if you think of any good ones I am leaving out):

  • The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, NRSV -This was my seminary bible and still my favorite for reading through (I figure I can leave my leather-bound Thompson Chain here in the states.
  • BHS and NA27 – You have to start with the original texts.
  • Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar, Pratico and VanPelt – This is not the Hebrew grammar I learned on, but I have found it is the best for catching me back up when I find I have let my language skills slack.
  • A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Arnold and Choi – A concise reference that is phenomenal for making a budding scholar look like they know more than they really do.
  • Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, Mounce – The Greek counterpart to Pratico and VanPelt.  My Greek is much rougher than my Hebrew, but this is a good grammar to get back up to speed.
  • Life in Biblical Israel, King and Stanger – An excellent reference and even better bathroom reading.  This book is the gooey center of the cinnamon roll – it really helps the text come alive through detailed contextual insights.
  • A Biblical History of Israel, Provan, Long and Longman – More of a reference than anything else.  Well documented and easy to use as a gateway for deeper studies.
  • Harper Collins Concise Atlas of the Bible – Another great reference.  Not especially thorough, but very helpful.
  • Epic of Eden, Richter – If I ever have the opportunity to teach an introduction to Old Testament, I would want to teach it like Dr. Richter.
  • An Introduction to the Old Testament, Brueggemann – While I don’t agree with him on all fronts, my theology and understanding of the Old Testament is most shaped by Walter Brueggemann and this is a great primer/survey.
  • Introducing the New Testament, Achtemeier, Green and Thompson – Not my favorite New Testament Survey, but the only one I own.
  • Christian Origins and the Question of God Trilogy, NT Wright – These have long been my go to reference for all things related to New Testament concepts.
    • The New Testament and the People of God – This is the best book I have found for laying out the setting of the New Testament and its implications
    • Jesus and The Victory of God – My Christology is largely shaped by Wright’s thoughts in this book.
    • The Resurrection of the Son of God – I don’t have this one yet, and in practice, I use it the least so if space is tight, I may only take the first two.
  • Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible – By no means my favorite source for Biblical information, but handy to have around when you need to look up things you have forgotten (like which ecumenical council discussed the Arian controversy?)
  • History of the World Christian Movement, Irvin and Sunquist – In my undergrad and seminary career I have read quite a few Church History books and this one is by far the best.  I am anxiously awaiting Volume II.
  • The Story of Christian Theology, Olson – I am very weak in my knowledge of the history of theology and this is the only book I have to reference.
  • Challenge of Jesus, N.T. Wright – While Wright does discuss Christology in this book and it does have academic merit, for me, it is a defining book in how I understand the nature of Christianity.
  • Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann – I know I sound like a broken record when I mention this book, but one of the most important concepts in my life that I live by is Brueggemann’s idea of the prophetic imagination and criticizing/energizing culture and community.
  • The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder – I may never have the opporutnity to teach from Yoder’s book, but I will certainly be able to live by it.
  • Walden, Henry David Thoreau – One of my sources of rejuvenation.
  • Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community, Martin Luther King Jr – We named our daughter after King; surely I must take his most seminal work.

So I was able to whittle my collection of several hundred down to 22. Even then there are so many that I am leaving out that I would love to include.  In reality, this list is probably too large when you consider how much we can actually take with us; but…. at least it is a start.