Top Reads of 2016

I haven’t read as much this year as I usually do, but there have been a few gems in there.


I’m currently reading Winton’s Boy Behind the Curtain and finding it both captivating and wonderful and occasionally ho hum. Such is the nature of an autobiography I guess. We share a love of writing, of the ocean and a Christian heritage so on those points I find a deep resonance with much of what he says.

His chapter ‘Twice on Sundays’ raised many wry smiles and fond if somewhat butt clenching memories of my own years growing up in church. That said, his critique of the church he grew up in is fair and reasonable – I know – because I had some involvement there as a teenager myself. Sure – he has a laugh at the quirks of the 70’s and he does tell a sad tale of being unable to remain within the bounds of conservative/ fundamentalist faith as he began to ask questions, but he also offers some gracious comments and observations regarding the authenticity and sincerity of faith he experienced.

In the end the ‘bounded set’ expression of Christianity found him to be ‘outside’ the lines and something of an interloper in the ecclesiastical setting. James Fowler would say he was in ‘stage 4’ of faith development – questioning – thinking outside the confines of his immediate community, and pushing back, but in those days few churches were able to handle disparate thought. They tended to quietly, but firmly exile by theologising you to the edges and allowing you to figure it out yourself – you didn’t belong any more – you are no longer ‘one of us’.

This is still a challenge and while we have moved on somewhat it can still be hard for churches to manage a congregation of people who do not think in the same straight line.

Winton is an ardent conversationist and this is one of the chapters I found less engaging. Interesting – but not riveting and even beautiful like his chapter on surfing where ‘men do something pointless’. It is significant that in reflecting on his teen years he saw the church as woefully deficient in its environmental stance. With Hal Lindsey flavour of the month and ‘this world is not our home’ a mantra for dispensationalists he found himself again on the outer – or maybe just ahead of his time. He’d be flavour of the month in some churches these days…

He writes a wonderful fun chapter describing the sheer embarrassment of ever being seen near his grandads’s 1953 Hillman Minx and the horror when it was passed on to his own family. Cardigan grey and and every bit dowdy, he remembers being driven to school in it. In contrast he has a wonderful line recalling listening to his bogan neighbour revving his hotted up car in the backyard which he describes as ‘sounding like Satan clearing his throat’.

I’m only half way through, but its still a winner for me.












The North Water was a somewhat harrowing read, often brutal and dark but a gripping rendering of the whale trade back in the 19th C. Both the characters and the environment were harsh and at times it felt like that car accident you couldn’t look away from. Not for the faint hearted, but if you like a strong story and enjoy immersing yourself in a foreign world then this is a good read.












Similarly The Good People immerses you in 19th C Ireland with its folk lore and superstition mingled with religion and you are invited into the life of 3 women all facing different struggles. I have written about this here so I won’t say any more.


Husbands Should Not Break by Shane & Elly Clifton was loaned to me by a friend who told me it was about a theology lecturer’s reflections on coming to grips with spinal injury and that it explored the issues of theodicy and suffering. This was a confronting and honest journal type account of one man’s struggle to come to grips with a life changing situation. Again I have written about it elsewhere in more depth.











I chose this one, not because I had a part in writing it, but because I really enjoyed he collection of honest reflections of dads on their journey of fatherhood. I guess it helped that I knew some of the other authors, but this is a really warm, engaging read and a great gift for a dad on any father’s day. Phil is a gifted writer and has gathered up some stories from all around the world that will encourage, inspire and maybe just tickle you.









Next Door as it is in Heaven by Lance Ford and Brad Brisco – is another in the ‘missional’ genre and helpful for giving form to a suburban missional life (as distinct from a hipster approach) and for helping people think thru some practical actions. The chapter on eating together was great, and generally I found the book a collection of well formed and helpful ideas that would move people to action. I don’t read many ‘mission’ books these days, but this one, while not really saying anything new, was still well framed and enjoyable.









I don’t normally read money books. I’m skeptical that anyone writing a book about money will shortly want to sell me some advice. However I have been doing some financial research in the last few weeks and in that time I stumbled on The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape. I realise Pape is very well known but I haven’t really had much to do with him or his writing / ideas.

Pape writes in the style of your Aussie neighbour next door and hence sounds like a blue collar worker who just figured a few things out. I doubt he is… but his common sense approach to money and his ‘choose your own path’ lingo was refreshing.

I liked that he gave direct specific advice (eg. choose ING bank because they have no fees  ever) and he also presented a simple but sensible philosophy of money. Much of what he says is good common sense, but it obviously isn’t derived from biblical ideas so it was good to consider that what ‘makes sense’ isn’t necessarily what we ought to do. Interestingly he advocates ‘giving’ as part of teaching kids how to use money but it doesn’t figure in adult wealth management. That aside he calls people to debt reduction, sensible spending and future planning in ways that are doable and clear.

His chapter on retirement is particularly encouraging for folks who aren’t rolling in dough. He shows how with your house paid off, just 250K in super, a government pension and the willingness to do some part time work you can have a very sustainable time in the twilight years of life.

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