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Best Books of 2018

JR. reflects on his favorite reads of 2018. What were yours?

I read over 80 books this year, and I really struggled to put together a Best of list. After all, there’s so much variety. And how do you rank fiction against non-fiction? So I’m doing something a little different this year. Instead of a ranked list, I’m offering an assorted list of my favorites from the last year and why you might like them.

For a great mystery novel, try The Witch Elm by Tana French

You want to learn some science, but not realize you’re learning because you’re having so much fun? Pick up How to Invent Everything by Ryan North.

One of the best novels of the year was Transcription by Kate Atkinson.

At the intersection of personal growth and science you’ll find a fun, enlightening read called Cringeworthy by Melissa Dahl.

I don’t read a lot of church leadership books. That said, Church Forsaken by Jonathan Brooks is one of the best I’ve found in a long time. I was moved and challenged.

I’m a sucker for great fantasy. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse is a post-apocalyptic tale featuring a Navajo monster slayer. She’s tough and I can’t wait for the sequel to drop this year.

Speaking of amazing fantasy, Jade City by Fonda Lee was released this year. It’s sort of a Japanese version of the Godfather with a dash of magic. Thrilling, heartbreaking, epic. Jade War can’t get here soon enough.

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown shouldn’t have been half as good as it is. Brown’s original Red Rising trilogy was an incredible sci-fi trilogy that actually managed to stick the landing in book three. I was afraid a second trilogy would be a lazy cash grab. If book 1 is any indication, I am very wrong.

My Sister is a Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite got a ton of well-deserved hype. If you’ve been looking for that next great thriller, this is almost it. It’s really fun and will scratch that Dexter or Gone Girl itch better than anything else I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Without question, the best comic of the year was the incredible 12-issue Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads. The trade paperback comes out in February, so you’ve got time to pre-order it. If you have never quite ‘gotten’ comics, this is a powerful… ahem… illustration of just how capable and versatile the medium is.

Kill Creek by Scott Thomas was the best horror book I’ve read in a while. It technically came out last year, but I read it this year. It’s very scary – I definitely lost a little sleep thanks to this one. Plus my friend M. S. Corley designed the cover! What!?

If I could mandate that everyone in America had to read one book, it would be Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi. It’s a behemoth – over 700 pages – but worth every drop of ink. Kendi writes a biography of racial ideas, weaving as he works his way through American history the maddening counterbalance of racial progress and the progress of racism. No single book has better equipped me to understand our racial history or read our race-charged present than this one.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo is exactly what it sounds like – a guide for people who are bad at talking about race but want to get better at it. Oluo takes you through everything from tone policing to cultural appropriation to talking about police. Oluo is honest, transparent and crazy smart. We don’t deserve such a great conversation partner.

Talking about religion in 2019 is nearly as hard as talking about race and politics. Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious by David Dark is the best guide to talking about religion with people who aren’t Christian I’ve ever read. It’s a profound, insightful and challenging book. Get two copies and read it with a friend who is of a different faith (or none!).

I’ve been raving lately about Homeland Insecurity by Daniel White Hodge for good reason. Anyone who works in a church or is passionate about missions should have to read this book. Hodge takes the White Supremacist foundations of much Evangelical missions work. And though he claims not to, he gives us much in the way of constructing a new, better way forward.

Okay we’re well into territory where it’s impossible for me to be objective. The Crescent Stone by Matt Mikalatos is a fantasy novel that explores concepts like privilege and power in a compelling, funny story. Book 2 drops this year and I can’t wait!

I first saw the cover for Raise Your Voice by Kathy Khang when I toured InterVarsity Press’ headquarters early last year. I joked to Al, who edited both our books, that this was clearly a book written for people like me. Al laughed, looked heavenward and prayed, “God, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.” All kidding aside, Kathy’s book is really powerful. She shares a lifetime of wisdom and experience in learning to speak up for what’s right – in big and small ways. If you’ve ever struggled not with knowing what to do, but with being courageous enough to speak up, this is the book for you.

Gain Influence Through Communication by Clay Morgan is perfect for the person who’s self-conscious about their ability to communicate and connect with other people. Clay wrote this as a brief primer, so it’s breezy, light and applicable. If your 2019 goals including anything relating to communication or public speaking, this is a good place to start.

Good News for a Change by Matt Mikalatos is the best book on Evangelism I’ve ever read. Matt dismantles the formulas in favor of relationships. He insists we get to know people well enough to understand how Jesus is good news for them. And then that good news becomes really easy to share because after all, who doesn’t want to hear good news?

What were your favorite reads this year?

By JR. Forasteros

JR. lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Amanda. In addition to exploring the wonders that are the Lone Star state, JR. is the teaching pastor at Catalyst Community Church, a writer and blogger. His book, Empathy for the Devil, is available from InterVarsity Press. He's haunted by the Batman, who is in turn haunted by the myth of redemptive violence.