My Top 5 Books of 2021

Once again, I set out this year to read 25 books, only to come woefully short of that goal. Much of that was because I spent a good portion of this year writing more than reading, but I’m also trying to focus more on the quality of what I read over the quantity.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Nonetheless, I was still able to consume some really good books — like Love Does by Bob Goff, Scary Close by Donald Miller, and Night by Elie Wiesel. I read more fiction this year than last year, though part of that was due to my job as an English teacher, and my top genre is still Christian non-fiction. I do have quite a few books outside of that genre on my reading list for 2022, though.

But as you’re building your reading list for 2022, here are my five favorite books I read this year. If you’ve not read them yet, I highly recommend adding them to your list.

5. Cheated by Andy Martino

If you’re a fan of sports, especially baseball, you will really enjoy Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing. If you’re not as in to sports, you might still enjoy this as this book takes a deep dive into the history of cheating and scandals in baseball. From a societal standpoint, the history of all of this was fascinating to me.

Where this book mostly camps out, though, is telling the origins, happenings, and aftermath of the Houston Astros electronic sign stealing scandal that led to their 2017 World Series Championship and subsequent success through the 2019 season. It’s a scandal that has shaped the baseball world in many ways since and has once again brought a microscope upon a sport that has long been riddled with scandal, be it gambling or game-fixing by those involved, corruption in the front offices, steroid and performance-enhancing drug use, or use of modern technology to gain an advantage.

Andy Martino, a baseball writer with SNY New York, masterfully fills this book with a bevy of historical context for not just the origins of sign stealing in baseball, but specifically electronic sign stealing in baseball. I had no idea that this phenomenon dated back to the early 1900s, when primitive buzzers were placed under the third base coach’s box to alert the coach and then the hitter of what pitch was coming. You’d be floored to learn that some of the most iconic moments in baseball history were the result of electronic sign stealing.

4. Live No Lies by John Mark Comer

Whew, get your highlighters and pens ready for this one. John Mark Comer is a pastor and a master theologian who has a unique gift for expository and exegetical writing. In Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace, Comer takes a topic that’s often discussed in Christian settings — lies — and delves several layers deep to not only address the danger of believing lies, but more specifically identifying where these lies come from and why we are so prone to believing them.

This book makes it clear that the war we are engaged in with lies and sin is a serious one. The Devil is not just a cartoon representing “the bad guy,” but rather a master manipulator who wants nothing more than for us to believe lies about ourselves instead of the truth God has already spoken over us.

The danger isn’t so much that we tell or believe lies, but that we live them. We let them invade our soul, our mind, and our hearts and we let them form our habits and our character. Our choice is not between fighting or not fighting, but rather between winning or surrendering.

This is truly one of the most important books on shelves right now. Comer lays out the plan for how we engage in this battle and ultimately win the fight against lies.

3. Your Future Self Will Thank You by Drew Dyck

As we we enter a new year, many people will be setting goals and resolutions. Anyone who has ever tried to do that has experienced the inevitable struggle of sticking to them. Some are able to do so, but many are not. Whether it’s a resolution or just simply wanting to avoid eating a ton of chocolate ice cream while binging Outer Banks, a big reason we stumble is because we struggle with self-control.

But why do we struggle so much with controlling our urges? What does it mean to have self-control? What do the Bible and those who study brain science have to say about it? Those are some of the questions Drew Dyck answers in this book.

Drew packs this book with Scriptural teaching and just enough humor to make this heavy but all-too-important message even more relatable. I got to have to Drew on my podcast in March where we spent a ton of time talking about his book and the idea of self-control.

2. Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson

If you consider yourself to be a creative person (which I would argue is all of us in some way), this book is simply a must-read. I love the way this book is succinctly summarized in the book description: “Making something beautiful in a broken world can be harrowing work, and it can’t be done alone.” Peterson’s message in this book is indeed beautiful: that God calls us to proclaim the gospel and the coming kingdom using whatever gifts are at our disposal.

As a writer, this especially struck a chord with me. I deeply appreciated the way Peterson shares these Biblical truths through his experience in song writing and book writing. I’ve become deeply appreciative of the art Peterson has produced through music, the written word, and visual arts, and I would consider him to be a foremost authority on matters of creativity and using our gifts for God’s kingdom.

Creativity is a mystery in so many ways. In Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making, Peterson provides hope and encouragement to those who feel frustrated or struggle on the way to creating what they feel God has called them to create.

1. Fighting Forward by Hannah Brencher

This makes two straight years that a Hannah Brencher book has No. 1 on my top books list. There is just something about Hannah’s writing voice that strikes a particular chord with me, and her latest book brings a completely unique voice to it as it’s her first book written as a mother. Fighting Forward: Your Nitty-Gritty Guide to Beating the Lies That Hold You Back is a collection of “fight songs” that Hannah wrote to her daughter before she even knew who she’d be. It’s an incredibly heartfelt approach to sharing truths about God.

These words are not just for her daughter, though — they’re for the readers. The book is arranged in themes that evoke a marathon race and invite the reader to show up, claim hope, and take back their life “one small win at a time.”

As with her previous books, Hannah writes this book through the lens of her battle with anxiety and depression in her early 20s. Fighting Forward is packed full of essays that will encourage you, celebrate the milestones you’ve reached or are about to reach, and empower you and equip you to be prepared to fight when the going eventually gets tough.

This book came out in January 2021, and it was the first book I read in 2021. It is a perfect read to start the new year off with. I was fortunate to have Hannah on my podcast in October 2020, where we talked quite a bit about this book.

I hope this list helps you as you’re building your next reading list. If you are a super avid reader, I invite you to check out my wife Emily’s Instagram page where she reads and reviews all kinds of books. This year alone she read 87 books! Check her out at @emsalwaysreading

I also want to invite you to check out my podcast “In No Hurry,” where I regularly talk with authors about their books. You can subscribe anywhere you get podcasts.

Happy reading in 2022!

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