Writings by Cole Huffman

The Books List 2019

When I lived in Nashville, a friend in the music industry told me about the night a famous artist pulled up to his house, asking if my friend had a copy of the artist’s CD he could borrow. I know the feeling, having no hard copy of my first book, He Made the Stars Also, published this year, in my possession at present. But I’m appreciative of all who do.

I read some memoirs about fathers and fathering, like Bruce Feiler’s The Council of Dads, about a group of men Feiler assembled to be there for his daughters in case his cancer was fatal (it wasn’t). I read two books by sons working through what their fathers meant to them: My Father Left Me Ireland, by Michael Brendan Dougherty, a memoir of growing up in America only occasionally seeing his Irish father, and The World’s Largest Man, by Harrison Scott Key, a memoir of growing up in Mississippi seeing too much of his father, in that Key and his father were so completely different. I enjoyed Key’s follow-up book, Congratulations, Who Are You Again?

Staying with memoirs, I read Phil Collins’ Not Dead Yet. I’ve always loved his music but never knew how much pain and longing informed it. I picked up Martin Short’s I Must Say because his sketch characters still make me laugh. In one place he describes Steve Martin and Tom Hanks and he going for their annual colonoscopies together. Their “Hootenanny of Purge” the night before brought tears.

Speaking of colonoscopies, I turned 50 this year, and know my turn on that table cometh soon. But according to Tom Nichols in The Death of Expertise, if I probe my doctor’s probing of me by offering my own Internet research on the subject, it just makes me a pain in the behind. Because our search engines rev high, we think we know more about any variety of things than we actually do.

The premise of Nichols’ book—what makes an expert—comes into tension in Earl Swift’s Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island. Their Virginia island is slowing receding into the Chesapeake as sea levels rise. Most of them are evangelical Methodists and deny what they’re being told by scientific experts about sea-level changes. They’re expert crabbers, on the water everyday, and don’t themselves see any evidence of sea-level change. But they do see they’re losing the land their unique culture has inhabited since 1778.

Staying in the water, the most interesting book I read this year is Ian Urbina’s The Outlaw Ocean. A journalist who spent the last five years documenting sea slavery, piracy, abortion ships, illegal fishing vessels, and waste dumping into oceans, Urbina has seen it all. Most of the earth, being ocean, is ungoverned. I kept thinking on that first line in Revelation 21, about the coming new heavens and new earth, that there will then be no more sea. No more death, also, and the things that contribute to it, which takes me to Fearless, by Eric Blehm. It’s about a young man from Hot Springs, Arkansas, who turned from drugs to become a highly decorated Navy SEAL, but died in combat.

From the sea to the air, Mike Leach’s football coaching memoir about his Air Raid offense, Swing Your Sword, was a good read. I would have loved to play for a coach like Leach, but I was a runner. I took a slow jog through Joseph Epstein’s thick collection of essays on everything under the sun: Wind Sprints. I think I’ve read most everything Epstein has published.

Therefore I Have Hope, by Cameron Cole, is about losing his three-year-old son and conveys hard won insights, like his “grace for this hour” mentality in experiencing grief. Remember Death, by Matthew McCullough, is a very fine treatment of life in Christ via an extended meditation of Ecclesiastes. Long Story Short, by Glen Scrivener, superbly gives us the story of the Bible in twelve phrases.

Addicted to Lust is not a biblical phrase, but according to its author, sociologist Samuel Perry, “even though committed Christians are not more likely to watch pornography than other Americans, they are consistently more likely to label themselves ‘addicted’ to pornography.” I pair his book with The Soul of Shame, by Curt Thompson, which is about all the ways shame blocks grace and truth from making their home in us.

I should include The End of Secularism, by Hunter Baker. Modern secularism tries to present itself as neutral and non-religious, but it is neither. Disruptive Witness, by Alan Noble, tracked similarly: how do we speak truth in and to such an age? I’m taking our staff through yet another book in this vein, Jake Meador’s In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World.

My favorite book of the year is Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making. He’s a singer-songwriter in Nashville (not the one who didn’t have a copy of his own CD). Everything he writes about song craft and performing I find true for sermon craft and preaching. He weaves his own life story throughout, which has similar providences to mine. We’ve both never gotten past the amazement that God uses guys like us to bless his people.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 3:30 PM
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