Mark's #1 - The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom (2012)

13624688 The Time Keeper is a fable about the man who discovers how to measure time.  He becomes Father time. As he begins to discover even better ways to break down time, time becomes an obsession for him, and for many that would come after him.  As punishment for trying to measure God's great gift of time, he is banished to a cave where he does not age, and where he listens to the sounds of people's obsessions over time throughout the millennia.

Finally, in our own day, Father Time is released with a mission to help two people from different spheres of life - A 78-year-old billionaire dying of cancer and a 17-year-old girl who has become obsessed with garnering the attention and love of one of the most popular boys at school.  The billionaire is obsessed with getting "more time". The girl, after being rejected, seeks to end her life, thus cutting off her time.

This was a great book on many levels.  The story is original, engaging, and well-written.  Like all good novels, the story also provokes a certain level of introspection in the life of the reader.  Albom wants the reader to rethink our obsession with time.  There are many great quotes and thoughts throughout the book that made me stop and think.   Here are just a few:

“You marked the minutes,” the old man said. “But did you use them wisely? To be still? To cherish? To be grateful? To lift and be lifted?”

"Yet despite all they accomplished, they were never at peace. They constantly checked their devices to see what time it was..."

"Common sense would have told Sarah to steer clear of Ethan’s waters. But common sense has no place in first love and never has."

This was a great book to start off a new year of reading.  I wouldn't be surprised if it is one of the best books I read all year.

Mark's 2012 52 Books Year End Review

Here's a list of my top ten books for 2012:

  1. A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison (2012)
  2. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
  3. The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf (2009)
  4. Unto Death by Dalton Thomas (2012)
  5. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)
  6. Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright (2012)
  7. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tokein (1937)
  8. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
  9. Moonwaking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (2012)
  10. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1931)


Here's a quick recap of my highlights and insights in reading during 2012:

  • This is the third year I've completed the 52 books challenge... it gets easier every year.
  • I'm often asked, "When do you find time to read?".  I read most of my novels in in bed each night before falling asleep.  I 'read' some novels and nonfiction while listening as I drive.  I read most of my Christian nonfiction either for sermon preparation, ministry events (apologia, leadership meetings), or personal edification during the day, especially on the weekends. I also try to always have a book on me when I go to places I know I'll have to wait (dentist, city hall, any military office).
  • This year I read more novels than usual.  In my reading of fiction, there was an emphasis on dystopian novels including classics such as Brave New World, 1984, Animal, as well as newer works such as Cloud Atlas and Amped.
  • Another reason why I read more novels than usual is because of the availability of free e-books via our local library.
  • I continue to eschew television watching and most movies, though I did give in and buy Madden 2013 to play on the Xbox... yeah, it's wasted too much time.
  • I read several books dealing with the mind and psychology, including books for memory development, thinking, and habit formation.
  • I read more 600+ page books this year than the previous two years combined (5 or 6).
  • Next year I plan on reading more books about the culture and history of the Czech Republic in preparation for ministry there.
  • I would also like to continue to read the classics, and I hope to step up to some of the great books of western civilization.



Mark's 2012 Books Breakdown

Mark's #52 - Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka

Born in Prague in 1883,  Franz Kafka's passion was literature and writing, though it was merely a pursuit on the side away from his day job working with the state insurance company.   This book is a collection of all of Kafka's writings that were published during his lifetime (there were other works published posthumously - though apparently he burned 90% of his writings).  It is a collection of mostly short stories ranging from a few paragraphs to 60 pages or so.  Kafka is credited with spearheading the existentialist writing style that would be taken up by the likes of Albert Camus a couple decades after Kafka's death from tuberculosis. Though bizarre at times, these stories are engaging in their symbolism and character interactions.  Metamorphosis is about a young man who wakes up one day as a giant bug.  His parents and his sister  discover him and keep him locked away in his room, feeding and watering him, until he eventually dies, presumably from loneliness.  Much of Kafka's writing deals with tension with father figures -  apparently Franz had daddy issues.

The Country Doctor is yet another bizarre, almost dream-like tale with nonsensical actions and characters (a man bites a woman's face as he's trying to kiss her... the doctor is stripped naked and forced to lie in bed with a dying boy with a fatal wound in his side)... After continually re-reading passages, I finally looked up the plot summary on wikipedia, only to come to find out I really was following along as well as possible.

Perhaps the most engaging and disturbing story was In the Penal Colony.  Here a visitor from a far away country is invited to witness an execution of a condemned prisoner.  The officer in charge is very proud of the torture/execution device that uses a series of needles to engrave a message repeatedly over the condemned man's entire body, slowly rotating him, and maximizing his pain until death comes at about the 12th hour.  The visitor is horrified to learn of the whole procedure.  The officer in charge knows the winds of change are coming since the new prison commandant disapproves.  Realizing this, he tries to appeal to the visitor to keep the procedure going, but when his plea is rebuffed and his cause is helpless, he frees the the prisoner and takes his place on the torture device.  After the machine begins its work, it begins to break apart, sending cogs and bolts flying everywhere, and driving the needles through the body of the officer - I know, I told you it was bizarre.

Bottom line: These stories would probably be great to discuss with english teachers like Ron Coia, or perhaps people on drugs.

One last nugget, apparently there is a Metamorphosis movie that came out this year based off of Kafka's story.  Here's the trailer:


Mark's #51 - Thunderstruck by Erik Larsen (2007)

Thunderstruck is the story of two men whose lives are improbably intertwined in the  early 1900's.  Guglielmo Marconi is the man who invented the "wireless" and changed the world forever.   Hawley Crippen is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered man who ends up taking meticulous steps to murder his overbearing, adulterous wife, and almost succeeding in getting away with it... Crippen would have succeeded had it not been for Marconi's invention which enabled Scotland Yard to communicate via wireless to the transatlantic ship Crippen and his new lover we aboard while trying to escape. Like other books I've read by Larsen (In The Garden of Beasts and Devil in the White City), this book not only digs deep into lives and circumstances of its principal subjects, but also into the world and times in which these men lived.  It was an age of scientific inventions that greatly impact our lives today, a world sliding toward the first world war,  a time of great interest in the supernatural world of seances, and a time when the wealthy went out of their way to flaunt their riches in extravagant ways.

In many ways, reading Larsen's books are like stepping back into the past as you find yourself engaged in the triumphs and failures of men from that era.  However, this isn't Larsen's best work, go with one of his other two books before picking this one up.


Mark's #50 - Unto Death: Martyrdom, Missions, and the Maturity of the Church by Dalton Thomas (2012)

Gripped by fear and an overriding goal of self-preservation, few Christians today will pursue dangerous or even "risky" situations to advance the Kingdom of God

Unto Death is 27-year-old Dalton Thomas' passionate plea for Christians today to turn their eyes to Jesus, see His all surpassing worth, and joyfully and boldly go to the most difficult places on earth with the proclamation of the gospel.  More than just an emotional plea however, Thomas grounds his convictions in the Word of God and the testimony of followers of Christ who "loved not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11)".  Along the way, we are reminded of the worth of Christ, the continual presence and purposes of God in the martyrdom of His saints, the joy, love and grace of martyrdom, the role of martyrdom in the fulfilling of the great commission (Mt. 18:19-20), and how the maturity of the church of Jesus hinges on our growth toward embracing the cost of following Christ, even unto death.

In spite of his youth (27 - I'm 37), Dalton Thomas writes clearly and convincingly about an essential issue for us in the church in the west today.  I stumbled upon this book when my friend Buddy posted on his Facebook wall as a free kindle book.  I almost didn't read it because it was free and I had never heard of the guy. However, when I saw that one of the recommendations of the book came from David Sitton, I decided it would be worth my time.  I'm glad I did.  This is one of the best books I've read this year.

Here's a few more quotes that grabbed my heart while reading:

"Death is a means.  Christ is the end.  Joy is the motive.  And glorious is the journey."

"Though not every believer is called to give a martyr-witness, every believer is called to embrace a martyr-mentality, every Church a martyr-mandate, and every ministry a martyr-theology."

"The gospel is so valuable that no risk is unreasonable"

Here's a short trailer for the book by the author: httpv://

Mark's #49 - The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz (2004)

Long time pastor and author Gene Getz sets out to help men live godly lives based loosely on passages like 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  The result is a lot of moralizing, self-congratulatory examples, some self-stylized child psychology, and very little gospel.  I would put this book in the category of a lot of contemporary mainstream evangelicalism, where the gospel is more assumed rather than being the lens through which we are to view and live life.  This is the type of Christianity that assumes everybody is on board with the gospel already, and thus we can move on to other stuff, or that the gospel really only applies to converting people to be Christians.   Thankfully there are others in the church today that are sounding the sufficiency of the gospel for all areas of life (including being a man), such as Matt Chandler, John Piper, Francis Chan, Tim Keller, Michael Horton, etc.

We recently went through this book during a men's study.  Though the book itself isn't all that good, it did serve as a good book for the group because it gave us opportunity each week to push our weekly reading through a gospel lens - taking the good, leaving the bad.  Since, by default, we as men prefer the moralistic, "what do I have to do to be a good man" approach, it was good to pause each week and ask, "so what does the gospel have to do with this ______ (topic)?".

So, in conclusion, I wouldn't waste my time reading this book on my own, but it may serve as a good springboard for gospel conversation with other men.