Books I read in 2016

img_0170.jpgWell look at that, it’s almost time for 2017’s list. But these posts are my archive of not only what I’ve read, but also my thoughts on the books and what I’m looking forward to reading. (That last part may be hard to recall and differentiate from what I’ve ended up reading.) So regardless the time of year, I still wanted to get this written up.

Better late than never, as they say. So here is what I read in 2016:

  1. January: Vertical marriage, by Mike & Anne Rizzo
  2. January: Letters & Life, by Brett Lott
  3. February: Love & War, by John & Stasi Eldredge
  4. January-March: The Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson (audiobook)
  5. May: The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen
  6. August: How To Make a Living As a Writer, by James Scott Bell (ebook)
  7. November: The Cassandra Project, by Jack McDevitt (w/ Katie)

A Year of Marriage

2016 brought a big change to my reading: I married the most amazing woman in the world! It was an incredible year full of getting to know my wife and spending time together. All those years I had been alone and reading books, but now I could spend that time with Katie! Thus, the list was shorter than previous years—and so worth it :)

There were a few other changes: first, I started reading marriage books. There is an incredible wealth of experience and knowledge from wise Christian leaders, and their books have been invaluable in learning how to be a better husband and partner to my wife.

In Vertical Marriage, Mike and Anne Rizzo (who did our marriage counseling) walk through great topics that you need to discuss in marriage and give a strong biblical foundation for the covenant that marriage is. One of the biggest points Katie and I took away from the book and our time with the Rizzos was that Jesus has to be the first priority for both of us. It feels counter-intuitive that something should be of more importance than my marriage (and Jesus is the only thing that is in that category), but putting Jesus first enables us to love sacrificially and pursue one another through his strength.

John Eldredge’s Love & War is another great a marriage book that I would definitely recommend. With his customary style and depth, John and his wife Stasi talk honestly about their journey together and what has helped them walk closer together. I continue to think how much I need to read his books at least once a year.

The second great thing about reading while married is: I got to read something Katie recommended! She has a great collection of theology books and knows them very well, and her recommendation of The Return of the Prodigal Son struck my heart to the core. Henri Nouwen’s classic look at Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son connecting with my journey from start to finish, and I can remember multiple times thinking, “This is me!” as I wiped away tears. I can so easily slip into the role of the older son, and this book gave me language to see it and turn toward the Lord. Again, definitely a book I need to read regularly, and I’m excited to read more recommendations from my wife.

The third great discovery I had was reading with Katie! On a road trip for Thanksgiving we read Jack McDevitt’s The Cassandra Project. It was so fun being able to read the book and talk about what was happening. It was like a TV show, only we were able to be buried in a book together! The book itself is classic McDevitt and written so well. Our only quibble was that he somehow managed to carry out the mystery until literally the last few pages. If it had been any slower we would have given up, but he kept the tension going so well that we just had to finish. We still talk about it a year later!

Other Books

Brandon Sanderson’s The Bands of Mourning was another good Mistborn book, though I like the original trilogy much better than the Wax & Wayne trilogy. I’ll probably keep reading the series whenever he gets around to writing another book, but my interest waned (eh? eh?) a little with this book.

How to Make a Living As a Writer was a fantastic book by James Scott Bell. His disciplined approach to writing really resonates with me, a lot more than some of the fluff, write-a-bestseller-in-five-days kind of books out there.

Lastly, Letters & Life by Brett Lott was a welcome surprise. I’m always on the look-out for books about writing and the Christian faith, and Brett wrote some really great essays on the subject. The surprise part was a multi-chapter essay about his father’s death, which having lost my own father thirteen years ago really connected with me. It was an unexpected journey, but welcome.

Books in 2017

It’s a bit funny to write this section with 2017 nearly done and (spoiler) I’ve read almost 18 books, but if I remember right, I was hoping to read more marriage books, some writing books, and a little more fiction. It ended up being a great list for the year, and especially since there’s a new addition to the family: our baby! So that added some good books to the list.

So at last 2016’s list is posted! Archive complete.

Advertisements compares lightsaber duels

A while ago I wrote an article searching for the best lightsaber duel. Thanks to a 1-hour compilation of all the duels (which sadly is no longer online), I was able to watch them all back to back and in the end determined, in my own opinion, that the final duel between Luke and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi was the best one.

In a similar vein, Andrew Clark from just published an article that compares how duels are treated in the original trilogy versus the prequel trilogy, as well as how The Force Awakens approaches them. It’s a great comparison and reveals many of the same character notes I found when watching the duels.

Andrew sums it up well when he writes:

If the original trilogy’s duels can be defined by character development and thematic resonance, the prequels can be conversely defined by their lack of purpose or depth.

Action should never just be action for action’s sake. The best action scenes reveal character along with adrenaline.

Head on over to The Dance of the Lightsabers: Duels in the Original “Star Wars” Trilogy vs. The Prequels to enjoy the geeky discussion.

Fueling My Words

Sites post 2015At the start of 2016, my fiancée and I started Whole30. It’s a diet that focuses on eating only natural things, such as meat and vegetables, and cuts out grains and added sugar. As a bachelor I had eaten the same thing for… gosh, who knows how many years? It consisted mostly of chicken, rice, bread, apples, cheese, and cookies. But food is fuel for your body, right? While tasty, those six things may not have been the best for me, so I was excited to switch things up.

I had a similar realization last year with the websites I visit. In a post titled “A Change of Intake”, I listed the handful of sites I routinely read and asked the question, “What if I spent my time reading websites that wrote about the things I’m directly involved in?” I am a filmmaker and a writer, and I like to process life through reading and writing, and I wanted to read things that encouraged and fed those areas of my life.

Thus, 2015 went from four tech sites to this list:

  1. Fifty Foot Shadows, thoughts on life and photography
  2. Analog Senses, thoughts on life and photography
  3. Prolost, thoughts on and products for film
  4. The Dissolve, film editorials and reviews—great content here!
  5. Jamie Todd Rubin, the writing life
  6. Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, consistently insightful writing advice
  7. Backchannel, a new addition with well-written, in-depth tech articles
  8. Suggestion of Motion, in-depth articles about film, specifically the Panasonic GH4, which I own
  9. Garrett Koepke’s blog—my brother is writing some great stuff about travel, with beautiful photographs
  10. The Music Bed Community—at first just a stock music site, TMB have become so much more

Now that it’s a year later, I wanted to (you guessed it) process through writing how that list has changed and if I’ve noticed anything different in my life.



The first thing I’ve noticed is that the list gathered into three categories: processing life, film, and writing. Sites that fit the first category were Backchannel (edited by Steven Levy and hosting several writers), Analog Senses (written by Alvaro Serrano), Fifty Foot Shadows (written by John Carey), and Garrett Koepke’s blog (written by my youngest brother!).

The first two fell off over time: Steven’s articles for Backchannel are incredibly personal and insightful about technology today, but I don’t connect as much with the other writers and I can find out about Steven’s articles by following him on Twitter. Alvaro’s writing and curation for Analog Senses attracted me because of his love for analog film cameras, but it has become more Apple/tech-centered, which is the content I was trying to leave.

That leaves Fifty Foot Shadows and Garrett’s blog. I love their thoughtful way of approaching life and pointing out things that are important to enjoy or cherish in life. Combined with wonderful photography, each post is a pleasure to read visually and intellectually.

I kept my eye out over the year for other sites to read, and the two that caught my attention were Lindsay Crandall and articles by Craig Mod.

Lindsay is a photographer and mom who gives snapshots of how she handles the pressures of being a parent and an artist, and I really appreciated her honesty and insight into her process. Unfortunately she doesn’t write too often (probably that whole parent thing), but I still check her site now and then with the hopes of seeing something. One website she does frequently update is a shared blog with a fellow parent called Hello there, Friend. They write short, daily letters to each other about life and when I have time to read them they are really enjoyable, if not helpful.

Craig is photographer and writer who lives in Japan. I found him on Twitter over the last year and his articles about technology and life are so good. One of my favorites from him this last year was Future Reading, an article about the important place of printed books in our lives. His thoughtful approach is really inspiring to me, not to mention his photographs. Unfortunately he is published more through other sites than his own, so I usually find out about his new writings through Twitter.


This category ranged from reviews and editorials to technique and gear talk. Prolost (written by Stu Maschwitz), Suggestion of Motion (written by Sol March), The Dissolve (reviews and editorials), and The Music Bed Community (written by various authors and staff at the fantastic stock music site).

For technique sites, Prolost and Suggestion of Motion have been invaluable. Stu at Prolost is a leading filmmaker and not only talks about gear and software but also his approach to creativity and filmmaking. He doesn’t post as often as I would like, but it’s always worth reading when he does. Suggestion of Motion was also a fantastic site about cameras, particular the Pansonic GH4. I was the owner of one when I found Sol’s site and tried to read as much as I could in order to learn how to work with the GH4. Late last fall, though, I purchased a Sony A7s II and haven’t had as much need for Sol’s writing. He did just say he bought the same camera as me, so I’m hoping he’ll start posting articles about that camera as well.

The Music Bed community has shifted over the past year, but it still remains a great place for thoughtful articles about the filmmaking process. They have transitioned a lot of the content into the Film + Music magazine, which has been a fantastic resource.

The only new gear site to make it onto my list was Noam Kroll. Like Stu, he’s a great filmmaker and posts frequently about his gear tests and projects he’s working on. Mixed in with it all is his approach to storytelling, the gear market, and the future of filmmaking.

In the realm of film literature, this year sadly saw the death of two of the best websites I had found about film and pop culture: Grantland and The Dissolve. The reviews and particular the editorials by The Dissolve were a step above anything I had seen online and I was really sad to discover one day that it was ending. I had hoped Grantland, with its witty commentary and exhaustive pop cultural essays, could take it place—only to find shortly after that it was closing too.

Thankfully, over the course of the year I found Decent Films, the website of Steven Greydanus, who is the film critic for the National Catholic Register. Secular film reviews often focus on the story and technique in judging a film but don’t take into account the spiritual or moral aspect, whereas Christian film reviews usually only focus on the spiritual. As a filmmaker who is a Christian I wanted both, and Steven does that splendidly. Not only is he steeped in film history and what makes a great film, but he has a great theological perspective as a Catholic. He has helped me be more of a thoughtful film-goer, and shown me some of the good and helpful perspectives of Catholicism. The only downside is he is just one man, so it takes a while for new reviews to come out. But when they do, you better believe I’m going to read it.


The writing category of my list is an interesting beast. On one hand, I want to grow as a writer. But on the other hand, I only have so much time to read online. Consequently, when I do have time I have to decide if I want a thought-provoking article or a technique exercise.

When I felt like the latter, I turned to Jamie Todd Rubin and Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. Jamie inspired and encouraged me to write every day through his blog, and it has been helpful to see his process of writing, revision, and publication of his stories. And I can’t say enough about Janice’s website. If you want to learn anything about writing, read her stuff. Nearly every article is so helpful and about every part of writing.

The new writing websites to make it on the list were from Christopher Paolini, author of the Inheritance trilogy, and David Farland, author of Runelords. I’ve followed Christopher’s career since I first read his self-published book just out of high school, and it’s been fun to get an inside-look at his process and stories. As for David Farland, I actually just realized he was on the list; guess I forgot about his site! But I do know he is a fantastic writing teacher and I need to check his site more often.

The New List

That was probably all more information than anyone needed to know, but as I said at the beginning I like to process life through reading and writing, so there you go. The big question now is, what have I learned from all of this? Did changing my intake help in any way?

The first thing I noticed is that I like writers who are also photographers. I think that’s because there is something slower and more thoughtful about photography; you have to think about what image you are going to take, which image to use, and how it illustrates your writing. I haven’t been good at doing it, but I would love for the creative exercise of photography to be a bigger part of my life. I’m about to move into a new house when I get married, and I just had the thought that the basement could work for a dark room—hmm….

The second thing that comes to mind is, I feel like I become a more thoughtful person when I take time to read things like this on a regular basis. Doing that helps me formulate what I think about situations or topics or processes, and helps me be a better storyteller and artist.

For me, I really think it’s all about a blank piece of paper and a pen, an empty document and the keyboard before me. Life can be so hectic sometimes, so unorganized, so disorienting. The words I eat are fuel for my own words, and the act of recording them—even just the act of it—helps bring clarity and order to what I’m experiencing.

It’s funny, really. I’m almost 31 and still discovering how I approach life. There are a lot of people and influences that are helping that journey (my aforementioned fiancée above all), and what I realized over last year is that the websites I read can also help.

So the list for 2016 stands as such:

  1. Fifty Foot Shadows
  2. Lindsay Crandall/Hello there, Friend
  3. Garrett Koepke
  4. The Music Bed blog/Film + Music magazine
  5. Decent Films
  6. Noam Kroll
  7. Prolost
  8. Jamie Todd Rubin
  9. Janice Hardy’s Fiction University
  10. David Farland
  11. Christopher Paolini

Before I end, let’s go back to Whole30. It’s halfway through the month and while I haven’t noticed a huge shift in energy I have noticed two big things: I’m always hungry and I’ve lost weight. While that might not be a glowing review for Whole30, I think it still works as an example for the things I read. I shed the weight of putting things in my brain that don’t apply to my life, and it makes me hungry for more good content.

So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make a salad. Or eat a steak. With eggs on it. Lots and lots of eggs.

What kind of sites do you read? If you have any suggestions, leave a comment below!

Books I read in 2015

2015 Reading list copyAnother year has passed, which means it’s time to look back at the books I read! This is the sixth year I’ve put together this list, and I love the feeling of history when I look back through past years. An index card serves as both my bookmark and a record of the books I’ve read, and I like to imagine my kids looking through a stack of these some day, to see what I read. These blog posts in turn are a record of which books I liked, new authors I discovered, and the influences I have as a writer.

So without further ado, here was my 2015 reading list:

  1. 2014–1/18: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  2. 1/25–2/24: Jupiter, by Ben Bova
  3. 2/24–3/3:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  4. 3/5–3/13:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
  5. 3/17–3/30: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
  6. 2014–5/6: A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23, by Phillip Keller
  7. 3/31–5/14: Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson
  8. 5/18–6/14: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
  9. 8/1–9/5: Holy is the Day, by Carolyn Weber
  10. 9/5–9/30: Runelords, by David Farland
  11. 9/30–11/15: The Inklings, by Humphrey Carpenter
  12. 11/15–11/21: Ancient Shores, by Jack McDevitt
  13. 11/22–12/24: Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb
  14. Shadows of Self, by Brandon Sanderson (audiobook)
  15. Redshirts, by John Scalzi (audiobook)

Favorite Authors

The big thing I did this year was return to Harry Potter. Back in 2010, in a blog post about why I stopped reading the books, I said:

“But always that feeling creeps back in, that fascination, whispering and luring me into another world that distracts me from rather than encourages my walk with the Lord.”

That feeling would come back any time I’ve thought about reading the books since college, so I never picked them back up. Then early in 2015 I saw one at the store and thought about reading it. I was surprised to find that feeling wasn’t there and I excitedly dove in. The first four books were really enjoyable to read and I’m looking forward to the fifth. The feeling still hasn’t returned, but I’m paying close attention to how I feel while reading the books just in case. Maybe once I’ve finished the series I’ll do a follow-up to my previous post.

I read three new fiction authors this year: David Farland, Robin Hobb, and Ben Bova. All three were enjoyable, but I particularly liked the first two. David Farland’s Runelords was an awesome discovery after I attended sessions he taught at the Realm Makers writing conference. A lot of writing advice says to keep the story moving, but David was willing to pause and describe the world and what was going on. Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice has been on my to-read list for a while and it did not disappoint. She has a Dickensian style, rich and well described, and I really liked it.

Jack McDevitt remains my favorite sci-fi author (Ancient Shores only took me a week to read), and of course Brandon Sanderson is still the premiere fantasy author of our day. Words of Radiance was, like the first book in the series, a masterpiece.

Books in 2016

I started something new in 2015: I dedicated a part of my bookshelf as a to-read queue. Currently it holds more books by Ben Bova and Jack McDevitt, as well as a couple new authors like The Thousand Names by Django Wexler and Den of Thieves by David Chandler. I don’t know if I can finish Harry Potter this year, but Book 5 is on the shelf.

I would also like to read more history this year. In recent years I’ve fallen out of my plan to alternate between fiction, theology, and history, and I’d like to get back to that. Ones on my mind are Empire by Niall Ferguson, 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies, and Lost Cities of the Incas by Hiram Bingham.

The last thing I would like to do this year is reread some of my favorite authors. Craig Mod wrote in his fantastic essay about the value of physical books, “Future Reading“:

To read a book once is to know it in passing. To read it over and over is to become confidants. The relationship between a reader and a book is measured not in hours or minutes but, ideally, in months and years[…]

We are embedded in our libraries. To reread is to remember who we once were, which can be equal parts scary and intoxicating.

Craig reminded me that there have been a few authors who have impacted me, both on a writing level and who I am as a person. Stephen Lawhead is one who gave me a picture of Christ as King; Kenneth Oppel inspired me to dream of adventure and flying free in the clouds; Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker showed me how a story could be biblical without preaching. I want to go back to those books, some of which I’ve only read once, and see what it can teach me again.

So there you have it! I hope this gives you some ideas for what to read in 2016. If you have recommendations from your year of reading, please let me know!



Our Worn And Broken Threads

Photo Mar 30, 10 49 52 PM

In the summer of 2008, I sat outside a coffee shop and listened to a friend describe an idea for a short film. I was fresh out film school and quickly said, “Let’s make it!” That simple sentence started a journey that lasted four years, resulting in the short film Flower.

The thing is, it could have been made a lot faster. The co-creator was great to work with and final script was only fifteen pages, but I dragged my feet for three years on the project. It wasn’t until recently that I finally realized why: from the characters to the story to the message, I wanted everything to perfect.

I do this a lot in life. I once prayed a year and a half about whether to ask a girl out or not; I made another short film two years ago that no one has seen because I haven’t found the best way to release it; a short story I’m writing is on its seventh rewrite; and I just debated two weeks on which camera bag to buy. I analyze, critique, rethink, question, and stress over what is the best decision. Because if there’s anything I don’t want to be, it’s flawed.


There is a place for excellence, but I think the question is, what’s driving it? Is it to present the best thing I can, or to keep others from laughing? Too often I think my motivations fall under the latter. That is not perfectionism, but fear.

And when you think about it, what is more central to the human experience than mistakes? From our first breath we do things imperfectly—yet our parents don’t trade us in for a better model. We all fall, we all come up short, we all make mistakes, and what I’m learning to accept is that it’s okay.


Three years after starting the script, the co-creator and I decided to finally just make the film. We held auditions for the cast and ended up with two phenomenal lead actors, ages 16 and 18. The film went on to be accepted to two festivals, win second place in one, and be offered a small distribution deal. More importantly, we still hear stories to this day about people who have been impacted by it.

All of this is due in no small part to our cast, and if we had made the film earlier they would have been too young.

It’s to the glory of our Storyteller that he not only allows us to make mistakes and learn, but he then weaves something beautiful from our worn and broken threads. As I toil over a project or anxiously debate about a decision, I hear him say over and over:

“It’ll be okay. I won’t trade you in. Just do your best, and I’ll take it from there.”