Archives For The Arts

The Best Books I Read in 2018

Wade —  January 2, 2019 —  Comments

I spent most of 2017 and 2018 writing. I published Failing Faith last year and got about a third of the way through a new book this year. Sadly, writing always seems to distract me from one of my other great joys—reading. I tried to jump back on track during the summer and close out some books before the year ended. Overall, I encountered some incredible work that—not exaggerating—changed my life. Here a few of my favorites (in no particular order). To keep up with my reading throughout the year, follow me on Goodreads!

2018 Books

I didn’t read very many 2018 books, but most of what I did read turned out to be wonderful:

Before I move on, I just want to say that this tweet is my brand.

Non-2018 Books

  • The End of the Affair by Graham Greene – It’s a classic for a reason. Specifically, I’m struck by Greene’s use of tragedy as divine mercy.
  • How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs – Wonderful. Just wonderful.
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt – Probably the best book I’ve read this year. Everyone needs to read it before arguing with people online (that way you’ll stop arguing with people online). Thoughts here.
  • Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler – I love a good biography and this exhaustive 850-page tome on Walt Disney tells a great story without resorting to hagiography. I’m kind of obsessed with all things Disney right now.
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann – A non-fiction thriller that reads like a novel. Rumor has it that Scorsese is working on an adaptation.
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen – A friend of a friend (and hopefully a real friend soon) Cameron Combs recently wrote a blog that said: “I’m having a revelation. All the books I was supposed to read in high school—but didn’t—are SO GOOD.” Me too. I’m going to read more of these types of books in 2019. Austen’s works are truly wonderful. They function as more than simple romantic comedies. They peer into the world of high society and elitist snobbery to exalt virtue and charity. We could all learn a thing or two by observing the morality of her worlds.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Ditto above.
  • The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – Read some of my thoughts here.
  • Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton – Getting to those important books when I can!


What books did you read in 2018?

Sometimes, I’ll read a book synopsis and wonder if the author started the project by hanging up a picture of me in their office. “It’s all for you, old chap,” they whisper while gently punching out prose. Some plots just feel like they were tailed specifically to my interests.

That’s certainly how I felt when I heard about Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. Faber includes most of what I love in a good novel. It’s a religious story (*nods head*) about a pastor (*pulls down glasses*) who becomes a missionary (*loud siren*) to aliens (*galaxy brain*). I mostly like the book and Faber’s greatest strength comes when developing the main character, Peter.

We soon learn that Peter was once a homeless drug addict who lied and stole to support his habit. Upon becoming a Christian, his life changed dramatically. He now shows just as much devotion to God and the Bible as he did to crack and heroin. Eventually, he’s chosen by a mysterious organization to proselytize a group of indigenous people on a planet named Oasis.

Here’s where Faber’s construction of Peter really rolls. While Peter is generally a kind, honorable man, we begin to wonder if his faith functions as a new sort of addiction. In other words, does he live for a spiritual high? Is his faith just a way for him to feel good about himself? Throughout the book, Peter borders on cliché. He responds to his wife’s troubles with words that amount to little more than “Trust God and everything is going to be fine.”

In one particularly emotional moment, Peter counsels a troubled co-worker by saying:

He [God] cares about us very much. So much that He became one of us. He took human form. Can you imagine that? The creator of everything, the shaper of galaxies, got Himself born as a human baby, and grew up in a lower-class family in a small village in the Middle East” (332).

Reading through the scene, it’s obvious that Peter botched his opportunity to provide comfort. There is a time to talk about the incarnation and there is a time to express empathy. Peter’s co-worker laughs off his awkward grab at a quick conversion.

Faber’s story is fascinating for a number of reasons. First, even though he’s an atheist, he manages to write about religion like an insider. He also doesn’t look to humiliate the faith or point the finger at people who believe it to be true.

Second, Faber seems to acknowledge the good within Christianity while also realizing the potential for it to be highjacked for selfish reasons. A look at Peter displays this much. How often do we follow the commands of Jesus not because we want to glorify him, but because it brings with it a hit of endorphins? (Doing good feels good, but is that our only motivation?) There’s the prosperity gospel (“Trust God and he’ll make you comfortable”) and then there’s the callous gospel (“Trust God and you don’t have a reason to be sad for more than a short period of time”). Like drugs, religion then becomes a way to escape from the real world (figuratively and literally in this book).

The Book of Strange New Things forced me, as a Christian, to consider the relationship between hopeful certainty and present pain. I know that one day God will set the world to rights, he’ll wipe away every tear. I also know that sometimes that makes me oblivious or apathetic to the pain around me. The story also considers how easy it is to view people as mere projects. I meet (and read) some people who have great theology, but ultimately lack the ability to express basic empathy to others around them. Certainty functions like a drug if we don’t handle it with care. Conversely, true love means something deeper, something more intrusive. Maybe that’s a line I’ll use again someplace. Love is intrusive. All of these ideas are rather beautifully—and with complication—explored in Faber’s book.

I’m making more of an effort to read good fiction. I haven’t always done this in the past, but I want it to happen with greater frequency now. I’m learning that great fiction (and art in general) “coats flesh to the bones of truth.”

Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures

Last week, I talked about Damien Chazelle’s new film First Man on two different podcasts. It’s a wonderful picture in nearly every way—technically, narratively, and thematically. Specifically, I was surprised at the film’s spiritual focus.

First Man isn’t simply the tale of humanity’s journey to the moon, it’s an exploration of grief and the ways we find meaning and purpose in the midst of tragedy. It’s a film that longs for transcendence in the universe, highlighting how we often go about searching for this significance through ambition and accomplishment. From a Christian perspective, First Man is a deeply satisfying and spiritual story.

For more of my thoughts on the film, check out the links below:

Hear my review of First Man on Episode 173 of Seeing and Believing.
I also chatted with Steve Norton over at Screen Fish about Chazelle’s movie.

I don’t even want to calculate how many days it’s been since I’ve last blogged—let alone blogged regularly.

If you used to follow, you might have wondered where I disappeared to. Well, let me explain. The last few years I’ve been:

Continue Reading…


Jennifer Lawrence’s appearance in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 embodies juxtaposition. While rummaging the corridors of District 13, Katniss is modestly dressed. Humble clothes divert attention rather than absorb it. Her hairstyle is simple; her face unadorned. If you didn’t know Katniss was the Mockingjay, you probably wouldn’t have guessed it. Continue Reading…


During Jurassic World’s climatic showdown, the main characters find themselves lying in a stack of the park’s merchandise. Hats, shirts, etc. The image is cleverly ironic, given that consumerism brought about the film’s primary conflict. It’s also a metaphor of our own perilous state of art consumption, and, if I am being straightforward, why Jurassic World isn’t a very good movie. Continue Reading…


Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is neither pro-war nor antiwar. It’s simply war. Groups and/or individuals who campaign to place the film in one of these categories over the other are, I believe, missing the point. In Sniper, Eastwood seems less concerned with pronouncing strict judgement than he is with telling a story that will provoke audiences on both sides to assess their prior presuppositions regarding the effects of violence and retaliation. Continue Reading…

My Ten Favorite Films of 2014

Wade —  December 29, 2014 —  Comments


I’ve seen some great films this year. Though there are still more I need to catch (Whiplash, Selma, Inherent Vice, and Birdman to name a few), I thought it would be fun to put together a list highlighting my favorites so far. I hope this will be a guide of sorts for those of you looking to expand your filmography. My top ten list includes blockbusters, independent and foreign films, dramas, a horror picture, a black and white feature, and even one movie with Tom Cruise.

Because one of my passions is examining how art and Christianity coincide, I’ve included within each description a number of themes I feel interact with that particular film’s story. This will, hopefully, help you look at these movies through a more critical, spiritually-minded lens. Continue Reading…


Much like the stereotype in an average fairy tale film, Katniss Everdeen gets a makeover in Mockingjay – Part 1. Her long, slightly frizzed hair is weaved into a trademark single braid. Makeup is applied. She wears a black combat suit in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight. Yet, in contrast with most stories involving princesses and magical outward transformations, Katniss’ new style doesn’t help her blend in with the bar set by society. The image of her glamorized figure is juxtaposed with the dirty, ruffled edges of war. She looks out of place among the wounded. Her outfit doesn’t match the rubble she walks through. Continue Reading…


It could be argued that Interstellar is a product of how far humanity has come. In his ninth feature film, Christopher Nolan stretches technology to a near breaking point, producing a visceral absorption of sight and awe-producing sound (and silence). Narratively speaking, Interstellar also presents human technology at its highest heights, it’s outermost point of human evolution. Man can go farther than they have ever gone before, reaching the ends of the galaxy, and more. Just like technological advancement isn’t what keeps its characters scratching and crawling for life, Interstellar is a humanistic film grasping for something more. It pushes us to look to the stars. And when we do, we’ll find something bigger than ourselves.