By Norris Burkes Sept 3,2023

If I ever come to your house, I’ll likely take a sideways glance at your bookshelves.

I don’t mean to be judgmental, just curious about what kind of books you read.

For instance, do you like the formulaic writings of Sue Grafton or are you up for the challenge of Fredrik Backman. Do you like romance or adventure? I go more for intrigue. Romance books send my eyes into barrel rolls. 

Today, I offer you a look at my shelves in this annual column of the books I’ve read. As you’ll see, I don’t read a lot of religious books. So please, no judgment.

However, I do want to comment on one book from the religion section. Last June I mentioned reading Peter Enns’s book, “The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More than Our ‘Correct’ Beliefs.”

Enns demonstrates that the Bible contains 150 Psalms that are basically of three types: 1. Everything is fine. 2. Nothing is fine, but I still love you, God.

Enns focuses on the third type, which he paraphrases as, “Things are terribly wrong, I am at the end of my rope, and to make things worse, Oh Lord, you’re nowhere to be found” (Psalm 88).

In a very relatable way, Enns makes it OK to doubt God and still be a faith survivor. The book’s pressing point says, “Real faith requires trusting God rather than having correct views about God.”

I used the book to launch a sermon in my new church this summer proclaiming that our church would remain “A Safe Place to Explore Faith.”

A long way from piety books, one I made myself read was “Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever.” The author, John McWhorter, is an associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University. His specialty is creole languages, sociolects and Black English.

McWhorter’s background should help you understand why this writer/chaplain wanted to read the book. As you might suspect, I’m sometimes intimidated by cuss words. I’m not offended, mind you. With 28 years in the military, I’m not prudish. 

McWhorter helped me unpack the power they sometimes have over me by tracing each word to their original use and meaning. He suggests that the words may just be “nine nasty ways of being human.”

But my new favorite author spends a lot of time on the NY Times Bestseller list.

My wife, Becky, said it’s been years since she watched me consume a book the way I did David Grann’s most recent title, “The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder.”

It’s the story of a British vessel that left England in 1740 on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain.

The Amazon description speaks without exaggeration, saying, “It’s a page-turning story of shipwreck, survival, and savagery, culminating in a court martial that reveals a shocking truth.” Time Magazine was spot on, calling it “Riveting…Reads like a thriller.”

I also read Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.” The book and upcoming movie portray the brutal murders of an Osage family to gain control of their oil-rich Oklahoma land.

Finally, I hope you’ll read “The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story,” by Douglas Presto. The book depicts the search for a lost Honduran city containing a pyramid with a giant monkey-god statue.

It’s “required reading” if you want to join me on our next volunteer trip to help Chispa Project establish more libraries in Honduran elementary schools.

Now, if you must read romance novels, please check out Davaylnn Spencer’s books. She has edited this column for 15 years and is obviously a great judge of award-wining writing.

But if you’re interested in a light, sometimes tearful story, read one of my books. They are compilations of the columns I’ve written since 2001. Find them on my website at or drop me an email and I’ll send you the details.

When you write, please share your latest reads. I promise I won’t judge you for your choices.


If you would like to receive a weekly email version of this column, contact me at or voicemail 843-608-9715 or sign up on my website at My books can be ordered on my website at, or by sending $18 to 10566 Combie Road, Suite 6643, Auburn, CA 95602.