Books To Read, TV To Watch, and Podcasts and Music To Hear

Every now and then, I like to know what my friends are reading, watching, and listening to. I asked Ted, Barnabas, Zach, Jacob, Ricky, and myself (like Trump, I consult with myself quite often) for recommendations.

Here’s what they said:


Books: Nothing to recommend

Shows or Movies:

Chef’s Table on Netflix – One of the most gorgeously shot things I’ve ever seen and the music is just as gorgeous. They’re about chefs but really fundamentally about creativity and the struggle to make something great and be understood. [HT: Jenn Alcantar]

Eat the World With Emeril Lagasse – I’ll confess I’ve never liked or “gotten” Emeril but this made me love him. Watch the episode where he goes to Spain, hangs out with the best host ever, and cries in the presence of another food genius. [HT: Jenn Alcantar]


The Brain Food Playlist on Spotify –This is my new concentration jam. Low-key electronic that doesn’t get in the way but keeps your brain moving.

Halt and Catch Fire Soundtrack (Paul Haslinger) – Just the right amount mix of 80s synth to modern sensibility.

Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – Live in Cuba – If you think jazz is too cold and weird to listen to then you need this record. It’s swinging, swaying stuff, alternately serious and sweet, only made more beautiful by the setting [HT: Jon Vogan]


Planet Money, 4 part series on oil – I confess that when I hear the news bring up “the price of oil” I nod as if I’m a powerful man of business staring at my newspapers at the financial page through a monocle and know what they’re talking about. But I have no idea. That’s why this series on Planet Money helped. They actually went out and bought oil and sold it (losing a ton of money in the process), giving you the basics of how oil shapes so much of the world around us.

“The Invisible Hand” from Grace Church (Craig Cabaniss) – I’ve absolutely loved hearing Craig preach through the often-misunderstood story of Esther. He doesn’t gloss over uncomfortable details of the text but shows how the story points to God’s invisible hand. The tragic shooting in Dallas happened during the series and Craig’s next two messages had important things to say about justice (Grace Church is in Frisco, just north of Dallas).

Sampler Introduced me to the Show About Science – This 5-year-old named Nate can’t read or write but interviews real scientists in the most adorable way possible. If you have kids around that age you need this.


Books: I’m currently reading With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, but nothing else, because I’m writing a book and I don’t have time to read (even though I somehow have time to watch all the stuff below? Hmm… something may be wrong with that claim).

Television or Movies: I’m currently rewatching Justified.  Just caught up with Mr. Robot, a nineties-tastic Fight Club knock-off that I almost quit on a few times because of gratuitous trash content, but said trash is broadcast well enough to easily skip. I love Suits, even though it’s a soap opera. Eagerly awaiting the re-start Brooklyn Nine-Nine and (super-guilty pleasure) New Girl (which I, um, watch to keep my wife happy. Yeah.)

Music: I’m listening to I Am They, like, on eternal repeat. And Andy Mineo because my 8-year-old demands it.



We just had our third baby, so reading is a bit low lately. I’ve been really enjoying the sermons of Thomas Boston to keep my soul alive to Jesus. I’ve also been really enjoying plugging away at James Bannerman’s The Church of Christ. A deep, rich understanding of the church seems very lacking these days, especially amidst the church planting literature I read a lot of. Besides these, I just finished my thirteenth or fourteenth reading of the Harry Potter series and am presently reading through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for the second time. I’m also regularly reading Lord of the Rings. I find it deeply comforting to live inside books that are familiar amidst the chaos of life – children and church planting are chaos, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are stabilizing.

Television or Movies:

Along with reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, my wife and I are watching the miniseries on Netflix. A lot of fun and cuts through to the heart of the book. Like most of the watching world, my life has been drastically improved by the existence and splendor of Stranger Things. I’m sure people come up with spiritual reasons for watching it, but for me, it’s like Stephen Spielberg, Stephen King, and M83 had a love child together. I’ve also been watching through the Avenger’s movies lately. I’ve wondered if it wouldn’t be a cool remix to have all of Jeff Bridges’s dialogue in Iron Man replaced with The Dude’s dialogue. Just a thought.


I’ve been totally digging Sandra McCracken’s latest album, God’s Highway. It’s basically been on regular repeat alongside her previous, and equally moving album, Psalms. Otherwise, my jams have been The Naked and Famous, Mr. Little Jeans, Strange Talk, CHVRCHES, The Avalanches and Daft Punk when we listen to “daddy’s music” in the car.


I’ve really enjoyed Reply All and Surprisingly Awesome. I’m a fan of the content coming out of Gimlet Media. I also really enjoy Dan Carlin’s Common Sense and Hardcore History. I’ve been a longtime listener of Marc Maron’s WTF, and will listen to the latest episodes of This American Life. I don’t really listen to many Christian podcasts, and selectively listen to 5 Leadership Questions and Thom Rainer on Leadership (sorry Stephen and Barnabas!). Of all of these, I would highly recommend Reply All (because it’s fun internet stuff) and Marc Maron (because people are interesting, and Marc’s a brilliant interviewer of very interesting people).



Both Flesh and Not – Essays, By David Foster Wallace

Shows or Movies: 

Foyle’s War – A BBC show, each episode is like 90 minutes long and there are a bunch of them. Super slow but pleasant. No action, and I love that. All characters and dialogue.

Parts Unknown – Anthony Bourdain travels, eats, drinks like a fish and gets political. Super entertaining.

Jane Got a Gun – A really cool Western (Joel Edgerton, Natalie Portman, Noah Emmerich) with a really crappy title.


LOLO: In Loving Memory of When I Gave a Shit – She’s from my town and is breaking right now…husky vocals, bluesy, and lots of piano.


Move the Sticks, with Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks – A weekly NFL podcast by two former NFL scouts. Incidentally, Jeremiah is the son of Dr. David Jeremiah (all parts of which you have to say, when referencing him)

Esquire Classics – Awesomely pretentious people talking about pretentious creative nonfiction that ran in Esquire.

Song Exploder – Talking to artists about the origins of their songs.



Designed to Lead by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck – A rare combination of pastoral theology and praxis/strategy written by two pastors who actually walk it out. Contrary to popular reformed belief, theology/gospel and strategy are not incompatible.

Wooden: A Coach’s Life by Seth Davis – A really readable, enjoyable account of Wooden’s life. As  the best basketball coach in college basketball history and one of the most respected leaders, it is fascinating to see behind the scenes of his life and what he was really like. Typical of insanely productive people, he had some significant warts to his personality.

The Green Ember by S.D. Smith – An exceptionally fun tale in the spirit of Narnia or Brian Jaques’ books replete with talking, fighting animals vying to free a kingdom from evil. I loved it and my 10-year-old daughter did too, so you know it’s a good story.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara – A fascinating telling of the battle of Gettysburg. It is a novel, but intensely researched and carefully told do as to give a clear view of the battle as well as the thoughts and motivations of key generals and officer. Civil War or American History buffs would definitely enjoy this.

Shows or Movies:

The Get Down – Baz Luhrmann’s directorial style is not one everyone loves, but is perfect for this show. He tells a story of how hip-hop was born in the Bronx and does so with typical frenetic, poetic dialogue and a whole lot of music. Intensely creative, kind of weird, and really fun.

Narcos – “Gritty” is Christianese for controversially violent and profane. So this show is gritty, but it has to be in order to tell the story of how American DEA agents worked with the Colombian government to bring down Pablo Escobar. It has no heroes because the war on drugs has no place for them. One of the best features is that it is largely in Spanish and subtitled, giving a greater sense of place, culture, and authenticity.

Bosch – If you like police procedurals, this is one of the best. Titus Welliver is the perfect actor to play Harry Bosch (the key character in so many Michael Connely novels). Bosch is a successful Los Angeles detective who butts heads with the suits and gets the job done. It sounds cliche, but the way it is paced, written, and acted takes the cliche out of it.


Jason Isbell – I was introduced recently to him and really appreciate the gift of wordsmithing he has in song. His sound is country, with a touch of blues trending toward folk rock. He is one of the best songwriters I’ve heard recently

The Lone Bellow – They’ve been a favorite since I first heard them 4 or five years ago. They are as good in concert as on recording and just have a unique, powerful, soulful sound.

Oscar Peterson – Simply my favorite jazz musician, bar none. He was a master.


Revisionist History – Malcolm Gladwell does Gladwellian things in telling stories.

99% Invisible – Roman Mars hosts this short, creative podcast that tells the story of the pieces of life (history, archaeology, design) that we never otherwise notice.

The Lowe Post – Zach Lowe is the best NBA writer out there and his podcast blends basketball nerdy with journalism and fandom exceptionally well.

The Ringer NFL Show – Kind of like Lowe’s podcast, except hosted by Robert Mays of The Ringer. Awesome for football fans who like a deeper dive into the game.

Song Exploder – I don’t write songs, but I am fascinated by how creative people do creative things. This podcast is simply artists deconstructing their own songs to show how they are put together piece by piece from inspiration to final product.



Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by James Andrew Miller – A really interesting behind the scenes of the creation and history of SNL. Especially interesting if you’re a comedy nerd like me.

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley – A fun novel centering around a mysterious plane crash and the way the media tries to shape both the story and the players.

The Drop by Dennis Lehane – This is a typical Lehane book: gritty, set in Boston, lots of violence, and lots of profanity. But it was a good story about a guy trying for redemption.

Shows or Movies:

F.R.I.E.N.D.S – Jen and I are watching through this classic for the first time.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi – An absolutely beautiful documentary about a man who has dedicated his life to creating the perfect sushi dish. It sounds boring but it is really, really good. I really enjoyed it.

The Office – Second time through. The best sitcom of all time. Hands down. Bar none. Get out of here if you disagree.

The Great British Baking Show – This is the most peaceful, enjoyable reality television show I’ve ever seen. It’s official: I’m moving to Britain. And becoming a baker.


Coloring Book by Chance The Rapper – This is a fantastic hip-hop album. As you would expect, it’s got plenty of profanity. But man…it is good. And yes, I realize I’m a white, close to middle-aged, middle-class guy. I embrace the cliche.

Hamilton the Musical: Holy. Crap. This album has been on repeat in our house for the past 4 months. Some of the most incredible songwriting ever. An astonishing mix of hip-hop and American history.


I listen to wayyyyy to many podcasts. In addition to the ones already listed, I like:

Snap Judgement – Similar to This American Life

You Made It Weird – Pete Homes is a comedian who interviews other comedians. Every episode is way too long, but I listen in snippets. Plenty of profanity and plenty of laughs.

The Bill Simmons Podcast – BS is my favorite sports guy bar none. Hands Down. Another cliche.

Pop Culture Happy Hour – A fun podcast in which NPR writers talk about culture they’ve been enjoying.

I listen to everything by Gimlet Media, and just about everything from The Ringer.

Stephen Altrogge

I'm a husband, dad, writer, & Mixed Martial Arts Salsa Dancing Champion. I created The Blazing Center. I've also written some books which people seem to like.