I’ve always been a bookworm. Some seasons of life have made this habit easier, some not so much. But reading is important and life-giving for me, so I make time for it. Fortunately, this year I had more time than expected, which means I got through my list and far beyond. In total, I read 51 books this year. One highlight to 2020, no?
I read widely, across genres, worldviews, and topics. I do not agree with everything I read, and I am intentional about interacting with different perspectives, as you’ll notice. Without further ado, I thought I would share ten of the best reads from this past year.
1. With. Most formative book of the year, and most spiritual forming of my life. Author Skye Jethani outlines the ways we live our lives under, over, from, and for God, rather than according to the design of Eden, which was life with God. In the process of reading this book, I gratefully evaluated many foundational mistruths I’d held for a long time when it came to my relationship with God, and, from the core, reformed my fellowship with him. Ben and I have both led others through this book this year for discipleship.
2. The Remarkable Ordinary. Frederick Buechner was a treasured discovery for me this year. I listened to this book last Febuary, while we were in major life limbo before returning to South Africa. The timing was perfect, as I needed that reminder to stop, look, and listen. He writes whimsically, sharing life stories, and encourages us to see the hand of God in the ordinary events of life.
3. Between the World and Me. If you’re interested in truly trying to understand, to get inside the world of an American man of color, this is a great read. It was not comfortable, nor did I agree with all of it, but that’s not the point. I wanted to better understand, and Ta-Nehisi Coates helped me. I’m so grateful for that.
4. The Lord of the Rings series. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but it had been at least 15 (?) years since reading these, and I was eager to reread. They were the perfect companion in April when we were in the midst of our strictest lockdown. Tolkien’s writing requires attentiveness and his storytelling is brilliant. I cried at the end, naturally. This series forces you to read carefully, as the writing is old and intricate, unlike so much fiction today. But I also reread the Harry Potter series in May for my light fiction flicks, so, you know, balance. 😉
5. Subversive Sabbath. One of our family goals this year was to implement more of a Sabbath routine (more on that sometime soon). A.J. Swoboda, in ministry himself, powerfully reminds us, “Sabbath is an action of great purpose, one that demands feisty intentionality. It requires us to live in a rhythm that squarely opposes the dangerous pulse and the habits of our world.” Sign me up for this resistance movement. Observing Sabbath has been life-giving for our family this year, and honestly, I can’t believe we have gone so long ignoring God’s beautiful design for rest. I’ve read three books on Sabbath this year; start with this one.
6. Simplicity Parenting. While we come out very different worldviews, Kim John Payne and I see eye-to-eye on many parenting points, which is maybe why I liked this book so much. 😉 His gentle writing style and counseling experience help tremendously as he points out that many children today are completely overstimulated. He encourages parents to simplify their children’s schedules, belongings, and commitments, and rather choose to intentionally be together as families, to allow a child’s boredom to blossom into creativity, to create routines that support priorities (ahem, Sabbath. See how these books fit together?). He points us back to connection, relationship, love: “When your child seems to deserve affection least, that’s when they need it most.”
7. Digital Minimalism. If you’ve read my blog much at all, you will know that two of my favorite topics are minimalism and wise technology use. So naturally, when I saw Cal Newport’s book on both of these topics, the stars aligned and I added it to my library holds list eagerly. It did not disappoint – it’s one of my top books of the year. Newport proposes that we need: “a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else.” Yes and yes. He will help you to do just that, as he writes with conviction, interesting anecdotes, stories, and practical helps.
8. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This Barbara Kingsolver book was a reread, and it’s so fun. As a family, the Kingsolvers vow that they will only eat what they can grow themselves or source locally for an entire year. It’s written in memoir style, sprinkled with informative essays on the state of food in the US, recipes, and detailed, laugh-out-loud insights on turkey sex, if you ever need a resource for that. Our family deeply values eating locally, humane treatment of animals, and healthy cooking, and this read prompted us to think anew about making better consumer choices with regard to food.
9. Rising Strong. Ah, love me some classic Brené Brown. If her other writings are about being willing to show up and step into the arena, this one is about how to get back up after falling on your face. She addresses failure, self-righteousness, and the question that haunted me for weeks, “are people doing their best?” And of course, shame and vulnerability. It’s made me pause and think about conflict in my marriage, how I parent my children, and how I respond in other relationships. Brené reminds us, “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens” and encourages us to slow down, be aware, and let growth happen in those messy middles of life.
10. 31 Days to Great Sex. Full disclosure: Ben and I did not read this book in 31 days. In fact, we’ve stretched it the whole year. Recently in the Intentional podcast, Phil Comer points out that never in his years of pastoring and counseling has he come across a couple with marriage issues whose sex life is healthy and thriving. We have been thankfully reminded that this is a worthy pursuit in our marriage, and a fun one: “Sex is the physical acting out of… marriage. We become vulnerable with one another. We become naked with one another completely–and that means real intimacy, not just physical intimacy. We cherish each other. We protect each other. But we also have a ton of fun with each other!” Ben and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we are committed to continually investing in each other, and in our marriage, because it’s such a gift!
Bonus: Tartine. If one book got an award for most time spent in it, this would be it. We bought this gorgeous cookbook in February, and every week since then, I have spent hours learning the art of sourdough bread baking. We have a couple of children who are gluten-sensitive, so I’m highly committed; so much so that I may have snuck my sourdough starter through international airports in a pocket in one of our large suitcases (it made it, raise praise hands). Chad Robertson chronicles his engaging story to find the perfect loaf of bread, and proceeds to give the most detailed instructions to enable you to create your own (beautiful pictures included). *Fun fact: when Ben and I were in San Francisco in 2019, we stumbled into the Tartine café without realizing it was THE Tartine café. I may have geeked out just a bit.* To tie it all together, this year has been one of learning Sabbath routines; of minimizing digital input; of seeking connection and meaningful relationships; of the pursuit of quality leisure; and of the development of artisan craft. For Ben, this looks like woodworking (and I couldn’t be more excited about that). For me, it has taken me nearly ten months to perfect my sourdough loaves for my family, and the process has been a complete joy.
Well, that’s a wrap. Hopefully you’ve been motivated to read a bit more this next year, to read something new. I’d love to hear what you’ve read recently!