I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because the world is in desperate need of originality.*
i have been thinking about gifts lately, and about what are things i actually like to give and to receive–presents that value us as people. and i have to say the first thing that came to my mind were books.
books, books, beautiful books. i am a reader first and foremost; a teacher and a writer second. books are my bread and butter. when we sold almost everything we had and moved to the MidWest, we took clothes and artwork and mostly books. they are important.
i love to give books to other people, and i love to receive them as well. hanging out with people all day who were denied the pleasures of them their entire lives gives one a unique perspective on reading for pleasure. it’s a privilege, one we need to acknowledge, and a gift that is fruitful to cultivate.
all this to say, i wanted to tell you guys my favorite books that i read this year. this was a difficult, joyous year, and as per usual, i read a lot of books. not so much fiction this year; a bit more about the charismatic stuff and food/lifestyle books. here are the ones i couldn’t get out of my head. instead of buying crap that no one needs, let’s all buy books for each other this year! we can scrounge for them at thrift stores, give one to our favorite missionaries or teachers or friends or sisters (or, even buy one for yourself). i have not linked to any websites, but i encourage you to buy local (or use indiebound). anyways, here they are in no particular order:
the life you save may be your own
by paul elie
This is one that will take me a while to get through. Paul Elie weaves together the extensive biographies of notable Catholics: Flannery O’Conner, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day (my hero!), and Walker Percy. It is described as a pilgrimage following people who “made literature out of their search for God”. Excellent stuff, here.
miracle work: a down-to-earth guide for supernatural ministries
by jordan seng
Just keeping it real, people. I read books on miracles, because I am intensely interested in them and our world is in great need of them. This book was nice and pragmatic, and while I don’t agree with all of it, it made me question some of my own malaise and unbelief. I also will never be able to pray for people in the same way (Seng models his own prayer style after Jesus, who basically just spoke the truth about God’s desire for the world into people. None of this hemming and hawing).
jesus feminist: an invitation to revisit the bible’s view of women
by sarah bessey
Bessey is a friend of mine, and I love how she takes a topic that is battered about left and right and asks us to sit quietly with it a moment. When she writes that “patriarchy is not God’s dream for the world”, something inside me stirs up. You will relate to her, you will thrill to her message, you will be surprised at she refuses to to be controversial.
when we were on fire: a memoir of consuming faith, tangled love, and starting over
by addie zierman
Addie is also a friend, and this book is unstoppable (named one of publisher weeklies best 5 religious books of the year!). In almost every chapter, I recognized myself in the pages categorizing the weird, parallel world of Christian culture in the 90s and early 2000s. She is a ferocious talent with a keen eye for the sorrow that undergirds all of our desires to be loved by God and by our peers.
speaking of jesus: the art of non-evangelism
by carl medearis
This book lifted a weight off of my shoulders. There is no other way to put it. Medearis spells out the ickiness behind our desires for conversion to Christianity, and instead asks the reader to trust that Jesus himself is worth following. I laid down my idol of Western Christianity a long time ago, but I still felt compelled to save people personally. I am still working through the implications of actually believing the power of the Bible and the Spirit, but it is pretty life-changing stuff.
by leanne shapton
Shapton is one of my favorite designers of book covers, which led me to read her own strange little “memoir”. It is a beautiful, non-traditional look at her years of almost-professional swimming. There is no way to explain the book, but it thrilled me in how it broke out of so many boxes. There is not a boring page in this book, and I am not even remotely interested in swimming.
this is running for your life
essays by michelle orange
Orange is a new discovery to me this year. She writes complicated, smart, funny essays on a variety of subjects. If you don’t want to buy the book, just google one of her essays. You will be hooked (especially on the one about Ethan Hawke’s face).
by joan didion
I read this book on an airplane as I flew away from my daughter. I do not recommend this. Didion writes an almost excruciating book on the death of her daughter, her friends, and her own impending old age and ill health. It is beautiful writing, but not easy reading. There is one passage in particular which made me so aware of how privilege does not protect one from harm; Didion herself is a testimony to this.
high rise stories: voices from chicago public housing
compiled and edited by audrey petty
True confessions: I have only read a bit of this one. I am saving it for when I complete my manuscript, which hopefully should be done soon (because I want to finish this book!). The Voice of the Witness series out of McSweeney’s is one of my all-time favorite non-profits, publishing works of narrative that will crush your heart and make you sit up straighter. This one is dear to my heart as it focuses on densely populated low-income high rises in the urban MidWest. By letting the residents speak for themselves, we learn so much.
rooms in the house of stone
by michael dorris
This was one of those happy accidents, a library book plucked off the shelf for no reason. A few days later and I am in a coffee shop, bawling my eyes out at the grace and severity in the short essays Dorris wrote during the great famine in Zimbabwe. This book will make you stop your life for a few hours and consider what the opposite could be. It is intensely powerful writing, coming from a very complicated man. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
by juliet linderman (essays) and gabriele stabile (photographers)
I got this for my husband’s birthday, but I really wanted it for myself. This is another Voice of the Witness book which details the lives of refugees when they first arrive in America. It is gorgeous and a visual way to engage with the realities that our refugee brothers and sisters face when they come to America.
where’d you go, bernadette
by maria semple
Hands down my favorite fiction book of the year (but honestly, I didn’t read very much this year). So funny and witty and charming and fast-paced and very very poignant. I would recommend this to anyone. Anyone! (Read my longer review here).
north and south
by elizabeth gaskell
This is one of those I-Have-Read-Jane-Austen-A-Thousand-Times-And-I-Need-Something-More books. I liked it pretty well. Some of the themes surrounding commerce and wealth inequality and factory conditions were fascinating to me. But in the end, it is a period romance. You have been forewarned.
the complete stories
by flannery o conner
All the hype is true. All hail Flannery, the lover of grotesque darlings, the one who sees beauty in all of the tragedy. This is perfect reading when your life is both very beautiful and very very hard.
the fault in our stars
by john green
My foray into YA fiction for the year (although I did re-read books 6 and 7 of Harry Potter as well–never gets old!) and I did like it. It was very cathartic. It was fun. It was exceptionally sad. It made me have hope for some teenagers. If you hate it when people die in books, then don’t read this one.
depletion and abundance: life on the new home front
by sharon astyk
I don’t believe a book has impacted me like this in a long time. Astyk has gotten me to reconsider nearly every facet of my life that I felt like I couldn’t change: energy consumption, food choices, buying local, making do. And she made me reconsider it because this lady loves her life, and she loves the lives of her poor brothers and sisters. I believe in peak oil, I believe a day is coming where everyone will be forced to change their habits. But I believe our lives can be free from the bondage of materialism, and they we can be more joyous for it too–and that this is a freedom offered to everyone, regardless of status or money. I am doing a terrible job of describing it. Just read it, ok?
how to cook a wolf
by m.m.k. fischer
Fischer is one hell of a lady. Cooking food in war time, man. This book is radical and easy to read and somehow very, very encouraging. I couldn’t help but think about the solidarity Fischer would have had with the millions of people the world over who struggle with filling their bellies with food every night. It will make you think, and you won’t ever throw out your scraps again.
an everlasting meal: cooking with economy and grace
by tamar adler
Adler is a bit like the kinfolk’d-up version of Fischer. But this girl can write about food, and inspired me to cook beans at least once a week (the way she writes about them makes them seem precious and beautiful and luxurious). I am not much of a cook, but I was changed by the way Adler described how good it is to eat well for not much money at all. So many books on food reek of privilege, but this one did not. It was accessible, in all the right ways.
the husband’s picks
(Note: he is a much slower and much more thoughtful reader than I am. Mostly he reads psychology books, but he picked out two for this here blog).
disunity in christ: uncovering the hidden forces that keep us apart
by christina cleveland
I am going to read this when the husband is done, but he can’t stop talking about this one. Christina’s blog is so smart and so well written, I can’t wait for myriads of people to hear her clear voice on reconciliation.
by n.t. wright
I am sort of in a I-Have-Read-Enough-Theology-Books-By-White-Dudes-To-Last-Me-Awhile phase, but my husband assures me this is an excellent book. He especially liked the chapters on what the ascension and resurrection actually mean. I head him talk about Jesus at a conference recently and had mad respect for his message. For the theology nerd in your life, it seems like you can’t go wrong with N.T. these days.
So, that’s it. I read a lot more, but these are the cream of the crop.
I would love to hear what your favorite books of the last year. Share, please!
*this post is sponsored by Grammerly, if you couldn’t tell (which is excellent for ESL teachers, BTW). all the books and opinions and content are my own, thank you very much.