Once again, of the 50 books I read this year, it seems I enjoyed memoirs more than ever. I continue to be drawn to real lives and stories I can learn from. I’m also reminded that our favorite books often reflect the context and timing in which they are read. While I was very low on fiction this year, I did stress-pound Jane Austen and Lucy Maud Montgomery to add some simplicity and lightheartedness to a year of wrestling with deep poverty, gang violence, systemic racism, and other forms of human brokenness. We all need our guilty pleasures! What were your favorites of the year and what were your guilty pleasure books?
In no particular order:
Christena Cleveland, Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart
A timely, wise, and essential voice for a divided church interested in the deep reconciliation found at the cross. As a social psychologist, Christena provides an analysis of the specific factors that naturally draw us toward those who are just like us and divide us from anyone different. She then explores ways understanding these dynamics and looking first at our “common identity as members of the body of Christ” can begin to tear down walls that keep us from “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).
Marilyn Gardner, Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging
There are so many reasons to love this book; understanding more of my own TCK (Third Culture Kid) husband’s formative experiences is the main one for me. Sorting through memories of constant good-byes, lacking a simple answer to questions of “where are you from?” and navigating two cultures to understand the complex joy, grief, and sense of identity when your home country is not your passport country. As I was reading, “Sometimes smells and sounds suddenly transport us to a place and time that represent home,” I was riding in a van next to Tim on a road his family frequented while living in Guatemala. We were surrounded by the distinct smell of wood-burning stoves emanating from tiny homes throughout the countryside.
I spend my days working for an organization present in one of the most dangerous communities in Central America – a place of violence, abuse, rape, marginalization, and gang culture. You can imagine why a book like this provides an incredible perspective, applicable research, pertinent case studies, and a deeper understanding of the realities of injustice in places like La Limonada. “We have come to see with some urgency that criminal justice systems are indispensable for the poor, and we know from history that it’s possible to build them. But we also know that building them is difficult, costly, dangerous, and unlikely. What we need, therefore, are bold projects of hope: projects of transformation that bring real change, that teach us, and that inspire hope – because the vulnerable poor need all three.” For a thorough review, my husband said it best here.
Chester P. Michael, Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types
Since I became a certified Myers-Briggs practitioner this year, I have consumed large quantities on theories of personality and temperament. This book researches how those theories relate to historical forms of prayer (Ignatian, Franciscan, Thomistic, and Augustinian) to improve our personal prayer life by discovering the form that comes most naturally to us during times of stress as well as forms opposite to our natural preference for opportunities of greatest spiritual growth. I found this to be extremely helpful and fascinating as I think about my personal prayer life and as I provide Myers-Briggs coaching to indviduals and groups.
Hannah More is the kind of historical hero and example that girls like me need to know – particularly because of her character, deep convictions, and drive to do the right thing with the skills, passion, and work at her fingertips. Motivated from her deep Anglican faith, she helped move public opinion toward abolition, advocated for the poor, and impacted the wider culture with works of art, poetry, plays, pamphlets, and devotionals.
Jim took his family on a pilgrimage for a year through England, France, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. They explored the places and people who have gone before us, those who have demonstrated deep faith when it wasn’t the easy path to take. Though it reads like winsome travel writing, Jim shares their discovery of what these historical figures believed, what grounded those beliefs, and how those belief is worth dying for. For a better review, my husband captured it best here.
Kelli Gotthardt, Unlikely Rebel: A Church Girl’s Journey Out of Shoulds and Shame
This book is an exhortation to not settle for mediocrity in your faith and relationship with God. To not be content with a life of activity for Jesus at the expense of intimacy with him. Throughout the book, Kelli transparently describes the struggle between her reality as the nice girl and the deep desire for something more. Her courage to say no to the demands of church, ministry, and expectations of others revealed her desire to rebel against an often lukewarm culture to face her woundedness head on, find healing in the love of her Redeemer, and experience the abundance and fullness that the promises of Scripture point to.
I picked this up after reading Sarah Quezada’s recommendation and interview with the author. With my deep interest in understanding culture stress, expat living, and cross-cultural experiences, combined with an appreciation for a good love story, I, like Sarah, could not put it down. I was also drawn to the description of Japanese culture and life in Osaka, where a very good friend of mine lives and has long invited me to visit.
I picked up this book because I take the recommendations of Eileen O’Gorman very seriously. With a true pastor’s heart, Sauls is deeply interested in tackling the most polarizing, divisive issues of culture and theology head on for the sake of the health and apologetic of the body of Christ. He is interested in uncompromising unity and wants Christians to be known best for loving well – especially when we disagree. His nuanced and gentle approach allows us to hold on to the truth of the Gospel without compromise while practicing Christ-like wisdom, compassion, humility, and love.
Hanna Zack Miley, A Garland For Ashes
Written by a lovely lady in our church, this book is about her personal story as a Jewish refugee from Germany to England. And her later return to her childhood home through discovery, grief, forgiveness, and ultimately a ministry of reconciliation. A compelling testimony, but written in an deeply engaging way that makes you want to sit down and have a cup of tea with her after you read it.