Books and reading continued to be a major priority in the Hoiland casa throughout 2017. Tim and I spent a ridiculous amount of time discussing what we wanted to read, what we were currently reading, what we’d read in the past, what we planned to read on vacation or on a retreat day, what bookstores we’ve visited, what bookstores we hoped to visit, what bookstores we should return to soon, what bookstores are the best… you get the idea.
This year, of the 50 books I read, I attempted to narrow my favorites to a list of ten, as has been my practice over the last five years. This year was especially tough, because I loved so many of them. I read four fiction books taking place in Guatemala. I discovered Luci Shaw, the great metaphorist and poet, and read three of her incredible books. At the advice of Leroy Barber in response to the sad events this year – “Read books written by blacks and discuss them” – I read four incredible books written by African-Americans. I also read two wonderful books written by friends, and both are worth recommending.
Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson, The Justice Calling
Working for various justice-seeking organizations since 2004, I have wrestled through the theological implications and resources for pursuing justice in a God-honoring and sustainable way. This book is basically Justice 101 for every Christian: the why, the what, and the how to pursue justice for the long haul. I wish it had been in my hands in 2004 when I was beginning the journey into this crucial aspect of God’s character. Read Tim’s wonderful review here.
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
This is one of the most inspiring and heartbreaking books. I’m so grateful there is such a passionate champion about this specific area of injustice in our country, who is as capable of articulating the stories of the people behind wrongful convictions as he is defending them. May we all be inspired to stand with justice champions like Stevenson in all areas of injustice that threaten the vulnerable. In his words, “Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”
James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love
We might not love what we think we love. Our lives are formed by what we love and desire. Our loves are formed by our daily liturgies. Our liturgies are formed by intentional habits or by the influence of the broader culture. Smith describes, defends, and defines the transformative possibilities of the ways we can be intentional about the practices that shape our Christian life. I grew up learning Christians should “trust what you know, not what you feel.” While we can’t rely on emotions exclusively, God does promise to work in and through our desires to fully engage us as embodied creatures. Smith says, “To recognize the limits of knowledge is not to embrace ignorance. We don’t need less than knowledge, we need more.” And I would add, we don’t need to suppress emotions as suspect, we need them to be formed and transformed by our daily liturgies so they can be more. So they can lead us to fully experience the joy of Christ-likeness. Read Tim’s beautiful review here.
Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary
This book is an excellent window into the richness of the liturgical Anglican tradition Tim and I joined three-plus years ago. Walking us through the ordinary elements of her day, Tish offers practical ways to be mindful about the habits that form us and the everyday ways to practice the presence of God. As she put it, “The new life into which we are baptized is lived out in days, hours, and minutes. God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.”
Anthony Doerr, All The Light We Cannot See
I don’t think I have to say much about this one. It has hit enough best-seller and must-read lists to convince anyone it is a novel of epic proportions. It lives up to the hype and no summary can do it justice. I made the bold claim to Tim that this novel is to WWII what Les Miserables was to the Paris Uprising of 1832 – both weave an intricate tale of humanity that proves “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,” as Solzhenitsyn said. Following the story arcs of a young German radio expert and a blind girl from Paris, Doerr takes you a on a journey back and forth in time to wrestle with the complexities of being human during a very pivotal time in history.
Hannah Anderson, Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image
Most books written by women for women tend to make me want to puke, as they often elevate a specific personality as the epitome of what it means to be a godly woman. This book is essentially different in providing helpful principles to apply as image-bearers to our various contexts, roles, categories, and personalities so we can fully engage in the depths of our identity in Christ. As Hannah wrote about the purpose of the book, “It is a call to wrestle with what it means to be made in His image and to believe that you are made for more than what you often settle for.”
Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
Following the family history of two half sisters from West Africa – one who is sold into slavery and taken to the United States and one who marries a British officer working at the Cape Coast castle – each chapter of this great novel shows how each descendent faces the struggle and historical context they find themselves in. While the slave trade denied many the opportunity to know their family history, pass down stories, traditions, culture, and heirlooms, this book invites us into one story where we can see what was lost and what remains. It invites you into historical events, powerful imagery, deeper empathy, and a better understanding of the African-American experience. This is crucial reading for all of us.
Thanhha Lai, Inside Out & Back Again
This may be one of the most unique and beautiful children’s book I’ve read. Written by a Vietnamese refugee, Lai shares a tale of one family’s experience fearing war, fleeing Saigon as it fell, being resettled in the United States, and struggling to adapt quickly. Anyone who has ever considered working with refugees should read this book to quickly immerse yourself in what it feels like to be unsafe, to transition, and to be plopped into a different culture and language as a child. Told in verse from the point of view of a 10-year-old girl, it is beautiful and engaging storytelling.
Luci Shaw, Water My Soul
This was the first of three Luci Shaw books I read this year. I had not picked her poetry or prose up before and felt a kindred spirit connection to her immediately. Of course, a few google searches led me to this article in which she describes her personality – so she is indeed very similar to me as an INFJ. And as any good “NF,” we love our metaphors. This book engages the metaphors of gardening and wilderness to reflect on spiritual formation because “there is so much to observe and apply about growth and life from the kind of growth and life created by God in the first garden.”
Katelyn Beaty, A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World
This is a book that needed to be written. It represents a conversation that needs to happen in every church and family. While this book could be used to support a wide array of conclusions on the practical implications of what it means to be a Christian woman in this time of navigating “leaning in” and the mommy wars, I think Beaty strives for a nuanced understanding of work, calling, and vocation for women.
What were your favorites of the year? I LOVE recommendations, so send ‘em my way.