Reading has been a central part of my life since my mom prioritized library outings for us as kids. It’s been part of Tim’s life since he entered his twenties. And it’s been part our relationship since our first conversation. I pretty much fell for Tim after seeing his bookshelf and he pretty much fell for me after seeing the stack of books I was considering taking to Mozambique. Reading intentionally and widely continues to be a priority in the Hoiland casa. Without this shared commitment, we wouldn’t read half as much or enjoy the extensive conversations that ensue.
Of the 50 books I read in 2018, I selected ten favorites, as has been my practice over the last seven years.
In no particular order:
Kate Bowler, Everything Happens For a Reason
I read this book from cover to cover in one evening while Tim was away in Mexico. I laughed and cried and gave thanks for the art of memoir. Just as she was finally ready to enjoy the fruits of her educational labor as a professor at Duke Divinity and welcomed a longed-for baby with her childhood sweetheart, she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. This is a book about facing mortality, sure. But, it is also about facing all of “double suffering,” as David Powlison calls it. All of the things that are not the actual thing causing suffering, like the unhelpful things people say, the dissonance between what the Bible actually says and the nice things we like to think God promised us (like health, wealth, and happiness), the all-powerful insurance companies getting to decide your next steps, and so on. Rather than shoving her questions and emotions away by stoically slapping on simple “truths,” she faces it all head on with incredible authenticity, wit, courage, and faith.
Christopher L. Heuertz, The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth
Well, yes. I spent the year crawling deeper into the rabbit hole that is this trendy Enneagram personality tool. I first heard about the Enneagram in 2013 when I met Rebecca Gant, but none of the numbers made sense and I remained a Myers-Briggs purist. After taking some time to dive deep, understand the three subtypes, and read this book, I finally began to understand my number. Having spent his life working for peace and justice around the world, Chris offers a unique perspective on the importance of understanding our true identity in Christ, experiencing whole-person growth, and replacing the specific self-defeating lies we believe that prevent us from spiritual growth and usefulness to each other. While I don’t think this should be the first book you read in order to understand this tool, it is a great next step packed with practical wisdom for understanding once you know your type.
Dan B. Allender & Tremper Longman, The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepset Questions about God
I wish I had found this book long ago – to see how our emotions can be an act of worship where we wrestle with God, grow in our understanding of him, and find him in the midst of our deepest struggles. Rather than deny or suppress emotions, we are invited to feel along with the psalmist and passionately express the full human experience to a personal and loving Father. “The Psalter invites us to feel emotion without immediate resolution. It not only permits dark emotions; it demands that we be overwhelmed by what we cannot control or change. Oddly, it is in our helplessness to change what unnerves us, in our cry of desperation, that we hear the song of eternity coursing through us even when we are dead to hope.”
Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds
As soon as I finished this short book, I immediately wanted to read it again with friends. In an age where we can so easily bury ourselves in an echo chamber, Jacobs provides a framework for engaging different ideas with empathy and convicted civility. A few highlights from his insightful ideas for how to be a thinking person: “Try to describe other’s positions in the language that they use, without indulging in in-other-wordsing. Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over. Value learning over debating. Don’t ‘talk for victory.’”
Isak Dinesen, Babette’s Feast
An incredible, inspiring, vivid, convicting, theologically robust message packed into an incredibly short story. Like the parables of Jesus, the story reveals more depth by what seems hidden, leaving us with almost endless lessons to reflect upon. Babette is a French chef and asylum-seeker who is welcomed by frugal Norwegian Puritans for 14 years before spending everything she had on one extravagant, artistic, and love-filled feast. A study in contrasts, this tale draws us equally into the virtuous and ordinary as the grace of beauty and the extraordinary.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
When Kit Danley tells you to read something, you read it. In her words, “Bonhoeffer stressed personal and collective piety and revived the idea of imitation of Christ. He argued that Christians should not retreat from the world but act within it. He believed that two elements were constitutive of faith: the implementation of justice and the acceptance of divine suffering. Bonhoeffer insisted that the church, like the Christians, ‘had to share in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world’ if it were to be a true church of Christ.” Bonhoeffer’s wise, prophetic voice is as needed today as it was during the time of Nazi Germany.
Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
Born in Depression-era Brooklyn to young Irish immigrants, Frank McCourt shares the story of his childhood growing up in extreme poverty. With an incredible sense of humor and ability to convey the thought process of a child, you hardly realize your heart is breaking from his descriptions of constant loss, hunger, an alcoholic father, desperate mother, and bone-chilling poverty. Once you close the book, you’ll feel like you joined this Irish Catholic family through their daily struggle to survive – splitting one valuable egg, scavenging leftover coal off the road to cook Christmas dinner, feeding the babies sugar water to alleviate their hunger when there was nothing else, and trying to intercept their father’s paycheck before he drank it away. Yet in the midst of so much suffering, Frank includes moments of happiness, devotion to his family, sentimental memories, and a driving hope for a better life.
Steven Purcell, Even Among These Rocks
This book is a treasure, enriching the weeks of Lent – the season of the church liturgical calendar beginning on Ash Wednesday and ends the evening of Maundy Thursday prior to Easter – with insightful reflections, beauty, and poetry. Reflecting on T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Ash Wednesday,” Purcell reminds us, “In Lent, we are encouraged to care for those things which ultimately matter and to leave behind those things which inhibit our participation in the life of God and the life around us. As we remember with honesty the way things are – who Christ is and who we are as subjects of his redemption – we will learn to ‘sit still,’ our peace in his will.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Since 2014 when Leroy Barber challenged all those heartbroken by recent grand jury news to intentionally read books written by people of color, I have made a concerted effort to read African-American fiction and nonfiction to learn, lament, and value these stories. Maya Angelou’s account of growing up in 1930/40s America is essential reading. While poetic and exquisitely written, it is true to the injustice she experienced and is emotionally intense. At times graphic in detail of both racism and sexual abuse, it is not a book to pick up lightly. Take care and treasure the story she welcomes us into.
Khaled Hosseini, Sea Prayer
Written as a beautifully illustrated poem, this is a letter from a father to his son as they flee their war-torn country. Filled with the deep hope all refugees feel for a future where their children can be safe, healthy, and happy, Hosseini effortlessly welcomes us into the story of millions of Syrians who have fled violence and persecution. In tribute to the photo of the three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on the beach in Turkey that rocked us all, we can immerse ourselves into the humanity behind the headlines. If you’re local, you will definitely want to take a Refugee 101 class through Phoenix Refugee Connections after reading this compelling short story.
What were your favorites? I’d love to hear your recommendations!