I loved so many books this year. Out of the 55 books I logged on Goodreads for 2019, I chose 10 personal favorites as has been my practice for the last eight years. I read so many wonderful memoirs, novels, and spiritually formative books, it was difficult to select favorites.
Have you noticed how we go through different seasons in our reading? Times we are devouring theology, basking in the beauty of poetry, finding kindred spirits who have written about the particular season of life in which we find ourselves, diving deep into an obscure topic of interest, or simply getting lost in the simple joy of a well-told story. With all my attempts to read widely, I often find a theme for the year. If I could identify a theme from the reading I was drawn to this year, I would have to describe it as intimacy with God.
In no particular order:
Kristie Anyabwile (Editor), His Testimonies My Heritage
Reading an endorsement from Aixa De Lopez, a Guatemalan woman whose deep love for God’s word has led her to love one of the most marginalized communities in Guatemala City among other vulnerable populations, was enough motivation to pre-order this book. But, I was also thrilled to find a devotional focused on expounding God’s word from a diverse collection of unique cultures and experiences. Just as a shepherd can uniquely open up Psalm 23, women of color can open up the words of identity, relationship, tensions, comfort, and deliverance from Psalm 119 in a profound way. These are women who clearly love God’s word and are seeking to live it out in the face of real life and struggle. I felt so honored to be welcomed into this space to learn and be nourished by their stories and honest reflections.
Dr. Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul
I had been encouraged to read this book by so many people and podcasts, but when my friend KJ Ramsey (whose forthcoming book, This Too Shall Last, applies many principles from this book to those living with chronic illness) Instagrammed a stack of books and both of Thompson’s books caught my attention, I knew it was time to take the plunge. I don’t know if I have ever read a book this slowly that I was loving this much – often pondering a page or two at a time, jotting down copious notes, and pausing to work on one of the many practices he advises for integration and the experience of redemption. Bringing together psychology, neuroscience, and the Gospel narrative, Thompson ushers you into an embodied path toward healing, wholeness, and repair where sin has ruptured. “He is moving us, by virtue of his ultimate repair in and through Jesus, toward renewed, transformed minds reflective of integration.”
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
Well, yes. I am very late to reading this much celebrated book. In my defense, being married to Tim means I am constantly privy to the CliffsNotes version of whatever he is reading. This year, I finally sat down and read this cover to cover for myself. It did not disappoint. It is as foundational and profound to faith as it is simply communicated. I absolutely love how the sage Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Bookstore put it: “No, no, no—readers of BookNotes surely know—Jesus didn’t die just to get us Fire Insurance, so we don’t go to hell and can live in heaven forever as angels. Ugh. The Bible insists that we can have abundant life now (John 10:10), that he rose in the flesh, and we say, with the Apostle’s Creed, that we believe in the resurrection of the body. That, of course, means, our bodies. In a (re)new(ed) Earth—paradise regained, creation restored, heaven come down to Earth.”
Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior makes you want to devour her book and immediately sign up for her next class. She makes you nostalgic for the literature classes you didn’t take advantage of in college. She inspires you to go back and read the books you somehow managed to graduate without being required t0 read (I’ve only read 5 of the 12 great books she digs into!!). She also invites you to engage with and learn from the cardinal, theological, and heavenly virtues. And she challenges you to “seek books that you will enjoy reading, demand ones that make demands on you: books with sentences so exquisitely crafted that they must be reread, familiar words used in fresh ways, new words so evocative that you are compelled to look them up, and images and ideas so arresting that they return to you unbidden for days to come.”
Bauman, Soerens, and Dr. Smeir, Seeking Refuge
Many of you know I serve on the board of a local organization, Phoenix Refugee Connections (PRC), which encourages mutual transformation through meaningful relationships between the Church and forcibly displaced peoples. This excellent primer on how to think biblically about the displaced and how to navigate the risks and concerns associated with welcoming the stranger is strongly recommended as a first step for churches interested in loving our neighbors well. While nuanced and pragmatic, this book offers clear and gentle arguments for how to think wisely about the refugee crisis. I’m grateful for the ways it clarified my own thinking about refugees, gave me language to speak up on behalf of this uniquely vulnerable population, and encouraged practical ways to put love in action. If you’re local and want to learn more about the work PRC is doing, I would love to talk about it with you!
Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing
This book was birthed out of a podcast of the same title. With the tagline, “Creating space for your soul to breathe so you can discern your next right thing in love,” you can imagine this book is less about decision-making and more about becoming an intentional decision-maker. Perhaps it is because we share the same enneagram number (more on that below), but her approach to spiritual formation, honest reflection, naming narratives, and living a value-driven life deeply resonate with me. She invites us all to pay attention to the past, present, and future – integrating our head, heart, and gut in the decisions we make – both large and small. You can enjoy the entirety of this book from a hammock swinging in the sun or over wine with a group of trusted friends who slowly implement these helpful practices together. Or, like me, pour over it with a honey-oat latte, pen, and notebook as an urgent decision looms large.
Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care
What a gift this book and Makoto Fujimura’s thinking is to the church! The preface states it is a book for artists, but acknowledges, to be my great appreciation, artists come in many forms. “Anyone with a calling to create – from visual artists, musicians, writers, and actors, to entrepreneurs, pastors, and business professionals.” To be a creator often means navigating liminal and fragmented places. Fujimura paints a thesis for the ways all kinds of creators can be custodians of culture care where beauty, generative thinking, and creative identity can benefit all of creation and generations to come. The book ends with a litany of “What If?” questions. One I enjoyed most, “What if we, by faith, saw each moment as a genesis moment, and even saw the current problems we are facing as genesis opportunities?”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land
This year has been full of new and renewed spiritual formation practices, including contemplative and breath prayer. This is not the book I would necessarily recommend if those prayer forms sound foreign to you (Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines handbook is better for newbies), but this is a sturdy guide into greater intimacy with God and very helpful to read in tandem with Anatomy of the Soul, mentioned above. “This is the spiritual homeland to which every spiritual pilgrim is constantly being called, as St. Augustine says, ‘from the noise that is around us to the joys that are silent. Why do we rush about … looking for God who is here at home with us, if all we want is to be with him?”
Trevor Noah, Born a Crime
Known as a comedian, Trevor Noah offers a deeply personal account of his life growing up in apartheid South Africa where his birth violated laws separting his Xhosa mother and German father. He had the ultimate Third Culture Kid (TCK) experience right in his hometown. Never fully belonging in the white, black, or colored cultures of apartheid, he learned how to adapt, speak several languages with a flawless accent, and become an adept chameleon. While he includes hilarious stories of mischievous shenanigans, he also recounts what systemic racism does to people. May we allow his honest and winsome tale of struggle against injustice to remind us what can happen when racism is allowed free reign.
Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram
After reading and learning a rather unhealthy amount about the enneagram – a spiritual wisdom tool gaining in momentum and popularity – I found this handbook-of-sorts to be a helpful guide into a deeper growth and development process for each of the nine personality types. Within this tool, there are descriptions, indicators, and paths to integration or wholeness. The descriptions of the wings, subtypes or instinctual variants, centers of intelligence, and levels of development were incredibly helpful. The specific practices recommended for my number to develop were highly helpful to me.
What were your favorites? I’d love to hear your recommendations!