This year has been a huge reading year. Mostly, I had a baby who required HOURS of “putting to bed” for the first several months, and it created a habit (after I realized how many hours a day were spent on my phone). Because there were so many, I looked back over the list to jog my memory, and there were several worth sharing. Enjoy!
(Summaries were swiftly snagged from Amazon and are the property of the respective publishers. Links are also Amazon. I’m not an affiliate, I just want you to be able to easily find them.)
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. “When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows us the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life. “
Okay, yes, I’m slightly embarrassed that this is the first Austen I’ve ever read and I’m 35. I don’t know how I got through four years of honors English without it, but… there it is. And it was SO GOOD, you guys. I made a goal to read more books by dead people this year. (Well, by people who were alive at the time of writing but have since died. In case you were worried.) Historically, I’ve had a bit of an aversion to it, because I judged classics as inaccessible and hard to read.
You know what? Maybe classics are classics because THEY’RE AWESOME.
Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult. “Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?
“Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.”
I’ve read most of Jodi Picoult’s body of work. The stories are always engaging, and the endings are… most frequently hard to take. But worth it for the story. This one was different. It took on issues of race and justice in a riveting and authentic way. It ended differently than I expected, based on her other books.
Warning: this one may eat your life. Pick it up when you can let other nonessentials (housework, sleep, food) go by the wayside.
YA fiction (I’m not ashamed.)
The Wingfeather Saga, Andrew Peterson. “Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, their crippled sister Leeli are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. But they will need all their gifts and all that love to survive the evil pursuit of the venomous Fangs of Dang who have crossed the dark sea to rule the land with malice and pursue the Igibys who hold the secret to the lost legend and jewels of good King Wingfeather of the Shining Isle of Anniera.”
Technically, this is four books. (The blurb and link above are just for the first: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.) This was the most fun reading I did all year, hands down. Andrew Peterson is my favorite songwriter, so when I learned he wrote some fiction, I tried it out of loyalty, though I didn’t necessarily expect much. I mean, songs and 300 page fantasyish fiction are hardly the same, right? Well, turns out his songs are my favorite because he tells DARN GOOD STORIES. The books sucked me in, and each book (and the series) ended by quite satisfyingly tying up loose ends I didn’t even realize existed. There’s some light allegory (less than Narnia, but enough to be comparable). I cried through the last chapter of the series (in the best ways)… I don’t really know when that last happened. I’m not a crying kind of reader.
It’s a little above my kids’ heads still—he builds a world with unfamiliar plants and animals and games, and I can’t bring myself to try to field constant “what does that mean???” questions just yet. We’d never get through the first chapter. (If you’re reading it and come across unfamiliar things and it puts you off, like it did one of my friends, just know that it’s fine to let it slide off. You’ll pick up the things that are important before long.) I’m thinking by the time my bigs are 8 and 9, I’ll introduce them, and I CANNOT WAIT.
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle. “Meg Murray, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. He claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract,” which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time. Meg’s father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?”
I read it when I was nine, and remember loving it, but couldn’t remember much else. This is another that I’m excited to introduce in a year or two. It was fantastically told story with beautiful little bits of truth hidden inside.
r for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race”, a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men – bodies exploited through slavery and segregation and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
“Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son – and listeners – the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.”
I do love me some memoirs, and I read a bunch of them this year. I picked this, not because it was necessarily my favorite to read, but because it struck me as incredibly important in our world. I’m with Toni Morrison. This is “required reading” for humans.
Grace for the Good Girl, Emily P Freeman. “You’re strong. You’re responsible. You’re good. But…as day fades to dusk, you begin to feel the familiar fog of anxiety, the weight and pressure of holding it together and of longing left unmet. Good girls sometimes feel the Christian life means doing hard work with a sweet disposition. We tend to focus only on the things we can handle, our disciplined lives, and our unshakable good moods. But what would happen if we let grace pour out boundless acceptance into our worn-out hearts and undo us? If we dared to talk about the ways we hide, our longing to be known, and the fear in the knowing? In Grace for the Good Girl, Emily Freeman invites you to release your tight hold on that familiar, try-hard life and lean your weight heavy into the love of Jesus. With an open hand, a whimsical style, and a heart bent brave toward adventure, Emily encourages you to move from your own impossible expectations toward the God who has graciously, miraculously, and lovingly found you.”
This one hit me right where I’ve always lived, at a time when I was ready to find my way out. The first half or so was descriptive of my entire life, so very few surprises. The second half was GOLD… she helped me figure out how to move forward. I already want to re-read it.
The Road Back to You, Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. “Ignorance is bliss – except in self-awareness. What you don’t know about yourself can hurt you and your relationships – and maybe even how you make your way in the world. It can also keep you in the shallows with God. Do you want help figuring out who you are and why you’re stuck in the same ruts?
“The Enneagram is an ancient personality type system with an uncanny accuracy in describing how human beings are wired, both positively and negatively. In The Road Back to You, Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile forge a unique approach – a practical, comprehensive way of accessing Enneagram wisdom and exploring its connections with Christian spirituality for a deeper knowledge of God and of ourselves.
“Funny and filled with stories, this book allows you to understand more about each of the Enneagram types, keeping you from pausing long after you have heard the chapter about yourself. Beginning with changes you can start making today, the wisdom of the Enneagram can help you get on the road that will take you further along into who you really are – leading you into places of spiritual discovery you would never have found on your own, and paving the way to the wiser, more compassionate person you want to become.”
There’s been a lot of buzz about the Enneagram in various circles for the last couple of years, and, to be honest, it confused me. This book made it understandable and super interesting. I love that the Enneagram focuses on ways I can grow. (I don’t love my number—2—or didn’t at first. But apparently that’s common for most of the numbers.)
The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller. “Few subjects are as compelling—or as endlessly variable—as love and marriage. The Bible is filled with references to husbands and wives, from the story of Adam and Eve to advice in the New Testament, each open to interpretation.
“In The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller, pastor of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and bestselling author of The Reason for God, uses the scriptures as his guide to show readers what God’s call to marriage is, and why this is such a powerful call. He talks in frank terms about the difficulties that couples have and how they can best work them out while keeping their faith in God intact.
“The Meaning of Marriage showcases Keller’s vast understanding of the Bible and how it can not only be relevant to relationships today but also form the foundation of a modern, healthy, loving, and long- lasting marriage.”
This is the best book I have ever read on marriage by a long shot, and I’ve read many dozen. We bought a second copy because Andrew and I marked ours up so badly we couldn’t loan it out. Whether you’re married, want to be, or have friends who are, this one is worthwhile.
What If? Randal Munroe. “Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have a large and passionate following. Fans of xkcd ask Munroe a lot of strange questions. What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent of the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? If there were a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last?
“In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, complemented by signature xkcd comics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.”
This book has a lot of truly interesting answers to questions you never asked, but that’s not why I’m recommending it. Randal Munroe has the best written comedic timing I have ever seen. I laughed out loud several times per page. If math and sciencey stuff is even remotely interesting to you, this book will make you howl. (Side note: it’s available as an audio book. I don’t know why. Read it with your eyes- the illustrations are half the fun.)
Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown. “True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” Social scientist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, has sparked a global conversation about the experiences that bring meaning to our lives—experiences of courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame, and empathy. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an age of increased polarization. With her trademark mix of research, storytelling, and honesty, Brown will again change the cultural conversation while mapping a clear path to true belonging.
“Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” Brown offers us the clarity and courage we need to find our way back to ourselves and to each other. And that path cuts right through the wilderness. Brown writes, “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”
I have very little to add to this. It’s Brené Brown, y’all. Go buy it.
Welp, there it is. Possibly my longest post ever.
What were your favorite reads this year?