This year, I decided to make a stack of the books I read. I wanted a tangible and visual encouragement to choose knowledge, words and wisdom over mindless entertainment. I cancelled my Netflix membership and spent many Saturdays getting lost in bookstores and buying books before I even finished the one I was in the middle of, and the stack grew and grew. Halfway through, I had finished 16 books.
Now, 2014 is coming to a close, and the grand total of books read this year is 39 (but the Bible is really 66 books if if you really want to get specific...). I loved some, struggled to finish some, highlighted the heck out of some, and shared many with friends and family.
Now, I'm sharing the final list with you with a few of my thoughts in hopes that you too will read more books this year than you did last year. If you have recommendations of must-read books for 2015, please share them in the comments!
I've shared a quote from each book, the photo (because don't we all judge books by the covers just a little bit?), and my thoughts in review of each-- happy reading!
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. // "I have to seek God beauty. Because isn't my internal circuitry wired to seek out something worthy of worship? Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don't see God, I'll bow down before something else."
This book is a beautiful challenge-- "a dare to live fully right where you are." Grab a notebook and prepare your heart for a whole lot of thankfulness and start writing your own list of one thousand gifts. It will change your outlook on life.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed. // "How wild it was to let it be."
This is one woman's compelling, honest, beautiful story of her adventure "from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail." I know it's about to be a movie, so read this first before you see it. You won't want to put it down, you'll feel like you were there every step of the way, and you'll fall in love with Cheryl page by page.
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. // "The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer."
This book is short but profound, a "classic exploration of Christian community" that was written in the early 1900s but is still completely relevant today. As a small group leader, this book was a wealth of wisdom and truth on how to foster an authentic community-- I think I underlined something on almost every page.
Gospel by JD Greear. // "Radical generosity and radical commitment to the mission is the response of every person who has experienced the grace of Jesus Christ. Following Jesus, being His disciple, means living as He lived. He leveraged His life for the lost."
This book is about "recovering the power that made Christianity revolutionary" and I loved it. Bold, easy to read, helpful, and so solid.
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. // "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
This "eater's manifesto" is a fantastic read about how food has shaped our culture and changed so wildly over time, what Pollan calls the American Paradox-- "the more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we become." As a gluten-free vegan with a majorly plant-based diet, I loved this book and his proposals of how we can make great food choices, but I would strongly recommend this to anyone who eats food (aka everyone).
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor. // "Don't ever let me think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story--just like the typewriter was mine."
This collection of writings from O'Connor's journals is honest, raw, unedited and wonderful, "the record of a brilliant young woman's coming-of-age, a cry from the heart for love, grace, and art." A short and stunning read.
Forgotten God by Francis Chan. // "We are most alive when we are loving and actively giving of ourselves because we were made to do these things. It is when we live like this that the Spirit of God moves and acts in and through us in ways that on our own we are not capable of."
This book is all about "reversing our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit," but not in a weird, hyper-spiritual way. It's like a conversation with a friend who is super passionate and prays with you often and points you back to truth and who God in the Trinity really is.
Start Here by David Dwight and Nicole Unice. // "Remember that this life with Jesus is not something you accomplish or master; it's a growing relationship from this day forward."
This book was written by two people on staff at my church that I respect, love and admire. It's a book about "beginning a relationship with Jesus," but it didn't matter that my relationship with Jesus started a long time ago-- this book was still an authentic and encouraging reminder of what faith looks like. This book comes straight from the Bible through the words of two people who love the Lord so evidently and are such incredible tools He is using to build the kingdom here on earth.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. // "I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once."
If you want to weep and have your heart feel basically every emotion on the whole spectrum, this is the book for you. I recommend reading it before you see the movie, but definitely do both.
Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. // "I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don't want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift."
This book (currently on loan to a friend, hence the different picture! sorry!) is electric, alive, fresh, and free. It's all about "celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life" and it's such a refreshing read, much like a cold tangerine would be. I fell in love with Shauna after the first few paragraphs, and knew I would be reading anything she ever wrote in that moment. This book was a delight and a joy.
Packing Light by Allison Vesterfelt. // "One of the hardest parts of packing light, I've learned, is that it's as much about what you take with you as it is what you leave behind. ... Packing light isn't as simple as throwing up our hands and leaving everything up to God. It's as much about holding on as it is about letting go-- and knowing the difference between the two. It matters what you put in your suitcase."
This book on "thoughts on living life with less baggage" follows Vesterfelt's journey on a cross-country road trip, but it's so much more than that. It's a refreshing and honest read about life and the journey and how to do it all authentically and simply.
Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. // "When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow."
Shauna's "thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way" was poignant, beautiful, and soulful. This book is like a warm hug from a dear friend while you're curled up swapping life stories on a comfy couch over mugs of coffee. It's warm and real and reflective in the best ways. I hang on to her every word and feel like we've been best friends forever every time I read her stories.
Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist. // "What's becoming clearer and clearer to me is that the most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God's presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table. The particular alchemy of celebration and food, of connecting people and serving what I've made with my own hands, comes together as more than the sum of their parts."
This book is a "collection of essays about family, friendships, and the meals that bring us together" next to exquisite recipes, and I can't say enough good things about it. Obviously I love Shauna Niequist, but it's more than that. This book welcomes you into a kitchen buzzing with activity and full of the most incredible tastes and smells, welcomes you around the table where love overflows and real life happens.
Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke. // "I saw that the church wasn't a museum for good people; it was a hospital for the broken."
You may have seen the viral video a while back by Bethke, and this book is an expansion of that. It's about "why He is so much better than trying harder, doing more, and being good enough." It's full of contrasts between Jesus-life and religious life, and it's an awesome read.
Room by Emma Donoghue. // "An astounding, terrifying novel...It's a testament to Donoghue's imagination and empathy that she is able to fashion radiance from such horror." - The New Yorker
This book will absolutely take you captive from the first page to the last. I couldn't put it down. It's riveting and a thriller through and through in the very best way. A must-read.
The Signature of Jesus by Brennan Manning. // "In season and out of season, in success and failure, in grace and disgrace, the courage to risk everything on the signature of Jesus is the mark of authentic discipleship."
This book, a "call to a life marked by holy passion and relentless faith," is bold and beautiful and compelling. This was the first book by Manning that I read, and I loved his style, his wisdom and his heart.
Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller. // "God saw Abraham's sacrifice and said, 'Now I know that you love me, because you did not withhold your only son from me.' But how much more can we look at his sacrifice on the Cross, and say to God, 'Now, we know that you love us. For you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love, from us.' When the magnitude of what he did dawns on us, it makes it possible finally to rest our hearts in him rather than in anything else."
I've been a major Tim Keller fan since falling in love with King's Cross, and this book didn't disappoint. It's about "the empty promises of money, sex, and power, and the only hope that matters." If you've ever put your faith in any of these things (aka everyone), this book shows us how the Bible reveals powerful truths about our society and our hearts.
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. // "To be alive is to be broken. And to be broken is to stand in need of grace. Honesty keeps us in touch with our neediness and the truth that we are saved sinners. There is a beautiful transparency to honest disc plies who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are."
This book is a classic. I've been wanting to read it for ages and was so excited to find this old copy on my parent's bookshelf at home. I love the word ragamuffin--"each of us comes beat-up, butnr-out, ragged and dirty to sit at our Father's feet. And there he smiles upon us-- the chosen objects of his 'furious love.' YES. So good.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. // "'Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity.'"
This novel is enchanting, and I now understand the hype around it. It's simple and full of wise and quotable lines. Do yourself a favor and pick up this beautiful read.
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. // "I think Christian spirituality is like jazz music. I think loving Jesus is something you feel. I think it is something very difficult to get on paper. But it is no less real, no less meaningful, no less beautiful."
Total honesty here: I did not like this book at all. Everyone and their mother seems to be obsessed with it, but I struggled to get through it. I made myself finish it, just to make sure I wasn't missing anything. I just straight-up don't like Miller's writing style, and he really rubbed me the wrong way. But hey, everyone else seems to love it, so maybe it's just me.
A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich.
This book was written as an attempt to write a history of the world for younger readers, from the Stone age to the atomic bomb. It isn't full of dates or facts, but it reads more like a story. I found it heard to get through the whole thing, but it definitely was interesting to read about the scope of history and humanity in a new style that was definitely much more engaging than a textbook. If you like history, this is definitely a book you'll love.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. // "Ice-pick sharp...spectacularly sneaky...impressively cagey." -New York Times
If you didn't hear about this book, read this book, or see this movie this year, you must live under a rock. It spread like wildfire this year, and rightly so, because this book is haunting, it sucks you in, and it leaves you on the edge of your seat in the best way. There are so many twists and turns--I couldn't put it down. The movie is incredible as well--not for the faint of heart though.
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. // "But in baptism, in lakes and rain and tanks and fonts, you agree to do something that's a little sloppy because at the same time it's also holy, and absurd. It's about surrender, giving in to all those things we can't control. It's a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched."
Anne Lamott is my new favorite. She's frank, honest, refreshing, sentimental, wise and witty. An author with dreadlocks that shares thoughts on faith but isn't afraid of cussing is my kind of author. This book is a great collection of Anne's "thoughts on faith" -- a definite must-read.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy. // "The searing, post apocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece."
This was one of those books that I've always heard about and it's won the Pulitzer Prize and is a national bestseller, so when I found it at my favorite local bookstore for just a few bucks, I knew it was time to give it a read. There aren't chapters or clear dialogue or anything, so I found that I flew through it quickly even though it was slow in parts. It's intriguing and moving and makes you wonder what the world might look like someday.
Gold by Chris Cleave. // "Her life was one endless loop that she raced around, with steep banked curves so she could never change or slow down. It just delivered her back to herself, over and over and over."
This book is heart-warming and heart-breaking, about Olympic speed cyclists, love, ambition, loyalty, family...you fall in love with the characters, want to cheer them on as you read about their races, and want to cry with them when the pain comes. This book (I have to say it...) is gold.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave. // "We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, 'I survived'."
The back cover of this book says it all: "We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again--the story starts there... Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds." So there you have it.
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. // "If you write, good ideas must come welling up into you so that you have something to write. If good ideas do not come at once, or for a long time, do not be troubled at all. Wait for them. Put down the little ideas however insignificant they are."
I found this little book at my favorite local used bookstore, and seeing that it was "a book about art, independence, and spirit" intrigued me. It wasn't the best book I've ever read, wasn't the worst, I underlined some stuff and disagreed with some stuff. The back says "it is about having values, about belief (in the imagination and its relation to personal integrity), and about the bravery of coming to understand yourself and of putting marks down on paper." Writers, it's worth a read. Everyone else, probably not.
From the Library of C.S. Lewis compiled by James Stuart Bell. // "This is the perfect entrance to the world C.S. Lewis inhabited, and it arrives just when that world of books is under the threat of extinction. Thanks to those who have given us such a gold mine."
This book is just that-- a gold mine. I've been obsessed with Lewis and his books for years, but this was all "selections from writers who influenced his spiritual journey" and it was fascinating. I think one of the best ways to get to know somebody is to read the books they love, and this was like doing that with Lewis. Not a page went without underlines or sticky notes or big fat stars from me, and I have a whole new wealth of information from writers I never read before or knew about. These selections span many centuries and are deep and brilliant and categorized by theme to break it up-- it's an excellent book and resource that I loved every word of.
Quiet by Susan Cain. // "It's as if extroverts are seeing 'what is' while their introvert peers are asking 'what if.'"
EVERYONE. READ THIS BOOK. NOW. I've never wanted to give a book to everyone I know so badly (okay, except maybe the Bible). It's gold. As a hardcore introvert, this book resonated with me on every page and made so much of how I feel and see things and respond to things make so much sense. It was hugely helpful, absolutely brilliant, deeply insightful, fascinating, wise, and just so very good. "The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking" -- YES. Introverts and extroverts alike-- read this and I promise you will understand people and yourself more clearly and it will change your life. Also-- Susan's TED talk is incredible too, if you're more into that sort of thing than you are into reading a whole book. Whatever you do, just soak up her goodness ASAP.
Small Victories by Anne Lamott. // "Who knows, maybe those two robe leaders, Gandhi and Jesus, were right--a loving response changes the people who would beat the shit out of you, including yourself, of course. Their way, of the heart, makes everything bigger. Decency and goodness are subversively folded into the craziness, like caramel ribbons into ice cream."
Anne's writing is a breath of fresh air-- I laughed out loud at her self-deprecating humor and appreciated her honesty about the reality of life and faith as she shared her thoughts and experiences on some of the best and worst of it all. She feels like that best friend you can count on to crack you up while also giving you a swift kick in the pants as she points you back in the right direction toward Christ, all in her honest, frank, wise and witty way. A must-read collection of essays and stories, no matter if you have read stuff from her before or if you've never heard from her.
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. // "Sometime before I die I think I'll find a microphone and climb to the top of a radio tower. I'll take a deep breath and close my eyes because it will start to rain right when I reach the top. Hello, I'll say to outer space, this is my card."
This book is "an affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented young Yale graduate whose title essay captured the world's attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation." Marina died in a car crash five days after she graduated, and this is what she wrote before that. It's beautiful. I loved every word-- both her fiction and her essays equally. She was 22 when she died, and being 22 now myself, I was struck by (and slightly envied) her poignancy, raw talent and elegance-- I so highly recommend this book.
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. // "Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path."
This. Book. It's one I want to shove into the hands of every single human I meet. Everyone needs to read this. I discovered Brown through her TED talk a while back and fell in love with her research, completely. This book was wonderful. Based on so much sound and thorough research, it dives into "how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead," so it's relevant to every single living person. Read this book. Now.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. // "But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way."
This book, described in the inner flap as "the most lighthearted of all [Austen's] novels" was elegantly written (as to be expected) but humorous at points, poignant at points, and strangely modern and relevant at points. I loved it, I don't think it gets enough credit-- it really is a great work of Austen's.
Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. // "The human soul seeks to integrate our will and our mind and our body into an integral person. Beyond that, the soul seeks to connect us with other people, with creation, and with God himself--who made us to be rooted in him the way a tree is rooted by a life-giving stream."
My church did a sermon series on the soul last month and recommended reading this book as an accompaniment to it, and I'm so glad I did. The soul is the most important part of us and caring for it is so crucial, and this book was chock full of great words of wisdom on how to do so well. Loved this one.
Ties That Bind by Dave Isay. // "Listening to the experiences of regular people living life to the fullest and exemplifying humanity at its finest has, time and again, stirred my soul and strengthened my faith in this nation and its people."
I became a fan of NPR this summer and always loved the times I would catch StoryCrops-- snippets of conversations of people who shared their stories and conversations and hearts with the world. This book captures those conversations between relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors and more in heart-wrenching, beautiful, moving ways. This book was one I read in one sitting and loved so much.
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. // "We are seeking Jesus--we want to smell him on the skin of others, and we want to hear tell of his activity. We are seeking fellow travelers for this journey. We are hungry for true community, a place to tell our stories and listen, to love well, to learn how to have eyes to see and ears to hear. We want to be part of something amazing and real and lasting, something bigger than ourselves. We want to be with other women who know and love and follow our Jesus. Somehow we know that we will love him better if we hear from others how much they love him, too."
This book's title might turn you off, or might make your heart swell with excitement. Either way, this book is a fantastic, honest, engaging read. "Feminist" has always been a word with strong reactions and associations, but this book is really "an invitation to revisit the Bible's view of women" through "exploring God's radical notion that women are people, too." It's so great. Bessey makes beautiful things out of her words.
Hearing God by Dallas Willard. // "We were important enough for God to give his Son's life for us and to choose to inhabit us as a living temple. Obviously, then, we are important enough for him to guide us and speak to us whenever that is appropriate."
This book is about "developing a conversational relationship with God" and to be honest, I've started and lost interest in it several times throughout the last year, but finally sat down and before forcing myself to commit to finishing it. Flipping through it, I underlined a ton and wrote lots of notes, so it's obvious that it resonated with me, but maybe the density and depth of the material just made it harder to digest in large quantities.It was my first book by Willard and I loved his intellect and wisdom, but wouldn't recommend this book for a light or quick read, although I do think it's a good book for those who have ever wondered about statements like "God spoke to me" or "God revelaed this to me" or things like that.
The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. // "He comes as a Baby because He's done with the barriers. He comes vulnerable because He knows the only way to intimacy with you is through vulnerability with you. You can't get to intimacy except through the door of vulnerability. So God throws open the door of this world--and enters as a baby. As the most vulnerable imaginable. Because He wants unimaginable intimacy with you."
This book. Stunning. Holy. Soul-filling. I cannot say enough good, worthy words. Every day of this Advent season, this book and Ann's glorious way with words quieted my soul, drew me to bended knee in awe of my Savior and this season, and was such a breath of quiet, fresh air I desperately needed. I will absolutely be returning to this work of art every Advent to come. (ps-- there is a version for children and families that I'm sure is out of this world!)
The Bible. //
For the first time in my life (as sad as that is to actually admit out loud), I have officially read the entire Bible. And it changed my year and my faith and my heart. Reading through it this way, with a portion from the Old Testament, a portion from the New Testament, a Psalm and a Proverb every day,was interesting and showed me Scripture in a whole new way, with parallels I never realized before and connections I made for the first time. Now, at 22, I have finally read every word of Scripture and can't wait to continue diving deeper and deeper into this love story I'll never get enough of. While I would definitely say there are better and deeper ways to study the Word, this is a great way to get into it and stay accountable to getting through even slower or less exciting books and chapters, so I definitely recommend doing it at least once in your life.
Whew. What a year of reading it has been. Share your favorite reads or best recommendations in the comments and I'll add them to my list for 2015! My goal is 50+ books next year, so stay tuned for future RADreads posts!