For the last several years, I’ve been writing down the titles of books I finish. Then, at the end of the year, I pick 10 favorites and make a list for you here. (I’ll include the last five years at the bottom of the post) This is one of my favorite posts to write all year!
I’ll list them here in no particular order. These are not books released in 2019, but ones I read in 2019. All of the “about the book” descriptions come directly from the Amazon book summaries where I am a grateful affiliate, followed by a short explanation of why I loved it. Let’s talk books!
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
About the book: “In a time when nearly all institutions (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claim to value ‘diversity’ in their mission statements, I’m Still Here is a powerful account of how and why our actions so often fall short of our words. Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice, in stories that bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric–from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.”
Why I loved it: What many would take pages to say, Austin Channing Brown says with one compelling, powerfully simple sentence. She begins her story by writing about her experience as a young black girl with a white man’s name. I’m deeply grateful that Austin had the courage to write her story and tell the truth. Reading it I had to put it down several times and just think, remember, and be honest about how much I don’t know about the experience of people of color in America. What an important, compelling book.
Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace by Christie Purifoy
Genre: Christian Living
About the book: “In Placemaker, Christie Purifoy invites us to notice our soul’s desire for beauty, our need to create and to be created again and again. As she reflects on the joys and sorrows of two decades as a placemaker and her recent years living in and restoring a Pennsylvania farmhouse, Christie shows us that we are all gardeners. No matter our vocation, we spend much of our lives tending, keeping, and caring. In each act of creation, we reflect the image of God. In each moment of making beauty, we realize that beauty is a mystery to receive.”
Why I loved it: This book was one of a small stack I read during my summer sabbatical and what a kind companion it was for me. I recorded an entire podcast episode inspired by this book (91: Be A Placemaker) and you can listen to that for all the details of why I loved it. In short, some books find you at the exact right moment in time and when that happens, you can’t help but share them and that’s what this book was for me.
If you’re in the ellipsis in your own life right now, you might have more questions than answers, more furrowed brows than nodding heads. But there are some things you can still choose – like making a place where roots are lacking, like believing for sure that God is with you even when you feel alone.
Genre: Christian Living
About the book: “Even as Christians who believe in the resurrection, we live as if miracles and magic have been drained from the world. As Mike Cosper wrestled with his own disillusionment, he found writers, thinkers, and artists like Hannah Arendt, Charles Taylor, James K. A. Smith, and David Foster Wallace whose words and ideas reassured him that he was not alone. And he discovered ancient and modern disciplines that shape a Christian way of life and awaken the possibility of living again in an enchanted world.”
Why I loved it: I love and adore this book, all about the impact cynicism and disillusionment have on our faith. He often says things I wish I would have written which is always the sign of a great book. Compelling, thoughtful, and beautifully written.
Genre: Christian Living
About the book: “Weaving together theology and memoir in her trademark narrative style, Sarah tells us the story of the moment that changed her body and how it ultimately changed her life. The road of healing leads to Rome where she met the Pope (it’s complicated) and encountered the Holy Spirit in the last place she expected. She writes about her miraculous healing, learning to live with chronic pain, and the ways God makes us whole in the midst of suffering. She invites us to a path of knowing God that is filled with ordinary miracles, hope in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and other completely reasonable things.”
Why I loved it: If you’re looking for a compelling story, a relatable narrator, and exquisite writing, this is the book for you. I’ve heard many say they read it in one sitting and, while I’m too slow of a reader for that, I understand how they could.
I started it on my living room sofa and finished it a few weeks later on a North Carolina beach, laughing and crying my way through it. This was the book Sarah wrote after her previous book was rejected by her publisher and I’ll add my voice to the chorus of those who say I’m so glad they didn’t accept that other book. This is the book Sarah was meant to write.
Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life by Lucy Worsley
About the book: “Drawing from the vast collection of Victoria’s correspondence and the rich documentation of her life, Worsley recreates twenty-four of the most important days in Victoria’s life. Each day gives a glimpse into the identity of this powerful, difficult queen and the contradictions that defined her. Queen Victoria is an intimate introduction to one of Britain’s most iconic rulers as a wife and widow, mother and matriarch, and above all, a woman of her time.”
Why I loved it: Now that I’ve visited London twice in the last two years (and will again this summer!) I’ve become mildly obsessed with learning about the British Monarchy. What a perfect companion for my neighborhood walks and in-town commutes!
I loved learning about Queen Victoria through the lens of 24 important days in her life. From the day she realized she was next in line to the throne when she was a child to the moment she first met Albert, I loved every minute. Pro tip: If you listen to the book like I did, make sure you at least thumb through the hardcover copy at the bookstore or library so you can see the glossy insert with photographs.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
About the book: “The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.”
Why I loved it: This is the most fun summer read and I wish I could rewind and not read it so I could read it all over again. The style and format of the book is an interview-type style that feels so real you’ll find yourself googling “Daisy Jones and the Six real band?” even though you know better. For my first book after grad school read, this one was perfect. Spoiler Alert (but not really): On a scale of HBO to Hallmark, it’s for sure more HBO. The end.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
About the book: “For years, rumors of the Marsh Girl have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.”
Why I loved it: First I loved it because it was set on the coast of North Carolina (even though my friend Erienne pointed out that Delia Owens seems to think Asheville is an easy bus-ride away from the coast of North Carolina which it most certainly is not). But second I loved it because of Kya’s story. As heartbreaking as it sometimes was, watching her grow up and love the land and learn to be a person was a delight.
Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
Genre: Christian Living
About the book: “In this classic theological treatise, the acclaimed theologian and religious leader Howard Thurman (1900-1981) demonstrates how the gospel may be read as a manual of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised. Jesus is a partner in the pain of the oppressed and the example of His life offers a solution to ending the descent into moral nihilism. Hatred does not empower–it decays. Only through self-love and love of one another can God’s justice prevail.”
Why I loved it: Published in 1949, theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman writes about his own experience, advocating for non-violent response to oppression. It’s a short book and I want to read it again because one read isn’t enough to digest Thurman’s brilliance (and I’m not being hyperbolic here). His first chapter on Jesus is one of the most stunning commentaries I’ve ever read about the life of Christ.
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
About the book: “The beautiful Manoir Bellechasse might be surrounded by nature, but there is something unnatural looming. As the heat rises and the humidity closes in, some surprising guests turn up at the family reunion, and a terrible summer storm leaves behind a dead body. It is up to Chief Inspector Gamache to unearth secrets long buried and hatreds hidden behind polite smiles. The chase takes him to Three Pines, into the dark corners of his own life, and finally to a harrowing climax.”
Why I loved it: This is the fourth book in the series and made up for the unfortunate mishap that was Book 3. It had everything I want in a Penny book: a cozy Inn, family drama, a mysterious murder, and Gamache at his best. Carry on, Louise Penny! Don’t stop writing about Inspector Gamache!
Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton
Genre: Christian Living
About the book: “‘In these pages Transforming Center founder and seasoned spiritual director Ruth Haley Barton gently leads us into retreat as a key practice that opens us to God. Based on her own practice and her experience leading hundreds of retreats for others, she will guide you in a very personal exploration of seven specific invitations contained within the general invitation to retreat. You will discover how to say yes to God’s winsome invitation to greater freedom and surrender. There has never been a time when the invitation to retreat is so radical and so relevant, so needed and so welcome. It is not a luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual life.”
Why I loved it:
A perfect read during my summer sabbatical. Her clear and simple instructions for how to retreat were right on time. I took this book with me on my own two day retreat and finished it before I left. What would we do without Ruth?
As you make your own lists of books to read in 2020, perhaps you’ll add a few of my favorites into the mix. To give you more to choose from, I’ll include my 10 favorite books from the past four years below.
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My Top 10 Favorite Books From Years Past: