If you think books are dumb, click the red X and carry on, because this post is basically a love letter from me, to the books. There was a while where college and then adoption and then parenting dictated and formalized my book list, and reading lost its wonder. In 2014 I decided it was time to rekindle the romance. I sat aside parenting and educational books for the most part, and choose books that captured my fancy. I kept a list of what I read all year. It’s a satisfying sense of accomplishment to see all the different stories and ideas and places your mind has explored. And it’s insightful to look back and remember where you were when you were reading a certain book, how you’ve grown and changed even in a year’s time. 2015 was the year of the audio book for me. I mean, where has this invention been all my life? Forget Netflix during nap time, I’ll take a lawn chair in the sun, a cold drink and a pleasant voice reading aloud to me, please. Seriously, it’s my favorite thing. Bored while curling your hair? An audio book will make it riveting. Weary of dwelling on death by asphyxiation while running? I offer you the marvelous distraction of an audio book. Tired of flipping radio stations on a long drive? I humbly suggest turning up the volume on an audio book. Dreading the thought of chopping the potatoes or ironing the drapes or sorting the catalogs or scouring the cellar or sweeping the sow barn or shampooing the motorhome carpet? Insert earbuds, start Audible app, and be blessed. How much does this out-loud reading service cost, you ask? I’m no financial guru, I have no idea. I simply know when it says I have credits, I pick a new book, and then it kindly reads to me for hours. Let’s not make things too complicated.
Here’s my 2015 list: 1. The Great Divorce-C.S. Lewis 2. Bittersweet-Shauna Niequist 3. Cold Tangerines-Shauna Niequist 4. Bringing up Bebé-Pamela Druckerman 5. Scary Close (2 x)-Donald Miller 6. The Hospital By the River-Catherine Hamlin 7. Daring Greatly-Brené Brown 8. The Incomparable Christ (4th time through)-J. Oswald Sanders 9. The Fringe Hours-Jessica N. Turner 10. Bird by Bird-Anne Lamott 11. Bossypants (audio)-Tina Fey 12. What Happens When Women Walk in Faith-Lysa TurKeurst 13. Unoffendable-Brant Hansen 14. Breaking Free-Beth Moore 15. Surprised by Motherhood-Lisa-Jo Baker 16. Through Painted Desserts (audio)-Donald Miller 17. For the Love-Jen Hatmaker 18. Yes Please (audio)-Amy Poehler 19. If You Feel Too Much (audio)-Jamie Tworkowski 20. Antelope in the Living Room (audio)-Melanie Shankle 21. Wild in the Hollow (audio)-Amber Haines 22. Traveling Mercies-Anne Lamott 23. Sparkly Green Earrings (audio)-Melanie Shankle 24. Packing Light (audio)-Allison Vesterfelt 25. A Moveable Feast-Ernest Hemmingway 26. The Writing Life (audio)-Annie Dillard 27. To Kill A Mockingbird (audio)-Harper Lee
This post has taken me forever because I can’t narrow down which ones to talk about. I want to tell you about them all; the ones that made me laugh too loud, the ones I listened to or read with ferocity, the ones that were too long, the ones that were too salty for me to stomach, the ones that were brilliantly narrated. On the other hand, I don’t want to tell you about them at all, I don’t want to risk my words taking away from their greatness. What was that you said? Oh, you want me to try anyway? I mean Ok, I guess if you insist.
Here are some favorites: Bittersweet: It’s hard to choose between Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines. Bittersweet is written as a series of essays; short chapters with stories about daily life written in simple but profound and lyrical language. If you enjoy stories of family traditions and vacations on the lake and friendships and loss that make you feel a little less alone and a little more appreciative of the everyday wonder, Bittersweet (and all of Shauna’s books) will deliver just that.
Bringing up Bebé Are you weary of child-centric, American parenting, and tired of traditional parenting books, but would still like some fresh ideas along with a delicious sampling of French culture? Bringing up Bebé is your next read.
Scary Close Scary Close Brings insight into why we so often pretend to be someone we’re not, and why so many relationships are tainted with dysfunction. Its vulnerable stories of finding true intimacy in relationships are insightful and inspiring and laced with a sense of humor that only Donald Miller can bring.
The Hospital By the River The Hospital By the River is an incredible autobiography of a couple who moved to Ethiopia, started a hospital, and dedicated their lives to finding a cure and bringing healing to women who suffered a fistula from problematic child birth. The condition ostracizes women from their communities and even families. It is full of amazing stories of suffering and courage and sacrifice. If you have an interest in the medical field or child birth or learning about the Ethiopian culture, this is a moving read.
The Antelope in the Living Room Melanie Shankle was my new author discovery of the year. I’ve now listened to all three of her books on audio, and her narration is so good! If you want to try an audio book I recommend starting with her. Her Texan accent and tremendous sense of humor will keep you laughing and attentive as she shares difficult and touching and downright absurd stories of getting married and living life with her Mr. Hunter.
Traveling Mercies Anne Lamott is a breed of her own, it’s hard to sum her writing up in a few sentences. While she is not one I would look to as a guide in things of faith and theology, she has a way of looking at life, the smallest, tiniest parts of life, that I find riveting. If you are one that enjoys reading for the art without needing to agree with all points, and you enjoy laughing so hard you have to put the book down and then repeatedly say “wait, listen to this part” and re-read a paragraph or page to whoever is close enough to listen, check out Traveling Mercies.
AND NOW, FOR THE THREE FINALISTS, I PRESENT TO YOU: Unoffendable There are probably less than a dozen pages in my copy that aren’t underlined, dog-eared, filled with margin notes and giant exclamation points, or otherwise heavily lead covered by my pencil. In terms of a human-originated book that is a guide in matters of faith and theology, this one is at the top of my list. It is simple and witty (aka ridiculously funny) and yet so powerful. It’s a writing on why being offended and angered and indignant (righteous as we might try to claim it is) doesn’t fit in the message of forgiveness and grace. Here’s a quote from the chapter called Beautiful Exceptions: “When we recognize our unsurprising fallenness and keep our eyes joyfully open for the glorious exceptions, we’re much less offendable. Why? Because that’s the thing about gratitude and anger: they can’t coexist. It’s one or the other. One drains the very life from you. The other fills your life with wonder. Choose wisely.” I hope you’ll choose wisely and read this book. I know I’ll be reading it again.
For the Love Jen Hatmaker is my favorite author. I have the hardest time committing to a statement like that because there are several others that I so dearly love, but if I had to choose one final book before I lost the ability to read, I would choose hers. I think it’s because she speaks to all my vital things; marriage, motherhood, church, local and global community engagement, and of course, humor. For the Love is her most recent creation. It is also written in essay format, each short chapter its own topic. Here’s a quote I love from the chapter called Dear Kids: “When people fail you-and they will-Jesus is ever faithful. When circumstances tank-and they will-Jesus will hold you fast. He is the most trustworthy, dependable Savior, and you will never be alone. This gives me such comfort, because as imperfect parents who failed often, we are terrified to send you out knowing we didn’t do enough. But Jesus is enough for all of us. He is enough for you. No one is safer. No one loves you more. No one will lead you better.”
To Kill A Mockingbird I am the most speechless about this book. I realize most of you read this in high school. I missed the memo. I gave myself a rule that I would read at least one fiction book a year in an effort to keep myself at least slightly well-rounded. I went from consuming nothing but copious amounts of novels as a teen, to suddenly wanting nothing to do with them. I’m not sure why exactly; I just began to have a hunger for authentic stories of real life, and to view fiction as imaginary tales than anyone could cook up out of a good daydream. This may have something to do with the fact that the quality of fiction I was consuming was somewhat subpar. Anyway, I started approaching the end of the year, and, forgetting that The Great Divorce was fiction I’d read earlier, got a little frantic . I decided to check out To Kill A Mockingbird. I had almost 0 knowledge of the book, other than it somehow would show up in conversations about racism. Because I knew the quickest way I could get started and probably get through it was if I listened to it, I got it on audible. It was over 12 hours long. The longest I’d listened to up to that point was around 5, and I had serious reservations about it keeping my attention for so long. As it turned out, I was so engrossed I literally startled when I suddenly heard the automated voice come on saying “Audible hopes you have enjoyed this program”. I usually don’t want to listen to a book that isn’t narrated by the author, but Sissy Spacek is a pro. A few chapters in I could differentiate between Atticus, Jem, Jean Louise, and Calpurnia within a string of dialogue, she had given such character to each voice. If you haven’t read it, the story tackles topics of poverty, classism, sexism, and most vividly, racism, from the unique perspective of a child. It is set in the 1930’s, but time after time, dialogue and issues present that sound disturbingly familiar to injustices still occurring in our communities and court rooms today. It is heartwarming and humorous and heart-wrenching. A favorite line from chapter 31: “Atticus, he was real nice.” “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
And now for fun part!! Because I love books so much, and I love you all so much, I’m going to GIVE AWAY a book from my top 3 list to a lucky winner! All you need to do is comment here or on Facebook or Instagram, share one of your favorite reads from last year, your email address, and tag a book-loving friend who will want to join the fun. If you want to mention which of the top 3 you’re most interested in, go ahead! So to recap: comment with your favorite book title, tag a friend who loves to read, and leave an email address I can reach you at if you win! I can’t wait to read the suggestions you share. (If it’s good fiction, bonus points! [Figuratively, that is. I don’t know how to literally incorporate them into this equation.]) I’m so excited to share a fabulous book with one of you!