“So, what are you reading? Lately, right now, this year?”
This is a current favorite question to ask and also to be asked!
I think I’ve reached a new level of nerdom actually. I counted up 5 different conversations last week about favorite books, recommendations, what are we currently reading, etc. Not to mention the few hours spent on the same thing with 2 different besties during my time in Texas, and 2 other couples I stayed with as well. I came home with several extra pounds in my suitcase of loaned books…because paperbacks are still the best and are here to stay. Anyway, I haven’t written about the books I’m reading in a long time because I got to feeling like I was writing book reports and doing them very poorly as that. But reading is a passion, and probably one that surpasses all the other passions of mine except for Jesus Himself–so here we are with a bit of book talk.
I’ve become a bit obsessed with Goodreads over the past 2 or 3 years. I know some people used it a lot before that and now are kind of “over it”, but I love it! First of all, it’s like social media for nerds and doesn’t have all the negativity and stress of Facebook (although there are many things that are wonderful about Facebook too!) Secondly, because I now have 3 different ways I read books, it’s nice to have one place to keep track of them all and make reading lists. The actual physical library in my home (and the one at school), my Kindle books, and my audiobooks can all be listed together, which is nice.
In having so many book conversations with people, there’s always the “You simply MUST read this…” or “I think you’d love…” or “I’m reading this and thought of you…”, and that’s nice to add those to my reading lists on Goodreads too. My sweet friend in Alaska sent me a few books and a note with their book club’s reading list for the year. Being that she and I started that particular book club a few years back, it was sweet to feel included, and now I get to follow along from afar. It made me laugh and smile to read the little note she wrote me, and how eager I was to add all the titles to the list. Thanks for speaking to my heart, sister. 🙂
Anyway, these are my favorite 10 books from my 2017 reading list. I try really hard, just as a personal discipline and for the sake of being a well-rounded human being, to read from many many different genres, time periods, and styles of writing. Of course, there are people who I like better, and genres I don’t touch or have any interest in whatsoever. But it’s fun. Favorites tend to be biographies, historical fiction, the classics. fantasy, modern and older young adult novels (yes!), children’s fiction, spiritual development, Christian classics, and of course missionary stories. The reading list gets pretty big every year, but because I listen to books while traveling and painting and crocheting… well, that has expanded my ability for consumption quite a bit. Also since discovering Librivox (free audiobooks that are old enough to be public domain) and Overdrive (checking out digital and audiobooks from your library in the States via their app), I can listen to books without spending all my money! Brilliant, especially being that I live on a tight budget being in full-time ministry.
Top 10 of 2017:
“Tattoos on the Heart” by Gregory Boyle
The absolute BEST book of 2017, without doubt. I laughed and cried and did both at the same time which turned into snorting really. I sent it to so many friends…especially the ones who work in the inner-city and at the Denver Street School. Gregory is a Jesuit priest who has been living in the inner city of East LA for several decades, he started “Homeboy Industries” and has such a beautiful view of compassion, God’s heart, human dignity, and those coming from lives of struggle, bad choices and hopelessness.
““You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.”
“The Complete Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
After a lifetime of loving mysteries and watching crime shows with my mom, it was beyond time to read this–the original detective series! I absolutely loved seeing the roots of an entire genre I’ve always loved, seeing how so many of the standards and norms and cultural references we have come from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I loved getting to know the actual written character of Sherlock Holmes as he was originally portrayed. Did you know that in movies and television, he holds the record for being the most portrayed fictional character? Personally, after reading the complete works, I think Benedict Cumberbatch does a pretty darn close job, although Robert Downey Jr. captured some of his more infuriating social habits and compulsions pretty well.
Anyway, it was fun, a long time coming, and I’d absolutely read this again.
“Prayer” by Timothy Keller
It has taken many years to learn to love books on spiritual disciplines and development. I’m more naturally drawn to “stories” rather than how-to’s or deep thoughts on specific subjects. However, in learning to love what is also incredibly necessary and helpful, I’ve found that certain authors just DO IT better than others. Timothy Keller can write as well as he preaches, which is a gift in and of itself. He can offer the theoretical and word pictures but also give incredibly practical application. This book wasn’t so high up in the clouds I couldn’t grasp it with a bunch of mysticism, but it also wasn’t a quick and easy read with a list of 10 things to do to make your prayer life better. It took me months, actually, because it was SO GOOD that I wanted to truly soak it in and apply the principles. It was rich and dense, with testimonies of great men in our Christian faith, with practical application to a tiny person like me, and with really great writing. I appreciate everything about this book, and have been converted into a lover of this genre through Tim Keller.
“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah
Recommended by about 10 different friends, and a bestseller for quite a long while on the NY Times list, I dove in and read this one. Sometimes, I get a bit weary of WWII era stories–not the true ones, but the romanticized historical fiction. You just have to be in the right mood, I guess! Anyway, this was a fantastic novel, a compelling story, and I’d totally pass it on to other friends to read. There were a few parts where I had to gloss over pretty quickly, some of the abuse that went on was described in too much detail that hit too close to home, but other than that, it was one of the best books I read last year.
“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrick Backman
Read as a Velvet Ashes Book Club pick last summer, such a wonderful choice. Books about socially awkward people, and even more than that, people who have shut life out and are merely existing…yet they have some sort of disruption and find that the catalyst changes their miserable existence…who could help but love those? I laughed at his grumpiness (since I know too many people just like him), I cried at his griefs and reasons for the way he had become. I delighted at the moments of shifting and changing, and just marveled at the book as a whole when it was all finished, like a big beautiful mural that needs to be taken in all together and then in bits and pieces. Definitely recommended.
“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi
Last year, last winter and spring especially, were marked very clearly by grief. There were friends lost in a plane crash in Alaska, and there was the slow decline and eventual passing of my Grandpa. I read this just a few weeks after he passed, and it helped me to process some of the grief and some of the shared life values we had. Paul wrote this book as he himself was dying of cancer, and he wrote of the reconciliation he had with death, of the desire to go with dignity, and the strong need to only remain alive if life could be enjoyed with those he loved most dearly. He was a masterful writer, doctor, and philsopher.
“Dawn of Wonder” by Jonathan Renshaw
A fantasy world, lots of adventure, incredible detail…I was lost in this story for quite some time. What is most impressive about this book was that it was self-published and distributed. This guy did an amazing job raising the bar for those who don’t work through a publisher. Right away, I was searching madly for the second installment, which unfortunately has yet to be released.
(synopsis borrowed from Goodreads, since these are not necessarily my strong suit)
When a high-ranking officer gallops into the quiet Mistyvales, he brings a warning that shakes the countryfolk to their roots. But for Aedan, a scruffy young adventurer with veins full of fire and a head full of ideas, this officer is not what he seems.
The events that follow propel Aedan on a journey that only the foolhardy or desperate would risk, leading him to the gates of the nation’s royal academy – a whole world of secrets in itself.
But this is only the beginning of his discoveries. Something is stirring in the land, something more ominous than the rising threat of hostile nations. Fearful travellers whisper of an ancient power breathing over Thirna, changing it, waking it. In the very heart of these stirrings, Aedan encounters that which defies belief, leaving him speechless with terror – and wonder.
“It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War” by Lynsey Addario
A memoir by a war photographer who has been in pretty much every “theater” in the last 20 years or so. Her story was pretty incredible, pretty inspiring and rather difficult to hear at times. I listened to it in the winter before coming to Costa Rica, and it gave me a good dose of reality and perspective about the things I’ve dreamed about as ideals in my chosen profession. There are so many aspects of my job that are considered glamorous, and so many secret dreams I have that would horrify many people…a desire to “be where the action is” as it were. Her very real, very gritty experiences, took so much of the glamor out of it, and gave me a dose of the difficulty and reality of her chosen lifestyle. Two life-altering things she said were:
““With my subjects—the thousands of people I have photographed—I have shared the joy of survival, the courage to resist oppression, the anguish of loss, the resilience of the oppressed, the brutality of the worst of men and the tenderness of the best.”
” There’s the privilege of witnessing things that others do not; an idealistic belief that a photograph might affect people’s souls; the thrill of creating art and contributing to the world’s database of knowledge. When I return home and rationally consider the risks, the choices are difficult. But when I am doing my work, I am alive and I am me. It’s what I do. I am sure there are other versions of happiness, but this one is mine.”
Already, in the 6 months of being in Costa Rica and traveling around, there have been many moments, so precious to me, truly, where I have been able to say “THIS, this right here, is exactly why I do what I do.”
“Book of A Thousand Days” by Shannon Hale
There are two quotes by C.S. Lewis that I have very much taken to heart over the years and apply here in listing this book as a favorite.
“It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
and “Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us.”
I think I have read this book 3 or 4 times now, and go back to it when I want a simple, yet satisfying story, with some rather profound wisdom sprinkled in there as well. It’s a fairy tale, or at least fantasy, and probably categorized as Young Adult fiction, but I think Shannon Hale is a masterful storyteller and I love this narrative of a maid girl named Dashta and the trials she faces when imprisoned unjustly with her Lady. She shows character, resilience, and true friendship. Love it.
“Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo
Les Mis has been on my “to read” list for well over a decade, and I made an attempt at it once in my early 20’s. Back then, I got lost in all the French (which in my head I pronounced in good ole American English), and in Victor Hugo’s long long long “sidenotes” on various subjects. But alas, 2017 was the year to read it. I spent many hours curled up on the couch by the fireplace in Colorado, and also holed up in the back office at my winter job last year in Vail listening to it while I “worked”. Of course, this is one of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time. The whole is greater than it’s parts, the story of grace versus law, of forgiveness and restitution and love and what creates a family. I loved it. Who wouldn’t?
So, if you made it all the way through this, congrats! What are YOU reading this year? What have some of your favorites been lately?