Books of the Year

Happy 2017 everyone!

Per tradition, I’m starting out the new year with my favorite books I read in 2016, and my (current) list for the upcoming year! This year, I’m choosing a few main categories and picking several books for each one. I’d love to hear any thoughts or recommendations you have for me about what to put on my list for 2017!


Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi

I found this book absolutely fascinating, as both a book-lover and a lover of the memoir genre done well. The author blends her own experience living in Iran & teaching “underground” college courses with poignant insights on classic English literature. When Gatsby is being read during a wartime crisis, for example, it takes on a whole new life of its own.

The Invisible Girls, by Sarah Thebarge

I loved this book for many reasons, one of which being it’s halfway set in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. The author weaves a compelling and emotional tale of her own struggles with identity and a nearly fatal battle with cancer, as well as the surprising way in which God brought her to know and love a struggling refugee family. Raw, honest, and beautifully hopeful.


America’s Original Sin, by Jim Wallis

I’ve been reading quite a few books on racial justice, and this one I found to be a helpful summary of many others. Normally I would prefer to recommend one written by an author who is a racial minority himself, but Jim Wallis has had his skin in this game for so long I think it’s worth recommending anyway.

When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

This book has been on my list FOREVER, and it finally came through at the library! I read it early in 2016, so I’m already thinking it might be time to read it again. This book not only answered many of the questions I’ve been wrestling with about poverty & solutions, but it gave me a great framework to explain some of my own convictions with clarity. In my opinion, this should be required reading for anyone looking to “change the world” or “make a difference.” Or maybe just required reading, period.

Between the World & Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I almost feel this book would fit into the memoir category, but its message is so clearly bent towards justice I placed it here. This book has been at the top of many lists this year, so I’m not sure I have much to add except I found it very insightful & it puts an important, personal emphasis to an issue that many other books paint with a broader brush. I also feel it would have been even more valuable to read after several of the other books I read, such as Jim Wallis’s, and had more of a context for some of the terminology & historical figures he mentioned. Either way, it was an important jumping-off point for me this year.

Faith & Culture

Befriend, by Scott Sauls

I read this book shortly after election season and man, was it needed. Highly recommended as we all try to figure out how to build bridges that have been burned in the last few months, and speak the truth while always living out love. His first book, Jesus Outside the Lines, has been on my “someday” list for a while, but this brought it straight to the top for next year.

Good Faith, by David Kinnaman

There seems to be a new wave  of books in this genre coming out–I’ve read at least three that were written within the past 2 years. Each has its merits & drawbacks, but overall I felt this one articulated a compelling vision of our role as a creative minority in culture.

Onward, by Russell Moore

It’s a bit redundant to place both this book and Good Faith in the same list, as there is certainly some overlap in opinion and topic. However, there were certain incredible chapters in this one that convinced me it merits its own recommendation.


A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn

Confession: I have not actually finished this one yet, but I couldn’t not give it a place at this table. An entire narrative of American history from the side of the minority. Fascinating, often heartbreaking, and so important.

The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things, by Barry Glassner

We should all be able to agree that media has a powerful role in shaping popular thought and opinion. But what if it were shaping our fears as well–in ways we may not even be aware of? A good, hard look at many of the “fads” that surround cultural fears, and what we may want to spend our mental energy fearing instead.

Moral Minority, by David Swartz

I realized this year how little I truly know about recent history–I’ve got plenty of WWII data stored away, for example, but I couldn’t have told you more than three political facts about the 1960s. This book is an investigative look into the period of the 60s-80s, a crucial time in American politics and religion. It gave me an important framework for further reading on historical figures during this period, as well as a better understanding of how we ended up with such a polarized political climate.


This Sacred Moment, by Albert Haase

Amidst all the above books, it was sometimes a bit difficult to keep myself grounded in the present, small moments–to take my eyes away from broader theory and vision, and notice the people & opportunities around me each day. I snagged this book from the library at a much-needed moment and later bought it so I could keep re-reading it every month. A beautiful reminder that God invites us to join him in the work of this moment–as Mother Theresa famously said, “doing small things with great love.”


Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

I first read a non-fiction collection of essays by Robinson, before picking up any of her novels. Now Ben and I have put the rest of her novels on our list for 2017. Gilead was entirely unique, a book that seems so simple when I try to explain it to others, and yet felt so complex and profound while reading. There is something poetic about it, not necessarily in the words themselves but in the beautiful essence and meaning beneath them. I’ll definitely be re-reading this one.


And now, my list for the new year in no particular order:

  • Let Justice Roll Down – John Perkins
  • Jesus Outside the Lines-  Scott Sauls
  • Evicted-  Matthew Desmond
  • Grace -Natasha Deon
  • Globalization and Its Discontents– Joseph E. Stiglitz
  • The Long Loneliness– Dorothy Day
  • Jesus and the Disinherited– Howard Thurman
  • Prophetic Lament–Soong-Chan Rah
  • The Broken Way – Ann Voskamp
  • Short Stories & Early Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • (Finish!) A People’s History of the United States
  • Classics from Jonathan Edwards (would love suggestions!)
  • Home & Lila – Marilynn Robinson
  • Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko
  • A Yellow Raft in Blue River- Michael Dorris

As you can see, many of these book are all on my list because they’re tending a very specific direction. I want to be more informed about my role in all the tumult and tension in our world, and especially in our country. I want to examine life, history, & culture from another’s point of view. This year I read an unfortunately small number of novels, and my goal this year is to read a better mix of novels & nonfiction, as well as read a better mix of older & newer authors as well.

How about you? What books are on your list for 2017?

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