Best Books of 2018

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

― Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Happy 2019 everyone!

As the year comes to a close, I always enjoy looking back on all the amazing books I’ve had the privilege to read this year. I continue to be amazed at how much rich literature I can get through my local library – in fact, if I didn’t read a book I said I would read last year, it’s likely because I had to pay for it.

As always, here are my top books of 2018 (and yes, Guernsey made the list – barely):

Sprituality + Justice

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Peacework by Henri Nouwen

I enjoy reading Nouwen because he tends to look below the surface of an issue or problem and go straight for the gut. Although this book was written in the midst of the Cold War, it felt so incredibly applicable today in the midst of the fear, uncertainty, and division we experience as a nation. Nouwen is unflinching in his demand that we refuse to fight fear with fear, violence with violence, hatred with hatred. He demands that we closely examine our own hearts, for within ourselves we find the same temptation towards division, hatred, and self-preservation that we seek to fight “out there.” I’ll definitely be reading this one again.

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The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb by Goggin and Strobel

For the past year or two, I have been wrestling with the idea of power and what it means for followers of Christ. There is so much pressure within the Church to see big growth, exciting breakthroughs, and to influence culture by rising to positions of power and influence. This book is essentially asking the question I and I think many other Christians are asking: What does it look like to live within a Jesus kind of power, a power of another Kingdom, where we are told to become servants of all and choose the downward way? What I most appreciate about this book is that rather than try to answer such difficult questions through one or two people’s opinions, each chapter features an interview with a faithful Christian leader who has been “in the trenches” for decades. They discuss what a healthy view of power is, and how we as Christians can – and should – choose “the way of the Lamb.”

Personal Growth

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Embracing the Body by Tara Owens

I needed this book this year.

After a year of serious health struggles and a lot of frustration about my body, I was realizing how very dis-embodied I had been living for several years. This book was recommended by a friend during this critical time and has really helped me learn how to listen to my body and incorporate my body just as much as my soul into spiritual practices. This has been especially meaningful as Ben and I have continued to discover the rich Christian tradition of liturgy. I understand that talking about our bodies can be an uncomfortable subject, but this book was so healing for me and I encourage you to give it a chance.

Spiritual Growth

You Are What You Love by James K A Smith

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You are what you love. But you might not love what you think. And how can we truly tell what we love? By our habits, not just our words. This is the basic premise of Smith’s book, and it has been a huge part of opening my eyes to the spiritual power of habit. This is certainly Smith’s most user-friendly book (we tried to read several others of his this year too) and I can’t recommend it enough.

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For the Life of the World  by Alexander Schmemman

I’m a little hesitant to include this one because I can’t promise you that you will agree with 100% of what Schmemman says. But I also couldn’t not put it in, because his images and insights have stayed with me for months and months. From his first chapter, tracing the imagery of hunger throughout the Scriptures, he had me hooked in both a literary and deeply personal sense. I will be rereading this one again and again.

Nonfiction

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The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

First of all, who doesn’t want to read this book after seeing that gorgeous cover?

Judging a book by its cover aside, I actually chose this book because it was an incredible example of the power of nonfiction storytelling. It inspired me not only because it was a really good story, but because it was told so well. Also, I learned more than I ever thought possible about the origins of coffee in Yemen, and one courageous man’s journey to reawaken his heritage in the midst of violence, conflict, and eventually enemy captivity.

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Love Undocumented by Sarah Quezada

I love books that open my eyes and teach me through stories. Often, we can be overwhelmed by extremely complicated issues such as immigration, and a story like this one cuts through legal jargon by telling the true story of one woman who fell in love with a man who happened to be undocumented. Their journey of navigating the immigration system is told with humor, grace, and a well-balanced view of both the brokenness of the immigration system and the importance of integrity and truth. If you’re feeling unsure of what to think about all the current discussion around immigration, I highly recommend you pick this one up.

Memoir

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Every Word is a Bird we Teach to Sing by Daniel Tammet

Tammet is a young man fascinated by words and language who happens to have Asperger Syndrome. This book is part memoir, part show-and-tell as he weaves together his own story with delightful chapters on language – from the strict child-naming enforcement in Iceland to the battle of dictionary updates and intricacies of sign language. Aptly called “a joyous romp through the world of words, letters, stories, and meanings,” I thoroughly enjoyed this one!

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Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris

I’ve read poetry by Norris before that I really enjoyed and stumbled across her memoir through a recommendation of a friend. Norris folds stories – of growing up in Hawaii, settling down many years later in North Dakota, and walking side by side with her husband through his many illnesses – with her own struggles with depression and living “a writer’s life.” I found this book to have the kind of depth and compassion that is born out of many years of struggle and sustained by a relationship with God that is, above anything else, fully honest and transparent.

Fiction

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Virgil Wander  by Leif Enger

IT”S HERE! Ever since I read Peace Like a River in college, I’ve been waiting eagerly for Enger’s next novel. Virgil Wander did not disappoint. In true Enger fashion, it is full of memorable and slightly eccentric characters and completely unexpected journeys. Reading this book will make you want to step outside, breathe deep in the fresh morning air, and live that day with humor, compassion, and courage. And possibly live in small-town Minnesota. Don’t miss this one.

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The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky

Aside from the fact that it took me an entire year to get through this book, I’m including it because it’s difficult to describe how much this book has changed me. I started reading it mostly because I had heard it was interesting – and because our book club chose it for the year. By the end, however, I had found myself thinking in Karamozavian terms – “Don’t be such an Ivan (to myself).” “Choose the way of Alyosha, the way of grace.” Strange to say out loud, but there it is.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Thanks to all of your suggestions, I read a lot of great fiction this year and had such a hard time choosing between them all! It seems a bit obvious to put this one here (didn’t everybody love it?), but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this delightful story.

Best book I Haven’t Finished

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Community and Growth by Jean Vanier

This year I have been thinking a lot about how to build authentic community. I’m realizing the vision I have in my head of creating a warm and welcoming community can be more difficult than I thought when our lives are full of transition, interruptions, and the continual need for growth. Vanier speaks from his decades of experience living in community at L’Arche – a world  I now orbit distantly as my husband works at a L’Arche community in our hometown. We have both found this book to be extremely timely and full of depth that can only come from years of living it out through the best and hardest of times. I look forward to finishing it in 2019!

Honorable Mentions

Ordinary Light

This memoir by Tracy K Smith, current Poet Laureate of the United States, was a wonderful exploration of her years growing up in two worlds – the world of her family’s black heritage and the almost entirely white world of her school and peers.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Austin Channing Brown did a fabulous job in her debut book, best described as “an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female in middle-class white America.”

Jayber Crow 

Even though he didn’t make the first cut, I really enjoyed my first Wendell Berry novel and look forward to reading more in the coming year.

Jesus Outside the Lines

I loved and aboslutely needed this book from Scott Sauls this year. But I found the first third of the book to be the most profound, and then lost my interest near the end.

 

And, as always, my continually growing list for the coming year:

 

Now it’s your turn! What books are on your list in 2019? What have you read this year that you would recommend?

Happy 2019, everyone!

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