So many books… so little time. I can’t imagine life without books, and I spend a lot of time reading, reviewing, and creating books. In 2016 I read for the Woman Alive Book Club, for my local book club, for my MA studies, and for research for the book I wrote, The Living Cross, on the theme of forgiveness (and thus not as many books for pleasure as I’d have loved to have read). I’ve winnowed my list down to eight books to recommend to you – two that I endorsed, two for the Woman Alive Book Club, two I read for my local book club, and two related to my master’s studies.
Two Stellar Books I Got to Put my Name To
Barefoot by Sharon Garlough Brown
The third installment in The Sensible Shoes series by Sharon Garlough Brown is another winner of a novel. None of the four women who feature in it are perfect – some battle with bitterness and anger; others with perfectionism and control. But all are beloved children of God, and all are seeking to live in the transforming presence of God. The author doesn’t shy away from having the characters encounter real-life strife and hardship, which is true-to-life but wrenching too.
Sometimes in a series subsequent books can feel like they spiral downward in terms of quality, but not here. I won’t say too much about the plot of Barefoot, so as not to give anything away, but it gripped me and wrenched me.
My endorsement: Prepare to be encouraged, inspired, stretched, and wrung out by Barefoot. This enriching novel embodies God’s transforming presence in the lives of four imperfect but beloved friends. Don’t miss it.
What Falls From the Sky by Esther Emery
A heartfelt memoir about living without the internet for a year that I gobbled up in a day. Reader, read it! You won’t be sorry. I won’t say a whole lot about it now, for I’ll be featuring it in the Woman Alive Book Club in 2017. Here’s my endorsement:
What started for Esther as an experiment of whittling down turned into a journey of abundance. I was riveted from the first page, and when I reached the last I felt I had gained a new friend. Profound and gentle, compelling and engaging, Esther’s story will spur you on to love and live better.
Two Books I Featured in the Woman Alive Book Club
Land of Silence by Tessa Afshar
When I started Land of Silence, I was glad I didn’t know more than my vague sense of it being biblical fiction, for I think that the publisher gives away too much in its promotional materials about which biblical story it describes.
So in the spirit of not giving sharing too much of the plot, the story centers on Elianna, a young woman who is the daughter of a weaver. She and her family face many trials, which in her bitter disappointment only deepens her legalistic view of God. She can’t believe that good things will ever come to her or to her family, and the many horrible things only intensify her mistrust of God, until one day…
I connected with Elianna emotionally, weeping at times over the incredible disappointments and trials that she faced. She’s a feisty character with a big heart who acts in misguided ways at times, but ultimately the reader sees God redeeming the years the locusts ate. The author brings alive this period in biblical history, especially how it must have felt to be a Jewish person under the Roman authorities.
Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
Shauna Niequist embraced change at a soul level when she was on the brink of crashing and burning from too much travel and work. Although she was a wife and a mother of two young boys, yet she kept saying “yes” to the many opportunities that came along. Her yeses to speaking at those events meant less time at home – less time to be and rest and receive love.
On the verge of collapse, she learned out of necessity to say “no.” It became for her “the scalpel I wielded as I remade my life, slicing through the tender tissue of what needed to go and what I wanted to remain.” And with her nos became a new opening in her life, as she started to embrace the ancient spiritual practices of the Christian faith such as Ignatius’s prayer of examen (praying through the events of the day in the evening) and lectio divina (praying with a text from Scripture). As she slowed down, she started to breathe and live and understand that her worth not came from producing but from being the beloved.
This may not be your struggle; Present over Perfect will speak most, perhaps, to those in their thirties who are juggling many aspects of life. But we all can use the reminder that our worth comes from God and his love, and not because we serve or meet the needs and expectations of others.
Two Books We Discussed in my Local Book Club
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
A delightfully quirky novel. The main character, Ove, is proper – to a fault. He see things in black and white and likes things to run well.
The reader finds themselves on a journey of discovery with this novel. I love how we don’t find out the back story right away, but rather that unfolds slowly. (Don’t watch the previews for the movie adaptation for I think they give far too much away.)
I won’t say too much to spoil the story, but I very much enjoyed it. It made me think about the role of community, and why we don’t know our neighbors anymore.
Wonder by R J Palacio
At the request of my daughter and her friends, we started a junior book club, and this was the first book they read and discussed (after we, their mothers, had so enjoyed it for our book club). It features Auggie, a ten-year-old boy born with a facial deformity, and his journey of entering mainstream school. I loved the various viewpoints the author presents through switching up the narrators. As a sister to my brother who has had special needs, I ached when I read his sister Via’s thoughts and feelings, which rang true. One for kids and adults.
Two Books in Christian Spirituality
The journey of studying for an MA is delightful, stretching, and harder than I anticipated. Critical, analytical thinking is not my place of happiness, which is ironic, considering that I spent many years editing books in the realm of ideas. But I love the subject matter of Christian spirituality, and am gaining so much from being exposed to some of the giants who document these so-called unmediated (direct) experiences of God. Here are two books I recommend if you’d like to have a taste of these writers.
The Essential Writings of Christian Spirituality, edited by Bernard McGinn
Bernard McGinn is seen as a leading scholar in the field of Christian spirituality. He’s writing the volumes that underpin our course in his series, The Presence of God, and has put together this approachable volume that is a wonderful one-stop shop for exposure to these writers. It’s an anthology with his short introductions to the writers and themes, and could be used devotionally.
Entering Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle by Gillian T.W. Ahlgren
I loved getting to know Teresa of Avila a bit through writing two essays on her and her Interior Castle. The best companion I found was Gillian Ahlgren, who not only is an academic but one who leads retreats. I love that she’s a strong thinker but a practitioner too – she wants people to engage with the readers for their spiritual transformation.
I loved her Entering Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, for it’s a clear introduction to the various dwelling places in Teresa’s Castle that explores issues of the self and personhood in relation to God’s presence in one’s life. I found her exploration helpful in the two aspects I looked at, which were how Teresa experienced visions (and what they meant) and how she understood her locutions – that is, how she evaluated how she heard God.
What were some of your top reads for 2016?