It’s no secret: I love reading. If there was a way for me to sit on my couch in my comfy pants and read all the books I wanted to read and get paid for it–with health care, vision, dental, and a 401 K–well, can you say dream job? Alas, I have yet to find a professional opportunity that meets that description. I would have really made an excellent librarian though, can’t believe I didn’t think of that at the tender age of 18 when committing myself to a lifelong profession even though I hardly knew anything about myself then and yet I had to make all these ridiculously important choices that would permanently alter the course of my life and shape me forever. ANYWAY. Since I don’t want to go back to school to be a librarian, and nobody seems to want to pay me to read books in my sweats, I have to do it on my own time, for free. So, I thought it would be fun to share all the books I read (in my sweats) in 2016:
Go Set a Watchman–Harper Lee ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I am embarrassed to say that I never read To Kill a Mockingbird until last year. I know most people read this book in high school, but for some reason, it was never on my reading list. I didn’t have much of an interest in picking it up as an adult because it was a “school book”, which sounded like it wouldn’t be much fun. When I finally did read it last year, I discovered why it is a timeless classic. Truth be told, I don’t know if I would have fully appreciated such a work as a high school student. I probably would have rushed through it and missed all of the nuances of the book. So, after falling in love with TKAM, I was quite excited to read Ms. Lee’s long-awaited sequel.
Her writing is beautiful and thought-provoking, with our favorite characters from TKAM all grown up. I do love Scout, so feisty and idealistic, ready to take on the world and unwilling to conform to the expectations of her small-town upbringing. It is so interesting (and infuriating) to me that the issues of race and white supremacy are still as relevant today as when she published TKAM in 1960.
The buzz when this book came out was that it portrayed Atticus as a racist, which turns out to not be entirely true. Atticus, like all of us, is a mix of dark and light, good and bad, redeeming and unredeeming qualities. We see him trying to live out his moral convictions in a very broken society that does not share his views and is fiercely trying to maintain the status quo. As the story unfolds, we see Scout’s perception of Atticus change, as it does for all of us when we grow up and find out that our parents are just people, with flaws and faults, and the pedestal we had placed them on starts to topple.
Overall, I loved the book, mostly because of my preexisting relationship with the characters. I found the plot less compelling than TKAM, but still a good follow-up to this classic.
How to be here: A guide to creating a life worth living–Rob Bell ⭐️⭐️
Rob Bell just seems like he is everywhere these days, so I needed to check out at least one of his books. I still want to read some of his other offerings, but this one left me feeling a little flat. It was a pretty quick read with short, manageable chapters and upbeat, encouraging language for all you optimists out there. His main point is that we are all part of the ongoing work of creation, and therefore all work is creative work. We need to find our “ikigai” (a Japanese word meaning our “reason for being”), which is constantly evolving, and learn about our own selves and our gifts so that we can offer the world the fullest expression of ourselves. Overall, I found the content…forgettable. And maybe just a little too shiny-happy-people-holding-hands for my taste. Which makes me wonder if I missed the point of the book. Full disclosure, I did read this book when I was very sick with a sinus infection and hopped up on cold medicine, so it is possible I did not absorb HTBH it to its fullest extent.
When Helping Hurts–Steve Corbett ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I read this book in preparation for my short-term missions experience in April, and it rocked my world. As a Christian, I have been socialized to go out in the world and help others, show mercy through action, and to do good in His name. Those of us who live in privileged Western societies sometimes look beyond our borders and see our brothers and sisters in third-world countries suffering hunger, thirst, war, and oppression and we feel the natural desire to help. Often, our efforts toward poverty alleviation are directed closer to home. This book explores how our efforts both at home and abroad, though well-intentioned, can actually cause harm to those we set out to serve by reinforcing dependence, robbing people of their dignity, setting up an unequal relationship that fosters a “God-complex”, and even suppressing the local economy through donations and relief aid. There are many excellent stories and examples in the book, along with practical strategies for those who wish to be involved in poverty alleviation. I plan to read this one again, as the content is rich and I will need to refresh my memory on the concepts in this book.
Reconstructing Amelia–Kimberley McCreight ⭐️⭐️⭐️
This one was a serious page turner, and I was excited to read it, since some had lauded it as “the next Gone Girl“. I read this shortly after my birthday in my new hammock, and finished it in a week. The plot is a modern day mystery, with a teenage girl found dead after falling off the roof at school. Her mother is unable to accept the school’s explanation that her daughter Amelia committed suicide, and sets to work piecing together clues to find out what happened to her daughter. The story was compelling and kept me reading, but I was unsatisfied with the ending. I think it was a decent read, especially if you are looking for a “summer beach read”. However, it was far too one-dimensional to be “the next Gone Girl“, which, in my opinion, was brilliantly crafted.
All the light we cannot see–Anthony Doerr ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is a beautiful work of historical fiction, set in occupied France during World War II. This book was highly acclaimed and the winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and I agree that the writing is beautiful and the plot very interesting. However, there were several times I got a little weighed down by the descriptive prose, and the story sometimes moved a little too slow for my taste. That aside, I am sure this much-loved novel will become a classic.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear–Elizabeth Gilbert ⭐️⭐️⭐️
This one I enjoyed as an audio book on our way to the Adirondacks for our summer vacation. It was pretty interesting to listen to, and had some good advice for artists and non-artists alike about how to let go of fear and embrace your inner creativity. There are some good stories and anecdotes, and the book is well written. While it is interesting to get a peek into Ms. Gilbert’s creative process, I found this book very…self-promoting (I had similar feelings about Eat, Pray, Love). She talks about herself a lot. It reads more like a memoir, though it is not advertised in that genre. Generally speaking I find her, as a person, quite insightful. I follow her on Facebook and usually find her to be encouraging, brave, and authentic. Did I feel inspired to tap into my creative side by the time I completed the book? Yes. Was I also tired of hearing Liz G. talk about herself? Yes. P.S.-Don’t tell Liz I said that about her book, I really want her to like me.
Homegoing–Yaa Gyasi ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
If I had to describe this book in one word: WOW. Blew me away. This brilliant story chronicles the lives of two half-sisters in Ghana in the 18th century. One sister is sold into slavery and travels from the Gold Coast of Africa to America, and the other sister is married off to a slave trader and remains in Ghana. The story then follows the family lines of both sisters over the ensuing centuries, exploring the contrasting cultural, racial, socioeconomic, and family issues that arise on both sides. Historical fiction is my absolute favorite genre! I learned so much about the African slave trade while highly engaged in this compelling story.
The Book of Negroes–Lawrence Hill ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Listen up. You need to read this book. I am officially bestowing unto The Book of Negroes the award for my favorite book out of all the books I read this year in the category of fiction. That is a big deal, people. Extra points because the author is Canadian! Way to represent the homeland Mr. Hill. This book just broke my heart over and over and left me spent and exhausted and emotionally drained in the absolute best way by the end. Doesn’t that sound fun? A light read it is not, but I am not a big fan of those “fluffy” beach reads. This here is something you can sink your teeth into. I can’t even tell you anything about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it. Just read it for yourself.
Love Warrior: A Memoir–Glennon Doyle Melton ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This book was so highly anticipated for me because I am a Glennon Doyle Melton fangirl. I loved her first book, Carry On Warrior, and I am an avid follower of her blog, Momastery. And yes, I took a short trip Atlanta to see her when she was on her book tour, and it was awesome. And now I sound like a groupie. Or a stalker. Anyhow, what I love about her writing is her honest, authentic voice. There is no facade here, no putting her best face forward so that what people see and hear is some cropped and perfected and photo-shopped version of her. In Love Warrior, Glennon gives us the gift of her pain, and what she learned about herself from it. She doesn’t sugar-coat her journey or tie it up all neat with a bow by the end, or give you 10 simple steps to work through it. Her story is both nothing and everything like my own journey. This one wins the award for my favorite book out of all the books I read this year, in the category of non-fiction.
Haiti: The God of tough places, the Lord of burnt men–Richard Frechette ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is a sweet little book full of essays by Father Rick Frechette, who is both a Catholic priest and a medical doctor. He is the medical director for NPH Haiti and St. Damien’s Pediatric Hospital in Port-au-Prince. I had the privilege of hearing Father Rick speak at an event at a local church and it was so interesting and beautiful to hear from this humble, godly man and to witness his devotion to this country and its people. Thanks to my good friend Kris for loaning me her copy, which is still on my nightstand needing to be returned! I guess Kris and I should have lunch sometime soon so I can get that back to her!
Mudbound–Hillary Jordan ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I was actually really surprised by how much I loved this book. It ended up being one of my top 5 favorites this year. I downloaded it on my Kindle because it was available at the library and I wanted something to read that week, and it turned out to be a real standout. Set in 1946 on the Mississippi Delta, the author explores the issues of racism, white supremacy, and racial violence in the Jim Crow south, telling us the story of two war heroes (one black, one white) who returned to their families at the end of WWII. The character development in this book was top-notch. I can’t wait to read what she writes next.
Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail–Cheryl Strayed ⭐️⭐️⭐️
This well-publicized memoir was a good read, but I saw the movie before I read the book so I think I probably spoiled if for myself. I liked reading about the author’s personal journey through grief and addiction toward wholeness, but some of the details in the book became repetitive after a while. (Spoiler alert: lots of hiking with unpredictable weather, and her feet were sore a lot!) Overall, a well-written book by an author whose 20’s were way more eventful than mine.
Changing our Mind—David P. Gushee ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be: IMPORTANT. This book explores the issues of homosexuality and homosexual marriage in the modern Christian church, and argues for full inclusion and acceptance of LBGTQ people in the church. As an evangelical Christian, I have struggled over the years with how to reconcile what I have always been taught in the church about homosexuality and gay marriage with my own personal beliefs and the changing political landscape of our day. This book addresses the issues from a biblical perspective, as the author takes us on his personal theological journey from one side of the coin (against homosexual relationships and gay marriage in the Christian church) to the other (in support of inclusion and homosexual marriage). This book contains a lot of wisdom, and I think it would be helpful for anyone wrestling with questions about this issue, whether or not you come to the same conclusion as the author by the end of the book.
Mountains beyond mountains: The quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a man who would cure the world—Tracy Kidder ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This book is a biography of Paul Farmer, an American physician who started working in Haiti very early in his career as a medical student and ended up co-founding Partners In Health, a non-profit organization currently operating in some of the world’s poorest countries with the goal of bringing modern medicine to the world’s poorest communities by providing a “preferential option for the poor”. This was a fascinating read about a very quirky, driven, idealistic man with big dreams and a lot of tenacity. The writing was excellent. I tried to read one of the books that Farmer himself wrote earlier this year and wasn’t able to get through it due to the boredom quotient, but this one kept me reading.
The road back to you: An Enneagram Journey to self-discovery–Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I heard about this book on another blog I follow, and I loved it! The Enneagram sounds very New Age, but it is really an ancient wisdom tradition that provides a model of looking at the human personality and behavior. For those of you who are familiar with other personality theories, such as the Meyers-Briggs model, this is similar, though also in a category of its own. The Enneagram divides personality into nine types, and this book describes each in detail with the goal of discovering more about your own type to lead you into greater self-understanding and self-compassion. I discovered that I am a classic “One” on the Enneagram, and was able to understand more about the other types as well (and also identify the “numbers” of many of my loved ones and friends!). I definitely want to read another book on this topic next year. This was more of an overview, for those who are new to the concept.
So, what’s on my reading list for next year? So far I plan to read:
I know why the caged bird sings: Maya Angelou I am half-way through this one, but didn’t finish it in time to put it on my 2016 list! My first Maya Angelou book. I am late to the party.
Falling Upward: Richard Rohr Waiting for me at the library right now! Can’t wait!
The Silent Sister: Diane Chamberlain Also waiting at the library!
The Nightingale: Kristin Hannah My sister loaned me this one at Christmas. Both my mom and my sister gave this top marks. It will have to wait a month or so until after I finish the library books.
The Other Boleyan Girl: Phillipa Gregory Also on loan from my sister, who has great taste in books.
The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective: Richard Rohr As a follow-up to The Road Back to You. I recently learned about Richard Rohr and I am becoming a junkie.
The Underground Railroad: Colson Whitehead So excited to read this one after hearing rave reviews about this award-winner.
Breath, Eyes, Memory: Edwidge Danticat This was published almost 20 years ago, but after finding out that the author is Haitian, and the story is set in Haiti, I definitely want to read it.
So, talk to me! What did you read this year? What do you hope to read next year? I gotta go, I have a lot of reading to catch up on!! So many books, so little time!