Best of 2018 (and a GIVEAWAY)

IMG_2375 2Today is all about the books, and boy, did I read some books this year! Here’s my favorites list, broken into categories. I read about 90 books this year, and 86 of them were excellent, so this is the truly the cream of the crop.

Just for the fun of it, on the last day of 2018, I am going to randomly select 3 people and send them the book of their choice from my list. To enter my drawing, leave me a comment – tell me 1 book you loved from 2018, name a book from my list you would like to receive if you win the drawing, and make sure I have a good e-mail address so I can reach out to you if you win!

FICTION

Circe by Madeline Miller – an epic story, truly spellbinding. Might be my top, top pick of the year.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson – This is a contender with Circe. This is the 3rd book of the Gilead series. Robinson is one of the greatest novelists on the planet. These books will sink into your soul. If you pick this one, let me know if you’ve read Gilead and Home – if not, you’ll get the set.:)

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – a tender, charming tale, both heartbreaking and hopeful. Honeyman creates a memorable main character.

Leaf By Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien – a short little gem that stuck with me throughout the year. Thank you to my friend, Len Woods, for recommending. This is my favorite quote: “He was kindhearted, in a way. You know the sort of kind heart: it made him uncomfortable more often than it made him do anything…” Sounds familiar.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – This was hard to put down – insightfully drawn cast of characters intricately intertwined by a gripping plot. Culturally relevant without being preachy.

MEMOIR

If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie – poetic, lovely, challenging, encouraging. I read this and listened on Audible (the audiobook was beautifully done). I placed this under memoir, but it is artfully blended with other stories and ancient Celtic mythology.

Educated by Tara Westover – Wow, just wow! What a redemption story.

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin – a witty and wise commentary on life and aging. I love her use of language. It’s sharp and sparkly, makes me think.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs – Fascinating, needling, funny, sometimes difficult, but impossible to stop reading. I hope she keeps writing her stories.

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende – grounded optimism and encouragement flow through her engaging stories. “Be braver, and do as the poets and saints advise—string a few kind words together, and say them out loud.”

SPIRITUAL / DEVOTIONAL

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor – she is one of my writing heroes. I soak up everything she puts out there. This book was lovely, honest, and deeply helpful.

Learning the Vocabulary of God by Frank Laubach – I read this moving journal and immediately ordered 6 additional copies to give to friends.

A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions of Lent by Walter Brueggemann – I will read this again during lent in 2019. “Christians in our society are cast between these voices in terms of political and economic power, to see whether we can honor the pain-filled voices of marginality or if we will notice only the tired claims of the old monopolies.”

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle – Father Boyle is one of the most inspirational storytellers on the planet. The title says it all. Moving, hilarious, heartbreaking, challenging. You will not be the same after you read this.

Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr – another one of my all-time favorite writers. This is a grace-filled, honest, and merciful look at the cycle of addiction and how we can break out of destructive patterns. “To finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened up within us—and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body.”

The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life by Frederick Buechner – If you know me, then you are not surprised to see his name on my list. This is a wonderful collection of his writing – much of it was new to me. “So, art is saying Stop. It helps us to stop by putting a frame around something and makes us see it in a way we would never have seen it under the normal circumstances of living, as so many of us do, on sort of automatic pilot, going through the world without really seeing much of anything.” A great quote to lead into the next section.IMG_7701

POETRY

The older I get, the more I appreciate poetry. Maybe I’m more still and patient? I loved what a I read this year.

Devotions by Mary Oliver – she’s my favorite. She speaks my hidden language.

American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time edited by Tracy K. Smith – She is currently the Poet Laureate of the US, traveling the country, teaching and learning. This is a smart collection from lots of amazing poets – a good way to introduce yourself to new voices.

Life on Mars: Poems by Tracy K. Smith – strong, sometimes strange, contemporary, exploring the inner landscape and the broader culture. She is an immense talent.

Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil – I am trying to learn how to pronounce her name because I want to be able to tell people about her writing. She awakens curiosity and invites us into the deep waters – not easy poetry, but it was well worth my time.

KIDS AND TEENS (and big kids like me)

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman – This is the first volume of 3 that will be released. He is brilliant. The world is the same as the world from His Dark Materials trilogy, but it stands alone. A delightful adventure!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – This book has the highest Amazon star rating of any on my list, and that is well deserved. This is a riveting, gut-wrenching (yet hopeful) story. Highly recommend for everyone 14 and up.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – This brilliant book was inspired by the author’s childhood experience as a refugee from Vietnam, immigrating to Alabama. I read and listened to the audiobook. The audiobook would be a fantastic choice for a family car trip. This tale is gripping, enlightening, and hilarious at times.

OTHER NON-FICTION

These kind of cross between self-help and memoir; all of them were enlightening.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant – What to do when Option A is ripped out from under you.

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari – a compelling and startling shift in the conversation about depression and how to treat it. Controversial, challenging, and encouraging.

The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope – contemplative and inspirational, drawing from the deep wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita and making it accessible to our western minds.

The Enneagram: A Spiritual Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert – The Enneagram has given me a helpful framework, elevating my understanding of and bringing grace to some of the more rascally parts of my personality (and the personalities of my loved ones). This is one of my favorite books on the subject.

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler – A brave, poignant, unflinching conversation about grief and all of its extreme complications. She is brave, knife-wielding, hilarious, holy and profane, curious, angry, graceful, kind, and HUMAN. I’ll revisit this one, no doubt.

That’s it! A reminder about the book giveaway – leave the following in a comment below: a book you loved from 2018, the book you would want from my list, and how to get in touch with you if you are one of the 3 winners from my drawing at the year’s end.

 

 

 

Read More Stories!

Angle of ReposeLast night, I finished Wallace Stegner’s lengthy masterpiece, Angle of Repose. I set it down and contemplated what a privilege it was to have time to read. I read a lot of books, a lot of amazing books.  Because of the sheer length of my booklist, if your book is not well-written, it will be quickly discarded.

I have pages and pages of highlighted quotes, notes, and references from my favorite wise non-fiction writers (Krista Tippett, Parker Palmer, Richard Rohr, Brennan Manning, Frederick Buechner & David Brooks come to mind – all highlights of last year), but there is something different that happens when I read a great novel. While non-fiction works tend to ping around in my brain and sometimes sift their way into the deeper places of my heart, stories just march right in my heart’s front door. What is it about a story?

We are all living stories. God’s story telling confounds me sometimes. Bible stories, especially the most ancient ones, can pull up confusion and even revulsion. But I do believe God is the grand storyteller, and a story weaver in our lives. He created us in his storytelling image – story is quite literally in our DNA.

Written story stands apart from any other form of storytelling. I was staring at a page in a real book – printed on actual paper. The font was small enough to challenge even my 1.75 readers (I love my Kindle). I took off my glasses so I couldn’t make out the words, and I noted that the vast majority of the page was white. All those tiny black letters probably took up 10 percent of the space. And it struck me – that’s what a satisfying novel does – it’s leaves us space to bring our own stories, our personalities, and our circumstances with us into the reading. No one will leave Angle of Repose changed in the same way it changed me, for no one else brings what I do to all that white space.

Characters are filtered through my life’s characters, whether I mean to or not. Their faces, their voices and smiles and joys, the way they move, their successes and failures take on unique forms in my mind based on what I know. So each novel, if it is written well, becomes customized to my soul.

I have a hard time remembering Jesus’s specific theology from his sermon on the mount, but the parables stick – I often think of the lost sheep, the woman desperately hunting her coin, the scene where the prodigal son is at last spotted by his father, the struggling seeds, the grumbling workers – these are the things that inform my spiritual life automatically.

My point is made. We should all read more epic stories. Maybe one day I’ll even write one. Every time I finish a remarkable novel, I wonder why I don’t read more! Here are a few of my favorites from the past few months. Please take a moment to comment and tell me a couple of your favorites. Or connect with me on Goodreads.

Wallace Stegner:  Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose, Ann Patchett: State of Wonder, Fredrik Backman: A Man Called Ove, Marilynne Robinson: Gilead and Home (these probably top my list), Kristin Hannah: The Nightingale, Adam Johnson: Fortune Smiles, Wm. Paul Young: Eve and Cross Roads, Frederick Buechner: The Storm and Godric, John Steinbeck: Travels with Charley.

Your turn…