My Goodreads goal this year was to read 50 books. I wasn’t sure initially if this would stress me or motivate me, but it turned out to do both. Around the same time I surpassed my goal, I realized I’d created a validating checklist instead of a literary experience. Books are magical, inspiring, and meticulously brought into publication: I don’t want to rush through anyone’s hard-earned masterpiece of words without full appreciation and absorption of all it has to offer.
So in 2018, I’m going to read at my own pace and enjoy the books I choose (I’m a English graduate now, so the hefty syllabi of volumes are out of my way!).
That being said, 65 books in one year…wow. Each has brought me either joy, rumination, awe, or laughter (or a combination). Here are the 5 that stand out as my favorites from this year:
- Alexander Hamilton: Ron Chernow
- Sacred Marriage: Gary Thomas
- Quiet: Susan Cain
- Befriend: Scott Sauls
- The Turquoise Table: Kristin Schnell
All 5 of my 2017 faves happen to be nonfiction! That’s reflective of a phase I’ve been going through lately. Partly due to university reading lists, and partly due to my wonderful, poli-historical aficionado fiancé, I’ve devoured more nonfiction this year than ever. The genre offers an intellectual break from fiction, and holds material that more directly affects our everyday lifestyles. I am encouraged, challenged, and convicted by these books. Here are some of the highlights of each one:
Alexander Hamilton: Ron Chernow
Ron Chernow is an avid biographical author who’s penned accounts of the lives of numerous historical figures. At first glance, a 500-page history of Hamilton seems daunting compared to enjoying the 2-hour musical with everybody else. The difference is artistic and historical depth. Chernow takes readers from the early family details of Hamilton’s heritage through the echoing aftermath of Weehawken with clarity, color, and charisma. His sentences are bedecked with beautiful prose. His stories are those of a novelist. His historical asides aren’t at all disconnected from the narrative. Each chapter makes the reader desire to delve more deeply into the mass of pages still undiscovered. Chernow makes political concepts easy to understand, and weaves an account both scholarly and scintillating. If you just can’t get enough Hamilton (even at this late stage) and you’ve already read all the fiction spin-offs of the musical hype, do yourself a sweet favor and read the master biography.
Sacred Marriage: Gary Thomas
Now, this isn’t one of those “You shall have no fun because marriage, like Christianity, is a humorless business, holy and not at all related to the physical body” books. Gary Thomas relates fun stories about he and his wife. He speaks kindly, empathetically, with readers about why Christian marriage, a covenant between a man and woman and God, is primarily purposed in glorifying the God who created marriage. Thomas shows multiple, tangible ways worship can be practiced in everyday marriage. He doesn’t shy away from the earthy realities of being bound to another human. At the same time, Thomas offers hope, Scripturally-saturated principles, and anecdotes to ease the spirit. If you need positive conviction in your Christian marriage (or a guidebook for your spiritual preparation in engagement) this is a great read.
Quiet: Susan Cain
Have you recently heard something along these lines regarding another person? “He loves spending time alone– he’s such a recluse!” or, “She never wants to come out on Friday nights. She must just be antisocial.” American society is crafted, especially in professional settings, around an “extrovert ideal.” Susan Cain describes how this plays out in everyday situations involving people from all locations on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Business deals, student expectations, and other interactions are heavily dictated by these unconscious standards about how people should operate socially. But people are all uniquely crafted! Cain’s crucial point, conveyed through delightfully-meticulous research and testimony, is that the world needs both extroverts and introverts. Neither one is more valuable. There’s nothing wrong with recharging in private: some of the most renown inventors, writers, and other revered humans have done this. And there’s nothing wrong with craving the company of ten good friends at a party, either. Whether or not you’re an introvert, reading Quiet will give you a greater appreciation for your unique social makeup…and that of the person beside you.
Befriend: Scott Sauls
Goodness, this book. If there’s one volume that personally stretched me most this year, it is this book without a doubt. Chapters of Sauls’s book each address interactions between two dichotomous groups of people (rich and poor, conservative and liberal, racially privileged and racially discriminated, etc.) The author’s point isn’t that Christians need to convince the other side of our beliefs. His thesis is, instead, that in order to love people like Christ, we need to focus on opening ourselves up in healthy ways to people we wouldn’t normally befriend. As Christians, we must chase Christlike love over being right. There are so many passages in this little book that challenged my own unconsciously-held biases towards others. Sauls writes with a disarming tone as he presents a case for Christlike friendship. This love is not given at the expense of conviction but at the expense of the pride that so often is tied up in the hills upon which we insist on “dying.” Befriend is an theologically profound, inspiring book that helps readers remember what’s really eternally important. After all, Jesus hung out with and loved every person.
The Turquoise Table: Kristin Schnell
Speaking of hanging out…who has time to do that? Not busy moms, working professionals, or…well, the majority of Americans. Again, our cultural expectation– the anxiety-inducing glorification of “busy”– prevents us from experiencing the fullness of relationship with even our neighbors. Kristin Schnell proposes that hospitality isn’t about preparing a Pinterest-perfect table. Rather, “Hospitality is always about the people, not the presentation.” In this aesthetically adorable little volume, Schnell shares quaint recipes, bite-sized yet beautiful spiritual truths, and warm encouragement for the weary soul. Even a gallon of lemonade and some cookies shared in a half-hour between tasks can nourish sweet bonds. We don’t need to be perfect; we just need to be present to encounter those on the other side of the table.
Now that I’ve shared my 2017 favorites, I want to know: What are your favorite reads from 2017? What genre did you find yourself most enthralled by this year? And what lesson have you mined from the pages of a published treasure?
From a small Starbucks on a snow-covered Denver street, I wish each of you a Merry Christmas full of cozy sweaters, warm drinks, and God’s overwhelming peace.