As I’ve mentioned, I made my 2016 reading goals via the Challies 2016 Reading Challenge. I didn’t quite make it, but I’m okay with that because I feel like my reading life was reinvigorated this year, even as my work life was super busy . I didn’t stick to the categories in the reading challenge, but this rule-follower is actually okay with that, too. Here’s what I read this year, followed by my five favorites of the year:
A book about Christian living: Be Still, My Soul (25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain). I started this one last year and finished it on New Year’s Day.
I recommend this collection of essays from noted theologians like J.I. Packer, Joni Eareckson Tada, Martin Luther, and John Piper. My favorite essay was from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
A biography: Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More, Poet, Abolitionist, Reformer by Karen Swallows Prior
This is a fascinating read that I will be thinking about long after today. I hope to share more soon.
A self-improvement book: The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon
We’re going through this book at work. It’s a quick read, so I finished it in just a few days.
A classic novel: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
How in the world did I miss this book all these years? It was a page-turner, and I loved its depths. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. If you haven’t read it yet, don’t wait!
A book about productivity: Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies
This was another good read. I’m planning to set aside some time this coming weekend to set up the system he recommends. I appreciated how he reminds the reader why we should strive to be productive.
A book about theology: Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin
This is a really good resource for women who want to know God’s Word better. It is both practical and encouraging, and I’ll be referring to it again, I’m sure.
A book about joy or happiness: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
I didn’t love this one. Part of the problem may have been the format; I listened to the book on my commute via Audible, and I don’t think it’s a book that works that way. The author read it, and I found her voice distracting. Also, she would periodically read excerpts from emails or blog comments, and I had trouble distinguishing when she was referring to herself or reading something someone else wrote. I suspect I would have taken more away from the book if I’d actually read it. There are a few ideas that have stuck with me, however. One was an idea she repeated: being heavy is easy, but being light-hearted is hard. It takes effort. Also, she talked about the idea of enthusiasm as a form of social courage. I’ve thought about that one a good bit, too. If you’re looking for a book on happiness, I think Happiness Is a Serious Problem by Dennis Prager is a better choice.
A book that won a ECPA Christian Book award: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
I’ve owned this one on Kindle for a long time, and countless people have recommended it to me but for some reason I’ve only just now gotten to it. It’s very good. I really appreciate good biographies as a way to learn more history, and although I’d heard and read a bit about Bonhoeffer through the years, I’d never known the full story in the context of Nazi Germany. I wish I’d been able to read this before I visited Berlin a few years ago. Anyway, if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend it.
A book with a one-word title: Feed by M.T. Anderson
Yuck. I really, really didn’t like this book, but I have this compulsion to see a book all the way through, hoping that surely it gets better. It didn’t.
A book with the word “gospel” in the title or subtitle: Gossip and the Gospel: Understanding the Harmful Effects of Gossip in the Church – Timothy Williams
I was disappointed in this one. There’s some good stuff here – some painful conviction and some guidance on handling gossip, slander, etc. But there are also verses out of context and some condemnation that lacks the Gospel.
A memoir: The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy
I’ve wanted to read this one for a while now, but it moved up in the queue upon the author’s recent passing. Pat Conroy was a master of the English language, and as a southerner I especially appreciate his love of the south. Even though he made peace with his father, his story is still a very sad one. “In families, there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.”
A mystery or detective novel: The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly
I enjoy Connelly’s stories, but this one wasn’t my favorite. It got better about 3/4 of the way in, but just wasn’t a stand out.
A book you own but have never read: A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
This one has been on my shelf for years, and many folks have recommended it. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations after all of the rave reviews.
A book by a female author: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
I really cannot recommend this one at all. I really enjoyed the first part, but then it took a strange, slow, ultimately boring turn. I didn’t like any of the characters, either. Very disappointing.
A novel set in a country that is not your own: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
This one is good. I visited Sarajevo a few years ago, so I could picture the scenes as I read. I’ve put more of his books on my to-read list.
A book with an ugly cover: Blood Defense (Samantha Brinkmann Book 1) by Marcia Clark
This one was free on Kindle recently, so I gave it a try. It was a decent thriller, and I read the whole thing hearing Maria Clark’s voice as the narrator.
I can’t find a proper category for this one, so I’ve made up my own — A science fiction book that Anne didn’t hate: The Martian by Andy Weir
Although too science-y at times, this story moved along. The main character is hilarious. Now, I can finally watch the movie.
A book about a country or city: Paris by Edward Rutherford
I love Rutherford’s novels. He weaves stories with history and makes a place come alive in a most compelling way. This one was no exception. Now I really want to return to Paris.
A book about relationships or friendship: The Friendship Factor by Alan Loy McGinnis
I wish I could remember where I saw this book recommended so I could give proper credit, but alas, I cannot. It was a fairly quick read with some helpful encouragement. Kindle isn’t the best format for reading books like this, however. It would be nice to have a paper copy to flip back through.
A book about prayer: Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus’ Name by Bryan Chapell
It took me a ridiculously long time to finish this book, and I think I would have liked it more if I’d read it more diligently. He makes some good points, but if you’re looking for a good book on prayer, I’d recommend Paul Miller’s A Praying Life.
A book with 100 pages or fewer: Found: God’s Peace — Experience True Freedom from Anxiety in Everything by John MacArthur
This is a quick read, and honestly I found it too simplistic. If you’re truly struggling with anxiety, get thee to the Psalms (which, to be fair, MacArthur does recommend). Books like this frustrate me because they make a complicated problem sound so easy to solve.
A Christian novel: The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz
I was inspired to read this one by this article, which called this “the best Christian novel you’ve never heard of.” That is probably overstating it, but I enjoyed it and will be thinking about some of the story lines for a while. I marked several beautiful lines and passages.
A book published in 2016: Everything We Keep: A Novel by Kerry Lonsdale
I got this one for free via Amazon’s Kindle First deal. It was compelling enough to draw me in, but it had some weaknesses. There were some just plain unbelievable events and some things didn’t add up. It was a good beach read, even though I didn’t read it at the beach.
I’m making up another category — A book that’s part of a series that I feel compelled to see through: Mightier Than the Sword: A Novel (Clifton Chronicles Book 5) by Jeffrey Archer
I couldn’t pass this one up when the Kindle version was marked down several months ago. I usually enjoy Archer’s fiction, but this series has too many coincidences. Each book ends with a cliffhanger, however, that necessitates purchasing the next book.
A book with at least 400 pages: Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
This one is just lovely — beautifully written, at once sorrowful and hopeful. Set in London in World War II, the story isn’t fast-paced, but the characters and prose are compelling.
A book based on a true story: The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin
This one is one of the most fun books I’ve read this year. Based on the story of how Truman Capote betrayed his “swans” — high society ladies who lunch — by writing about the stories they’d confided in him, it’s tragic but well written.
A memoir: A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
This one came with high praise — it’s Stephen King’s favorite memoir. I can’t say that I “enjoyed” it because it’s sad, but she is a good writer.
A book about adoption: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
This book was recommended for ISTJs by Modern Mrs. Darcy, so I just had to read it. And I really enjoyed this one, y’all! Sweet, sad, hopeful, and full of book quotes and references. I jotted down lots of quotes.
A book with a great cover: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
I really wanted to like this one, but it was just meh to me.
A book about science:
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
This one was interesting and worth the read.
The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
This one was free on Kindle, and I saw it recommended somewhere else. It was another one in the “meh” category.
The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues by Patrick M. Lencioni
We read this one in our office book club. Much of the book is a parable, and then the author explains the three virtues for the remainder. Good stuff to think about.
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
This one was another mediocre one for me. It had potential, but didn’t land for me.
A book on the current New York Times list of best sellers:
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This one lived up to the hype, and I’m so glad because I’ve had a run of disappointing books going. I cried at the conclusion, and I never cry when reading. (Movies and tv are a different story.)
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This one was really good, and it restored my hope that there is some good modern fiction out there.
The Course of Love: A Novel by Alain de Botton
Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended this one, and it is a very unusual book. But I found myself copying down passages (it was a library copy, so I couldn’t mark it up). Lots to think about in this one.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
And now back to mediocre fiction. People seem to either love or hate this one, but I found myself thinking “meh.”
A book written by an author with initials in his/her name:
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
This one lived up to the hype. He’s a great story-teller, and he draws some conclusions that shouldn’t be ignored.
Good as Gone: A Novel of Suspense by Amy Gentry
And we’re still in the mediocre fiction rut. This one was a Book of the Month Club selection. It’s a decent beach read, but honestly I’ll never give it another thought.
Still Life by Louise Penny
Everyone and her mother seems to be recommending this series, and this is the first I’ve read. I’m not sure that I’ll pick up another. To be fair, it took me too long to read it, so I couldn’t keep the threads of the story straight.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani
I really liked this one for about the first half, and after that I just forced myself to finish it. Too much ickiness for my tastes.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
Interesting read. Lots of suggestions and exercises at the back of the book, too.
A book written by a Puritan:
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan
A classic. I strung it out too long and lost the flow, but I still found some nuggets.
Blog, Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Deangdeelert Cho
This one was really cheap on Kinde, and I’d hoped for some tips to reinvigorate the old blog. There was nothing new here, though. Bet you wish there were! 😉
So that’s it. I read 44 books this year. Here’s my top five, in no particular order:
1. Paris by Edward Rutherford
2. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
4. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
5. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
I’ve got a plan for my 2017 reading. Stay tuned & Happy Reading!
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