It’s about that time of the year again when I emerge from my hobbit hole just long enough to share with you my top books from this past year. Upon reflection, 2016 wasn’t that great of a reading year for me. Even as I survey the list I have a hard time remembering what some of them were about or why I even read them. Some of that had to do with the books I read, some of that had to do with the nature of the year.
Unlike years prior, I didn’t set a reading goal. I just kind of went for it. I was reading on average about five books a month up until I got in August and then it all kind of tanked. Still not clear why. Still, I managed to sneak in some books in December to help get me to 53 (well, 54 if you include the CrossFit Level 1 Training Manual which was 225 pages). Of the 53, sixteen were non-religious reads, 36 were religious. Fourteen fiction. Roughly seven literary nonfiction.
A word before I dive in: as much as I disagree with this division when it comes to life, typically when I make this list I break it down into two categories; religious and nonreligious books. When I first started this, it was a way of ensuring my secular reads got some attention – and ensuring I was reading secular things in the first place – but this year it felt the secular books outshone the religious books in terms of quality. Next year, I might not divide them up and let every book fend for themselves. Anyway, here are my top five from each category.
Of course, there’s something to be said about timing and applicability of the book to my state at the time of reading.
Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson
This book won’t break your heart. It will shatter it. I don’t know if a book has ever made me cry but I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes almost every chapter. I never really was an advocate for the death penalty but this book took it to a whole different level. I can’t recommend this one strongly enough.
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Like Stevenson, Coates leveled me. Writing to his son who is becoming aware of racial inequality in America, Coates gave voice to what I felt but at times wondered if I was crazy for arguing. A bit nihilistic and pessimistic in tone, but that’s largely a product of Coates’ worldview. Still, if I could memorize any book from start to finish, it would be this one.
The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
Call me a musical heretic but I never was big on The Dresden Dolls. This book matches Palmer’s lyricism: inflated, overblown and yet winsome for that exact reason. If I recall correctly, there are no chapters, just sections. Much like the cover, she stands naked before us; sharing deeply and vulnerably from her story. While you may feel uncomfortable at times, you can’t help but let her into your heart.
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
Every once in a while, you need that one person that tells us to go for it. Gilbert is that person. The temptation with creativity is to make it an elitist’s activity. Gilbert gives you permission to create because you love it, regardless whether or not you’re good at it. She gives you permission to fall in love with the process.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – JK Rowling
Rowling could’ve sold me a blank book and it still would’ve made the list. While critics might have issues with the story, the book’s nostalgia factor alone makes it a winner. How could I not grin from ear to ear watching the friendship between Albus Severus and Scorpius develop? How could I not swoon as memories of Hogwarts came flooding back? Harry as a father struggling to get it right? Perfect. It was a book I didn’t want to read fast and yet couldn’t help it.
The Final Battle – C.S. Lewis
Right when I thought 2016 was a total wash, I started The Final Battle and instantly had to recant. This book reminded me of everything I loved about fiction. Both tragic and heartwarming, Lewis has a unique ability to stir deeper theological questions through literature. An extremely satisfying end to a wonderful series.
In Name Only – Eddie Gibbs
This very well might’ve been the single most important book I read this past year. Here, Gibbs tackles the topic of nominal Christianity and the problems inherent within it. As I operate in the Caribbean where Christianity is engrained in the culture, this book gave name to a lot of things I’d been noticing but couldn’t quite describe. Not to mention it’s one of the only books out there on nominalism – or nominality as he would call it. I’d be interested in him updating this.
Teach Us to Want – Jen Pollock Michel
Michel wins because of sheer surprise. I honestly had no idea what to expect with this read and, in fact, I almost skipped on it because I thought it might’ve been a book for women (chauvinist confession). But Michel highlights that to want is to be human, the real battle is to replace our desire for small things for a desire for better things. This book rocked my world first because the subject matter, then because how well-written it was and lastly because it showed me a lot about a secret attitude I had towards female writers.
The Call – Os Guinness
There’s a reason why this is a classic. Guinness walks us through the different facets of calling, remembering that we can’t speak of calling without talking about the caller. This book is filled with gems from start to finish.
The Art of Dying – Rob Moll
With a title like that, how could I NOT pick this? The premise is an interesting one: we, as a people, have never had more time to prepare for our deaths and yet we’ve never been worse at it. We cling so tightly to life we’ve lost the spiritual art of dying well, demonstrating faith in the midst of it. This book made me simultaneously less and more afraid of death than I’ve ever been.
Beautiful Feet – Jessica Leep Fick
I actually met Fick in Indonesia right as I was starting her book. While this book is about women in evangelism, I felt it was important for me to read and understand. There are problems women encounter that I will never know about or have to worry about because they’re not part of my reality. The first few chapters alone are worth the book. More than just being the female counterpart to Beau Crosetto’s Beyond Awkward, this book stands strong on its own.
How to Survive a Shipwreck – Jonathan Martin
Honestly, this book probably would’ve made it in the top ten if it didn’t take me so long to read it. Not because the book was long or bad, I just was lackadaisical in reading it. Martin does what a lot of Christian authors don’t do in these books: writes the truth in ways that are transformative instead of simply transactional. Only thing was, I kept wondering what the heck was the shipwreck in his life he kept referring to. The man left his church, eventually got divorced, but I have no idea what triggered it.
Start Something New – Beth Booram
What if the dreams you have aren’t bad, but are actually God given? Booram takes us through first understanding the dreams that are inside of us then walks us through the realizing of these dreams and what happens when they die. Interesting concept.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Primal Fire, Just Mercy, Between the World and Me, Journaling as a Spiritual Practice, Soul Keeping, Prophetic Lament, Scary Close, The Furious Longing of God, The Spiritual Life, The Art of Asking, The Gift of Imperfection, My Horizontal Life (don’t ask), Invitations from God, Start Something New, Changing Faith, Big Magic, Jesus Behaving Badly, True story, The Leadership Ellipse, The Art of Dying, Theology Questions Everyone Asks, Slow Church, Percy Jackson 1-5, The Call, The Eclipse of Faith, Searching for God Knows What, The Weight of Glory, Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, Ordinary, Teach Us To Want, Turn My Mourning into Dancing, My Struggle 1 & 2, House of Olympus 1: The Lost Hero, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, In Name Only, Beautiful Feet, Chronicles of Narnia 2-7, Falling Upward, How to Survive a Shipwreck, Zeal without Burnout, True Friendship, Roadmap to Reconciliation.