It’s that time of year again–time to reflect on all things learned and loved. Here are some of the books that have enriched my life this year.
(And if you love reading, please leave a comment below and let me know which books YOU have loved this year.)
Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance)
I bought Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis about a week before the US Election. I began reading it after the election with an entirely new level of interest and attention. It’s a well-written and easy read–the broader social commentary is deftly woven into a very personal story. It’s also both depressing (a detailed portrait of family turmoil, broken relationships, revolving-door intimacy, poverty, addiction, and social isolation) and hopeful (what a difference just a couple of loving adults can make in the life of a child).
“Today people look at me, at my job and my Ivy League credentials, and assume that I’m some sort of genius, that only a truly extraordinary person could have made it to where I am today. With all due respect to those people, I think that theory is a load of bullshit. Whatever talents I have, I almost squandered until a handful of loving people rescued me.”
“But this book is about something else: what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It’s about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.”
Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding Church (Rachel Held Evans)
I loved Searching For Sunday in that deeply relieved, so-happy-to-know-I’m-not-alone way we love books that tell an important part of our own tale. Rachel is such a good writer–pithy, funny, and so smart all at the same time. And her story about growing up evangelical, coming to doubt everything she believed about God, and loving, leaving, and longing for church is my story, too. I know I’m not the only one. If any of this piques your interest, you’ll find this a very worthwhile read.
“I felt simultaneously furious at Christianity’s enormous capacity to wound and awed by its miraculous capacity to heal.”
“What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.”
“Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-another, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive.”
Room (Emma Donoghue)
Despite it’s amazing reviews, I’d been delaying reading Room for several years. I am always fascinated by stories of kidnapping and long-term confinement (hello, forensic psychology) but I have learned the hard way that reading a story about being snatched off the street, repeatedly raped, and kept in a shed for seven years just isn’t good for me.
Which is why I was so surprised that this book has turned out to be the standout bookclub selection of the entire year for me.
This novel was way less depressing and traumatizing (and much more inspiring) than I’d anticipated. Telling the story through the eyes of a five year old child added an innocent poignancy, lightness, and a measure of redemption to a horrible tale. And the reactions and interactions of the two main characters as their entire world shifted and changed seemed so psychologically spot on.
“In Room me and Ma had time for everything. I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter all over the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear of time in each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.”
A Court Of Thorn And Roses (Sarah J. Maas)
I started reading more seriously in the YA and dystopian fantasy genre right after Dominic was born. I read through almost every night feeding on my kindle, and the plot-driven other-worldly tales really helped me drag myself out of bed at 4am for that brutal 3rd feeding in the wee dark hours. A Court Of Thorn and Roses and it’s sequel A Court Of Mist And Fury were my favorite Fantasy novels of the year. The sequel was even better than the first installment, which is so rare in trilogies.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks was a revelation. The book’s description sums it all up way better than I can:
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.
I found this book way more compelling than I had anticipated (hard-to-put-down was not what I’d expected from a book about cancer research!) Everyone in my family (and pretty much anyone who has ever received a vaccination) has benefited from research done on HeLa cancer cells, and that knowledge made this story feel both epic and very personal.
Love Warrior: A Memoir (Glennon Doyle Melton)
I’ve followed Glennon Doyle Melton’s blog, Momastery, for years. She has written some truly incredible blog posts (this one on coaching kids how to say no, comes to mind). Until I read this book, however, I thought she was more of blogger than a book writer. Her first book read largely like a whole lot of successful blog posts cobbled together. This memoir, however, is entirely different–it tells a story and takes you through a journey.
In Love Warrior, Glennon documents the implosion of her marriage to Craig and their attempts to restore their relationship with her trademark transparency and no small amount of talent. This is raw, deep, and so, so honest.
“My spiral staircase of progress means that my pain will be both behind me and in front of me, every damn day. I’ll never be “over it,” but I vow to be stronger each time I face it. Maybe the pain won’t change, but I will. I keep climbing.”
Very Married: Field Notes On Love And Fidelity (Katherine Willis Pershey)
Yes, Very Married is another marriage memoir, but entirely different than Love Warrior. Pershey, a pastor, explores her concepts of marriage as a sacred covenant that binds people together. Along the way she shares honestly and deeply about her own encounter with temptation to stray, and her husband’s battles with depression and alcoholism. This book is funny, thoughtful, and deep all at the same time–a good read for Christian couples early in the their marriage (or before they tie the knot).
“In American culture, marriage and individualism form a contradictory pair of models. We value marriage–Till death do we part. We value individualism–I’m just not happy anymore. And we just sort of look away when the value we place on marriage contradicts the value we place on personal satisfaction.”
“To pledge your troth means to put your truth in peril. Attend to the unfolding.”
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Elizabeth Gilbert)
Big Magic is by far my favorite of Gilbert’s books so far. The book is basically an expansion of Gilbert’s remarkable TED talk on creativity (Your Elusive Creative Genuis). In it, Gilbert turns her self-deprecating humour and own authentic incisiveness to debunking the myth of the tormented artist. She deftly tackles the unrealistic expectations and unnecessary melodrama often attached the concept of creative living, and offers some straight-talking advice on how to keep fear in proper perspective. This book is light, playful, funny, and encouraging. A great read or gift for anyone creative (which Gilbert would argue is all of us).
“I can either live a drama or I can invent a drama–but I do not have the capacity to do both at the same time.”
“Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: It needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents… it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind.”
“The older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has a quiet resonance that never fails to stir me. Just say what you want to say, then, and say it with all your heart. Share whatever you are driven to share. If it’s authentic enough, believe me–it will feel original.”
Help me add to my reading list for 2017!
What books stuck with YOU this year?