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2019: A summary in books

A few years ago, I started keeping a list of all of the books I read in a year. I always feel like that list says so much about what that year was like--what I was exploring or thinking on or wanting diverse perspectives on. Here are some of my favorites from 2019.

For spiritual growth

This has been a far healthier spiritual season for me than last year was, and I’m so grateful for these books that have served as beacons to me in stepping out of the darkness this year.

  • Remember God by Annie F. Downs. I listened to this one on audiobook while hiking a mountain and crying my eyes out, as one does. Her story of wrestling with God’s goodness, sovereignty, and intervention struck such a deep chord in me.

  • Miracles and other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey. I’ve long been a fan of Sarah Bessey, but this book was a whole new level. She tells the story of developing chronic pain after a traumatic car accident and her consequent journey with pain, healing, and miracles. Phew. I couldn’t recommend this one strongly enough.

  • Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. I read this one with a book club over the course of several months. She examines spiritual disciplines through a new lens—seeing them as gifts to connect us to God. It was the push I needed to develop some more regular spiritual practices myself.

For a good story

Deep in my core, I will always love a good story, and this year was full of more of them than most.

  • A Place for Us by Fatima Ferheen Mirza. This book is the literal definition of the sob emoji. It’s the story of an Indian family after immigrating to the U.S. It’s a beautiful and moving look into the tension between parents who hold onto their home culture as their children assimilate into their new culture.

  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. This has been my go-to recommendation for a novel all year. It’s the heartbreaking story of what happens when a spouse is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. I could cry just thinking about it.

  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. I’m ashamed to say that I had never read anything by James Baldwin before this novel (which got me ALL up on my soap box on the lack of diversity in my English minor requirements. But I digress). This was poignant and beautifully written—and tragically, feels very similar to a story that could be told today.

For better understanding our world

This has always and will always be my favorite type of book. I love how books can give insight into the world around me in ways I might not otherwise experience.

  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. I wish this book was requiring reading for all white people. This book convicted me to my core—illuminating a lot of areas where I subtly exclude people of color.

  • Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas. This is a memoir about growing up as an undocumented immigrant in America (unbeknownst to him until he was in his late teens). Beyond his personal experiences, he explores the impossible situation that undocumented immigrants find themselves in with unclear paths to legal status.

  • My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach. I’ll be honest—mental illness is something I feel wildly uneducated about. This is the story of a husband caring for his wife through multiple psychotic episodes. It wasn’t the best writing I’ve ever read, but it was real and raw and a helpful look into life as a caregiver for someone with mental illness.

  • Space at the Table by Brad Harper and Drew Harper. This book was co-authored by an evangelical pastor and his gay son on how they navigate a relationship when they have such different views on sexuality. It was so refreshing to hear this take on such a divisive topic.

For listening in the car

I live in a place that has traffic now (queue a sarcastic “yay”). But the side benefit of that is that I’ve had a lot of time to listen to audiobooks.

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama. If you’ve ever talked politics with me, you know I have a thing with the Obamas—Right after they left office, I had a recurring dream that Barack gave me a hug and told me everything was going to be ok. I still tear up when I think about it. This book was everything I hoped it would be—funny, personal, insightful. And it’s read by Michelle herself, so I felt like her actual friend by the end of it.

  • The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. This is a weird (and true!) story about a man who lived in the woods of Maine for 27 years without interacting with a single person in that time. Beyond his own story, it's an insightful look into why some people choose to withdraw from society at large.

  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. I’ve never seen the Netflix series based on this book, but the book itself is a fascinating look to life in the prison system.

  • Elephant in the Room by Tommy Tomlinson. This is the story of a 450-pound man’s journey as an overweight man in America. It was a really interesting look into the psychology and emotional toll of being overweight—I’ve read several books like this from female perspectives, but this was the first from a man.


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