A new year brings with it the excitement of a new reading list! It’s always a treat to look back and review the books read in the previous year.
First, how I rate:
- If it would be rated 1, I probably didn’t finish it.
- A book I either did not find compelling or disagreed flatly with the premise or contents.
- Worth my time, but not necessarily a favorite.
- Well-written and worthwhile, whether or not I agree with the worldview or not. A solid book worth reading.
- A compelling book worth recommending and re-reading.
In no particular order, here are the best books I read last year in Mandy-determined categories. I’d love to hear your top reads or listens of last year!
Best Fascinating History
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
Who knew that a serial killer at the World’s Columbian Exposition could make for such fascinating history? Larson covers the people and places involved in making a fair a fair, inspiring us with vignettes of innovators like George Ferris or creatives like Daniel Burnham or marketers like Sol Bloom.
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
To all those people who told me “You should read Blue Like Jazz” numerous times over the years: You were right. Blue Like Jazz is a disarmingly honest and hope-filled response to Jeremiah 29:13’s promise: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek for me with all your heart.” The next time another culture-shaping book is written from a biblical and approachable perspective, I’ll be listening for the recommendations.
Best Family Read-Aloud
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga, #1)
We are on our second or third read through The Wingfeather Saga. I love reading from the perspective of our 8- and 6-year-olds who do not yet know how the story ends! This allegorical tale has wit, humor, love, bravery, and redemption. The story gets intense, so we are taking our time through the series—it’s ideal for 9-10 and up.
Best for Those Who Love the Next Generation
Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids
Review: While going through this book, I made a ridiculous amount of notes. Since reading, I’ve recommended it a ridiculous amount of times. It’s full of practical, gospel-centered ways to support the next generation as they build lasting faith! Parents, grandparents, mentors, teachers: read it.
Best Personal Growth
Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want
Review: Seven stars. If you are living the intentional life and haven’t read it, I highly recommend Living Forward. And ask me in a year how my life plan is going!
Best Science Fiction Inspired by Another Read
Arthur C Clarke
In The Year of Our Lord 1943, Alan Jacobs mentions that this book was written just after Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, one of my favorite fictional reads, and is in many ways the reverse image of the book. About Childhood’s End, Lewis wrote “Here we meet a modern author who understands that there may be things that have a higher claim than the survival or happiness of humanity.” That reference called for a thoughtful read of what I discovered was a dystopian classic.
Letter from Birmingham Jail
Martin Luther King Jr
For the past several years, I have read a book by Martin Luther King Jr. during MLK week. He summarized justice succinctly and left an inspirational legacy to inspire us all.
Best Kick-You-in-the-Gut Short Stories
Everything that Rises Must Converge: Stories
Someone once mentioned that Flannery O’Connor wrote short stories about grace. I would propose that in fact she wrote about the absence of grace—what “There, but for the grace of God, go I” actually looks like lived out in someone’s life. One does not read Flannery O’Connor for fun. Her short stories, however, inspire compassion for those you might otherwise reject, and make you want to root out every last vestige of judgmental moral superiority.
Best Business-Parenting Crossover
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
I read this book twice, once for personal growth as a business owner and communicator and once as a parent. It gave me great things to think about for both.
Best for the Skeptic and for Those Who Love Them
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
Timothy J. Keller
Can you believe this is only my second full Tim Keller read? Solidly biblical, winsome, and thought-provoking.
Best First-Time Classic
I had not yet read Milton’s epic poem in its entirety. It is achingly beautiful and creatively inspiring.
The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain, #1)
This romp through the fantasy world of Prydain is good, true, and beautiful. I prefer the other books in the series to the seemingly flat character development of this one, but the series starts here and it’s a good one.
Best Book Written by a Friend
A Totally Killer Wedding (Totally 80s Mysteries, #1)
Just plain fun! D.A. Wilkerson’s shorter stories can be enjoyed over a holiday weekend or on a long car ride, and it’s fun to try to solve the mystery along the way.
Best Re-Read and Proof You’re a Nerd
That Hideous Strength (The Space Trilogy, #3)
In Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis asks “What if there were life on other planets?” In Perelandra, he asks, “What if, on one of these planets, there were a man and a woman that faced temptation and did not choose disobedience?” And in That Hideous Strength, he asks “What if, on earth, there were principalities and powers warring in the heavenly realms, and people were a real part of that, and we were all a part of a final battle of good versus evil?”
What if indeed.