Each year I make a book-reading goal on Goodreads near or over triple digits. What kind of person can read approximately 100 books in a year? A writer / editor / professional reviewer.
I know. It’s unfair.
This year’s genre choices mirror those of 2020 since my research for a writing project—which involved copious amounts of reading—spilled over through August. So, yes, you’ll see some theology books, but I also found time for more devotional reading and the usual fiction fun. So let’s get to the list of this year’s favorites!
The Textbook I Won’t Lend Out (get your own copy)
Icons of Christ, by William Witt
Anyone exploring the question of women’s ordination—to the Catholic priesthood, Protestant pastoral ministry, or diaconate—will need this work on her shelf. As I’ve described already in a previous post, Icons explores the scriptural basis for ordination and how both Catholics and Protestants approach the issue—wildly, from completely different bases. Witt writes scholarly content in a readable manner (and all the seminary students say Amen).
Best Devotional by Dead Guys (generically speaking)
Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends, edited by Carmen Joy Imes
I spent the summer reading through the book of Psalms along with this devotional collection for supplemental content. Imes culled together a fine, diverse collection of writings from ancient church fathers and mothers. Reading the thoughts and reflections from theologians and pastors from so long ago on the very same Scriptures we read today made my daily readings a richer experience.
Short Fiction with a Multiple Tissues Disclaimer (it might get messy)
My Last Name, by Eric Schumacher
To quote one of the endorsements: “…a poignant reflection on life and dignity. In a single day of an elderly narrator, her life unfolds as she remembers key moments from her past with sharp clarity, even though she’s restrained by the unreliable physical trappings of old age. In crafting a story that slides effortlessly between the past and the present with subtle symbolism and careful juxtaposition, Schumacher demonstrates the value of each moment of our lives, and the inherent worth of every person who enters—and exits—our individual narratives.” — K. B. Hoyle, award-winning author.
Trust me when I say you’ll need tissues. Reading in public may result in bewildered bystanders concerned for your wellbeing.
Modern History Page-Turner (with a side of conviction)
Jesus and John Wayne, by Kristin Kobes DuMez
Why did 81% of evangelicals support Donald Trump in 2016 despite his history of immorality and pattern of offensive, brash behavior during the campaign? DuMez convincingly argues that he was elected not in spite of his behavior but because of it, by an evangelical community that actually admired his “fighting spirit.” This history of the last 75 years of American evangelicalism connects the dots between leading influencers and values in the religious movement that evolved into a social, political powerhouse. Evangelical culture, she argues, has become less about Jesus and more about hyper-masculine authoritarianism. Convicting, troubling, and enlightening.
Bedside Staple (and most-bought-for-others book)
Prayer in the Night, by Tish Harrison Warren
Anglican priest Warren unpacks the nighttime prayer of Compline, illustrating and explaining each part of the simple words of trust offered by “those who work or watch or weep”:
Keep watch, dear Lord,
with those who wake, or watch, or weep this night,
and give your angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend the sick,
give rest to the weary,
sustain the dying,
calm the suffering,
and pity the distressed;
all for your love’s sake, O Christ our Redeemer.
Warren’s particular talent for entwining her commentary with personal stories and reflections makes the book enjoyable and meaningful. I’ve bought extras and shared them with grieving and suffering friends. I keep my own copy within easy reach next to my bed.
No Cure for Being Human (and other truths I need to hear), by Kate Bowler
I don’t read memoirs. But I’d heard of Kate a few years ago when she released her first memoir titled Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved). I mean, really… those titles are gold! Kate is actually Dr. Kate Bowler, PhD, a history professor at Duke Divinity School. Her shocking diagnosis of stage-4 colon cancer at age 35 prompted significant suffering and retrospection. This second book explores the truths about being a finite human who is also infinitely spiritual, all with a dose of gallows humor and a talent for memorable punchlines. We can all stand to learn from Kate’s hard-earned wisdom.
Worth the Five-and-A-Half-Year Wait
Go Tell the Bees That I Have Gone, Diana Gabaldon
Having gone to Scotland, Philadelphia, and the future—and back again from all those places and more—Jamie and Claire Fraser are back at the Ridge in North Carolina. Their daughter and her family have returned as well, but since it’s 1779, the American Revolution is in full swing and creeping ever closer to the Smoky Mountains region where they live. Lots going on in this ninth work (out of a purported ten) in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.
And, yes, it took her over five years since book 8, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, to write, edit, and publish this book. You’d think 960 pages would go a little faster, but I’m sure Covid delayed it at least a year. [sarcasm font, where are ya?] Back in mid-2019, the Poisoned Pen—the local bookstore that Diana supports—began offering pre-orders for it, so my husband ordered me a signed copy for Christmas.
I consider it well worth the wait.