Top 11 Favorite Books Read in 2015

Each year I catalog my favorite books read throughout the year. I try to write about them along the way in this space, and yet I inevitably read many more than you hear about – and sometimes I overlook my very favorites.

So I annually look back at the year past and record my favorite books read. For 2015 I give you not a countdown as in the past – a rating from #11 to #1 – but I’m giving you my top favorites in the five categories I read from most often.

#5 Parenting

No -Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel – This builds on his foundational teaching in Whole-Brain Child and makes it practical. Literally included are cartoons showing you as a parent how to implement his teaching on parenting. I would be lying if I told you that our home has transformed and there is never any drama ever – but this lays out a worthy goal to aim for, which has resulted in small changes. Like being emotionally more attuned to our daughters, even and especially in the midst of moments of discipline.

#4 Motivational

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – by Marie Kondo – Wow. Just wow. It has been magic in our home, and I have a long way to go before I’m at the place where I would say I’ve finished her method of home-organizing (a.k.a. “radical purging”). At least with Kondo, I have a map of what’s next and directions as to how to get there.

Rising Strong – by Brené Brown – Read my review here. I love Brown’s work, and her latest book continues in her trajectory of thought, inspiring action and courage – especially in the midst of so-called failures.

#3 Writing

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard – I felt like I was on a writing retreat with Dillard as she described her process of writing candidly. Writing can be incredibly isolating, but somehow this book makes a writer feel less so as you nod your head in agreement at the inevitable highs and lows of the writing process.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit  by Brenda Ueland – If Dillard’s book felt like a companion, Ueland’s book became like the writing coach I’ve always wanted. She gives helpful pointers like how to find your voice, and how good writing is best done in the midst of real-life – not separate from it on the proverbial “mountain top.” A classic and a must-read for all my fellow writers out there!

#2 Fiction

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen – Quindlen’s fiction is poetic and her narrative is gripping. You’ll savor each page – pun intended.

 The Space Between Us by Thrity Umbrigar – A piercing piece that transports the reader to another culture and unexpected joys and tragedies of a close network of relationships.

 All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Amazing. Page-turner – beautifully written. Worth the hype and the Pullitzer Prize 1000 times over.

#1 Spiritual/Devotional/Christian Non-Fiction

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with both our Hearts and Minds by Jen Wilkin – I call this gem of a book a condensed and highly accessible version of everything I learned in seminary about studying the Bible. Jen will feel like a friend and mentor as she takes you through her process of Bible study, making God’s Word come alive in new ways and coaching you through owning your Bible study for yourself.

A Loving Life by Paul Miller – Miller’s book met me with hope mixed with challenge, giving me the push and courage I needed to depend on Jesus’ life of love within me as I loved those around me. He uses the book of Ruth as a guide for looking at what it means to lay down your life in “one-way love” – a “one-way love” that is motivated and empowered by the ultimate “one-way love” of God for us in Jesus Christ.

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman – Freeman’s book is another favorite of hers. This book more than any others I read continues to reverbate through my soul, calling me to notice the sparkle of the ordinary and the gift found in sitting and being still. The result has been a deeper willingness to embrace the mundane and a more pervasive joy in even the “simply Tuesday” moments of my life.

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On my bookshelf

20131121-112437.jpgAlthough I haven’t posted about books in awhile, I have still been reading a lot … no surprise to those of you who know what a bookworm I am. This “on my bookshelf” is actually from a couple weeks ago – but without further ado, here we go with my review of the above. It’s a good sampling of what I usually am reading – fiction, a faith book, a cultural/counseling study, and some sort of devotional.

Fiction:  Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is a riveting glimpse into a period of history I don’t usually consider – that of pre-WWII China before the Japanese invasion and Mao’s Communism, following the story of two Chinese sisters who escaped to the US through Angel Island, only then to be under the harsh accusation of being Communist decades later. See’s books are well written, both in terms of literary form and story. Two previous ones I’ve read by her are Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Dreams of Joy (this last one is actually a sequel to Shanghai Girls – I read them out of order!).

Faith: Gospel In Life small group study by Tim Keller is an excellent resource for any community of faith small group to study. The format is great – with a thought-provoking individual study to prepare for weekly group meetings; then discussion questions based around a DVD lecture by Keller; and good suggestions for applications to put into practice what we study. I’ve been challenged to examine how well our small group community actually reflects the biblical shape of a faith community (caring for one another; bearing each other’s burdens; encouraging/exhorting one another; etc.). Another theme that challenges and moves me to action is how living out the gospel leads us to engage our cities in real ways. That we need to be involved in our cities and neighborhoods for the sake of our faith as much as for the sake of the city.

Cultural/counseling: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown is one you’ve heard me talk about here before. I just can’t read her enough – after The Gifts of Imperfection, this is a longer more comprehensive look at how the principles she discovered through her shame research are worked out in what she terms as “Wholehearted living.”

Devotional: Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott is a book recommended to me by a favorite older friend at church. It’s as unconventional as she is (love you, Ann), and also refreshingly thought-provoking. Lamott always does this for me – puts spiritual truths in words that I can hear in a new way (too often I am calloused by familiarity with church-y words and Christian culture). And so Lamott has condensed prayer life into three cries of the heart: “help,” which is obvious; “thanks,” which is also self-explanatory; and “wow,” which was the newest piece to me. I close with a few words on “wow” –

When we are stunned to the place beyond words, when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until it’s down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely away, when all we can say in response is ‘Wow,’ that’s a prayer. … What can we say beyond Wow, in the presence of glorious art, in music so magnificent that it can’t have originated solely on this side of things? Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath.