Books I Read in 2016 (top 5 + the whole list)

So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.
Roald Dahl, Matilda

Reading can take you places you've never been, but also reconnect you with familiar places, and in a strange twist, weave the two together sort of like deja vu. In the best books there is connection, challenge and discovery. You come out the other side different somehow - stronger, wiser, braver or just more tender.

I have a memory, clear and unwavering, from my traveling childhood. In my mind's eye is an Elementary School with outdoor hallways around a center courtyard open to the sky. I bounced a red rubber ball on those pebbly pathways, perfecting my jacks game. I must have been about eight, which makes me think it was New Orleans before moving to Holland. (When your family moves around often, your dreams become a mash-up of several geographies, but this memory seems to know it place and time.)

Hinged along one side of the courtyard were thick double doors that quieted the hallway games when I entered. The library. One book, an illustrated hardback that I discovered on my own among the stacks, captured my attention then and has stayed with me ever since, not it's title which I cannot remember or its story, but the discovery of getting lost and found in books.

I have a distinct impression of black crows carved in woodblock prints, the kind cut by hand. And a particular smell, not of musty book pages, but maybe of the block print ink. The imprint on me is one of possibilities, curiosity and creativity, and a strong sense of entering a place where birds and girls fly off the page.

I hope you know that kind of wild imaginative place for yourself and gift it to your children.

Maybe you'll find a few such places somewhere in the books I read in 2016. I gathered them into a year-long list at the bottom of this page for you. Seen all together, I can glimpse some of what's being built into my thought life. My reading list is a diary of sorts.

Choosing my Top 5 from this list felt too permanent. Many of these I am still processing, and I wanted to do right by you with my recommendations. In the end, I chose the ones that seem to already have found a perch in my heart from which to sing and keep singing right through to my fingertips. These are the ones already doing good work in my life.

Top 5 Books of 2016

The Alphabet of Grace by Frederick Buechner
This strange little book is actually a series of lectures given at Harvard in 1969. The three chapters are reflections on a single day in his life. For me, Buechner connects his deep and true faith in Christ with the grit and ordinariness of everyday life. His faith feels sturdy and genuine, including his questions, uncertainties and failings.

"The alphabet of his grace is sufficient. His jokes are so big and simple that no one has thought of them. Walk close."

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Finally a modern novel with an old soul. It is rare to find smart, well-crafted writing about small town people of faith who think well and love deeply, while struggling well with themes such as forgiveness, regret, hope and home. Mike bought this one as a gift for me and he was spot on. Robinson is a storyteller, theologian and master of the well-written sentence.

The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen
Henri Nouwen. Enough said, right? This might be his best ever. I checked it out from our local library and therefore could not mark it up with my usual stars, squiggly underlines and ellipsis.

"God's hearts is a heart big enough to hold and heal the whole world, the universe. When I pray, I take those I pray for there to God's own hearts which I surrender mine to as I go. Otherwise I might be swallowed up by grief and pain."

This one has to be purchased. One-click. Go.

Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard
This one made me say, "Dallas, where have you been all my life?". If you are interested in the soul, how you can keep it and destroy it, you will like this.

"What is running your life at any given moment is your soul."

You will need to take it slow and steady, savoring Dallas' brilliant mind, and like most of his writing, read and re-read before you begin to grasp it.

Deep Work by Cal Newport
I borrowed this copy from Mike, so again I had to use Post-it notes to make my marks. This book has rearranged my every day. I used to get up and after coffee and reading Scripture, do the most urgent things of the day first: exercise, emails, non-profit work, meetings and errands. I love checking off of my to-do list. But after reading Deep Work, I have flip-flopped my day, except for beginning with Scripture and coffee.

It has taken some going against the persistent call of the world, but my most important work that requires deep thinking and stringing pearls of wisdom all in a row is now done in the morning hours between 7 am and 12 pm. That is when my mind and heart are the most fresh and creative. Only after the most important things, can the urgent work of the day begin. I learned back in college about the tyranny of the urgent, and I applied it in terms of attention to my faith, but I had not applied it yet to my work.

Here's to new beginnings.

A few of these books prompted their own blog posts:
The Alphabet of Grace.

Falling Free

The Unhurried Life (the Pace of Grace)

I'll Be Home For Christmas

With purpose, intent and big happiness in all the nooks and crannies of the day, I make time to read - most anywhere I am waiting, out for a walks in the neighborhood (listening on my earbuds), at home stirring the soup, while dinner finishes in the oven, in bigger chunks on Sunday afternoons and every night up to the moment I fall asleep. Reading has shaped me deep and well, in mama-hood, faith, marriage, leadership and writing.

I find it helps to keep an ongoing list of books I'd like to read both in my commonplace book and on my phone. There were too many times, at the library, the thrift store or at the airport, when I could not remember a single good book title though I had a list somewhere a mile long.

Here's the whole list of books I read in 2016:
I organized the titles into themes to help you find what interests you.

Soul Keeping
The Unhurried Life by Alan Fadling
Soul Keeping by John Ortberg
Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard
Alphabet of Grace by Frederick Buechner
Secrets in the Dark by Frederick Buechner
The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser
The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen
Immortal Diamond by Richard Rohr
Eager to Love by Richard Rohr
Things Hidden by Richard Rohr
Silence and Solitude by Ruth Haley Barton
Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris

Roots & Sky by Christie Purifoy

Creative Life
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
What Do You Do with an Idea by Kobi Yamada
What Do You Do with a Problem by Kobi Yamada
Brazen by Leeana Tankersley
Breathing Room by Leanna Tankersley

Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines
All the Pretty Things by Edie Wadsworth
Falling Free by Shannan Martin
The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

Gilead by Marilynn Robinson
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

Radical Reflections by Mem Fox
Write Without Crushing your Soul by Ed Cyzewski

Deep Work by Cal Newport
Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Christian Living
The Best Yes by Lisa Teurkerst
Wild and Free by Connolly & Morgan
For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

Waiting for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
Come, Lord Jesus by Kris Camealy
Holy, Wholly, Holy by Kris Camealy
Match by Gunilla Norris
The Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

Books I'm in the middle of:
Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller
Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by Donvan and Zucker (500+ pages. I'll be here awhile.)


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Happy reading!