Because Daniel set forth the challenge, because I just read this and felt moved to write something real and immediately, because my new lifestyle affords me a some structured but unadulterated writing time, because I set myself a little reading goal and actually achieved it (quick, somebody get me a Personal Pan Pizza and a hologram button!) and because every single one of these books is worthy of a little evangelism:
Best Books I Read, 2015 Edition
All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews
Despite my friend Cal’s decade-old insistence that Miriam Toews was really “my kind” of writer, despite her repeated lending of her older novels and their repeated stints of inhabiting my bookshelves for months, this was the first time I’d actually read the Canadian-born, Mennonite-bred novelist. Verdict: I love her. She’s really my kind of writer. All My Puny Sorrows is a story of sisterhood and suicide, and it is (in spite of or in the face of, both or neither) one of the most hilarious books I have ever read. Not puns, not laugh-out-loud, just a particular angle on seeing the absurd in the world, a gift for good dialogue and perspective. I’m currently gobbling up every other word she’s written.
Redeployment, Phil Klay
Every person who claims pacifism as a tenet of their faith should have this book of short stories as required reading. Phil Klay, Iraq veteran and stunning chronicler of what war is really like, writes about the absurd economics of war, the realities of killing both people and animals, the brutality of life on front lines, and the omnipresent questions of faith and existence with a precision that made me gasp, cry, cringe, and open my heart just a bit wider. Not recommended for bedtime reading.
Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson
This book was recommended to me by just about every Christian radical friend I know BEFORE it appeared on every Starbucks counter in the land. That’s some serious crossover cache, I think, to be tripping off the tongues of Christian anarchists AND the biggest coffee capitalists the world over. I guess it’s a testament to how beautiful a book it is. Stevenson has been working for decades as a lawyer on behalf of those on death row, kids tried as adults, and impoverished people encountering our unjust justice system. His stories are harrowing, his writing is generous, and – though he never frontloads it – his faith is strong and shining. If you’ve been wondering where to find stories to complete the picture of Michelle Alexander’s statistics, if you’ve been hoping for some deeply invested, even-handed, mercy-for-all perspective on the American criminal and penal systems, or if you just appreciate passionate people writing compassionately and engagingly about their lives’ work, go pick it up.
Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
Brene Brown and Liz Gilbert (whose Big Magic was also a great read this year) have been busting up my inner anxieties and insecurities right and left this year. Their books are getting slotted into “self-help” genres, which is not my usual shelf perusal. I’m actually having trouble right this instant not apologizing or shrugging off my love for them: self-help! And lady-lit self-help at that! (See what I did, there? Squeezing in some equivocation even under the guise of refusing to do so?) But, good grief, y’all. These women are bringing it. Brown is a researcher in the fields of shame and vulnerability, and her work is about what it is to live life wholeheartedly. I am learning, slowly, slowly, slowly, to shed my preoccupations about presenting an impenetrable front and allowing myself to be who I am and to care about what I care about, and that is just not an easy thing to do (see the article I referenced earlier). Brene Brown kicks ass, in confessional, compassionate, smart-as-a-whip kind of ways. I want to learn THAT.
Lots of silly fiction that turned out to be not so silly after all.
Oh, I read plenty of heavy theology (and wrote about it here and here and here), but the majority of my leisure time reading this year was remembering why I love reading in the first place. I allowed myself to read novels – silly novels, less-than-literary novels, fun stories that sucked me in and transported me from Richmond living room to far-away times and places. It was delightful. I finished Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series, read every Meg Wolitzer I could find (and got to hear her read in person, too, just as prickly and writerly as I’d hoped), got introduced to Chris Bohjalian’s wicked weaving of mysterious plotlines, and totally enjoyed Martin Clark’s legal thrillers set in Southwest Virginia. And, it turns out, those “silly” novels are the ones I actually enjoyed most thoroughly and without apology, and the stories are the ones animating my imagination as I turn from unlimited free time to regular sermon-writing and pastoring here at the end of the year.
So, what did you read? Worth a shout-out?
Now, someone get me that Personal Pan Pizza! Pepperoni, please!