favorite books 2020

If I manage to finish the romance novel I just started by tomorrow night, I will have read 100 books this year – mostly without trying. During a year when going places and doing things was severely curtailed, I reverted to my most natural state: curled up in a corner or sprawled out on the porch, reading a book. So many very good books: you can see the full list via Goodreads, here. And here are a few of my favorites:

“serious” fiction

Sue Monk Kidd, The Book of Longings – This is the story of the life of Jesus’ wife, and it is SO GOOD. Historical, mystical, feminist and full of generative questions. You might like it if you, like me, are fond of Jesus but you might like it even more if you’re not.

N.K. Jemisin, How Long ’til Black Future Month? – I love N.K. Jemisin’s science fiction with the fire of a thousand suns or the groaning of a million fault lines, which is saying something since I am NOT a sci-fi gal. This collection of short stories gave glimpses into the ways she builds worlds – some were familiar from her trilogies, others were totally stand-alone and all the more fascinating for it.

Amy Jo Burns, Shiner – My grandma saw this on my Instagram and asked to read it. I warned her that the people in it were sometimes cruel and sometimes crass but not really…on purpose… “They just didn’t know any better, right?” Exactly. Yes, the title is a reference to moonshine, and the book is rare, raw and reads like a Kentucky holler feels.

mysteries, romance, all other “less” than “literary” fiction

Julia Spencer-Fleming, The Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mystery Series – this series has 9 books, so far, and I devoured six of them over the last couple of months. Clare Fergusson is a young Episcopal priest serving a parish in a small mountain town, helping to solve various and sundry murders on the side. She also falls inescapably in love with the – married – chief of police. I have become a reader of mysteries in my nearing-middle-age (something about the predictability of problems being SOLVED and FINISHED is appealing…wonder why?!), and this series is *almost* as good as Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache.

TJ Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea – HOLY COW, I loved this ridiculous book. A neglected home for wayward magical children, a dutiful paper-pushing office clerk, skeptical humans, gruff guardians & a tiny little boy satan form the stuff of a story that made me laugh and cry in equal measure.

Sonali Dev, Pride, Prejudice & Other Flavors – My friend Carynne convinced me to read romances a year or so ago, and despite my internal scoffing and skepticism I sort of love them. Like mysteries, you know how things will end: well. Who doesn’t need a dose of sure and certain happy endings, these days? Sonali Dev writes bollywood romances based on Jane Austen and they are a *delight.* This one has a companion, called “Recipe for Persuasion,” and they both feature successful professional women finding unexpected love.

nonfiction of all sorts

Kiese Laymon, Heavy – I listened to Laymon’s book “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America” a couple of years ago on a long road trip and it blew my mind. Last winter, I heard him speak at UNC with Tressie McMillan Cottom (who you should probably go follow on Twitter right now) and I felt like a little kid who managed to sneak into the adults-only salon. Heavy is intense, violent, deeply vulnerable and made me want to sit down and write, which is to say that it moved me in ways few things have.

Chanequa Walker-Barnes, I Bring the Voices of My People – I’m making a concerted effort to read history, theology & social commentary, particularly to fill in the gaps of my very white middle-class American education and to unlearn some fundamental falsehoods that those years of formal education instilled in me. This “womanist vision for racial reconciliation” is a theological primer in what I now know that I don’t know. Filling in 2021’s reading list with this book’s cited works.

Sylvia C. Keesmaat & Brian J. Walsh, Romans Disarmed – Good lord, I wish every biblical commentary read like this one. So deeply researched and so immediately relevant, this book made Romans make more sense than anything I’ve ever read, including Romans itself. Keesmaat & Walsh unfold their commentary on a structure of story – characters from the Roman world AND their own Canadian congregation – and deftly connect the dots across the centuries. I’d read another commentary like this for the sheer pleasure of it, even if I weren’t a preacher.

Robert P. Jones, White Too Long – I spent the first third of this book regretting my choice to buy and read it. I’m trying to fill my limited reading hours with words by people other than straight white men, *especially* when it comes to perspectives on Christianity and the church. And, indeed, the first third of this book was rehashing what I’d already read from Black theologians and historians (and they wrote about it better!). But the rest of the book is FIRE: personal confession, earnest repentance, data-based analysis and a conclusion that I’m convinced every white person in charge of any corner of the American church must read and take to heart.

Padraig O Tuama, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World – Holy. Just holy. This one came to me thanks to recommendations from three separate people, and it was one of those times when the right book arrives at just the right time. I love when poets write essays, and that’s just what this is, full of imagery and graciousness. The author is a battle-weary peacemaker, and he writes dialogue and interaction with a depth of consideration that thrilled me. Plus, O Tuama is Irish and I had heard him lecturing before reading so I heard every sentence in his brogue. You can listen to him read & think about poetry twice a week on his podcast, “Poetry Unbound.”

also worth your time

Mira Jacob, Good Talk

Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic

Sonya Renee Taylor, The Body is Not an Apology

Kirk Byron Jones, Rest in the Storm

Kiley Reid, Such a Fun Age

Lori Gottlieb, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

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