For over a decade, I have put out a list of my favorite books from the year. Nearly every year, I read more than 100 books and it is always a delight to go back and consider what has stirred me most deeply. Reviewing past lists has also been enlightening. It is evident that my reading has diversified over the years. Some may find that concerning; but I believe it has been better for me as a reader and as a person. Scanning this year’s list, storytelling and an appreciation for nature are common themes.
- This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us by Cole Arthur Riley
I only had to read the first page of This Here Flesh to know that it would likely make my top ten. To steal a phrase from author Dave Eggers’ memoir, this is truly a “heartbreaking work of staggering genius.” Riley is a compelling storyteller. She invites the reader into her own narrative in a way that moves deeper still, to lead us into the depth and beauty of our own stories. A friend had recommended the book to me and I have recommended it to others and their responses have been similar. This Here Flesh is absolutely a must read book.
- This Is Happiness by Niall Williams
Earlier in the year, I was looking for fun audiobook titles and Steve Wiens recommended This is Happiness. I had never heard of the book, nor the author. Williams is also a wonderful storyteller. In this novel, he envisions electricity coming to a sleepy Irish town that has not dealt with much change over the generations. It is a welcome touch of humanity and a reminder of what connects us all.
- Call Us What We Carry: Poems by Amanda Gorman
Poetry is hard for a lot of people, but 24 year old Gorman–the first national youth poet Laureate and the youngest inaugural poet–makes it easier. Her ability to draw pictures with her words and to move her readers is breathtaking. If you have been reluctant to dive into poetry, her words and wisdom may be a great entry point.
- Everything Sad is Untrue: (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri
In my circles this year, it seemed as though Everything Sad is Untrue was getting a lot of buzz, but I wasn’t sure if it was fiction, non-fiction, or something else. I’m still not sure, and I think that is Nayeri’s brilliance. Daniel Nayeri was born in Iran and emigrated to Oklahoma when he was 8 years old with his mother and sister, after spending some time as a refugee, which are stories he shares in his book. The book is clearly based upon the details of his life, but reveals him to be an imaginative storyteller (can you sense a theme?). Regardless of what details are factual verses embellished, Everything Sad is Untrue touches something deeply true and human.
- Where the Light Fell: A Memoir by Phillip Yancey
I have read several of Yancey’s books over the years, but this is a new favorite. It is, as the subtitle suggests, a memoir–a spiritual memoir of sorts. Yancey said of the book, “I truly believe this is the one book I was put on earth to write. So many of the strands from my childhood—racial hostility, political division, culture wars—have resurfaced in modern form. Looking back points me forward” Yancey is not shy about naming the origin of some of his own unhealthy beliefs and how he has reckoned with those in his adult years, and continues to do so now in his seventh decade. He has something to teach all of us.
- 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Amrstong
Karen Armstrong has published a couple dozen books in her writing career that has spanned more than 40 years, but I am a belated fan. I read her 2022 release, Sacred Nature: Restoring Our Ancient Bond With the Natural World this fall and immediately wondered what else I had been missing, so I moved on to 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life and I loved it too. This former nun and religious historian explores themes common to various faith traditions to demonstrate our unified need for compassion. She wrote about concepts such as concern for everybody and love for enemies and how we might employ these in our day to day lives.
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Braiding Sweetgrass had been lurking around my wish list for a long time and I finally decided to check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. Dr. Kimmerer is a botanist and Potawatomi woman who writes beautifully about our connection with plants and the land on which they grow. Much like most of the authors on this list, she is an excellent storyteller and teacher. Books like this one make me want to care for the earth, and specifically where I have found a home, more deeply and thoughtfully.
- God of the Garden: Thoughts on Creation, Culture, and the Kingdom by Andrew Peterson
If Andrew Peterson publishes a new book, there is a good chance it will be on my top ten list. In God of the Garden, he explores our connection with plants, and especially with trees and what they say about our relationship to God. Too often as Christians, we can distort what it means to steward the earth and we end up abusing our God-given role. Peterson invites us back to a gentler, humbler, more thoughtful place of creation care.
- All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
bell hooks died one year ago today (12-15-21). She was a social activist, author, and professor who wrote nearly 40 books, often exploring issues of race, gender, and economics, but in All About Love, she explores how to understand love as people who grow up embedded in families, cultures, and systems. Along the way, she shares much of her own story and how she has come to understand love. I remain awed by her bravery and honesty as she wrote unapologetically about many of the difficult things she had experienced growing up and how they have shaped her.
- Wild Land Within: Cultivating Wholeness Through Spiritual Practice by Lisa Colon Delay
Sometimes I pick a book up and it isn’t the right time for me, but when I return to it, it touches me deeply. Wild Land Within did that for me. When I first purchased it, I started reading and realized I wasn’t in the right heart-space to learn what I needed to from the author. I am so glad I returned. Delay draws together threads from neuroscience, theology, and spiritual formation to help her readers “cultivate wholeness.” Perhaps my favorite part of this book was the way in which she drew upon the spiritual practices of various racial and ethnic traditions to weave together this excellent book.