Top 10 books-2022

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

2021 top 10 books

The annual tradition of posting my top 10 book list continues. As of today, December 17th, I have read 93 books, so I will certainly finish the year under 100. As usual, the majority of the books I read dealt broadly with the topic of spirituality. I read disappointingly few fiction books this year. Apart from favorites that I read every year (i.e., the Harry Potter Series, the Wingfeather Saga, and The Great Divorce), I only read two fiction books–The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Dear Evan Hansen. I also read Letters to the Beloved, the book I published earlier this year, no less than four times, but I probably should not include that book in my top 10 list; however, feel free to include it in yours.

Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision by Randy Woodley
Woodley’s book was a welcome addition to my library in my ongoing study of wholeness and shalom. He explores the similarities between the biblical concept of shalom and the Native American “Harmony Way.” I have so much to learn from those outside of my limited background and this “indigenous vision” is a beneficial invitation.

Grounded: Finding God in the World. A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass
In Grounded, Diana Butler Bass provides a well-integrated understanding of science and faith to explore why many people leave traditional religious beliefs and practices. Using metaphors like soil, water, and ground, she weaves a compelling tale of faith.

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
One of the common themes you will discover in this list is how much I enjoy “memoirs of faith,” stories about how people come to understand God and themselves better. In Leaving Church, the author described her journey into the priesthood, pastoring in the church, and her journey away from it into a more expansive faith. She has proven to be a great storyteller in each of her books, and Leaving Church is no different.

Rage by Bob Woodward
Although I primarily read books about spirituality, I also have an unhealthy compulsion to read books about politics. Woodward is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written best-selling books on the last nine presidents. Rage is Woodward’s second book about President Trump and deals with his relationships with key staff members and world leaders and his unconventional ways of leading a nation.

No Cure for Being Human: And Other Truths I Need to Hear by Kate Bowler
Bowler is a witty professor of Christian history at Duke University. In No Cure for Being Human, she tells the story of being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at age 35 and reckoning with life and mortality as a wife, mother, and female professor. However, her book is, not surprisingly, about being human. It is a readable memoir that will stir you.

After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity by David Gushee
After Evangelicalism was the first of three books by David Gushee that I read this year. One of the foremost Christian ethicists globally, Gushee has been a reasoned voice for sincere Christian faith in a post-evangelical world. I have been uncomfortable with the label “ex-vangelical” and “post-evangelical” more accurately captured my self-understanding.

Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans
In 2019, Rachel Held Evans died following an allergic reaction to a medication for an infection. She was 37 years old. The author of four books before she died, she was a robust online presence and capable communicator. Before her untimely death, she began Wholehearted Faith, and her friend Jeff Chu finished it. It is a beautiful exploration of spirituality and wholeness. Before this year, I had never read any of her books, but the two I have read are on my top 10 list this year. I guess I will need to find the other four.

What God is Like by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner
The second posthumous book on my top 10 list by Rachel Held Evans is the first children’s book I have ever included in my top 10. It is a wonderful, delightful, beautiful invitation into the presence of a gracious and welcoming God. *By the way, it is not only for kids.

Faith After Doubt: Why Your Faith Stopped Working and What to Do About It by Brian McLaren.
McLaren is one of those authors Christians warned me about. For many years, I understood that McLaren and those like him represented “liberal Christianity,” which I further came to believe was not “real” Christianity. However, in Faith After Doubt, I found a spark of hope that I haven’t had for a while in the writings of a person who shows a deep understanding of the spiritual journey and a willingness to say provocative things to encourage his readers toward growth.

In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World by Padraig O Tuama.
Hands down, In the Shelter by Padraig O Tuama was my favorite book this year. O Tuama is an Irish poet and theologian. He also advocates for peace and inner work, which clearly and beautifully comes across in this stunning work. Pieces that give me a glimpse into the inner work of the writer are profoundly inviting. O Tuama discusses his journey and his relationship with God and himself.