It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
The internet is awash with lists containing the “Best books of 2018.” I love reading them and seeing which books I’ve read, which are on my to-read list, and which are brand new to me. Here is my list, enjoy!
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Genre: Work / Life
About the book: “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship.”
Why I loved it: I find too much of my time/brain space given to shallow work and shallow tasks. Newport helped me understand how much this impacts my brain and the ability to do sustained deep work. The constant attention switched we do is not good for our brains. I read this book last January and find myself returning to it again and again.
The Power of Healthy Tension by Tim Arnold
Genre: Leadership (I would argue “Life”)
About the book: “Often leaders and teams have a clear vision but fail to live it out. They feel stuck because of conflicting values, division within the team, and resistance to change. The Power of Healthy Tension helps leaders get unstuck.”
Why I loved it: I know have written about this book more than any other this year. Sorry-not-sorry! Culturally most of us reading this post have been programmed to see situations as “problems to be solved.” The result? We lack discernment on what are actual problems and what are tensions to be managed. For instance, responding in a truly loving way requires both unconditional acceptance and accountability (not one or the other).
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
About the book: “When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice.”
Why I loved it: I will come clean, I had never heard of this North and South until it was chosen to be the June read for the Velvet Ashes Book Club. Though full of death and class clashes and written in a style of another era, I loved it because it sucked me in (and is free on Kindle!). Bonus: this book models the importance of having touchpoints for different groups to interact and talk.
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Dorris Kearns Goodw
About the book: “A dynamic history of the first decade of the Progressive era, that tumultuous time when the nation was coming unseamed and reform was in the air.”
Why I loved it: Okay, I truly did love this book, but why it made my top ten is because this book and I have been dancing for years. Finally, I quit dancing and read it for the Summer Reading Challenge. It was totally worth it! If you have been dancing with a book, quit dancing, pick it up and read. I shared Ten Takeaways from The Bully Pulpit. Added bonus? My friend Kathleen read it with me. That’s true friendbookship!
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Bachman
About the book: “When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.”
Why I loved it: While Grandmother is slower to fall in love with than A Man Called Ove and confused me for the first third (clearly salesmanship runs in my blood! Ha!), I loved this book. Both of my book clubs read this, and it was in the second reading that Bachman earned my total respect as a storyteller. It is only as she delivers her Grandmother’s letters does Elsa realize her grandmother used stories to make sense of her reality and it was through the stories that she could actually see the people in her life. Not to over-spiritualize, but this book might be a modern parable. For those who have eyes to see, you’ll love it. For those who don’t, you won’t.
About the book: “Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule.”
Why I loved it: Memoir is my favorite genre, and this book is why. Memoir lets the reader (me) walk in another’s shoes. In my notes, I wrote, “Compelling, tight, humorous, a great read for a Baltic cruise.”
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
About the book: “Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.”
Why I loved it: You know when you read a book and can’t quite believe that another person’s life could be like this? That’s Educated. Once again, I love how memoir opens a door into a world I did not know existed. (Warning, if you hated The Glass Castle or do not want to read how this family abused each other, pass on this book.)
Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren
Genre: Christian Living
About the book: “In the overlooked moments and routines of our day, we can become aware of God’s presence in surprising ways. How do we embrace the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred? Framed around one ordinary day, this book explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices, and habits that form us. Each daily activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship.”
Why I loved it: This is the book I wish I had thought of to write. This is the book that comes the closest to capturing what goes on in my head and how I want to interact with this world. This is the book that captures the muck of my life while offering out the hope of who I can be. This is the book that shows how theology and spiritual practices are for our common lives. I’m pretty sure Tish and I would be friends if we met.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
About the book: “In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away, her son even farther, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in empty houses, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. But maybe that could change?”
Why I loved it: I first fell in love with local Coloradan author when I read Plainsong. How he can tell such rich and quietly moving stories with such sparse writing is a beautiful mystery to me. Months later I find myself thinking about Addie and Louis. I wonder how they are.
Genre: Christian Living
About the book: “‘Sixty years ago I found myself distracted,’ Eugene Peterson wrote. ‘A chasm had developed between the way I was preaching from the pulpit and my deepest convictions on what it meant to be a pastor.’ And so began Peterson’s journey to live and teach a life of congruence—congruence between preaching and living, between what we do and the way we do it, between what is written in Scripture and how we live out that truth.”
Why I love it: When Eugene Peterson died this fall, I found myself craving his writing. I love this book because he shares sermons he gave over the years, which is to say, Peterson modeled what “a long obedience in the same direction. When I own a book, I note in the back pages and thoughts I want to remember. This is by far my most marked up book of the year. Peterson, you will be missed.
And a bonus book because not every year will I get to share a book I wrote, so when I do, it is to be noted (and celebrated!).
“You might not think of yourself as a writer, but you are. Whether on social media, newsletters, or reports, writing is a part of your ministry life. What if improving as a writer allows you to communicate with friends, family, and co-workers more effectively? What if improving your writing is simpler—and more fun—than you remember from school days?”
What were some of your best reads from 2018?