Now that I’m catching my breath from the release of True You, I can get back to regular programming around here. And the first order of business for the new year is always a favorite books post. In 2018 I read 58 books (not counting a handful I didn’t finish), compared to 44 in 2017 – an increase of 14 additional books. More books is always better in my opinion!
My favorites of 2018 weren’t necessarily books published in 2018; some of my picks have been around quite a while in fact.
Without further ado, here are my 9 favorite reads from 2018, followed by a complete list of all the books I read last year (note: the following are not listed in any particular order):
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying
BY Nina Riggs
About the Book: “Poet and essayist Nina Riggs was just 37 years old when initially diagnosed with breast cancer—one small spot. Within a year, she received the devastating news that her cancer was terminal. Exploring motherhood, marriage, friendship, and memory, Nina asks: What makes a meaningful life when one has limited time? The Bright Hour is about how to make the most of all the days, even the painful ones.
Why It’s a Fave: A book about “living and dying” sounds depressing – and it’s true, Nina Riggs did not beat her cancer diagnosis – but this book is so beautifully written and so poignant, its depth and vividness simply overcame the difficult subject matter.
Ordinary Love & Goodwill
BY Jane Smiley
Genre: Fiction (two novellas)
About the Book: “These two novellas chronicle the difficult choices that reshape the lives of two very different families. In Ordinary Love, Smiley focuses on a woman’s infidelity and the lasting, indelible effects it leaves on her children long after her departure. Good Will portrays a father who realizes how his son has been affected by his decision to lead a counterculture life and move his family to a farm. As both stories unfold, Smiley gracefully raises the questions that confront all families with the characteristic style and insight that has marked all of her work.”
Why It’s a Fave: Jane Smiley writes with an impeccable attention to detail and uncanny insights into human nature. I listened to this one on Audible and at times felt like I was sitting across the kitchen table from these characters.
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative
BY Florence Williams
About the Book: “From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to eucalyptus groves in California, Florence Williams investigates the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. Delving into brand-new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas―and the answers they yield―are more urgent than ever.”
Why It’s a Fave: The Nature Fix is written in highly readable prose, and Florence Williams does a great job making science accessible and interesting to the lay reader. This book was the perfect mix of research and personal narrative and definitely made me want to spend more time outdoors.
Forgiving God: A Story of Faith
BY Hilary Yancey
About the Book: “Three months into her pregnancy with her first child, Hilary Yancey received a phone call that changed everything. As she learned the diagnosis-cleft lip and palate, a missing right eye, possible breathing complications-Hilary began to pray in earnest. Even in the midst of these findings, she prayed that God would heal her son. God could do a miracle unlike anything she had seen. Only when Hilary held her baby, Jack, in her arms for the first time did she realize God had given her something drastically different than what she had demanded.”
Why It’s a Fave: This is a beautiful story, a hard story, a real story, and I especially appreciated that Hilary is willing to ask hard questions, even when (especially when) there aren’t discernible answers. She is also an incredibly gifted writer, and her stunning prose took my breath away.
The Great Alone
BY Kristin Hannah
About the Book: “Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.”
Why It’s a Fave: The Great Alone is simply great storytelling. I listened to this book on my long training runs last spring, and the riveting plot and astute character development held my attention over many a grueling mile.
The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery
BY David Benner
Genre: Christian Non-fiction
About the Book: “In this profound exploration of Christian identity, psychologist and spiritual director David G. Benner illuminates the spirituality of self-discovery. He exposes the false selves that you may hide behind and calls you to discover the true self that emerges from your uniqueness in Christ. Freeing you from illusions about yourself, Benner shows that self-understanding leads to the fulfillment of your God-given destiny and vocation.”
Why It’s a Fave: I read The Gift of Being Yourself three times in a single year. It was simply the book I needed to read at the place I was on my spiritual journey. As a Type 3 on the Enneagram, this book spoke deeply to me about how and why I have created false selves and how I can begin to live my fully into my true identity. I only wish I had read this book before writing True You!
The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You
BY Shannan Martin
Genre: Christian Non-fiction
About the Book: “For Christ-followers living in an increasingly complicated world, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to live a life of intention and meaning. Where do we even begin? Shannan Martin offers a surprisingly simple answer: uncover the hidden corners of our cities and neighborhoods and invest deeply in the lives of people around us. With transparency, humor, heart-tugging storytelling, and more than a little personal confession, Martin shows us that no matter where we live or how much we have, as we learn what it is to be with people as Jesus was, we’ll find our very lives.”
Why It’s a Fave: Shannan Martin’s writing is so sharp, so funny, so unflinchingly honest, and so convicting, it constantly knocks me off my feet (in a good way). I loved her first book, Falling Free, and this one was even better.
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 It’s a Fave: I found Westover’s story utterly fascinating, almost in a “can’t stop looking at a car accident” sort of way. Her life was so foreign, so remote to my own upbringing, and yet, there was also something universal in her story that resonated deeply with me.
Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife
BY Barbara Bradley Hagarty
About the Book: Former NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty masterfully melds the latest scientific research with compelling personal narrative, offering readers insights into how to live their middle years to the fullest. From Amazon: “There’s no such thing as an inevitable midlife crisis, Barbara Bradley Hagerty writes in this provocative, hopeful book. It’s a myth, an illusion. New scientific research explodes the fable that midlife is a time when things start to go downhill for everybody. In fact, midlife can be a great new adventure, when you can embrace fresh possibilities, purposes, and pleasures.”
Why It’s a Fave: What can I say…I’m 48, officially in my mid-life and looking for answers. I listened to this one on audio and especially appreciated how Hagerty (she narrates her own book) fluidly moved from laugh-out-loud humor to tender vulnerability, all the while backing her observations with fascinating, accessible science.
Here are the other books I read in 2018 (Note: an * denotes an Honorable Mention; the letter “A” denotes audio version; “RR” denotes a re-read):
10% Happier – Dan Harris
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
*The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Deep Work (RR) – Cal Newport
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (A) – Benjamin Alire Saenz
All the Light We Cannot See (RR) – Anthony Doerr
We Were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nahesi Coates
All is Grace – Brennan Manning
*Barking to the Choir – Gregory Boyle
What Falls from the Sky – Esther Emery
In the Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware
The Best of Us – Joyce Maynard
Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time – Brigid Schulte
*The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love – Kristin Kimball
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
Take This Bread – Sara Miles
The Woman in Cabin 10 (A) – Ruth Ware
A Place to Land – Kate Motaung
The Sacred Enneagram – Christopher Hueretz
*Everything Happens for a Reason – Kate Bowler
Inspired – Rachel Held Evans
The Mindful Writer – Dinty W. Moore
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
Bored and Brilliant – Manoush Zomorodi
The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Hourglass – Dani Shapiro
The Poisonwood Bible (RR) – Barbara Kingsolver
A Year by the Sea – Joan Anderson
Raise Your Voice – Kathy Khang
*March – Geraldine Brooks
The Second Journey: The Road Back to Yourself – Joan Anderson
A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table (RR)- Molly Wizenberg
Scary Close – Donald Miller
Food: A Love Story – Jim Gaffigan
People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks
*It’s All Under Control – Jennifer Dukes Lee
I’d Rather Be Reading – Anne Bogel
Invitation to Retreat – Ruth Haley Barton
Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
*Once We Were Strangers – Shawn Smucker
And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
The Mountain Between Us – Charles Martin
Girl, Wash Your Face – Rachel Hollis
The Alice Network – Kate Quinn
*Becoming – Michelle Obama
God’s Joyful Surprise – Sue Monk Kidd
Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver
Desiring God’s Will – David Benner
Tell me, what’s the best book you read in 2018?
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