I know, I know, everyone and their sister is doing a “best books” list this year, but don’t you just love them? There is nothing better than a good book recommendation from someone you know, right?
I read 44 books this year and enjoyed the large majority of them, so it was really, really challenging for me to pick just ten of my favorites. After much hemming and hawing I finally did it…here are my top 10 book picks for 2016 (and please note: these aren’t necessarily books that were released in 2016 – though some were — but books I personally read during the past year).
I’m modeling my post after Emily Freeman’s Ten Best Books post, because why reinvent the wheel when it’s pretty darn great to begin with? So, each entry includes a bit about the book from the Amazon description, and a thought or two from me about why I chose it as a favorite of 2016 (the books are not listed in any particular order).
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown
About the Book: “The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. It is not a time management strategy or a productivity technique but a systematic discipline for discerning what’s absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that’s not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.”
Why It’s a Fave: Technically this is a business book…but it’s SO much more than a business book. I read Essentialism in January last year, and it was the perfect book to kick off the new year. It helped me figure out my core strengths and my “essential intent,” and showed me how to do fewer things better.
Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons
by Christie Purifoy
Genre: Christian memoir
About the Book: “Anyone who has felt the longing for home, who yearns to reconnect with the beauty of nature, and who values the special blessing of deep relationships with family and friends will love finding themselves in this story of earthly beauty and soaring hope.”
Why It’s a Fave: Christie Purifoy’s writing is gorgeous. She is one of my favorite bloggers and writers, hands-down, and I can’t wait for her to pen another book. I read Roots & Sky slowly, savoring her beautiful imagery and pondering deeply her poignant, insightful words.
Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
About the Book: “In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current racial crisis.”
Why It’s a Fave: I’m not going to kid you, this book kicked me in the be-hind. Coates is a straight shooter, and he doesn’t mince his words. But frankly, I needed a kick to start thinking about race relations in this country, what my place is in the current racial landscape, and what I am going to do about it. I read this one twice through, and then picked it as my selection for my monthly book club (comprised of all white women), which resulted in an honest and fruitful conversation.
My Name is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout
About the Book: “Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life.”
Why It’s a Fave: I listened to this book on Audible during my morning runs, and more than once it moved me to tears, right there on the trail. That said, this book is not saccharine sentimentality. Rather, Strout digs into the layers of human emotion in a powerful yet subtle way, leaving us with a beautiful portrayal of the human condition. For the record, Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite writers – Olive Kitteridge is one of my favorite books of all time – and My Name is Lucy Barton, though a short read, does not disappoint.
Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence
by Ruth Haley Barton
Genre: Christian Living
About the Book: “This book is an invitation to you to meet God deeply and fully outside the demands and noise of daily life. God extends the invitation, but he honors our freedom and will not push himself where he is not wanted. Instead, he waits for us to respond from the depths of our desire.”
Why It’s a Fave: This book was instrumental in my pursuit of silence and solitude this year, and I keep coming back to read Barton’s words again and again. She asks some profound questions that have gotten me thinking about my deepest desires and what those desires reveal about me and about my relationship with God. It’s not an understatement to say that this book has been life-changing for me.
by Wendell Berry
About the Book: “Jayber becomes the barber of the small community of Port William, Kentucky. From behind that barber chair he lives out the questions that drove him from seminary and begins to accept the gifts of community that enclose his answers. The chair gives him a perfect perch from which to listen, to talk, and to see, as life spends itself all around.”
What It’s a Fave: I know, a barber…doesn’t exactly sound like the most riveting subject ever. But take my word for it, this book is beautiful and profound. Until this year, I’d only ever read Berry’s poetry, but his fiction is equally compelling, and I’ll definitely be reading another of his novels in 2017.
Present over Perfect
by Shauna Niequist
Genre: Christian Living/Spiritual Growth
About the Book: “Written in Shauna’s warm and vulnerable style, this collection of essays focuses on the most important transformation in her life, and maybe yours too: leaving behind busyness and frantic living and rediscovering the person you were made to be.”
Why It’s a Fave: I’ve read everything Shauna Niequist has written, and this one is my favorite so far, I think because I can relate so well to her Type A drive to “prove her worth” by doing more. As always, her writing is authentic, vulnerable, and relatable, kind of like you are chatting over coffee and scones rather than simply holding her book in your hands.
Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You
by John Ortberg
Genre: Christian Living/Spiritual Growth
About the Book: “John Ortberg presents another classic that will help you discover your soul―the most important connection to God there is―and find your way out of the spiritual shallow-lands to true divine depth.”
Why It’s a Fave: As I’ve experimented with silence and solitude this year and have found myself on a journey toward a deeper intimacy with God, I’ve thought a lot about the soul and its role on this journey. Ortberg hits some important themes in this book — hurry, busyness, and striving, to name a few – that resonated deeply with me. I borrowed this one from the library, but it’s a book I plan to buy for my own personal shelf.
Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted
by Shannan Martin
Genre: Christian Living/Spiritual Growth (but reads like memoir)
About the Book: “Falling Free charts Shannan’s pilgrimage from the self-focused wisdom of the world to the topsy-turvy life of God’s more being found in less. This practical, sweetly subversive book invites us to rethink assumptions about faith and the good life, push past insecurity and fear, and look beyond comfortable, middle-class Christianity toward a deeper, richer, and ultimately more fulfilling life.”
Why It’s a Fave: Like Between the World and Me (but for different reasons), this book pushed me way past my comfort zone and was a much-needed wake-up call, prompting me to think about what I have and what I am being called to do with my resources. Shannan Martin is a gorgeous writer, too, so that, combined with the fact that she compelled me to action, was a win-win.
Four Seasons in Rome
by Anthony Doerr
About the Book: “This intimate and revelatory book is a celebration of Rome, a wondrous look at new parenthood, and a fascinating story of a writer’s craft—the process by which Doerr transforms what he sees and experiences into sentences.”
Why It’s a Fave: Doerr is best known for his Pulitzer-Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See (which I enjoyed…though seemingly not as much as the rest of the world), but I really liked this lesser-known memoir about his year with his wife and new-born twins in Italy. I read it while I was in Italy, so clearly that helped, but even so, Doerr’s ability to capture the everyday nuances and details of life really wowed me. Beautifully written and captivating…a perfect “winter escape” read.
The Broken Way
by Ann Voskamp
Genre: Christian Living
About the Book: “What if you really want to live abundantly before it’s too late? What do you do if you really want to know abundant wholeness? This is the one question that’s behind every single aspect of our lives, and one that The Broken Way rises up to explore in the most unexpected ways.”
Why It’s a Fave: Ann Voskamp’s lyrical style might not be for everyone, but I absolutely love how she turns a phrase and tells a story. Her use of language is exquisite, and she writes with unmatched vulnerability. This book asks some hard questions and took me to some difficult places. But if I have to go there, I know one thing for sure: I want Ann Voskamp as my guide along the way.
So many books, so little time, right? If you’re looking for more good reads, check out my Top 5 Favorite Fiction Books of All Time (wow – that’s quite a declaration!).
And might I also recommend the What Should I Read Next? podcast with Anne Bogel – I guarantee that after just a handful of episodes, you’ll have more book recommendations than you ever thought possible.
Finally, each month I talk about what I’m currently reading (and listening to) in my Back Patio newsletter. You can sign up for that here.
Happy reading, friends!
*This post includes Amazon affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase via one of the links, I get a very small commission. Thank you!