2018 was a great year for new books. A year where my Amazon cart overflowed more often than I’d care to admit because why buy one amazing book if you can purchase several?
Yet this Best Books list isn’t simply books that came out in this past year. It includes those I ordered hot off the presses as well as those I stumbled upon through friends’ recommendations, continuing education, and lucky library browsing. It’s a list of books that blessed me in 2018.
I hope you find some great reads here for the coming year, or maybe even for when you’re snuggled under a Christmas tree in the next few days. Nothing says cozy like a great read and some festive holiday lights.
- Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
Facing a stage IV cancer diagnosis, this young mom and prominent Christian professor is thrown for a loop. How can a person say “God is good” and “life is so hard” in the same breath? How do we face down the scepter of death, ask the most brutal of questions, and keep living faithfully? Bowler teaches us how.I also heard her speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing in April and she knocked my socks off. If you love podcasts, her Lies I’ve Loved is well worth a listen.
- Nine Months with Cerian by Sarah C. Williams
I absolutely sobbed through this book. It wasn’t because I was only a few days postpartum (though I was). It’s because this book describes one of the hardest things a mother can endure and does it with such beauty and thoughtfulness and Christian depth.
How do you reconcile birth and death in the same moment? Williams never shies away from the honesty of how difficult a decision she faced, nor does she sugarcoat the misery of her situation. Yet in the deepest pain of her life, she shares a profound sense of knowing and being known by the God who will somehow see her through to the other side.
- Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
There’s a book club at our church that’s been together for over a decade. They have yet to recommend any titles to me that I don’t find well worth a read. A few months before Felicity was born, I asked one of their longtime members what the book club’s all time favorite read was, and this was the title he gave.
This novel is everything. Epic, heroic, tragic, thoughtful, moving, fascinating, and heartbreaking. I won’t spoil it for you, but there’s a scene with a wayward monk near the end that has been living in my head ever since I read it six months ago.
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
I’d been trying to get my hands on this book for months, but it was always checked out at the library and the list to put it on hold was long. Finally, finally I got it into my hands and wow, was it worth the wait. Suspenseful, comedic, tragic, and surprising.
Ng’s eye for cultural commentary wrapped in complex characters is profound. I’m now on the wait list for her next book at the library, but I’m pretty sure I’m just going to need to buy everything she’s ever written.
- Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
I reread this perennially, and I’m always, always glad I do. Enger’s prose sings and each phrase is a thing of beauty. He captures the deep faith of his characters in a way that is never cloying, reductionistic, or preachy, making his books a study in the humanness of belief. The story is driven and rife with tension and climax, making it not just a great book about faith but one about life as well.
Between his rich descriptions, fantastic characters, and straight-from-the- I find myself wanting to underline every page.
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
My first thought in picking this up was, “Ugh, it’s a poetry/prose hybrid. I hate those kinds of books.” Then I read a couple of pages and became absolutely hooked. From family relationships to adolescent emerging identity to sports, this is perhaps the most creative, well-paced, draw-you-in coming of age novel I’ve ever read. (And I’ve read a lot of them.)
You’ll find it in the Young Adults section, but it’s a stellar read for anyone over the age of ten or so.
I heard Alexander speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing, and his keynote alone was worth the price of admission.
- A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman
Daryl and I read this with our head of staff this year and it’s changed my ministry profoundly for the better. Friedman’s focus on the self-differentiation of leaders, on reading what’s underlying difficult situations, on what’s needed to lead healthy and productive change in an organization is both so revolutionary and so spot-on I underlined half the book.
Good for leaders in any field, Friedman’s truths have stood the test of time. This continues to be a leadership classic for good reason, and I’m so glad we read it this year.
- Love, Undocumented by Sarah Quezada
What happens when an American girl who’d never thought much about the issues of border justice and citizenship falls in love with an undocumented immigrant from Latin America? I won’t spoil this lovely memoir with any more detail than that, except to say you should read it.
Whether you lean left or right politically, this story will challenge your assumptions and help you think more personally about how we manage our borders and who we decide our neighbor is.
- Ruined by Ruth Everhart
When I heard Ruth speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing, I knew I had to read her book stat. Ruined chronicles the horrific sexual assault Everhart and her roommates experienced while students at Calvin College in Michigan. They felt completely safe in their off-campus house until the night two strangers shattered their innocence, their illusions, and–for a season–their faith.
Everhart covers everything from purity culture to lament to healing to hope in this gripping, thoughtful memoir. I couldn’t put it down. She’s a dynamite speaker, to boot, and if you ever have the chance to hear her in person, make sure you do.
- A Faithful Farewell by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
McEntyre’s book is written from the perspective of someone dying from a terminal illness. Each short chapter covers a feeling, fear, or experience, written as a letter to the reader.
I worked briefly as a hospice chaplain, and issues of death and grief are close to my heart. In parish ministry I often feel out of practice with end-of-life issues. We do a lot of ministry to the dying within the church, but it’s no longer my experience eight or ten hours a day like it was when I worked for hospice. This book helped both remind me of ways to be present to the ill and dying, and helped me put myself in their shoes in a rich, thoughtful way.
This is a great read for anyone, whether you’re helping a friend face a terminal illness, working with the dying, or contemplating your own mortality, this is a stellar read.
- Kiss, Kiss by Roald Dahl
Did you know the author of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory wrote books for adults? Neither did I! It’s filled with all the wit and humor of his children’s books, while building more haunting characters to satisfy jaded adults.I don’t usually enjoy ghost stories or murder mysteries, but this book is both. It’s gentle enough not to terrify me while still having satisfyingly spooky elements and Dahl’s characteristic roguish acumen and no-nonsense perspective.
As a bonus, most stories are only a few pages long, making it perfect for a before-bed (or, in my case, a nursing-the-baby-before-nodding-off-myself) read.
- Once, We Were Strangers by Shawn Smucker
This thoughtful, rich story chronicles the author’s friendship with a Muslim Syrian refugee named Mohammad. Smucker has a knack for descriptions that place you right at the scene and a love for his neighbor that puts feet on his faith.Those elements, coupled with his raw honesty about the difficulties of hospitality looks like for an introverted writer and the rewards of it for a person of faith, make this book well worth a read.
What were your favorite reads of 2018? Do share!