If you’re anything like me, a nightstand devoid of reading material is enough to drive fear into your heart. From novels to nonfiction, short stories to poetry, young adult literature to graphic novels, having a good book at the ready can be everything.
Since I’m always scouting around for new great books, I wanted to share a few with you that have inspired me this year, from making me think a little harder to helping me set off on a grand adventure from the comfort of my own down comforter. Some are brand new (releasing this year!) and others are a year or two old.
Many are explicitly Christian, but others are not. I’m a big believer in reading widely, but I’ve also noted the few that are a little intense or include any violence, in case that’s not your jam.
On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior.
Discussions of virtue are few and far between in our fast-paced, outrage-driven culture. What does it mean to learn temperance? To practice prudence? And what does studying classic literature have to do with discovering a world rich with goodness? Swallow Prior addresses these questions with lyrical wit and wise direction, covering everything from purity culture to The Great Gatsby.
I had to read this one slowly because it was so good I didn’t want to miss a thing.
Surprised by Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel.
After hearing her speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing last year, I vowed I’d read every book this winsome, brilliant author wrote. I haven’t been disappointed.
Surprised describes the places of tension in Scripture–and our lives–where the answer isn’t either/or but instead and. Jesus is God and human. How? Well, therein lies the paradox. In a culture that often pushes us to declare sides, Scripture invites us to listen deeply, learn well, and discover that the truth is often a middle road.
The God Who Sees by Karen González.
Karen Gonzalez is a master of Scriptural storytelling, weaving her memoir–an immigrant story rich with sacrament–in and out of stories of biblical wanderers like Abraham and Ruth and Hagar. As these travelers searched for a land to call home, so González’s story centers on this longing to know and be known. It’s a lovely, light-filled, deeply thoughtful story written by someone who has lived the immigrant journey herself.
It launches officially on May 21, 2019, but you can preorder today.
Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy.
Alia Joy is a master of metaphor and imagery, and this rich story is heavy with sadness and soaring with hope. Halfway through the first chapter I put the book down, turned to my husband, and said, “Girl can WRITE.”
While I’ve enjoyed her blog posts and devotionals for years, a book-length memoir that doesn’t shy away from the depths of depression or sugarcoat the difficult parts of the gospel is a rare gift. Joy writes honestly that life is achingly, brutally, back-breakingly hard, but in our frailty there can be a new understanding of what it means that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
The Color of Life by Cara Meredith.
In this memoir, Cara Meredith chronicles her path from her younger years, where she didn’t think much about race, to one rich in conversations, experiences, and realizations of color after she fell in love with her husband, the son of a prominent Civil Rights activist. What I love about this book is Cara’s desire to continue learning. She doesn’t have it all figured out, but she’s willing to keep walking forward.
I can’t keep this book on my shelf because I keep giving it away to friends. “You have to read this,” I tell them. Reorder, give away, repeat.
Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up by Kathy Khang.
As an introvert who grew up too shy to even send back a fast food order, I love Khang’s call to speak up. Through personal anecdotes, scholarly research, and a deep love for Scripture, Khang takes us on a journey to discover the reasons we don’t raise our voices and how to break through the barriers that keep us quiet. It’s a call to action, too, as she reminds us that speaking out and speaking up aren’t just for us–they are for sisters and friends and neighbors who might otherwise be voiceless.
Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness by Leslie Verner.
Isolation is an epidemic, and one with devastating consequences. What does Christian hospitality look like in a culture so bent on individualism? How can we love our neighbors, serve our God, prioritize people over task, and open our doors to a hurting world? I’ve loved Leslie Verner’s blog, Scraping Raisins, for years, and this book is so timely. With help from cultures around the world, she writes of God’s universal call to practice hospitality right where we are. It comes out in August 2019, but you can preorder now (I did!).
Almost Holy Mama: Life-Giving Spiritual Practices for Weary Parents by Courtney Ellis
I wrote this memoir-ish guide to spiritual disciplines out of desperation. As a parent to young kids, I had no idea how to cram more Jesus into my day, but I was in such desperate need of him that I determined to find a way.
This book is the story of that way–a story not of getting up extra-early to fall asleep over my Bible, but of finding God in the laundry, the car rides, the celebrations, and yes, even the suffering of parenthood. It’ll be out July 2019, but you can preorder today.
Signs of Life by Stephanie Lobdell.
I have been waiting for this book even before I knew it was coming into existence. From her gorgeous preaching to her vulnerable articles (one of which had me in tears), Stephanie Lobdell is a wise and honest guide through the losses that shape our lives and the hope that lifts our spirits.
From permission to pray “selfish” prayers to rediscovering our zeal for God (and life!) when we’re depleted, this book is an engaging, thoughtful, Christ-centered read for anyone who’s ever felt worn down by life and hungry for hope.
Single Gay Christian by Gregory Coles.
Often the conversations in the church around our LGBTQ brothers and sisters boil down to two opposing sides yelling at one another or weaponizing Scripture, with serious wounding as a result.
In these pages, Gregory Coles tells his story of being just what the title says–single, gay, and a Christian. His interpretation of Scripture influences his choice to remain celibate and also encourages him to bravely come out as gay to a widening circle of people. It’s honest, heartfelt, and occasionally hilarious (like when he accidentally comes out to his best friend at the guy’s bachelor party), and asks deeply important questions of both individual Christians and the church.
Uncluttered: Free Your Space, Free Your Schedule, Free Your Soul by Courtney Ellis.
If you’ve ever felt burdened by your possessions, exhausted by your digital devices, or like your schedule is running you rather than the other way around, this book offers hope. While I set out to write about having and doing less, what really surprised me in writing Uncluttered was that, as I opened my hands to God, he filled them with more and more good things. In place of all that clutter, God taught me things like the ancient art of Sabbath, the delights of hospitality, and a new understanding of how–and when–to say yes.
The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs by Martin Mosebach.
This book is a hard read, friends. Between the tragic subject matter (the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS a handful of years ago) and the grisly descriptions of their deaths, it is difficult to make it through. Yet this book isn’t just gore and violence–it’s a love-letter to the oldest church in the world written by a man who seeks to understand its broader culture and the lives of these particular peasant men who gave their lives on the shores of the lake that day.
Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker.
Shawn Smucker is a master of faith and narrative, marrying his deep theological convictions with storytelling that rivals that of C. S. Lewis and–more recently–Octavia Butler. It takes a true master to make tales of simple things–a young boy, a traveling carnival, a lightning storm–seem both approachable and epic.
His young adult novels–The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There–are some of my recent favorites. This is his first novel for adults. It comes out July 16 and I CANNOT WAIT.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
This book… oh my. This book. My husband, who barely reads novels, couldn’t put this book down. My mother-in-law, who adores novels, couldn’t stop raving about it. With characters as real as your next-door neighbor, a flair for the dramatic-but-always-still-believable, and a weaving storytelling skill second to none, Ng was born to write. I’m already chomping at the bit for her next bit of brilliance.
Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
Leif Enger’s earlier novel Peace Like a River is on my Top-10-Books of All Time list along with heavyweights like Steinbeck and Austen. Virgil Wander was another thoughtful, rich journey into one of Enger’s character-driven worlds. From lessons in mercy to a profound love for the rocky shores of Lake Superior, this novel kept me up nights until I could turn its final pages.
And if you can read this novel without falling absolutely in love with kite-flying, raven-attracting Rune, well, I’ll pray for your soul.
Radicalized by Cory Doctorow
I don’t read much science fiction or many short stories and I picked this book up at the library on a whim and holy cannoli, Batman, it changed my life. Cory Doctorow writes in parallel universes that I’ve imagined in my own dreams and nightmares, from world wide apocalypses to corporate-owned toasters and everything in between.
Yet even amidst all the carnage of man versus man, selfishness and greed, somehow Doctorow manage to pull out some hope. It’s enough to make a person think. (If you’re sensitive to violence, this may not be the book for you. It isn’t extreme–I choose not to read or watch extreme violence–but there are guns and pandemics and more than a few deaths.)
Steele Secrets by Andi Cumbo-Floyd
The first in a young adult trilogy, Steele Secrets combines small town simplicity with historical intrigue and lovely, likable, complex characters. Andi Cumbo-Floyd uses magical realism, spot-on dialogue, and interwoven plots to ask difficult questions of us all. If you love young adult lit that can give you chills in the best possible way, this is a gem of a ghost story.
Plus there are two more books in the series. I mean, does it get better?
Becoming Coztototl by Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros
While this is Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros’s first book, rest assured there will be many more. Her poetry sings. From the borderlands to academia, from the wisdom of her ancestors to her own dazzling observations, these lovely verses will stop you in your tracks and stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
Don’t Close Your Eyes by Bob Hostetler.
Before I had kids I wondered why so many children’s books end with the characters going to sleep. Now that I’m a parent, I know it’s because you are SO DESPERATE for sleep that any book encouraging your kids to shut their eyes and head to dreamland is a GIFT.
This book not only lulls your little one–and a plethora of forest creatures–to sleep at the end of a long day, it features the most beautiful illustrations and sweetly lyrical prose. It’s a new classic in our house, and the kids ask for it allllllll the time.
What are a few new books you’ve loved that I should add to my list?