favorite books

Top 20 Reads of 2019 (So Far)

2019 has been a good reading year for me so far. I’ve finished 85 books so far this year and am hoping to finish 2 more by the end of August. I assume this will slow down significantly once I have a newborn, but for now I am making the time count.

I thought I’d share my top 20 picks out of what I’ve read so far. These are in no particular order. I’m experimenting with minimalist reviews/descriptions that hopefully give you a little taste of what each book is about.  Feel free to ask for more details if you want to know more about a particular pick! You can always follow me on Goodreads for more updates on what I’m reading.

Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Swamp girl makes her own way in a world where she will never fully belong. Set in South Carolina marshland. Very atmospheric.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. A young girl is pulled from the frozen river, dead, then alive. Multiple people try to claim her. Dreamy, lush, fairy-tale-esque. Set in a fictional world strongly resembling 18thcentury England.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. The women of the Butler family band together to deal with a crisis when oldest sister and leader of the family, Althea, is sent to prison. Althea’s two sisters confront their own demons as they come together to care for Althea’s twin daughters.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Xiomara discovers slam poetry is a way to be seen and heard in a world not made for her. She grapples with her mother’s faith vs. what she believes. (Novel-in-verse. Great on audio).

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin. Pride and Prejudiceset in contemporary Canada with Muslim characters. More loosely adheres to the original storyline than other retellings, but with all of the elements that make the original great.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Orphaned twin brothers, products of an illicit union between an Indian nun and an English surgeon, grow up inseparable in Ethiopia until one day they are driven apart by war and by betrayal. Themes of identity, revolution, family, healing, relationship between doctors and patients, and the role of medicine.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. One event links two neighboring families together forever. Tragedy, hope, and forgiveness are all entwined with the complexities of ordinary families and the sweetness of ordinary life.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Reid Jenkins. Oral history of a seventies rock band. Feels so real, you will find yourself trying to look up their songs on Spotify. Also, I can’t be the only one who was picturing Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper while reading this.

The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang. Second book in the Poppy Warsseries. Chinese history plus gods, monsters, and warriors.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Short, beautiful novel about 13-year-old Connor learning to deal with grief. Also there’s a storytelling monster.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. 1990’s Columbia. Contrast between a young girl in a wealthy, privileged family, and the girl who comes from the slums to work for them as a live-in maid. Pablo Escobar. Guerilla warfare. Violence. Connection. Coming of Age.

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner. Criminal profiler helps catch serial killer. Inspired by the Ted Bundy case.  I heart serial killers. In a non-creepy way.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Gamache is the definition of noble. Three strangers, an elderly woman’s baffling will, and a dead body.

Nonfiction

Land of Lost Borders by Kate Harris. Girl bikes the great silk road, pitching her tent in ditches or staying with random Uzbeki family yurts along the way. Seeking “to find an outer landscape as wild as she felt within.”

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Basially Michelle Obama is good people.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl. Food writing is glamorous. And also not. Ruth Reichl shares her experience as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.

Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene. Man grapples with the senseless loss of his two-year-old daughter in a freak accident. Gut-wrenching expressions of raw grief, but ultimately hopeful.

Inspired by Rachel Held Owens. Deep love for Scripture plus a talent for storytelling equals a beautiful marriage of reverence for the text and earnest of exploration of what it means for us today. I had this on audio when I heard the news of her passing away and listening to her read it really made an impact.

The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah. Man buys crumbling mansion in Casablanca. Is faced with opinionated locals and angry Jinns (evil spirits of the Muslim world).

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. A therapist shares stories about therapy, from her experiences both as a professional and as a patient. Funny and fascinating. Made me briefly consider a new career in clinical psychology. Briefly.

Advertisements

What’s On My Bookshelf Vol. 2

Back by popular demand, today’s post is the second installment of the What’s on My Bookshelf series. Picking up right where we left off last time with more books from our living room bookshelf. (Sorry for the long break between posts –since Jonathan and I both participate in these it takes a little more time to get them together).

The first few books on the shelf are Jonathan’s. (Anything Jonathan wrote will be in italics).

Gun, with Occasional Music (3.5 Stars) and Motherless Brooklyn  (4.5 Stars)are both offbeat, inventive literary mysteries by Jonathan Lethem (though Lethem doesn’t exclusively write mysteries). Gun, his first novel, is a blend of crime noir and science fiction, following a detective around futuristic Oakland as he investigates a murder and its subsequent cover up. It’s funny and engaging, plus it features a memorable turn by an evolved kangaroo-turned-gangster. Motherless Brooklyn is set in contemporary New York and narrated by a man named Lionel Essrog, who works for low-level mobster Frank Minna. When Minna is killed, Essrog has to figure out what happened while avoiding the blowback from others vying to fill the now empty seat of power. The twist, however, is that our 1st person narrator Lionel has Tourettes, so the narrative is unusually disjointed and often very funny.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This is one of those books that’s on both of our, “Been Meaning to Read That,” lists. Set in New York City in the 1970’s it tells the story of a community through the individual stories of people on all ends of the social spectrum, from monks, to prostitutes, to wealthy, grieving mothers who have lost their sons in the Vietnam war, to struggling artists, to teenage mothers.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (4 Stars) is the first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy about a world destroyed by environmental disasters and the greed of corporations. It flashes back and forth to moments before and after the apocalypse, following a character named Jimmy (known, in the future, only as Snowman) through his relationships with his genius friend Crake, and their mysterious friend and possible love-interest Oryx. This book was inventive, prescient, and remarkably frightening, especially in regards to our growing consumer culture and the belief that one should be able to buy a solution to every imaginable problem, plus the amorality of the corporations we then come to rely on. I found it very upsetting, which isn’t a ringing endorsement but does speak to how clear and affecting it is.

The Blind Assassin (4 Starsis a classic Margaret Atwood novel and one of my favorites of hers. The novel begins with Iris Chase reflecting on the apparent suicide of her sister Laura 45 years before when she drove off a bridge just 10 days after the end of WWII. What keeps this book from being a straightforward account of an old woman’s memories about her life is the introduction of The Blind Assassin, a science fiction novel written by Laura before she died. Atwood weaves together Iris’ reflections with the text of her sister’s novel as we try to piece together what really happened.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones. Similar to Let the Great World Spin, this is a book we both have every intention of reading someday. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the story of Henry Townsend, a former slave who is now a farmer, and his relationship with William Robbins, the most powerful man in the county. After Townsend dies unexpectedly, his wife, Caldonia, struggles to hold onto all that he has built. This book is lauded for its straightforward look at the moral ambiguities of slavery. I suppose this is one of those books that feels weighty – worth the read, but also worth being in the right frame of mind to read it – which is why I haven’t picked it up yet. 

Room (4 Stars) by Emma Donoghue (which became a movie this year) is a story about a woman held captive for years by a man known only in the book as Old Nick, who keeps her locked in a shed in his backyard. It’s narrated by the woman’s five-year-old son Jack, who was born in the shed and has never left – the world, to him, is literally just their room. It’s a very moving story about the love between mother and son in horrible circumstances (plus man’s tremendous capacity for evil), though it also ends up, surprisingly, being a great deal about child development and growth. So much of the story centers on Jack’s struggles to grow and understand the world – his deeply warped perspective – given his unique and disturbing situation. 

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (4 Stars) is a book I’ve owned for years but only actually read recently. It’s a beautiful book, though I understand criticisms of it trying to do too much. There’s a lot going on there. Dr. Marina Singh travels to the Amazon to investigate the death of a colleague who passed away under mysterious circumstances while researching an indigenous tribe whose women have the unique ability to continue reproducing up until they die.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (4 Stars) is a book I’d like to reread someday. I remember thinking the language was beautiful and the story was inventive and I was wildly impressed by the fact that the author was receiving so much acclaim for it at the ripe old age of 26. (It was a finalist for the National Book Award). To boil it down, this is a book about how people respond to death. Natalia is a young doctor on a mission of mercy to provide immunizations to an orphanage in a remote town (in a country that’s never named but we assume is Croatia), but she has to deal with the people’s superstitions and with her own personal struggle to come to terms with the recent death of her grandfather, a renowned physician who died under mysterious circumstances. In desperation, she turns to the stories her grandfather told her as a little girl to make sense of his death. The strongest parts of this novel are the parts where she draws on folklore to recreate the stories of the deathless man and the tiger’s wife.

Hope you enjoyed this!

______________________________________________________

A key to my rating system:

5 Stars: I loved this book, I had no problems with it, it’s one of my all-time favorite books and I recommend it.
4 Stars: I really, really liked this book. I had no major problems with it, but I’m not sure it’s one of my all-time favorites. I recommend it.
3 Stars: I enjoyed this book. There were maybe some things I didn’t like, but overall I liked it. OR it was really fun, but not something that stands out or will stick with me. I recommend it, but might have some disclaimers.
2 Stars: I didn’t like it but I feel bad giving it one star so I’m giving it two.
1 Star: I thought it was a terrible, terrible book and I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on it.

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links. If you click through to make a purchase I receive approximately $0.02 which goes to support this site.

 

What’s On My Bookshelf Vol. 1

Hello fellow book-loving friends and welcome to a brand new series I’m starting about all the books that live on my bookshelves. Books are a huge part of both my and my husband’s lives and while we try to periodically get rid of books we dislike or know we’ll never read, our collection continues to grow. At last count we own nearly 500 books not counting things like cookbooks or any ebooks we own on our kindles.

My idea is that for each installment I’ll take a picture (like the one above) of a manageable chunk of a bookshelf. I’ll share titles and authors and give a 1 -2 sentence summary. If I’ve read it, I’ll give you a rating based on my enjoyment. The next time I’ll pick up where I left off before. And don’t worry, I’ll leave out any reference books or textbooks that have made their way into our collection.

I’m kicking this off with the tall bookshelf in our living room. This bookshelf is dead ahead when you walk in the front door of our house. Since we knew it would be out and on display we wanted to fill it with some of our favorite books or some of our larger collections of books by the same author. We don’t alphabetize our books or sort by color or size – I suppose we like the cheerful jumble of it all. But we do more or less keep genres together and keep books by the same author beside one another. Most of what’s on this bookshelf could be classified as fiction.

IMG_0632.JPG

The first two books on this shelf are both by Nicole Krauss. Great House is her more recent novel, and  The History of Love was her second. Until very recently Nicole Krauss was married to Jonathan Safran Foer which is why we’ve put their books next to each other on this shelf. I think they have similar styles in the way they often structure their novels as several separate narratives that gradually intertwine.

Great House (4 out of 5 Stars) tells four separate stories with different characters who are linked by their experiences of loss and recovery and by an enormous old desk that travels down through time and history to appear in each of their homes.

The History of Love (5 out of 5 Stars). Leo Gursky is an 80-year old retired locksmith who immigrated to New York after escaping SS officers in his native Poland. Years before he wrote a book called A History of Love about the woman he loved and lost. Alma Singer  is a 14-year-old girl who wants to remember her dead father and to help her mother out of a crippling depression.  She was named after the main character in book called A History of Love. Her story and Leo’s are destined to intertwine.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (5 out of 5 Stars). This is one of my favorite books and I’ve written about it quite a few times before. This book is (partially) narrated by Oskar Schell, an exceptionally intelligent, eccentric, and precocious nine-year-old who has recently lost in father in the 9/11 attacks on New York City. Oskar finds a key among his father’s possessions and becomes fixated on finding the lock this key fits into. His quest takes him all over New York City and into the lives of hundreds of people also reeling in the aftermath of the attacks.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (3.5 out of 5 Stars). I read this book second even though it was written first. I didn’t like it nearly as much as I liked the other one, but I think I’m in the minority here. I think it was just a bit too weird for me. Something I like about both Foer and Krauss are their eccentric, quirky characters, but I found some of this book so strange as to be off-putting. It tells the story of an American man who goes to the Ukraine with only an old photograph,  looking for the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis 50 years before. What he finds is an inept translator named Alex and an old blind man and his guide dog. The novel is loosely based on his own experiences.

The Keep and  A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Egan is a pretty well-known and respected name in the literary community, but I actually haven’t read either of these. I defer to Jonathan who says:

“I picked up The Keep and A Visit from the Goon Squad around the time that Goon Squad first came out in 2011, then read them both within about six months of each other. The Keep was one of Egan’s earlier novels, and tells the story of a man named Danny, largely unsuccessful in life, who travels to Germany to visit his cousin Howard. Somewhat unlike Danny, Howard has grown from a nerdy kid to a handsome, extremely wealthy adult, and when the novel begins he’s in the process of renovating a medieval castle that he recently purchased. The two cousins also share a traumatic history (prank gone wrong), and as the story advances there are some metafictional hijinks that take the book to unexpected places.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a series of loosely connected short stories, occasionally overlapping in plot, character, or theme – several stories revolve around people in the music business. Overall the book’s greatest strength, aside from its narrative trickery, is its exploration of the passage of time (spoiler alert: the titular goon squad is time). I remember feeling genuinely depressed by parts of it, which is a terrible way to convince someone to read something, sure, but in this case meant as a compliment! I know I’m probably not making either book sound like much fun, but I promise you they are – Egan writes with a lot of creativity, wit, and energy. Goon Squad was a big deal when it came out and won several significant literary awards, but I slightly prefer The Keep. I liked Goon Squad but ultimately thought it didn’t quite amount to the sum of its parts, whereas the strange moves at the end of The Keep added another genuinely compelling level to the story.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (3 out of 5 Stars). I read this the summer we got married and every time I see the cover it takes me back to that summer. The book itself was a “meh” book for me. I know it’s supposed to be this great work of literature and there were some interesting magical realism bits, but I wasn’t as wowed by it as I felt like I should be. The book spans 100 years in the life of the Buendia family and recounts the rise and fall of their mythical town, Macondo.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (5 out of 5 Stars). This is one of both Jonathan’s and my favorite books and I included it in my 10,000 subscriber giveaway. 11-year-old Reuben Land is traveling with his father Jeremiah and his sister Swede through the Dakota Badlands in search of his fugitive brother, Davy, wanted for killing two men who were terrorizing his family. The true hero of this story is the father, Jeremiah,known for a faith so devout he’s been rumored to produce miracles. This is a book about family and faith, about unseen spirituality and maybe even magic that hides itself in ordinary places.

Middlesex by Jefferey Eugenides. I have never read this book. Jonathan has also never read this book. In fact, neither of us have read any of Eugenides’ books. Jonathan did once go to a reading Eugenides gave of his book ,The Marriage Plot, which Jonathan described as “Fine.” Why is this on our First-Thing-You-See-When-You-Walk-In-The-Door Shelf you might ask? Good question. I assume it is because we’re being pretentious and want people to think we read important literary writers like Eugenides. Or possibly we needed just one more literary book to pad out that shelf.

Bridge of Sighs and Empire Falls by Richard Russo. I love Richard Russo. LOVE. He is known for his small town settings and average-Joe characters who resonate with readers so deeply because they remind us that even the simplest and smallest lives are complex and rich with meaning. Bridge of Sighs (5 out of 5 Stars) tells the story of Louis Charles “Lucy” Lynch, a 60 year old man who has lived contentedly in Thomaston, New York his entire life building a successful chain of convenience stores, now writing his memoirs. Lucy, who has barely been outside of his hometown, is preparing to take a trip to Italy to see his childhood best friend, now a renowned painter. The juxtaposition of these two men – the one who never left and the one who couldn’t stay –and the story of their strange, undefinable friendship is mesmerizing.

Empire Falls (5 out of 5 Stars) won the Pulitzer in 2002. It tells the story of diner owner Miles Rowby who must come to terms with what’s really keeping him flipping burgers in this small town – options include his teenage daughter and his soon-to-be ex-wife who has run off with the comically vain owner of the local heath club.

Let me know if you enjoyed this little book chat and if you have any suggestions for better ways to do it or other book-related posts you’d like to read.

_________________________________________________________________

A key to my rating system:

5 Stars: I loved this book, I had no problems with it, it’s one of my all-time favorite books and I recommend it.
4 Stars: I really, really liked this book. I had no major problems with it, but I’m not sure it’s one of my all-time favorites.
3 Stars: I enjoyed this book. There were maybe some things I didn’t like, but overall I liked it. OR It was really fun, but not something that stands out or will stick with me. I recommend it, but might have some disclaimers.
2 Stars: I didn’t like it but I feel bad giving it one star so I’m giving it two.
1 Star: I thought it was a terrible, terrible book and I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on it.

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links. If you click through to make a purchase I receive a teensy commission which goes to support this site.

 

 

Friday Book Chats: Books Worth Re-Reading

When I was a child I used to reread my favorite books over and over again. In fact, when I asked for specific books for Christmas or my birthday I only chose books I had already read and knew I loved enough to want to own. Of course, as a child I had tons of free time to read and my books weren’t usually very long. As an adult, I rarely reread books, mainly because there are SO many books I want to read that I don’t feel like I have the time to spend on a reread. But every once in a while there’s a book I love enough to reread. These are all books I’ve read more than once, and at least one of those times as an adult.

There is also a list of current kindle deals I am aware of at the end of this post.

The Count of Monte Cristo – I loved this story ever since I saw the Wishbone version on TV in elementary school. I hunted down the book and read an abridged version half a dozen times through elementary school. In college I read the whole 800-page thing and loved it just as much. It’s such a great story of revenge and forgiveness. (BTW, the book is pretty different from the movie, in case that’s your only experience with it, though I think we can all agree that Guy Pierce is the ultimate villain and that Jim Caviezel has the sexiest voice of life).

Pride and Prejudice – I’ve probably read this five or six times. I was in seventh grade the first time I read it and it’s an all-time favorite. I know this isn’t a super original pick, but what can I say, there’s a reason it’s so famous. Growing up with sisters I’ve always found myself attracted to stories about sister relationships. And I also have a thing for the Mr. Darcy types- sort of standoffish and mysterious and somewhat brooding. Which is how I ended up with Jonathan. Obviously.

Emma – I’m not sure why I’ve read Emma so many times (3). I’m not even sure that it’s my favorite Jane Austen novel. I really like P&P and I’m also a big fan of Persuasion. But I like Emma’s personality. And I like how all of her meddling bites her in the butt and Mr. Knightley is still into her, even though he’s seen her in every silly and ridiculous stage of her life. I think it’s a much more nuanced picture of love than your typical romance.

Arcadia – This is a play, but I still think that counts as a book. I think I first read this in high school and then again in college and then Jonathan and I went to see the stage play in New York  for our first anniversary. Like all of Tom Stoppard’s work, this play is incredibly clever and witty. The entire thing takes place in one room, but it moves back and forth between the 19th and 20th centuries seamlessly and confronts the mysteries of science, mathematics, literature, sex, an romance.

The Poisonwood Bible – I already wrote about this in my favorite literary fiction books so I won’t go into lots of detail, but this book is fantastic. It’s a compelling story, but also a fascinating reflection on colonialism and westernization in the name of Christianity.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – I think I’ve read this three times. I also listed this in my favorite literary fiction books and listed Oskar as one of the most interesting characters I’ve read. I just love it. I actually especially love reading this one aloud. Something about the language.

Lord of the Rings – I first read these with my father as a preteen and read them a few more times in the following years. I was a deeply committed fan before the movies made everyone go crazy for them. At this point I wouldn’t say they are my favorite fantasy books, but they will always remain the quintessential classic.

The Chronicles of Narnia – I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia starting as a child until most recently when I read The Magician’s Nephew and The Horse and His Boy aloud to Jonathan on road trips a few years ago. These books are worth rereading because the stories are timeless and because there is always something new to discover and love about them. In general I really hate allegories, but it doesn’t bother me in Narnia because it doesn’t feel too heavy-handed. These are so short that I can read them in an afternoon, so they are a great go to when you want a quick read. I imagine we’ll read them with our kids some day.

Hamlet – Hey, another play! I really love Shakespeare but Hamlet has to be my favorite. (Again, I’m into those distant, brooding types). Hamlet is just so perfectly, deliciously tragic. And it has everything – ghosts, romance, murder mystery, insanity, revenge, comic relief. It’s something I feel I can always come back to and enjoy.

Harry Potter Series – I’ve read the entire series through twice and read a few individual books more than that. Unlike most people my age who sort of grew up with Harry, I wasn’t allowed to read this books as a kid, so I gobbled them all up between the ages of 17 and 19 (which was how old I was when the final book was published). Harry Potter is wildly popular for good reason. It’s inventive and imaginative and wildly complex and still completely relateable.  I think I will continue to read these every few years for the rest of my life. #HP4Eva!

What about you? What are the books you find yourself going back to even though there are so many new books left to read?

Current Kindle Deals

*As of April 24th. I use the US Amazon site. Prices may vary on other sites.

New On Sale:

The Financial Lives of the Poets, Jess Walter ($1.99) I read a different Walter’s book last year (Beautiful Ruins) and really enjoyed it so I’d like to check out this one too.

Cold Sassy TreeOlive Ann Burns ($2.99)

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald ($1.99)

Fall of Giants, The Century Trilogy #1, Ken Follett ($2.99) Follett is a GREAT historical fiction writer. This one is set in the First World War era.

Still on Sale:

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer, Micha Boyett ($3.03)

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell ($4.99). Adorable. One of my favorite YA books.

BossypantsTina Fey ($6.99)

We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. ($1.99)

The Maze Runner, James Dashner ($1.99) I haven’t read this, but the movie was mildly entertaining. Fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent might be interested.

The MartianAndy Weir ($5.99) Another one I haven’t read, but everyone who has raves about it.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through to make a purchase a small percentage of your purchase will go towards supporting this site. This does not affect the price of the items in any way. 

Friday Book Chats: My Favorite Spiritual Memoirs

I’ve only discovered spiritual memoirs in the past few years and it was a revelation to me when I did. Somehow, I hadn’t realized this genre existed. Not only do I find these books meaningful for my own spiritual life, but discovering these books was like discovering my tribe. For the first time I found people who were writing the kinds of things I was writing – people who were working out their faith through their stories – and this inspired me to pursue writing more wholeheartedly.

If you aren’t familiar with the spiritual memoir genre, it is characterized by non-fiction stories and vignettes like a regular memoir, but these focus on some aspect of the author’s spiritual life or journey. Some are conversion stories, some are about struggling with doubt, going through dark periods, or cultivating particular spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual memoir is a genre that some people love and others hate. My husband, for example, is not a huge fan of the genre (which is a pity for me since that’s what I write). He says he doesn’t want to read about the spiritual struggles of someone who is just like him. He would prefer to read something inspirational from someone he looks up to or to read  something that is teaching him facts or sharing information, not just sharing reflections on personal experiences.

I, on the other hand, have found spiritual memoirs to be transformational. I am moved by the ordinary stories of ordinary people who manage to see the spiritual woven throughout the physical world and who make me feel like, “If they can do it, so can I.” When I read about Mother Theresa it’s easy to think, “She’s so far beyond anything I could ever be,” but when I read about Addie Zierman, I think, “She’s a regular person who is a lot like me sharing some great insights about how I could live a more intentional life.”

Today I want to share my favorite spiritual memoirs. Opinions on books are always subjective, but this genre is particularly subjective because the subject matter is so personalized. I might read a spiritual memoir that is really well-written and has some great insights, but that doesn’t resonate with me as deeply simply because the author’s background isn’t all that similar to mine. My favorite spiritual memoirs are those that I see myself in. The ones that I connect with and that also challenge me. These are the books that have stayed with me – the ones that make me believe my story matters.

You can find a list of Kindle books that are on sale now at the bottom of this post.

17934779When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over by Addie Zierman. This book is one of the biggest reasons that I am still writing this blog. I stumbled on Addie’s blog just after her book launched and this launched me into a whole world of authors and bloggers who I connected with on a deep level. Addie’s story of growing up at the height of evangelical youth culture – when Christianity was all about being “on fire” and faith ran on an emotional high- was so eerily similar to my own that I sometimes questioned whether I was reading my own diary. She writes candidly about what happens when a faith that was measured by emotional fervor seems to burn out and how faith can mature into something real and meaningful, even when we are no longer “on fire.” It was this book that made me believe I had a story worth telling. Addie is also one of the most gifted non-fiction writers I’ve ever read. Her prose is beautiful and precise. She is a role model of mine both as a writer and as a person.

Faith unraveledFaith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions by Rachel Held Evans. This book was right up there with When We Were on Fire  in terms of how closely it paralleled my own life experiences. Evans’ story about coming from a fundamentalist evangelical “it’s us against the world” background and learning to be ok asking questions, even if you don’t find answers right away resonated deeply with me. I love that she actually articulates some of the really hard questions of life and faith in this book and doesn’t try to smooth them over with Bible verses or trite Christian phrases. My biggest takeaway was something Evans said at the very end of the book – that there is a difference between questioning God and questioning what you believe about God. I’ve read Evans’ blog off and on and sometimes find her tone to be aggressive or abrasive there – I suppose she is more confrontational and perhaps a bit more liberal than I am – but I have loved all of her books and look forward to reading her newest one, Searching for Sunday, when it’s released later this month.

FoundFound: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett (still on sale for Kindle $3.03). This book is so beautiful. Boyett is a poet and it shows through in her beautiful prose. This is a story for tired Christians who need to experience God in the ordinariness of life. After the birth of her son, Boyett finds that she has lost prayer, something that was always a staple in her life before, and she sets out to rediscover it. What she discovers is that sometimes prayer doesn’t look the way we expect it to. This book particularly resonated with me as a fellow evangelical who grew up and feeling burdened by the need to pray more, read more, do more. This book will probably be especially meaningful for those who feel they’ve lost themselves in parenthood, but even as someone who is not a mother I could relate so well.

PastrixPastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. This book was profound to me in many ways. I read this after listening to an interview that Bolz-Weber gave a few months ago for Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast. I admit that it’s not for everyone, but I am not the kind of person who has to agree with everything someone else says in order to appreciate the truths they share. Bolz-Weber is the pastor of an unconventional Lutheran church in Denver, Colorado called the House for All Sinners and Saints known for such things as the blessing of the motorcycles and the chocolate fountain in the baptismal on Easter Sunday. She writes beautifully about how she came back to faith by believing that there was a place in the Church for someone like her—covered in tattoos and recovering from addictions. One of the most beautiful bits of her book to me was when she talked about falling in love with the liturgy. She says she loved it, “because the liturgy has it’s own integrity. It doesn’t depend on mine.”

bread and wineBread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist. It was hard for me to know whether this book counted as a spiritual memoir, though I’m not exactly sure what other genre it would fit into. This book is about food and hospitality and about the table as a place for building community. As someone who genuinely loves food, it was moving to me to read these stories of good food and shared meals being a way to honor God for the gifts of the earth and to love the people who share our lives. While Niequiest’s other books Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet fit more cleanly into the category of “spiritual memoir” this book about food and hospitality is my favorite. It is a feast in every sense of the word.

Leaving ChurchLeaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. I had been looking forward to this book for a long time and I was not disappointed. Taylor’s story of her call to the Episcopalian priesthood and later her decision to leave the priesthood and become a professor was full of beautiful thoughts about how the world and the church need not be enemies – separate entities that are necessarily opposed to one another. She writes beautifully about the ways she encountered God and grace outside of the church as well as inside it. Among many great quotes, here was one I particularly enjoyed since it describes my current faith journey so well, “I wanted to recover the kind of faith that has nothing to do with being sure what I believe and everything to do with trusting God to catch me though I am not sure of anything.” I am currently reading the book she wrote after this, An Altar in the World, and am very moved by it.

I have a few honorable mentions in this genre – books that I thought were quite good and well-written but that didn’t make my top favorites list because they didn’t resonate as closely with my own experience. They might, however, resonate with yours and you should check them out.

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther. Esther grew up in a legitimate Fundamentalist cult. This book was heartbreaking and hopeful and impossible to put down.

Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner. The story of Winner’s conversion from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity. I wrote more about this here.

Shauna Niequist’s two other books which I mentioned above, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. A classic. I think this was my first foray into the world of spiritual memoirs.

Do you have any favorites that I should know about? (For the record, Mary Karr’s Lit, BBT’s Learning to Walk in the Dark, Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss are already on my list!)

Current Kindle Deals

*As of April 3rd. I use the US Amazon site. Prices may vary on other sites.

New On Sale:

Cress, Marissa Meyer ($2.99). The Lunar Chronicles, book 3. This is part of the same series as Cinder, mentioned below.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett ($5.94)

Mere Christianity, C.S, Lewis ($4.99)

The Giver, Lois Lowry ($1.99)

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)Mindy Kaling ($4.99). I thought this book was hilarious. Then again, Mindy Kaling is like my spirit animal. But still. Loved it. Love her.

Still on Sale:

Cinder, Marissa Meyer ($2.99). This is a YA book, the first book of the Lunar Chronicles. It is a futuristic sort-of Cinderella story, except Cinderella is a cyborg and there’s a planet-wide pandemic. Just reading the synopsis, this is not the sort of book I would naturally gravitate toward, but it came highly recommended and I was impressed. It’s clever and imaginative and I couldn’t put it down.

Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Every Day Life, Gretchen Rubin ($1.99). I just purchased this one myself. This is by the author of The Happiness Project.

The Bible Tells Me So; Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, Peter Enns ($1.99). Again, just purchased this on good recommendations. I’m really curious about this one.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel ($5.99). Price has gone up a bit, but still a pretty good deal. Get it, get it, get it!!!!!! Read my review here.

A Prayer for Owen MeanyJohn Irving ($3.36) A classic. Many people list this in their all-time favorites.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed ($4.40) You can read my review here.

Mistborn– The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson  ($4.99) This is the first book in Sanderson’s Mistborn fantasy trilogy. Just finished this. It’s great. I wrote about it here.

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd ($3.99). There’s a reason this book is so popular. It’s great.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you use a link to make a purchase a small percentage of your purchase will go towards supporting this site. This does not affect the price of the items in any way.