I read 100 books in 2018.
That’s crazy. Although my reading rates have been slowly going up over the years (40 in 2013, 47 in 2014, 71 in 2015, 73 in 2016, and 84 in 2017), completing 100 seems like an achievement that I doubt I’ll beat any time soon. While 34 of the books were read for school plenty of time that would have normally been given to reading given instead to people. This number is a result of the habit of reading being firmly rooted into the rhythms and priorities of my life. It’s a good habit. I plan on keeping it.
Another satisfying sign of a year well spent in books is going back and noting just how many good books I read last year. Friends have asked if I recall everything I read. But I think that question misses the point. I read good books not primarily to recall details, but because being immersed in a book allows me to see the world through other, and hopefully wiser, eyes.
To give you some good books to read in 2019, I’ll describe my 8 favourite books I read in 2018, and then list the 26 other books I especially recommend. They are listed in chronological order, based on when I read them.
Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill
Our era is obsessed over sexuality. Debates over the place for LGBT+ in society and in the church are everywhere and are exhausting. How we understand our sexuality affects so much of our lives and self-worth. I spent much of 2018 talking about sexuality with my friend Kyle on our podcast and then talking about those discussions with pastors and friends. It was exhausting.
Into this climate, Wesley’s book was the most helpful that I’ve read. You probably won’t agree with all of it. His approach is costly and vulnerable and gutsy. It’s imaginative, rigorous, and poetic. But above all, it takes seriously the claims of Christ, and for that reason I wish everyone, regardless of their sexuality, would read it.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
This rigorously researched epic is classified as a history book, but it is so masterfully told with such attention to the details of individuals that it feels more like a narrative. Indeed, it tells a narrative of the 20th century so seldom told it felt brand new. Yet knowing this story has reshaped the way I understand American geography, culture, politics, and (perhaps most importantly) the evangelical church. It’s heartbreaking and hopeful. I do believe it is essential reading. Thankfully, it’s been beautifully and engagingly narrated as an audiobook, which is how I enjoyed it.
The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon
This is a cookbook. It contains recipes. But the bulk of its pages are filled with marvellous prose. It’s a narrative that teaches you, with passionate detail, how to cook and how to enjoy the specifics of flour, water, meat, broth, and wine. Yet its concerns are higher. Without loosing the grasp of those details, it becomes a treatise on appreciating the shocking specificity of the world and the abundant goodness of our Lord. I read this for Christmas last year and loved it so much I reread it again. I plan on returning to it yet again in the years ahead.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Many know Gaiman for his storytelling. What many of those readers don’t know is that he is one of the best audiobook narrators that I’ve heard. Listening to him retell the stories of norse mythology was a pure delight. I was captivated by the humour, detail, characters and atmosphere of these ancient stories. This was the most enjoyable audiobook I listened to last year.
Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
This book is an effortless mixture of beauty and logic. I covered its pages with my pencil. A life lived amongst words was already a priority for me, but this book made me value and aspire to it even more. What a delight this book was!
Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard has long been one of my favourite writers. Her prose is poetry. This slim collection of essays, concerned with the intersection of the natural and the spiritual, is one of my favourite books of hers. I certainly plan on returning to the wisdom, humour, and strangeness of this collection.
The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
This elegantly argued, effortlessly written book is an illustrated guide to architecture and to the ways that physical spaces shape us. It’s also a guide to understanding how our understanding of beauty affects us. This book’s prose was so clear, reading it was like bathing in a refreshing mountain stream. I enjoyed it so much.
Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane
I was introduced to Robert MacFarlane’s work last year when I got my hands on The Lost Words. I was impressed then, but Landmarks was my first proper introduction to his prose. He’s now one of my favourite contemporary writers. Robert is a rare modern writer who understands that nature is more than just matter and that it impacts the individual in mysterious ways unique to that area’s specific landscape.This book is an exploration of how our articulation of nature through language affects us. It is alive to wonder and the unique power of words. It expanded my imagination.
Ronald Dahl’s two memoirs, Boy and Going Solo are filled with crazy storytelling. I read plenty of Greek plays, including Sophocles, for a course and learned how to appreciate that art form. I’m a sucker for a comprehensive history textbook and Perry’s Western Civilization was especially helpful. Malcolm Guite’s Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a fascinating and enjoyable guide to both Coleridge’s life and his most famous poem. I was introduced to the complicated, brilliant word of Andre Dubus by reading some of his short stories and his book of essays, Meditations from a Movable Chair. Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk is another stunning example of nature affecting humans. I read three P.G. Wodehouse books this year and Leave It to Psmith was my favourite. Leon Kass’s The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature was fascinating and fun. I finally finished Flannery O’Conner’s brilliant Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose and I will certainly be returning. Robert Hilburn’s splendid biography of my favorite songwriter, Paul Simon: The Life, was a treat. Eugene Peterson’s essays on certain psalms, Where Your Treasure Is: Psalms That Summon You from Self to Community, was rather impactful. In a year with a lot of chatter on the role of justice, Tim Keller’s Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just was refreshingly biblical and challengingly so. This year I converted to Anglicanism. Alan Jacob’s elegant biography The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography was a helpful guide to a book that will shape me in the years to come. Lorna Crozier poetry, The Blue Hour of the Day: Selected Poems, and memoir, Small Beneath the Sky: (A Prairie Memoir), were a treat. Robert MacFarlane’s little essay The Gifts of Reading was a delight. Within the Barbed Wire Fence, Takeo Ujo Nakano account of his internment in Ontario in WWII, was poetic and personal, while Mark Sakamoto’s account of his family’s history in that war, Forgiveness: A Gift from My Grandparents, was brutal and stunning. Halfbreed, Maria Campbell’s account of growing up métis was eye-opening and Tomboy Survival Guide, Ivan Coyote’s account of being transgender, was broad in its generosity to others. Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place is the best and most encouraging book on living with technology. Leif Enger’s latest novel, Virgil Wander, has some of the best sentences I’ve read all year and is a gift. And Tim Keller’s book of devotions on Proverbs, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs, was so helpful in many ways.