Happy 2019, my friends! It’s the most wonderful time of the year ––the time I get to look back on all the books I read in 2018 and share with you my favorites! It’s also a rather agonizing time of year, because it’s so hard to choose. You can see previous years’ favorites at the links above, and if you want to hear more about my reading life in 2018, check out this post.
Normally, I divide my favorites between three categories: fiction, nonfiction, and speculative. For this list, I am only differentiating between fiction and nonfiction, so the fiction category is basically non-non-fiction. (That totally clarifies things, I know.) Books are listed in alphabetic order by title, and I only allowed myself to choose ones that were new to me (i.e., no rereads). I wrote more in-depth reviews of each of these books on goodreads, which I’ll link to in the titles, but here I’m just going to list my highlights and overall reactions. And of course, I’m including quotes.
As always, I love hearing whether you’ve read any of these, which quotes you liked, your favorite (or least favorite!) reads of 2018, and all other manner of bookish thoughts. Are you ready? In the words of Alexander Hamilton (or perhaps more accurately, Lin Manuel Miranda), lez go.
Adam Bede by George Eliot
Eliot’s keen insight into human nature + the depiction of temptation and sin and its consequences was very convicting and moved me more than a sermon would, to see it all played out in characters’ lives + also the theme of suffering (see quote below) was so encouraging + didn’t see the ending coming but it was a deep, sweet surprise (reminiscent of how I felt at the end of Crime and Punishment)
For Adam, though you see him quite master of himself… had not outlived his sorrow––had not felt it slip from him as a temporary burthen, and leave him the same man again. Do any of us? God forbid. It would be a poor result of all our anguish and our wrestling, if we won nothing but our old selves at the end of it… Let us rather to be thankful that our sorrow lives in us as an indestructible force, only changing its form, as forces do, and passing from pain into sympathy––the one poor word which includes all our best insight and our best love.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
oh man where do I begin? first off, her beautiful prose + I didn’t get what it was “about” at the beginning but halfway through I began to see how all the stories he’s been telling and his musings and his current life all weave together + so many good themes; one that spoke to me right now was that of suffering and waiting + I’m learning that I love to read about other people’s spiritual lives, how they wrestle with their faith, what it looks like day-to-day for them, and this book is all about that + not preachy, no easy answers
Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it.
I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven
short but sweet (and somber) + a place and scenario I’ve read little about (Pacific Northwest, a twentieth-century vicar living among Native Americans) + how to live in the light of our own mortality + an outsider gaining trust/learning to trust another community, the clash and coming together of cultures + beautiful nature descriptions
How would he live again in the old world he had almost forgotten, where men throw up smoke screens between themselves and the fundamentals whose existence they fear but seldom admit? Here, where death waited behind each tree, he had made friends with loneliness, with death and deprivation, and solidly against his back had stood the wall of his faith.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
incredible world building (it’s our world, but to imagine what it would be like if a disease suddenly wiped out 99% of the population still requires immense creativity) + flawed, complex, real characters whom she portrays with sympathy + all the beautiful things of our world and of this modern life in particular that she gave me a new wonder of (a refreshing opposite to the common refrain of how much better life was in the “good old days”)
Why, in his life of frequent travel, had he never recognized the beauty of flight? The improbability of it. The sound of the engines faded, the airplane receding into blue until it was folded into silence and became a far-distant dot in the sky.
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
atmospheric setting + fascinating fantasy religion + exploration of men’s and women’s roles + one of my favorite tropes (if it can be described as that), seeing a beloved character from a previous book through a new character’s eyes + just Tenar’s courage and the things she wrestles with and her transformation
“If I leave the service of the Dark Ones, they will kill me. If I leave this place I will die.”
“You will not die. Arha will die.”
“To be reborn one must die, Tenar. It is not so hard as it looks from the other side.”
Watership Down by Richard Adams
basically Lord of the Rings meets James Herriot + this epic, legend-y feel, despite it being about bunnies + chapter epigraphs! + how the legends and stories within the story were actually interesting + just all the characters, gahh, how they each played a part and their differences made them stronger as a whole + I could not put it down + Hazel is one of the best examples of great leadership I’ve read
“And Frith called after him, ‘El-ahrairah, your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so. All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.’ And El-ahrairah knew then that although he would not be mocked, yet Frith was his friend.”
Other notables: Persuasion by Jane Austen, News of the World by Paulette Jiles, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry
no cheesy conversion or cheesy Christianity here + you can tell she’s a poet because some of her sentences left me speechless + wrestling with what it means to be a woman + gave me glimpse into the LGBT+ community, a world I know little about + but also convicted me so much because we all struggle with sin and she has such powerful insights about sanctification + important advice on witnessing to those who have same-sex attraction (the takeaway: Jesus did not die to make people straight. He died to make ALL parts of who they are holy. The way we evangelize should reflect that.) + just very relevant and eye-opening and God-honoring
Who gave mercy my address? Or told it how to get to my room? On the way down the hall, shouldn’t the smell of idols kept its feet from moving any closer. Then I remember the wipers of the Bible that I knew by heart. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The same Bible that condemns me held in it the promises that could save me.
Notes From The Tilt-a-Whirl by N. D. Wilson
joy. incandescent, wild joy + seeing God in everything, especially nature + the picture of Christianity he paints is so bright and scary and beautiful + some of his words shook me, felt a little unsafe, and that’s so good because the worst thing is to get stuck in how you view God, to get complacent about this life and this world + unlike any other Christian book you’ll read + also his writing style is so unique + it really does feel like a tilt-a-whirl
The Greeks were right. Live in fear of a grinding end and a dank hereafter.
Unless you know a bigger God, or better yet, are related to Him by blood.
The last page approaches, reached only through trials and triumphs, tears and laughter. The ending comes. But God is too big for endings, too big to work with a single narrative arc. This will be the end of Death, the end of the story that began in a garden and has played out in gardens ever since.
Let us bury Death in a garden, and seal the hole with a cross. For him there will be no Spring.
Remember God by Annie F. Downs
I love seeing what her walk with God looks like (see what I said about Gilead) + no easy answers because she’s still in the midst of her hard time (refreshing, since most books are written AFTER a hard season) but that’s what makes it so powerful + how she wrestles with God and still has questions but even so can write a book about remembering Him + it made me love Him more + listen to it in audio, because her voice telling her story is the best
This was on audio, so alas, I have no quotes.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
I wish every politician would read this + not to get political (but I am HA), but what Lincoln did is so opposite of what’s going on right now + so hard and unusual, the kind of humility and wisdom it takes to do what he did + you finish wondering what our country, our world would look like if his story had ended differently + also her writing is amazing, how she weaves in the perfect quotes seamlessly, making a nonfiction read like a novel
“But Abraham Lincoln was not there. All felt this.” None felt that absence more keenly than the members of his cabinet, the remarkable group of rivals whom Lincoln had brought into his official family. They had fiercely opposed one another and often contested their chief on important questions, but, as Seward later remarked, “a Cabinet which should agree at once on every such question would be no better or safer than one counsellor.” By calling these men to his side, Lincoln had afforded them an opportunity to exercise their talents to the fullest and to share in the labor and the glory of the struggle that would reunite and transform their country insecure their own places and posterity.
They Say We Are Infidels by Mindy Belz
heavily reported area of the world (the Middle East) but astonishingly unknown topic (ancient Christian communities there almost wiped out by ISIS) + real life, eyewitness experiences that were fascinating + lovely writing + history that helped me understand the current situation + really relevant and thought-provoking, something we all (especially we Christians) should be aware of + tragic situation but glimmers of hope
Disciples of Jesus Christ brought their religion to Edessa and Tur Abdin, Turkey, where the Assyrian Church of the East had begun. It took root in churches and monasteries that spread south to Ctesiphon, near present-day Baghdad. From Jerusalem, other disciples carried the Christian gospel westward. It crossed the Mediterranean, spread throughout Europe and tiny England and beyond, circling back in the twentieth century to this spot of ground by the Tigris. Here in the church built by the British, a son of the Eastern patriarchs sat before me. Dawlat the deacon handed out parcels of food to the poor, sat for prayers over his evaporating legacy, and translated the whole saga for Westerners like me who came around again. He seemed like the last man standing—a witness.
Walk on Water by Michael Ruhlman
my favorite combination of science and human interest + ethical dilemmas! + how it’s a whole other world, heart surgery on infants + also I had to have a diagram of a heart pulled up on my phone the whole time to refer to + plain ol’ fascinating + great balance of firsthand experiences and broader research
And I didn’t record any quotes for this one, sorry.
Other notables: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabel Quershi, The Double Helix by James Watson, The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz
One last book to make it a nice round 15 that I didn’t feel like quite fit either category:
Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones
a devotional for kids but really spoke to me + Sally’s gift of explaining theological truths simply + lovely illustrations + Tim Keller’s great foreward about the importance of devotionals for kids + helping me not just know truth but believe it
In the morning we can put our day in his hands. And let him bring into our day whatever he has for us.
And then, in the evening, we give it back to him. And trust him with all that happened in it.