A few words about my reading habits… I’m an eccentric reader. Driven by mood, I pick up whatever book catches my fancy and usually read 6-10 at once. I have designated books for designated times or places, which helps me cover a wide variety of genres and titles without confusing them. There’s always a book for reading after breakfast before I finish my coffee. I always have an e-book on my Kindle that I’m only allowed to read at the gym. (Motivation for exercise that actually works!!). I usually have an audiobook I play while driving and washing dishes. Then, there’s book clubs. I lead two and am a member of two more. My friends poke fun at me for being over-committed in this arena. (They’re not wrong.)
On to the books! Many of the titles I’m about to talk about are worthy of critical acclaim, but they’re on this list for one main reason: I liked them. These are the books that moved me this year. They are the ones I’m still thinking about. This isn’t necessarily a list of recommendations. Maybe you’ll like these titles. Maybe you won’t. My tastes might not match yours and that’s okay.
You probably thought, after last year’s intense reading challenge, I was done with monthly reading recap posts. I did too. It turns out, though, I read a lot of really good books this month and want to talk about them. I don’t know if I’ll do a recap every month. It depends on my schedule and how much I want to talk about things.
I won’t bore you with statistics (those will come at year’s end–I’m keeping a spreadsheet), but I did finish ten books this month. This adds up to 2,857 pages.
Every morning, right after breakfast, I spend 15-20 minutes with some kind of faith-based nonfiction. This month, I flew through three books. Right away, I finished The Sacred Enneagram by Chrisopher Heuertz. I’ve heard Heuertz on the Sleeping at Last podcast and heard good things about the book. While I didn’t think it was that well written (portions were redundant and there were too many Wizard of Oz references), I walked away from the book thinking a lot about contemplative prayer (which I have now adopted into my regular spiritual routine). I then breezed through The Eternal Current by Aaron Niequiest, which offered an accessible introduction to sacred practices. Contemplative prayer came up again, which was super interesting. Finally, I read my fourth Richard Rohr book, The Naked Now. This one was on Christian mysticism, breaking down dualistic thinking, and practical ways to develop contemplative practice. I found it intriguing how each book flowed seamlessly into the next, the themes building upon each other.
In so many ways, New Years just isn’t my holiday. I’m really not one for staying up late or going out on the town. I never seem to have plans on New Years–everyone I’d spend it with always seems to be doing something else. This year, I spent New Years Eve painting, taking a hot bath, rewatching Downton Abbey, drinking one too many glasses of wine, and going to bed before midnight.
However, I love the chance for introspective self-reflection. For that, New Years is ideal. Entering a new year offers an opportunity to pause and reflect. While there really isn’t much difference between December 31 and January 1, the flipping of a calendar symbolizes new beginnings and fresh starts.
Resolutions aren’t my thing. Obnoxious reading challenges aside (see previous post), I find goals restrictive, daunting, and unhelpful. Instead, I take a big-picture approach, facing each year with hopes. Each year, I hope for similar things. I hope to be true to myself and grow in my faith. I hope to pursue a healthy lifestyle. I hope to put my best into my work, my studies, and my relationships.
Yes, I still hope all these things. But, this year, I want to take a new slant on New Years.
A lot has happened in my life over the past year. Many of the big, unanswered questions that have held sway since entering the workforce have been resolved. Barring my unfinished master’s degree, I’ve achieved everything in my five-year plan. So… what now? This position is both comforting, terrifying, and liberating. Aside from finishing grad school, I have no idea what comes next.
In 2019, I have the opportunity to ask new questions. I’ve learned that it’s foolish to try and predict what a year has in store. Instead of forming questions of direction or destination, I’m going to lean into questions of attitude. Here are things I’m asking myself this year:
Well, friends, I have officially completed my big New Years resolution from 2018!
At the start of this year, I launched an ambitious challenge to take careful statistics of all the books I read. Along with recording information for all the books I finished, I published a series of twelve recaps, creating an index with my thoughts on each title.
In 2017, I read more books than I ever had before (over 220), but I wanted to know more. How many pages do I read in a year? What formats do I usually read? Of everything I cover in a year, how many are rereads? What about quality vs. quantity? If I read a bunch of short, easy books in one month, does that mean I’m more productive than a month where I read less, longer ones? Are there any trends that emerge?
Because I’m a total nerd, these are the things I think about. This year, I was determined to find answers. Plus, setting a “read X amount of books this year” goal is just too easy.
Throughout the year, I recorded in a notebook everything I read including title, author, a very subjective rating on a five-star scale, and some quick thoughts. At the end of each month, I pulled my stats together, noted emerging trends and observations, and wrote a mini-review for each book. (The reviews got more elaborate as the project went on.)
Part of my motivation for the month-by-month approach was to stop periodically and think critically about what I was reading. I certainly didn’t read much highbrow literature this year (don’t worry, Tolstoy, once I’ve recovered from grad school I am coming for you), but that’s no reason to turn my brain off completely. When noting my thoughts, characteristics like writing quality, character development, world building, themes, etc. were at the forefront of my mind. These were so helpful! For books that weren’t great, I could always find something to appreciate. For the best books, I was able to express WHY I found them so enjoyable. This was integral in helping me understand why I enjoyed certain books over others.
Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer”.
This quote was recently brought to my attention through On Being’s weekly newsletter. As I’ve been reflecting on the past year, it stuck with me.
I thought 2018 would be a year of questions. I thought it would be another waiting year. I thought everything in life would pause until I finished graduate school. If you had told me then where I would be now, I probably would have laughed in your face.
To my great surprise, 2018 was a year of answers.
I entered this year with a lot of questions. Primarily, I wondered, where am I going? Professionally? Personally? Spiritually? I was in a job that I loved, but was logistically unsustainable and unchallenging. Personally, I knew the time was coming to move out of my parent’s house, but lacked a job that allowed me to do so. Spiritually, my tendency to isolate myself from others was no longer serving me well. It was time to push myself out of my comfort zone and find true community again. But where does one even begin to find that? There were other questions, too. Will I ever find a place where I can flourish? Is flourishing even possible? Does a place exist within my sphere of daily life where I’ll be accepted and loved as I am?
Looking back, nearly every question has been answered in surprising, mysterious, painful, and wonderful ways.
At the end of 2018, I have a new job that I love that is close to home and closer to my friends. I have my own apartment. I have a supportive family that I love spending time with. I have best friends for the first time in years. I’m in a small group at church with women who encourage and inspire me. When I go to church, I not longer make a beeline for the door at the end of the service, too intimidated by the crowd of conversing strangers to engage. (#IntrovertProblems). Now, I linger because I always find people to catch up with.
In so many ways, this was a difficult, frustrating, and confusing year. Navigating change, especially when it happens all at once, is challenging. I don’t think I’ve ever been as squeezed as I was this fall, where I balanced managing two libraries, graduate school, orchard season, and moving. In the aftermath, I’m completely burned out and struggling to find rest.
I’ve learned a lot about myself this year. As I’ve pushed into uncharted territory, I have a better sense of how to care for myself, where to set boundaries, and where I need to be more brave.
As I look back and reflect on 2018, I am so grateful for all the change, all the challenges, and all the joys. I’ve truly come into my own this year. Through it all, God has been so faithful, always providing what I didn’t know I needed and always showing up when I need Him the most. My life is filled with so many blessings—far more than I could ever deserve. I’m grateful beyond words for all of it.
With 2018 ending, I turn my gaze to the future. With so many answers in my pocket, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and discover what questions need to be lived into next year. Stay tuned for more on that front.
In the meantime, I wish you a very happy New Year!
It’s finally here, the last recap of this year’s reading challenge.
December was a mixed month for books. Life has been absolutely insane for the past few months and, as a result, I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like. Since my job transition and grad school semester ended, I’ve slowly been getting back into the swing of things.
My main take-away this month is I’ve rediscovered my trick for getting myself to go to the gym: designating a book on my Kindle that I’m only allowed to read while working out. I’ve explained this to a few people recently and they keep looking at me like I’m crazy. But it actually works! I’ve been tearing through Sarah Dessen’s older novels and they are keeping me on the cardio equipment longer and longer each time. So I’m not only working out, I’m actually enjoying it! It’s a win-win!
Number of books read: 7
Number of pages read: 2,470
Number of audiobooks listened to: 0
Number of rereads: 2
Longest book: Archenemies by Marissa Meyer
Shortest book: The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns
The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns (4.75 stars)
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (4.75 stars)
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Screenplay by J.K. Rowling (3 stars and that is being generous)
November has come and gone and, with it, it’s time for another recap. It’s weird to think this is my second-to-last one before my year-long index is complete.
I have been another painfully slow reading month. I’m making it through less than half the books per month as the beginning of the year. I’m definitely frustrated with myself, but life has been so busy and when I sit town to read, it has been so hard to focus.
Still, this month’s list has a lot of high ratings. I may not have finished many books, but I loved almost everything. I got to revisit one of my all-time favorites in Pride and Prejudice, delighted in the epic finale of Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, and enjoyed some quality poetry by Lin Manuel Miranda.
Number of books read: 5
Number of pages read: 2,120
Number of audiobooks listened to: 1
Number of rereads: 1
Longest book: Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas
Shortest book: G’Morning, G’Night by Lin Manuel Miranda
Highest rating: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Lowest rating: The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurine Goo
Wow, I’m running behind on my reading recaps. Also wow, my reading has slowed down so much this fall! With all the craziness on my plate, I’m less likely to be found reading and more likely to while away the evening hours screwing around on my phone and going to bed early.
This month, I unintentionally read only female writers. I also read primarily YA. Considering I haven’t been following new releases in the genre that closely this year, this took me by surprise. Looking at the list, there’s a lot of fluff here. But it was enjoyable fluff that distracted me from a hectic fall. For that, I’m grateful.
Number of books read: 5
Number of pages read: 1,975
Number of audiobooks listened to: 1
Number of rereads: 1
Longest book: Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
Shortest book: The Path Between Us by Susan Stabile
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a two-day conference called Evolving Faith. It was hosted and curated by some of my favorite Christian writers, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans. It took place in Montreat, North Carolina. The campus was beautiful, nestled in the arms of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Walking around Lake Susan, exploring the streams and trails, there’s a deep sense of peace. You feel in your bones that you are walking on sacred ground.
Now, what is evolving faith? Each of the speakers at the conference offered a different definition. Evolving faith is a faith that changes. It adapts. It breaks down. It reconstructs. It identifies problematic narratives and strives to imagine new ones. Jen Hatmaker likened it to the story in Genesis about Jacob wrestling with God. Evolving faith is a faith that challenges, questions, wrestles and, like Jacob, has the audacity to ask for a blessing anyway. Jeff Chu introduced us to the “theology of the compost pile” where all the wretched, useless, and discarded things are transformed into rich soil that brings new life. Evolving faith acknowledges the darkness in ourselves and in the world and chooses to light a candle anyway.
What I loved so much about this conference is that it addressed head-on all the topics that are notoriously avoided in United States’ churches. Things that are whispered in the back of our minds as we sit in sanctuaries were named boldly from the stage. Speakers called out the idol of white supremacy, the strength, beauty and dignity of minority communities, the evils of the Trump administration, the immediacy of climate change, and the problematic fact that the majority attendees were white. Speakers called us to both “burn shit down” and strive to be peacemakers. There was rage. There was hope. There was the call to live in tension.
Oh, man, I struggled to get through books this month. It took ages to get through a single title. Life has been absolutely crazy and it’s impacting my reading life. A new job, new semester of grad school, and variety of other factors and responsibilities leave me exhausted at the end of the day. I’ll read a few pages, then put the book down in favor of my Facebook feed.
My first foray into the work of Agatha Christie slowed everything down. The Murder at the Vicarage sucked up over a week of my life, keeping me from the books I actually wanted to be reading, which was very frustrating.
Looking at this month’s list, I notice an equal blend between YA, adult fiction, and faith-based nonfiction. Thinking about this month’s list, the books that really stand out are the nonfiction. This surprises me, as my go-to brain candy is usually fluffy YA. But there’s so many avenues of personal research I want to pursue right now. Sadly, grad school gets in the way of most of that reading.
Number of books read: 6
Number of pages read: 2,148
Number of audiobooks listened to: 2
Number of rereads: 1
Longest book: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
Shortest book: The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns
Highest rating: The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns (4.5 stars)
Lowest rating: Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (2 stars)