“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:5

According to the tracking on my Goodreads app, I knew in November that no confetti would fall in celebration of me meeting my reading challenge of 66 books in 2020 (last year when I made my goal, confetti filled my screen in celebration of my accomplishment).  Instead, I finished the year with forty-six books, twenty books behind my goal.  I felt disappointed in myself and examined how in the world, in the middle of a pandemic where everything was shut down, did I not achieve my goal!  Did I spend too much time on social media?  Did I waste my time scrolling through Pinterest?  Was I just a sloth?

Yet, at the end of the year, when I looked at my book report, I gained a different perspective on my reading habits.  Honestly, I could stand to lessen my social media intake, and it is something that I am going to continue to work on.  But the pandemic made my life a lot busier, I immediately picked up more babysitting hours by helping a family with their children’s virtual education.  I also took more time to get outside and, as a result, listened to a lot more podcasts.  More importantly, I read a lot of great books this year!!!  When it came to preparing for this post, I could easily have listed fifteen books to review as important, life-changing books.  In addition, most of the books I read were meaty, full of well-worded sentences that induced highlighting, and sharing my thoughts with whomever was around me, in most cases, my husband.  They challenged my way of thinking, pointed me towards Christ and, often, I would let whole paragraphs marinate in my soul for a while before continuing reading.

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It took some time for me to narrow down my list, but here are five books that I would like to review for you.  My criteria included choosing books that would resonate with anyone at any stage in their lives, that pointed one toward God, and that I would likely reread in my lifetime.  This year, I included one great work of fiction, three books on personal growth, and one book on creativity.  I have also included three podcasts that have inspired and challenged me!  My hope is that when you finish reading this post, you will be inspired to read more in 2021!

  1. Emma by Jane Austen: I am a book snob and am always telling others to read the book and avoid the movie.  But with the 1996 version of Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow, I was a bit of a hypocrite.  Although I had read other classics, I had missed reading Jane Austen.  I fell in love with the movie and started reading different Jane Austen works, but I never read Emma.  Last year, I finally picked up the book, and found myself even more delighted in the words and story.  I know some would argue that Jane Austen is simply a sophisticated romance writer.  Instead, I, along with other lovers of English literature, would contend her works are a commentary on society, pointing out the prejudices in class and status that remain relevant today.  One of my favorite lines is when Mr. Knightley, in Emma’s best interest, chastises her with these words, “Better be without sense than misapply it as you do.”  It reminds me to be careful with my opinions and thoughts because how I say and do things can negatively affect others.  It is a lesson that I continue to work on, today!
  2. None Like Him by Jen Wilkin: I have already mentioned in a previous post Jen Wilkin’s book, Women of the Word and how it has impacted my life.  This is another insightful book that examines, as the subtitle states, “10 Ways God is different from us and why that’s a good thing.”  She unpacks traits of God, such as immutable, omnipresent, and sovereign, that define his divinity.  She then discusses ways we try to rival God in those traits.  She states, “We must recover the truth that was obscured by the Serpent: rather than being like God in his unlimited divinity, we are to be like God in our limited humanity.”  The book gives you space to reflect through journaling about issues that resonate with you, and to write a prayer asking God to help you reflect His Glory.
  3. Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson.  I loved this book so much, I recommended it to four other people after reading only the first few chapters.  Peterson is a Christian songwriter, author, and artist who believes that God’s truth can be reflected in the arts.  He explores how creating art in a community stimulates ideas and creativity.  In relation to community, he says, “They look you in the eye and remind you who you are in Christ.  They reiterate your calling when you forget what it is.  They step into the garden and help you weed it, help you to grow something beautiful.”  In addition, the book mentions several poets, musicians, and authors I have added to my list to explore.  This inspired me to join Called Creatives, a group of women who are pursuing creativity in speaking and writing.  The group provides training, mentoring opportunities, and a place to bounce ideas.
  4. Get Your Life Back by John Eldredge.  My husband is a big John Eldredge fan and has been devouring his books and podcasts for the past few years.  I bought this book for him and he would often share with me practices he found in the book to reduce stress and bring calm to the craziness of life.  I decided that in the middle of a pandemic, this might be a good book for me to read as well.  He reminds you to drink in beauty, engage in one-minute pauses, and to get outside and experience God’s creation.  All these practices help re-orientate us toward God.  I have personally embraced the concept of getting outdoors, focusing on nature and being more aware of God’s creative design.
  5. All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment by Hannah Anderson.  When my children were young, I often used Philippians 4:6 as a measuring tool for evaluating media choices with them, whether it be books, movies, or music.  Hannah Anderson explores this verse more deeply, challenging the reader to cultivate discernment in all areas of our lives.  According to Anderson, “Discernment does not change the challenges we face, it changes our ability to face them.”  This is a book that I am sure to read again and continue to learn and grow.

In addition to these five books, I also want to share three podcasts that inspired me this year.

  1. Speaking with Joy: by Joy Clarkson.  Joy, the daughter of Sally Clarkson, one of my heroes in the homeschooling movement, is finishing her PhD. at St. Andrews in Scotland.  The podcast centers on the importance of good stories, music and images that cultivate God’s beauty in our world.  She explores themes like the importance of whimsy, celebrating advent, and our need for heroes.  This podcast is for those of you who like to nerd out about literature and God’s truth.  Both Terry and I loved her podcast so much we listened to seven hours of it on our way to Rhode Island.
  2. He Said, She Said: by Melinda Poitras.  Melinda is a young woman who grew up in Africa as the daughter of a missionary.  In short segments, she addresses issues like the importance of counseling, dreams, and faith.  Her poetic prose encourages you to find your identity in God.  And although she addresses some tough issues, she encourages you with the hope of Jesus!
  3. Strong Sense of Place: by David Humphreys and Melissa Joulwan: I discovered this podcast in late November and binge listened to all the past year’s episodes by the end of December.  They pick a place, whether it be a city, country, or a theme, such as trains, and explore it through five literary choices.  Many of the book choices they discuss sound great, although some of them may be a little salty for my taste.  Dave and Mel also share some history, culture, and geographical highlights of the place they are exploring.  I am so inspired to read more, and some day take a trip to places like Morocco (one of their themes).  In addition to their podcasts, they also have a great website that includes a blog full of great pictures of libraries and bookstores across the world!

With the craziness of the world, I think its important for us to have healthy outlets for our minds.  For me, books fill the spaces where anxiety and stress try to take up residence.  I love Anne Lamott’s thoughts on books.  She says, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.  What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.  Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave.  They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”  I already have a pile of books on my nightstand, ready to explore new ideas, worlds and thoughts!

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