“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15
Last week, Terry and I finished a book that we had been reading aloud together. I recorded the book in my Goodreads App and watched in pure delight as confetti fell across my screen. The falling confetti marked my accomplishment of reaching my goal of reading 66 books in 2021. I later finished two more books, but, unfortunately, no more confetti!
Earlier this year, I read I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Ann Bogel. It felt like I was reading my own personal memoir as a bibliophile. One quote in her book is the reason why I love doing this post annually. And I can say annually because this is my third year sharing my favorite reads of the year. Ann says, “When we share our favorite titles, we can’t help but share ourselves as well. Shakespeare said the eyes are the windows to the soul, but we readers know one’s bookshelves reveal just as much.”
I am going to share with you five books that are windows into my soul. These books added beauty, contemplation and/or self-discovery for me. Some of the titles were like opening Pandora’s box, opening the door to genres or authors I hadn’t read before. Again, it was hard to narrow it down to five books. One observation I made immediately was that I didn’t include any fiction in the list. I did read some fiction this year, but a lot of it was light-hearted. One book, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, was a reread, and although the book is beautifully written, I wanted this list to be first-time reads only. Thus, I am making it a goal to read some more fiction next year to add beauty to my life.
So, let the confetti fall (because we all need more confetti) and here is the list!
- A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch. I absolutely love this book. As the reader, you join Susan and her husband on a tour of the English countryside, exploring gardens, homes, art, and people. It includes hand-drawn sketches, photographs and even some recipes. It’s the best form of armchair traveling, accompanied by a scone and a cup of tea. If this quote makes you fall in love with the book, it’s for you. Susan says, “England reminds me of a quote I saw on a packet of Swiss Miss instant cocoa mix: ‘Like a basket of drinkable kittens, wrapped in a blanket, next to a fireplace.’” She handwrites her books, that are then actually reprinted. This can make it challenging to read if you have any vision issues.
- The Way Through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning by Long Litt Woon. Nature writing has become one of my new favorite genres. This book on mushrooms made it to the top despite my constant recommendation for others to read the The Hidden of Life Trees. Long Litt Woon’s Norwegian husband dies unexpectedly, and she embarks on a journey of grief that she didn’t ask for. She says, “Grief grinds slowly. It devours all the time it needs.” She enrolls in a mushroom course and “the mushroom outings gave me the push I needed to get out of the house and take part in life.” She interweaves the fascinating facts of mushrooms with her own self discovery. I found myself delighted in God’s design with mushrooms like the blue fairy tale mushroom and the Witches Caldron. I wept as she arrived at the realization that she would never travel to certain place because of the books her husband left unread on his nightstand. It helped me process my own grief this year and prepared me to grieve the loss of my uncle.
- Humility: The Journey Toward Holines by Andrew Murray. This little book was recommended on many different podcasts, convincing me that God wanted me to read this it. The turn-of-the-century author was a South African missionary who challenges Christians to posture themselves in humility. He outlines how Jesus himself modeled humility in everything he did. He says, “Humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all.” He also remarks, “Here is the path to the higher life: down, and lower down! Just as water always seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds men abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless.” This is a slow read, I often sat rereading scriptures he recorded and his brief commentary. It is the type of book that you must let marinate in your soul to get the full benefit. It’s my hearts cry, and one I will revisit again and again.
- The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves by Curt Thompson. This book changed my thinking on how I respond to sin in my life and in the lives of others. Thompson says, “Guilt is something I feel because I have done something bad. Shame is something I feel because I am bad.” For the Christian, this feeling of shame hinders us from becoming who God intended us to be, restoring us to an abundant life. He encourages Christians to change their cultures where shame is exposed “allowing room for healing and creativity.” He suggests, “In an environment where we are unafraid, mistakes are not our enemies but our friend.” In an age where so many people are deconstructing their faith, this book helped me to see how Christians can create healthy environments.
- Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist. This book is part cookbook and part memoir about the author’s relationship to food and hospitality. Although this book was written many years ago, her concept of hospitality resonated in a world that is so divided. She says, “The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.” Her love for cookbooks led me down a rabbit hole of reading cookbooks cover to cover. I have learned a lot about food, culture, and the importance of tradition in the various cookbooks I have read.
Honorable Mention: Is Rape A Crime?: A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto by Michelle Bowdler. This book is graphic, hard, and disturbing on so many levels. It made me question some of my assumptions of what is considered evidence and how can we prosecute rape that doesn’t further traumatize the victim while still protecting the rights of the accused.
I would also like to briefly share three podcasts that have inspired me and encouraged me:
Being Known with Curt Thompson, MD. This podcast explores Thompson’s books in depth and the importance of beauty and community. This podcast is paradigm changing.
Unedited with Meg Najera. Meg Najera is from Wisconsin, and although we have never met, we have friends in common, that led me to this podcast. Najera gives simple tips to help establish the spiritual discipline of reading your Bible. She closes each podcast with reading an unedited journal entry. Her writings are insightful and beautifully written. She crafts sentences with artistry that inspires me to be a better writer. She will be publishing a book soon, and I’ll be first to buy it!
Cherry Bombe. I started listening to this podcast after reading Yasmin Kahn’s newest cookbook, Ripe Figs. After googling her, I listened to her interview on the podcast. The premise is to interview and celebrate women in the food industry while raising awareness of important issues. The podcast has raised my curiosity about food, small business owners and culture. I am not endorsing all the conclusions that Cherry Bombe draws, but I do believe their stories are compelling. One of my favorites was Episode 204: Rescuing Grandma’s Recipes with Anna Francese Gass. Gass wanted to write down her Italian’s mom recipe for meatballs. This led her to interview countless immigrant woman in their kitchens, cooking with them and learning the stories behind their signature dish, and writing down the recipe. She compiled the recipes into a book. These interviews were priceless insights into culture, history, and life.
I hope this blog inspires you to read and listen to both books and podcasts in the upcoming year. I would love to hear what your favorite books or podcasts were in 2021. And, yes, your suggestions will enlarge my TBR (to be read list in bibliophile vernacular) list.
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