“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15

Being old school, I don’t readily embrace fads or new technology. I didn’t get my first cell phone until 2011, I don’t know how to send a GIF, and I only recently started streaming media. This carries over into my reading life as well with a dusty Kindle on my nightstand beneath a stack of actual books. I also kept saying “no” to the idea of audiobooks, inwardly judging that listening wasn’t reading.

In June, I opened my Goodreads app to the notification, “You have read only 13 of the 70 books you set for your goal.” At the same time, my husband informed me that he was about to crest 200 books on his list of books read. He accomplished this partly by listening to audiobooks. Not happy with my reading life, I decided to give audio a try, putting aside my judgmental attitude.

With my earbuds in, I listened to my first book. I soon found myself enchanted with the spoken words, laughing aloud. I finished one book and quickly found another. I still have a stack of books both on my end table and on my nightstand. But I find listening to audiobooks is a way to fill in spaces where I would normally be unable to read, like car rides and house cleaning. I particularly enjoy modern fiction and memoirs as audio books.

I finished the year by surpassing my goal, reading 73 books. I love writing this annual post but had a hard time whittling it down to just five books. Overall, I saw a pattern in my reading. I am still reading cookbooks, exploring cultures through food, along with the addition of chef biographies. I read three books about death, all memoirs, that were sad but lifegiving as well. I discovered Louise Penny and her Inspector Gamache series, and I hope to become a completist this year. I continued my love of poetry by completing two anthologies.

I also noticed what I wasn’t reading. I read a few naturalist books, but not as many as in the past. I read no history or historical biographies. I also didn’t read any classics and my theological reading was light. Don’t get me wrong, I read the books my soul needed this year, but I want to widen my reading for 2023.

So, here is my list…insert drum roll or confetti falling from your ceiling. Remember, these are not in any particular order.

  1. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman. This book has two main characters, seven-year-old Elsa, and her eccentric grandmother. Both are quirky, along with the rest of the cast. The story had me laughing and crying throughout, sometimes simultaneously. The pieces don’t come together till the end, but I end up believing Grandma’s motto “Only different people change the world.” I loved Backman’s A Man Called Ove and intend to read the rest of his works. Note to sensitive readers, it does have some language.
  2. Know My Name by Chanel Miller. If I could require one book for every high school student to read before graduation, I would put this at the top of my list. This book chronicles the harrowing rape and aftermath of Chanel Miller by a Stanford athlete. This case hit national news when it went to trial and Chanel faced public harassment because she was intoxicated. It addresses the injustices of our criminal justice system and how rape victims are also put on trial based on their potential level of intoxication, style of dress, and whether she screamed “NO”. Chanel says, “My pain was never more valuable than his potential.” She described the effects of being raped in a poignant way that will resonate with all victims. “My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice.” With sexual assault statistics as high as they are, this book will surely resonate with you or a loved one. As a victim myself, it has helped me see how damaging the victim-shaming continues to be.
  3. Waymaker: Finding the Way to the Life You’ve Always Dreamed Of by Ann Voskamp. Voskamp remains one of my favorite writers with her carefully chosen poetic prose. Her vulnerability about her marriage and adoption resonated with me. Through this vulnerability, she leads you back to Christ and wholeness. She writes, “The deeper I trust the sovereignty of God, to accept and receive whatever He gives, the deeper my intimacy with God.” She helped me sum up my own marriage with these words, “There’s an old love that sees with a kind of holy double vision-that remembers a young lover in all their seeming infallibility and sees your aged lover in all their beautiful humanity.” This will be a reread!
  4. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. This book was written in 2007 and still resonates today. Kingsolver is a fictional writer, but this non-fiction work is about her family’s commitment to eating local. Imagine giving up oranges and bananas, and truly eating seasonally. Her family did just that, and not only survived but thrived. Because they were not relying on packaged food and fast food, her family connected with cooking. She discovered, “Households that have lost the soul of cooking from their routines may not know what they are missing: the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty smell of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven.”
  5. Rembrandt is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith by Russ Ramsey. I finished this audiobook on December 30 and knew immediately it belonged on this list. The book explores goodness, truth, and beauty through nine different artists and their works. Not academic in approach, Ramsey uses story to enrapture you with these faith principles, inspiring you to find a local art museum and explore. Furthermore, he helps convey a truth, that beauty can be created even within the broken lives of artists because they bear the image of a perfect God.

Honorable Mentions: In His Image by Jen Wilkin; Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery; I Guess I Haven’t Learned that Yet by Shauna Niequist; The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan; and Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman.

I continue to be an avid podcast listener, often binge-listening to a new one I have discovered. I want to briefly share two that I have found inspiring.

  1. Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughin and Ken Worley. This is a new podcast with only 12 episodes to date. They deal with hard issues the church faces through a balanced theological lens. It has helped me solidify some of my beliefs.
  2. BEMA Discipleship by Marty Solomon and Brent Billings. A dear friend recommended this podcast, saying it forever changed how she reads the Bible. They look at the Bible from the same perspective as it was written, exploring the Jewish world. This world is not based on logic like ours but on stories and experience. I have only listened to a few and am hooked. I highly recommend starting at Season One.

Finally, I am going to do something new this year. I am going to recommend two shows that I have watched that have made my life more beautiful.

  1. Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. Tucci explores the twenty separate regions of Italy through their unique foods. It weaves together history, art, and folklore with beautiful cinematography.
  2. The Chosen. Recommended by enthusiastic friends, we finally downloaded the free app in October, and binged the first two seasons. It is a series about Jesus and his disciples. You get a glimpse of the humanity of Jesus and the brokenness of his disciples. It may take a few episodes to hook you, but I promise it well.

This is one of my favorite posts to write each year. As a reader, listener and now watcher, I am always looking for a new book, podcast, and shows. Feel free to drop your favorites in the comments and maybe they will find their way onto my list next year!

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