For a while there, our house felt like my favorite bookstore. The shelves lining our living room and small hallway were full; the tops of the shelves were full; the floor to either side of them were full of books. I like that atmosphere in a used bookstore, but in a home I’m tasked with keeping clean, it’s less charming: stacks of books on the floor turn into trails of paperbacks throughout the house, ending wherever the two-year-old was seen last.
And so my husband and a good friend built a set of bookshelves to house our wayward paperbacks. They hang above the couch and give our house a different sort of feel, a well-organized library vs. used bookstore sort of feel, and I love it. It’s a treat to look at one shelf and see (almost) all of our books cozied up together. (And it’s a treat, only picking picture books up off the floor at the end of the day.)
This year was a year for savoring books. Compared to my list of favorite finds from last year, these books are longer, deeper, and called for more underlining. I read more during nap time, less while nursing, and took the time to read (or reread) a few of those books I’d been meaning to tackle for a while. I read fiction, yes, and nonfiction, too. I read books that called for deep thoughts and others that kept me laughing. With the exception of the books that have been appearing on this blog all year long, here are my ten favorites from 2015:
Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset
I was deeply smitten with this book the first time I read it. And when I combed our shelves for a book to take with us on an overnight trip (without kids!), I found myself wanting to read it again, this time with the ending in mind. Undset’s masterpiece of historical fiction is beautifully written, rich with details about life in medieval Norway and characters that still make my heart ache when I remember them, but when people ask me what it’s about, I find that a single word comes to mind: sin.
Kristin’s story would be a hugely popular love story if it ended with her wedding (young girl defies parents and society’s expectations and marries her lover! The end), but Undset follows Kristin for the rest of her life, chronicling the effects her sin on her marriage, her children, her years as an old woman. That may sound depressing, but it isn’t: this is a gorgeous and redemptive book, worth reading and rereading despite its length.
Note: Not all translations of this book are created equal! If you’re not completely submerged in the story and deeply in love with Undset’s language, then you’re probably not reading Tiina Nunnally’s translation (pictured). You should fix that. Hers is the best.
The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson
You’ve heard about this one already. But it has joined the ranks of my very favorite books, so a list of the best books I read this year just wouldn’t be complete without a tip of the hat to The Wingfeather Saga.
Desiring God, by John Piper
I tried reading this book years ago but lost steam in the first chapters. When I picked it up this time, it was like sitting down to a feast: Piper packs so much material into each page that I cannot read it without a pen handy for underlining, and every chapter gives me much to consider. This wasn’t a case of me not liking the book, as I originally thought, but of my reading it at the wrong time. This was the right time in my life for Desiring God. I’m savoring it slowly, still reading it paragraph by paragraph.
The Family Cooks, by Laurie David & Kirstin Uhrenholdt
I reviewed David and Uhrenholdt’s first book, The Family Dinner, for the blog this year, and when researching that post discovered that they had a new book out, which I promptly purchased. David is even more fiercely opinionated about food in this book, it’s true, but I love the recipes in The Family Cooks. Their strength is in their simplicity: through them, I’ve finally come to appreciate salad, have reincorporated vegetables into our diet (they had slipped out of it somehow), and have learned at last how to roast a simple, flavorful chicken breast. My daughters love helping me cook from this book, too, so it’s taken up semi-permanent residence on my cookbook stand.
Openness Unhindered, by Rosaria Butterfield
Rosaria Butterfield is a timely writer: before coming to Christ, she was a lesbian and queer theory professor, and her perspective on some of the most controversial topics facing Christians today is not divisive, but saturated with grace. Though this books tackles issues like homosexuality and sexual identity, I found that the most compelling chapters covered struggles faced by all Christians, regardless of the particular shape of our temptations: How should we confront sin? How do we accept grace? How can we truly love our neighbors?
Butterfield writes like a woman who knows how to read a text and how to articulate her thoughts (like an excellent professor, I suppose). This is one that I’ll return to over the years, I’m sure, and it’s one that I bullied a few friends into buying because it is just that good. In fact, my copy is currently loaned out, so I wasn’t able to photograph it for this post.
Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger
This book is a beautiful blend of fiction and theology, recommended to me by many friends who said, “You like Gilead and Hannah Coulter? [I most certainly do.] Then you’ll love Peace Like a River.” They were right, my friends. So right.
The Things of Earth, by Joe Rigney
I loved everything about this book. I loved Rigney’s examination of how we can glorify God through enjoying his gifts, and I loved his writing style. I found myself wishing that more authors wrote about theology with the obvious joy and delight of Joe Rigney and was sorry to see this book end.
Caught Up in a Story, by Sarah Clarkson
Sarah Clarkson looks at childhood as a story, with an exposition, rising action, crisis, falling action and denouement. This is a skinny book, but it gave me much to think about—and many books to buy. Each chapter closes with a list of books suited to that particular stage of childhood, so I can thank Clarkson for introducing me to some lovely new books, and to renewing my interest in Hannah Coulter and The Wind in the Willows.
Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens
I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up, only that it was by Dickens and I was in the mood for Dickens. But oh, my goodness! The twists in this plot, the subtle shades of the characters, the way Dickens gives us only the details we need when we need them—the man was such a master that even his lesser known books are incredible feats of storytelling. I won’t tell you more: I don’t want to rob you of the pleasure of discovering the story for yourself. But I will warn you not to watch the mini-series or even glance at its summary until you have finished Our Mutual Friend. There are some aspects of the plot that cannot be translated onto the screen.
Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle
I re-read Walking on Water every few years. L’Engle’s “Reflections on Faith and Art” are lovely—loosely organized and sure to reignite certain fires in me that need periodic feeding. Her words on children’s literature and on her life as a writer have shaped the way I view the call and craft of writing. This is a beautiful book, and because I read it when I was young, I sit here now, writing passionately for you about children’s books.