Most people are ready to say, “So long!” to 2020.
It did seem so long.
Still, I can’t resist a look back at one of the most unique years of my life. In the midst of uncertainty, loss and grief, there were some surprising gifts. So, during these closing days of 2020, I’ll be sharing some of those good things — starting, of course, with books. I read 50 books this year. Here are my faves:
1. The Chronicles of Narnia
I started off the year by reading through the seven volume series by C. S. Lewis. I was familiar with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, but have never read the whole series. Fantasy isn’t my forte, but Lewis created a world that drew me in. I cried when Aslan bounded down the mountain in the final scene. The series was written for children, but it is deep and rich enough for any adult.
2. The Scent of Water
Elizabeth Goudge was a British author who wrote novels set in English towns with flowery descriptions of gardens and cottages. I found, tucked within her stories, bits of wisdom that have stuck with me. I kept stopping to jot down lines that made me sigh with satisfaction.
“Lord have mercy. Thee I adore. Into Thy hands. These are three necessary prayers and they have three words each. Not difficult to remember. If in times of distress you hold to these you will do well.”
In mid-February, little did I know “times of distress” were around the corner. I was grateful for those three three-word, necessary prayers in the months to come.
3. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament
Most of us don’t know how to lament very well. There’s a right way to do it, and Mark Vroegop walks us through it in this book. After losing a child, Vroegop traveled into dark clouds and then found his way back to deep mercy. The Psalms gave words to his suffering and he encourages us to be honest about our pain on the way to healing.
4. Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus and Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus
These two books by Lois Tverberg were extremely helpful in understanding Jesus’ Jewishness and middle eastern culture in general. There are some things in the Bible that seem strange to my American mindset, but make perfect sense when put in the context of New Testament Jewish understanding. Tverberg’s insights made the gospels come alive with meaning.
5. The Golden Alphabet
While preparing to write a series of blog posts on Psalm 119, I stumbled on this gem by Charles Spurgeon. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, taking about 12 minutes to read. Spurgeon’s verse by verse commentary takes 9 hours and 45 minutes to read. However did he do it with no internet?
6. All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love
John Eldredge writes in a way that makes me want to put the book down and applaud at the end of each chapter. Especially when it comes to imagining the possibilities that awaits us in eternity. If you think heaven is one long boring church service and all we do is sit around strumming harps, this book will rock your world.
7. Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad
I love Austin Kleon’s little books of pep talks. They are simple, profound and can be read in an afternoon. They contain a combination of funny drawings, poetry and good advise. Like this:
“How to Be Happy”
8. The Old Man and the Sea
I wanted to read at least one classic this year and this title by Ernest Hemingway was available at the library. It was also skinny — only 128 pages. I had another reason for reading this book. I remember my mother tucking me in at night and saying, “Bed, you are my friend,” which was supposedly a quote by Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman. She was close (“And bed, he thought. Bed is my friend. Just bed, he thought. Bed will be a great thing”). Now it makes me wonder if sometimes at night, my mother felt exhausted, like she fought with the biggest fish in the ocean all day.
9. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Healthier, Happier and More Creative
This book wasn’t an easy read and (full disclosure) I skimmed some of it. Written by Florence Williams, a journalist from Washington D.C., it’s full of reports on studies done on the effects of spending time in natural surroundings. I figured nature was good for us, but I didn’t know HOW good. According to this book, it’s more important than we think. She included enough personal stories to keep me interested, but in the end, the scientific findings were what stuck with me. We need nature.
10. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers
Dane Ortlund’s thoughtful and meditative book was my #1 book of the year. This look at the heart of Christ made me think about things I’ve never thought about before. It showed me things about Jesus I’ve never noticed before. The chapters were short, but packed with many, many underline-able sentences. I will be carrying this one with me into the new year, reading it again so I can discover more things to think about and underline everything I didn’t the first time through.
Here’s to a good reading year in 2021!