The Year I Read 40 Books and What I Would (and Wouldn’t) Recommend

At the beginning of this year I was talking to a friend who shared that a Christian speaker he admires reads forty books a year. I admit I was not that impressed. “Forty?” I said. “I’m sure I read forty books a year!” I love reading, so when I did the math, realizing that was less than a book a week, I was confident I could do it. It became my New Year’s Resolution to write down the name of each book I read, as well as a little write up about it so I could reference it later. And, secretly, I also hoped to hit the forty book mark.

I’m happy to say that last night I finished book #40. I don’t share this here to boast. (Keep in mind that my book-reading is often in lieu of other good things. For example, exercise). The reason I share is because I thought that I could share some recommendations coming out of those 40 that might be useful to others.

For each book, I gave a rating out of ten. The books I share here actually are not all ones that I necessarily give the highest rating; they are books that I think are valuable and that I would recommend for different reasons. So here goes – hope you find a category that is helpful for you!

The Book That Every Pastor (and Human) Should Read – The Etiquette of Illness (Susan Halpern)

This is not a Christian book, but it is one that I think EVERY PASTOR (or caregiver or, as said, human) should read. It is written by a woman who has much experience in palliative care. She shares how we should respond to people who are sick or dying and it is packed with practical wisdom. My favourite tidbit from the book is her invitation to shift from asking a sick or struggling person “How are you?” (putting pressure on them to respond, make you feel better, say more than they want…) to asking “Would you like me to ask how you are doing?” I have seen the power of this shift – it allows you to show someone you are concerned without putting pressure on them to talk. It’s not the best written book I’ve ever read (I gave it 8/10 for that reason), but it’s so useful and practical. READ IT!

The Book That Every Christian Parent Should Read – Spiritual Parenting (Michelle Anthony)

I loved this book. Parenting books are so tricky, aren’t they? Especially Christian ones! It’s hard for us not to feel like failures when we read them and the other parent seems sooo perfect (or at least thinks they are!). Although there were moments where I felt that reading this one, in general I found the author to be humble and genuine, and the lessons of the book were powerful. My favourite lessons were the reminder to look at each child you have and to be the parent that God needs you to be for THAT child instead of picking a parenting philosophy and trying to fit your kids in (Insert MIND BOGGLE!). Her chapter on discipline is also, in my opinion, the best reflection on this I’ve ever read (and I have a degree in Child Studies, so I’ve read a bit!). Her invitation to see discipline as an opportunity to show God’s love and to bring healing was amazing. The Mom’s Group I lead studied this book in the spring and appreciated it as well. (I gave this book 9/10)

The Book That You Should Read if You Have a Son – I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression (Terrence Real)
Written by a therapist, this book explores the reality of men who struggle with depression and wrestle with their self-worth. It connects much of this to the way men and boys are raised to put on a strong persona and keep their emotions internal. It is not a parenting book; in fact, it is more designed to help men and those who work with men make these connections. However, I thought it was very insightful as a mom of a boy. I was challenged to think of the ways I nurture Josiah and the space I make for his emotions in a healthy way. One study that he references said that almost all parents show more physical affection (hugs, kisses, cuddles) to their daughters than to their sons. I realized this was often true of me. I have since made sure to have a “one to one” hug rule (one hug for Lucy, one for Josiah!), even if he pushes me and says “Mom! I’m too big!!!” The book, I would argue is longer than it needs to be and relies more on regression therapy than I would prefer (I gave it 8/10 for this reason), but it is a great book for those of us hoping to raise healthy boys.

The Book to Nurture Your Soul – An Altar in the World (Barbara Brown Taylor)
If any of you read this blog, yes, this is the same Barbara Brown Taylor in front of whom I forgot my Scripture reading 11 years ago. The good news is, she has not yet told that story in one of her books, from what I can tell. I actually read three of her books this year, and the other two, I did not love (“Learning to Walk in the Dark” just did not resonate with me in the same way and I was ultimately disappointed in her conclusions in “Leaving Church”). But this one – I loved. The book is about finding God’s presence in the world around you. It spoke to my heart. She talks about spiritual “practices” such as “the practice of wearing skin,” “the practice of saying no,” and “the practice of feeling pain.” It’s good stuff. (I gave this book 10/10, one of only two this year!)

The Book That I Recommend to Christian Feminists – The Many Faces of Martha of Bethany (Diane E. Peters)
This one was a surprise treat. I had been given it as a gift many years ago, but had never actually read it. This year I was speaking about Martha at a retreat and I started to flip through it for some background information. I ended up reading it cover to cover in a day. It goes through the history of how the biblical character of Martha has been understood from the early church until today. What a joy to discover that this woman who I often find myself aligning with in a negative way – as a woman distracted, focused on the unimportant, missing Jesus – has throughout history been celebrated and revered in ways I never understood. Worth it just to learn the story of Martha and the dragon (Gotta love a woman taming a dragon with a girdle…). 9/10 for me.

The Novel I Loved the Very Most – Peace Like a River (Leif Enger)
I want to say here that I LOVE NOVELS. In fact, half of the books I read this year were novels. Some were great, some were…blah. It’s always a bit of gamble how a novel will turn out for me, because my favourite method of attaining them is to go to Bibles for Missions behind my house and buy them for 50 cents and then return them when I’m done. I end up with whatever they have, and they are usually books I’ve never heard of. The great joy of this is when you find a book this way that you end up falling in love with. That’s what happened with this one. I had never heard of it, but it had good reviews on the back so I bought it. It was one of those books that when I was done I had to put down with reverence and sit for a few moments. The plot is hard to summarize. This is what Amazon says: “Young Reuben Land has little doubt that miracles happen all around us, suspecting that his own father is touched by God. When his older brother flees a controversial murder charge, Reuben, along with his older sister and father, set off on a journey that will take them to the Badlands and through a landscape more extraordinary than they could have anticipated.” This is not a “Christian book,” but God is indeed all over this book, friends, in a way that is real and genuine. I always feel sad when other pastors tell me they don’t like to read novels. They miss some of the best stuff, and this book is an example. (9/10 from me on this one).

Other Highlights

Favourite Book Co-authored by a Family Member – The New Parish (Dwight Friesen, Paul Sparks, Tim Sorens)
More importantly this is a tremendous book on neighbourhood engagement and I highly recommend it.

Favourite (Unexpected) Book About Grief – February (Lisa Moore)
This is a novel from the perspective of a woman who lost her husband during the sinking of the Ocean Ranger. Not only did I love its Newfoundland setting, it names and explains grief in a way no text book ever could. I felt like writing Lisa Moore a thank-you note.

Other Christian/Theology Books I Loved:
– Incarnate (Michael Frost) – I blogged about this a while back
– Living at the Crossroads (Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew) – Helpful book about Christian worldview
– Playing God (Andy Crouch) – this was my other 10/10. But it’s a really dense read so it’s not one I recommend to everyone.
– When Helping Hurts – An invitation to consider what it really means to “help” those in need; a challenge to us to see past our desire to give “charity,” which often does more harm than good.
– Practicing our Faith (Dorothy C. Bass – Editor) – A series of essays on faith practices. Many rich ideas.

Other Recommended Novels
– The Dinner (Herman Koch) – This novel has that “Lord-of-the-Flies-humanity-is-dark” feel. It will dig into your brain and stick for a while, so be prepared.
– The Forgotten Garden (Kate Morton) – There is no deep underlying meaning or message in this book. It’s just good, and I couldn’t put it down.
– Bread and Bone (Saleema Nawaz) – I got this one off the list of “Top 100 Canadian Books.” It’s about two sisters, and their struggle to find meaning and peace as they grow into adults.

What I Thought I Would Love But I Didn’t…
– The Lacuna (Barbara Kingsolver) – I LOVE Barbara Kingsolver. Every review said this was a masterpiece. I didn’t see it, I gotta be honest.
– Stitches (Anne Lamott) – I still liked it a lot. I have loved much of Anne Lamott’s stuff, but did not love this as much as some of her other works. However, her reflection about getting rid of the shirt of her friend who died spoke so much to my heart, that all was redeemed.

Well there are a lot more that I could write about, but I will end here. Hope that my year-long project has been helpful to some of you. Happy Reading!


Add Yours
  1. Anne Vyn

    Looks like some great books, Leanne!! I was able to reserve a couple of these through the Library website…no purchase required 🙂 I read Barbara Brown’s “Walk in the Dark” and thought it made some really helpful points but I’m really looking forward to reading her book that you’ve recommended. I loved this line: “(Keep in mind that my book-reading is often in lieu of other good things. For example, exercise)”… too 🙂


    • friesenandfriesen

      I did enjoy Learning to Walk in the dark…I just didn’t love it AS MUCH as An Altar in the World. Now, I read an Altar in the World first, and fell so in love with it that I may have set Barbara up for failure 🙂


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