According to GoodReads, I read 88 books in 2021. I report this more as a confession than anything. Honestly, I probably should slow down. This is a higher number than I typically consume in a year. In the last few years, I have largely read nonfiction, and specifically theology, at a rate as if my life depended on it. Maybe it did. Or if not my life, my very soul. But I am starting to realize that reading goals need not (should not) be measured in numbers, but in something much more elusively slippery and subjective: freedom, growth, spiritual maturity, expansiveness, empathy, and healing. And sadly (or fortunately) these are not so obviously quantifiable.
Something else that can be difficult to appraise are others’ opinions on what constitutes a “good book.” Because of this, it may be pointless to list my stand-out reads for this year. Even so, here I go. If for no other reason, I list them here for my own benefit. Perhaps two or three years from now I may look back at this post and see what was occupying my time and my thoughts, and I may smile, or realize how far I have come.
Many books on this list have been recently published in the last year or so. A few are older. A few appear in my “most excited to read” queue from last year. I read a scant number of novels and a hefty stack of theology.
In order to make it easier on myself to decide, and so I wouldn’t be comparing a children’s novel to the latest social critique, I list my favorites in five separate categories: fiction, children’s fiction, general nonfiction, literary criticism and writing, and theology and worship. Even this was hard. I have made some great reading choices this year! I am interpreting my “favorites” to be the ones that made the most positive and strongest impact on me.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, Knopf, 2020
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Knopf, 2014
Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri, Levine Querido, 2020
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick Press, 2002
The Vanderbeekers: Lost and Found by Karina Yan Glaser, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020
The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr, Brazos Press, 2021
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, Vintage, 1994 (originally Dial, 1963)
How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice by Jemar Tisby, Zondervan, 2021
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes du Mez, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020
Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Laura M. Fabrycky, Fortress, 2020
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2013
On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity by Daniel Bowman Jr., Brazos Press, 2021
Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus by Rachel Pieh Jones, Plough Publishing, 2021
Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren, IVP, 2021
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, Riverhead Books, 2020
LITERARY CRITICISM AND WRITING
A Swim in the Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing by George Saunders, Random House, 2021
Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls by Mitali Perkins, Broadleaf Books, 2021
A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth by Michael Mears Bruner, IVP Academic, 2017
THEOLOGY AND WORSHIP
Preaching the Luminous Word: Biblical Sermons and Homiletical Essays by Ellen F. Davis, Eerdmans, 2016
Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer by Rowan Williams, 2014
Glimpses of New Creation: Worship and the Formative Power of the Arts by W. David O. Taylor, Eerdmans, 2019
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright, HarperOne, 2008
Systematic Mythology: Imagining the Invisible by Jennifer Agee, Wipf & Stock, 2018
Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians by Lucy Peppiatt, Cascade Books, 2015
I would love to hear from you.
Did you read more novels than ever before?
Did you learn something new?
What was your favorite read in this past year of the lingering pandemic?