It’s the end of the year and not only is a new year just a couple of weeks away, but a whole new decade also awaits us. In my end-of-the-year writing, my thoughts naturally turned to books. I decided to undertake the monumental task (lol) of sifting through the 300+ books I’ve read over the past ten years and distill it down to the books that have had the most influence or impact on my life.

One of the most helpful things for my reading life has been simply tracking my books. Throughout school, I would track new books that I had read either in my English notebook or my journal.

Reading for pleasure dropped off quite a bit in college (understandably) with all the reading and writing required of a communications major. The decade started with me as a sophomore in college, so my list from the first couple of years of the decade are very slim. I started getting my post-student reading legs in 2013, when I started using Goodreads, but the pace of my reading life definitely started to ramp up in 2015 when we first embraced audiobooks.

And I’ve never looked back since.

I read about 80 books this year, plus editing 20 manuscripts, so technically, this is my first year to read 100 books though I’m not officially counting it. That’s the big goal for 2020: to read 100 books (not including manuscripts).

I sincerely enjoy reading and read for the sheer pleasure of it. I am a fast reader and get to read for work (and also still don’t have kids yet) so my schedule accommodates ample reading time. I read a mixture of physical books, ebooks, and audiobooks. For this round-up, I’m breaking it up into three posts: one post for non-fiction, one post for fiction, and one post for miscellaneous categories. Let’s get started!

Spiritual/Personal Growth

“Streams in the Desert” by L.B. Cowman

“Streams” is hands-down my favorite devotional book. It’s also the book I’ve most gifted to others, often a copy I’ve used myself with personal notes. I first read through it 2010-2011 and it was a big source of encouragement to me that year, as evidenced by the number of times I quoted it in my journals. Since then, I can’t tell you the number of times it has spoken to me when I’ve picked it up randomly throughout the year. Reading from the saints across the decades changed the way I process trials and uplifted me time and again. I have a paper copy and an ebook version. It’s often what I use for quiet times on vacation!

“The Meaning of Marriage” by Tim Keller

There are a lot of quality marriage books out there, but this one by Tim Keller is a powerful look at what we mean when we say “I Do.” It’s simple and yet so complex which we discover with each passing year. I especially enjoyed digging into the covenant aspect of Christian marriage. But by far my favorite chapter was the one on friendship—how fostering a deep friendship with your spouse radically transforms your marriage. This quote still convicts me:

“Romance, sex, laughter, and plain fun are the by-products of this process of sanctification, refinement, glorification. Those things are important, but they can’t keep the marriage going thorugh years and years of ordinary life. What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness.”

From Chapter Four, The Mission of Marriage

The book also includes a chapter written by his wife Kathy, along with a chapter that’s dedicated to singleness. Keller’s ministry included a congregation comprised mostly of singles and his unpacking of this chapter is thoughtful, not something I usually see included in a marriage book, but important nonetheless.

Whether you are newly married or have been around the block a few times, this book is great for a deep dive into your commitment to Christ and one another. It is not a quick read. Plan for time to digest the chapters and discuss them with each other.

“God Has a Name” by John Mark Comer

This book from John Mark Comer focuses on Exodus 34:6-7. Often called the touchstone passage or the “John 3:16” of the Old Testament, these verses are the most quoted passages by the Bible in the Bible. Crazy, right? This book blew my mind and forever changed the way I viewed God and His heart toward us.

“None Like Him” by Jen Wilkin

“None Like Him” unpacks ten qualities of God that He does not share with mankind. I’ve grown up in the church, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I ever saw these qualities discussed at length. The book contains 10 chapters with discussion questions at the end, which lends itself to great group study. The chapter on sovereignty hit me particularly hard! This is one you could return to every year and learn something new each time.

“Soul Keeping” by John Ortberg

What our culture loves to call “self-care” might be more appropriately named “soul care,” as my friend Katie Mac likes to say. Ortberg’s book deals with just that. Heavily influenced by Dallas Willard’s teaching, the book breaks down in layman’s terms what a soul is and what our souls need, based on the Bible. This book helped me understand and appreciate how God created our “inmost beings” and learned ways to guard and keep it.

“If your soul is unhealthy, no external circumstance can destroy your life. If your soul is unhealthy, no external circumstance can redeem your life.”

From the chapter “What is the Soul?”

“Still Waiting” by Ann Swindell

“Still Waiting” is a retelling of the woman with the issue of blood combined with the author’s own struggle with trichotillomania (compulsive hair-pulling). In our own six-year infertility journey, I’ve read several books geared toward waiting, but this is one of the few that I actually recommend because of how it deals with the deeper heart struggles with waiting. No matter what delay you find yourself moored in, you can probably find yourself in this compelling story.

“Quiet” by Susan Cain

This book demystifies the introvert mystique and frees up introverts to be who they are. It can also help all those extroverts to understand us a little better and JUST LEAVE US ALONE every once in a while. Just kidding! Kind of…

Cain’s research dives into how introverts can be effective leaders and creative producers in ways that extroverts aren’t. This book was the start of my learning more about how I’m wired and started to give me more confidence to be who I was.

“Essentialism” by Greg McKeown

Minimalism was for sure a buzzword this past decade, with methods and teachings galore. But for most, a Marie Kondo approach is an extreme level that we can’t or won’t go to. Enter “Essentialism.” The happy and albeit healthier medium between “Tidying Up” and a more-is-more philosophy. Author Greg McKeown focuses on more than just paring down books and sweaters, but also how you approach your work and schedule with intentionality.

If you’re wanting to make a form of minimalism work for you, start with this book.

“Atomic Habits” by James Clear

If you’re wanting to unpack why you struggle with making or breaking habits, this book is for you! After suffering a career-ending injury, James Clear became a student of the small steps to success, realizing that conquering the “atomic” steps was part of the victory itself. I’ve read a lot of productivity/self-improvement books, and this one stands out from the crowd. If you’ve read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, this book completes the picture of building good habits.

Don’t want to commit to the book just yet? Check out his interview with Craig Groeschel here:

Honorable mentions:

  • “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” by Donald S. Whitney
  • “The Path through Suffering” by Elisabeth Elliot
  • “The Praying Life” by Paul E. Miller
  • “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport

Enhance your reading life!

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