Looking for a good book?

Are you in the mood to read something but aren’t sure what to choose?  Do you feel like you ought to be reading more books but don’t know where to start? Even as a busy mom, I find it helpful to make time for my own reading – it keeps my mind sharp, expands my horizons, and helps me learn new skills.  I blog weekly about what I’ve been reading, and you can find a lot more reviews under my Reading tab, but here are some of my top picks from the past few years:

Fiction:

The Help by Katherynn Stockett: The Help is a remarkably well-written and insightful novel about the South at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, and it’s valuable for illuminating a particular historical moment in a way much more powerful than you would ever get from a history text, but I think it’s also wonderful for its exploration of complicated relationships, how people construe their identity, and how societies change. The book is also noteworthy for its excellent dialect – I have rarely read accents so well done. (Week in Books 2009  No. 42)

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: This is a marvelous book. The story is riveting and surprising, the language is well-crafted, and the characters are portrayed with depth and sympathy.  If you’re widely read, especially in the classics, you’ll find that you are able to ascribe more nuance to the characters and plot along the way, but if you’re not, you’ll still be able to follow it. (The Week in Books 2007, No. 11)

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon: This book is simply a delight to read.  Chabon has a gift for sculpted writing, and for using the perfect word every time.  The premise of the book is pretty far out, but Chabon succeeds in making it plausible, and his descriptions and turns of phrase are witty and pointed, which keeps the otherwise somewhat dark story from becoming too weighty or unrealistic. (The Week in Books 2007, No. 24)

Middlemarch by George Eliot: One thing I love about older novels is the breadth of the story. There is nothing like a good sprawling epic narrative. The characters are excellent, the subjects are excellent, the relationships are complex without descending into the lascivious or trite, and, best of all, the last chapter neatly wraps everything up so you know how everyone’s life turned out. That’s what I call HIGHLY satisfying! (The Week in Books 2007, No. 15)

The Accidental Tourist
by Anne Tyler: I really enjoy Tyler’s talent for packing description into her prose without wasting words – it takes a talented writer to pack so much into half a page. “Accidental Tourist” has a wry humor (the main character writes travel books for a living, but hates traveling, and so forth) that served to humanize the characters and keep them from being annoying. Tyler skillfully draws the reader into her characters, so it seems we are figuring out what they are up to at the same moment they make the realization themselves. (The Week in Books 2007, No. 16)

History and Culture:

Culture Making by Andy Crouch: All of us are engaged in creating, critiquing, cultivating, copying and consuming culture every day, and thus we would do well to understand it, a point made in Andy Crouch’s excellent and eloquent book. Culture Making goes beyond other books that deal with the same subject, and his perspective and conclusions are unique. This book gave me a lot to think about and challenged my point of view in a number of areas. (Week in Books 2009 No. 50)

The Forgotten Man, by Amity Schlaes: Given the state of our economy, I would highly recommend you read “The Forgotten Man” by Amity Schlaes. It’s important that we understand the past so we can make better decisions in the future, and this book does a particularly excellent job of examining the economic ramifications of the New Deal and how the related policies of government affected the US economy during the Great Depression. Although this is not a light read, Schlaes’ writing style will hold your interest. (The Week in Books 2008, No. 21)

Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, by Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen: “Embryo” is a comprehensive academic work addressing the ethics of embryology (including when an individual life is established, IVF, stem cell research, and the like). The book is carefully written, and answers common objections and counterarguments thoroughly. I think it’s important that we think about and understand the implications of our beliefs, and I think most readers would find “Embryo” challenging and informative, no matter what your conclusions on the issues might be. It disturbs me that in so many ethical debates of our time people are quick to dismiss arguments out of hand without taking time to hear them or examine the logic (or lack thereof) behind them – it is to the authors’ credit that they carefully weigh their critics’ objections and answer them. (The Week in Books 2008, No. 17)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan: In tracing the ways in which different types of food reach the plate, Pollan uncovers a wealth of information about our food system, the history, politics and economics of food, and how we can make healthy and informed choices about food.  Although highly informative, the book is conversational in tone and never preachy.  (The Week in Books 2007, No. 25)

Supreme Conflict by Jan Crawford Greenburg: This is the best book I’ve read on the Supreme Court and how it works.  Best of all, it’s written in a readable and engaging style that you’ll like even if you are not a lawyer or policy wonk.  And if you are a lawyer or policy wonk, you’ll like it even more. (The Week in Books 2007, No. 17)

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Infidel is a complex and compelling memoir of the author’s physical and intellectual journey from Islam to the secular West.  Because Ali tells her story without melodrama or rhetoric, but with piercing insight, I think this book is an important description of Islam and the realities of current geopolitics. (The Week in Books 2007, No. 18)

Better Off by Eric Brende: Better Off is a fantastic memoir of a big city couple who went to live in a farming community without any modern conveniences.  The book is so well written that you will love it even if you have zero interest in the simple life.  If you do aspire to live simply, or think you do, this book with inspire and inform you.  Ultimately the strongest part of the book is Brende’s discussion of technology and how to balance its usefulness with its drawbacks. (The Week in Books 2007, No. 8)

Spiritual/Theological:

Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment by Linda Dillow: This book delves deeply into topics such as God’s sovereignty, how to be content in difficult circumstances, and how anxiety affects our lives. This book is challenging and insightful, and I can’t imagine a woman who would not be strongly impacted by studying it. (Week in Books 2009 No. 18)

True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer: This is my favorite Schaeffer book by far. Dense but lively and readable, this book is challenging and inspiring and will give you lots of food for thought. (Week in Books 2009 No. 32)

Trusting God by Jerry Bridges: I took reams of notes on this tremendously convicting and encouraging book. Bridges’ theology is deep and solid, buttressed with Scripture and the work of other theologians, and yet Trusting God is written in an engaging and accessible style. (Week in Books 2009 No. 29)

Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, by Jerry Bridges: “Respectable Sins” was one of the most convicting books I have read in a long time. Bridges contends that Christians get too comfortable with sins that “aren’t so bad” while congratulating ourselves that we aren’t sinning in really public or egregious ways. In the book, he gently but firmly describes some of the more common respectable sins, and invites the reader to consider the how those sins actually affect our relationships with God and others. I realize that often books like this can really impact one person but not particularly convict another, but I’d be surprised if anyone could read the whole volume without finding something to challenge him or her. (The Week in Books 2008, No. 50)

Parenting:

The Naturally Healthy Pregnancy, by Shonda Parker: “The Naturally Healthy Pregnancy” is probably the most helpful and encouraging book I’ve ever read about pregnancy. A lot of “natural” pregnancy books are written from a kind of weird perspective, but Parker is unapologetically Christian, which means the book is refreshingly free from New Age mumbo-jumbo and “birth as the goddess within” nonsense. Also refreshing is Parker’s careful refusal to condemn people who do things differently than she does; rather, she lays out the pros and cons of different methods and options and invites the reader to draw her own conclusions based on her own circumstances. The best part of the book is the discussion of various pregnancy symptoms and side effects, how they interact, and how changes in diet and lifestyle or taking herbs or medications can improve the mother’s situation or comfort during pregnancy. (The Week in Books 2008, No. 40)

Endangered Minds, by Jane Healy: As an educational psychologist who has worked in public schools and universities as well as in neuroscience research, Healy uses breaking research and studies of educational progress to examine how children’s brains develop and how that development has changed in our media saturated society. This book is fascinating and illuminating, and would be helpful and instructive for parents or prospective parents as long as you can read it without completely freaking out. Healy’s intent, I think, was to encourage parents and teachers to understand their children and make informed choices about how to best nurture and educate them. Aside from parents and educators, readers with an interest in sociology would also find much of interest in “Endangered Minds,” particularly in the staggering statistics about how Western societies have changed in recent history. (The Week in Books 2008, No. 44)

Future Men by Douglas Wilson: “Future Men” is highly practical and totally scripturally based. Wilson examines what the Bible teaches about godly manhood (including the example of Christ and God the Father) and applies Scripture to how parents can mold and train their boys to use their God-given traits in a godly way rather than a worldly way. Having grown up as a girl myself, I found it very helpful to see how some of the strange things boys do are just the unrefined raw material that will turn into a godly trait, and how not to squash the good aspects of manliness when they show up in little boys. (The Week in Books 2007, No. 3)

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