We are ringing in the new year with an epic bout of stomach flu, so my plans to take down the Christmas decorations, make Hannah’s birthday cake, and start my new goals with a bang have been scrapped. Instead, I’m washing bedding, cleaning carpet, snuggling a sad toddler, and delivering cups of ginger ale in between nibbling Saltines myself. The change of plans is fitting enough, since my word for 2016 is “hush.” Hush the hustle, hush the online noise (contributing and consuming), hush the need to be doing big things all the time. I think 2016 is going to be a year of more small things, and of bringing my best to the people, callings, and work I have before me rather than always assuming I should be doing something bigger.
As regular readers doubtless notice, it’s a pendulum swing from last year, when I chose the words “double down” as my theme. I actually wrote, “I think I may be ready for a push year.” Ha! Good thing I fancied myself ready for that, since 2015 was, in fact, a push year in every single respect.
In part because of the aforementioned doubling down, I didn’t read as many books in 2015 as I have in years previous–I wound up the year at 115 of my books and an additional 63 long books read aloud to the kids or in order to discuss with the kids. But I read a lot of excellent, worthy books in all categories so I feel good about it overall.
I went back through my reviews to identify the ten books that had the most impact on my life or were incredible standouts. These are the ones I am still thinking about, the ideas that I acted on with greatest results, and the books that I’d recommend most highly. The links below are to my longer reviews.
- Station Eleven – This masterfully composed story combines a compelling plot and great writing with nuanced exploration of themes like truth, beauty, and deep connections. Perfect for a book club discussion (although, sadly, I missed mine).
- The Tsar of Love and Techno – I don’t usually love short stories, but this collection interweaves characters and perspectives into a whole that nearly forms a novel. The author’s rich settings, skillful characterization, and depiction of how destruction and redemption can coexist in families make this book amazing.
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – When it comes to read-alouds, the very best not only contain great stories and excellent writing, but also lead to incredible discussions. This book did just that, and added considerable depth to our understanding of prejudice in general, but especially in the interwar American South.
Best Parenting Tool
- Nurture by Nature – This book helps parents figure out their child’s personality type, then gives practical tips for how to effectively parent and interact with that child in light of his or her temperament. It’s exceptionally useful to know these things, whether you have one child or several.
Best Life Management
- Make It Happen – If you’re looking for a tool to dig deeply into the roots of your life–who you are, what your purpose is, what brings you joy–this is the book for you. I was seriously impressed and am using the author’s goal setting framework (PowerSheets) in 2016. They work well with the concepts found in the book, but the book alone could easily revolutionize how you approach your year.
- Contentment – It didn’t knock me upside the head when I first read it, but one of the concepts I got out of this book wound up having a profound impact on my year. The reminder that online interaction is often false community radically changed my attitude toward my real life and shifted how I think about and use social media.
Best Work-Life Balance
- Overwhelmed – You might think with a title like Overwhelmed this would be a book long on whining and short on solutions. You’d be wrong. I’m still thinking about the concepts in this book months after reading it, and found the author’s frameworks and challenges shifted the way I think about my life and priorities.
- The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up – I know it’s so overplayed that it’s become a cliche, but this book really did radically change how I think about and store my stuff. I tend to veer toward minimalism anyway at this stage of my life, but even so I found inspiration and paradigm shifts that made a big difference in my life.
Best Spiritual Life
- Prayer – Striking a near-perfect balance between rigorous scholarship and practical application, this book revolutionized the way I approach my devotional life–both in prayer and reading/studying the Bible. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
- A Path Through Suffering – This book hit me at the perfect time (I read it while I was recuperating from a medical situation) but it’s so forthright and applicable to any circumstances that I don’t hesitate to recommend it highly to everyone. This is an excellent book for how to deal with your messy, far-from-ideal, actual real life in a God-honoring way.