A friend who was sad about not having acquired a strong background in literature once asked me to give her a list of “10-20″books she should read to become “well-read.”
I declined to provide one.
I absolutely believe in being well-read, and I understand that it’s a long process and you have to start somewhere. But to distill all of the written words from the ages to a short list strikes me as ridiculous. Books are conversations. All great writing refers back to other things–all of the philosophy and history and science and art and literature from the pre-Socratic philosophers and the Old Testament through today twists together. Probably none of us is really well-read, if it comes to that. And yet, people keep posting these clickbait-for-bookworms lists of Books You Need To Be Well-Read. I know they are rubbish, and yet I click them, if only to shout arguments at the posters, who leave out Plato in favor of Shades of Grey (I am not going to dignify that one with a link!).
With that said, I present my own list!
Never fear, dear readers, this is NOT a list of what you need to be well-read. It’s just a few of the highlights from my own reading in 2016, should you need some fodder for your library holds list or in case the Amazon gift cards you got in your stocking are burning a hole in your pocket. It’s my TENTH Year in Books post, if you can believe it, and is a bit of a departure from my normal format (here are 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 if you need more ideas) as I’m going by category and didn’t bother to count up totals of books read. As an aside, I have a giant backlog of books-read-but-not-yet-reviewed from this year, so some of these do not have links to longer posts.
This is a twofer, because you might not think Life After Life was incredible if you didn’t follow it with A God In Ruins, and you wouldn’t understand why A God In Ruins is a masterpiece if you hadn’t read Life After Life first. I was blown away by these novels, and plan to read them again just so I can appreciate how the author managed it. Here is my longer review.
BEST LIFE MANAGEMENT
I’m awarding Cal Newport’s Deep Work even though I have not done a full review of it yet, because since I read it I have not stopped thinking about and implementing what I learned. The book really challenges some of our deeply held cultural mindsets about work, life, and purpose, and presents a different path toward approaching your time. Whatever your work looks like–parenting, working, homeschooling, side hustling–you will not fail to find a massive amount to think about and act upon in this book.
I did a lot of reading in the health/nutrition/fitness category, and tried a lot of things. Overall, the highest impact and most refreshingly sensible title was The Calorie Myth, with a runner up being another title from the backlog list, The Bone Broth Diet. I’ve decided to stop picking up every shiny squirrel title in this genre, and focus on implementing the plans in these two books for 2017. (If you missed it, my longer review for The Calorie Myth is here.)
BEST READ-ALOUDS/KIDS BOOKS
We read two excellent series this year that will have to tie in the read-aloud/kids books category: The Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart and The Wingfeather Saga series by Andrew Peterson. Both series are funny, thoughtful, adventure-filled, and well-written. All of my big kids asked for these books as gifts and spent their own money buying titles from the series too. We did a mix of listening to the audio books, reading them aloud together, and reading them alone. All of those options were great. If you have a mix of genders and ages, these are solid picks. (Longer reviews here.)
BEST SPIRITUAL LIFE
I got a journaling Bible for Christmas last year (there are myriad options, in a variety of formats and translations, but I got this one) and it was absolutely transformative. At first I was not sure about the whole thing. You see pictures of how people have adorned their journaling Bibles with large watercolors of wide-eyed lambs gamboling about in flowery fields or multicolored hand lettering offset by washi tape collages. That is not my jam. Instead, I made the volume a combination of my daily journaling, prayers, and Biblestudy. Beginning in Genesis, I did my daily journaling and read the text next to it as I went, interspersing things I was thinking about with my reactions to the biblical text, and prayerful responses to both. I also used the journaling Bible to do deeper study of all of the New Testament books except for Acts and Revelation, and several Old Testment books (Women of the Word is a good reference point if you aren’t sure how to do this). Tim Keller’s excellent Songs of Jesus helped me to write prayers through the Psalms this year. Along the way, I cross-referenced in sermon notes (so easy to jot “see page 923” or something if I had already written in the margin area for that passage) and places where what I read in one area informed something I was studying or praying about in another area. The journaling Bible was a marvelous tool for encouraging me to deeper study, deeper prayer, and deeper thinking, and I highly recommend trying it for yourself.
And now back to being well-read.
I think your best bet is to pick a book and start unravelling. You could start with something big and foundational, like Plato or Augustine or Dostoevsky. You could choose the chronological approach (if you’re interested, this is the sequence of courses that got me started–click on links or scroll for book lists–it looks like they only offer four courses now, it used to be five, but maybe the HUM 220 link is in there somewhere). Or you could just start your own path somewhere and see where it leads you. People who are well-read have read different things, but as long as you’re reading deeply, widely, and thinking about what you read, I think you are probably on the right track!
What were the best books you read in 2016? What are you looking forward to reading next year?
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