Having spent the previous couple decades teaching English, I was an avid reader, but I found that most of my reading time was spent on A) reading student essays (no comment) and B) re-reading the same books again and again because I was teaching them and had forgotten the little details of plot. Trust me, no matter how good something is, after about 5 readings of The Odyssey, Animal Farm, Mythology, etc., you’d like to move on to something else. Especially something you’re not making study guide or test questions for. (Yes, I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition. I’m blowing away the confines of grammar today.)
I won’t tire you with our whole book list (you can go to my Pinterest to see the recommended reads)–I thought I’d give you a short list of my favorites so far, in case you’re compiling your own book club list for this year. These are all discussable, and many have book club questions/prompts in the back or online. I’m giving you 12–one book per month of great fiction and non-fiction (we generally don’t read Christian living titles for book club because we all do that on our own). You will laugh, cry, and think about them for days. You will grow.
(Just what a good book should compel you do.)
Here they are:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. This was my all-time favorite. I laughed on every page. Set on The Guernsey Islands during the Nazi occupation, this book of letters between strangers and friends reveal not only the lives of Englishmen struggling to survive the war, but gives a glimpse into the complicated lives of ordinary people. I missed the characters when the book was done. The author Annie Barrows died while writing this, and her cousin finished it for her. We are reading a book by Mary Ann Shaffer this year. (I can’t wait!)
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Okay, this was also my all-time favorite. I’m a fan of Sue Monk Kidd, and this is her best work (historical fiction). It follows the dual story of two girls, Sarah Grimke, the daughter of an affluent Charleston slave-owner during pre-Civil War era, and a slave girl, Handful, who works for the family. Sarah (a real historical person) becomes one of America’s early female abolitionists and suffragette. This is a suspenseful and thought-provoking saga about culture, entitlement, and loyalty.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I thought about this Pulitzer-prize winning book for weeks. This is a stunning and impressive fictional masterpiece, which weaves together the stories of 3 people surviving the horrors of Europe in World War 2. The book follows the lives of 2 children–a sensitive boy forced into the Hitler youth and a blind French girl whose father has hidden a valuable diamond from the Nazis. The third plotline follows a Nazi soldier’s quest to find the diamond, which reportedly the power to heal him of his terminal disease. This books is incredibly suspenseful, intriguing, and dramatic, with themes of love and light (revelation). It took Doeer 10 years to research and write this first novel, and the work shows. It’s a masterpiece.
7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. This book wrecked me. It was my first Hatmaker read, although technically, it’s a follow-up to her book Interrupted (which also wrecked me, but not as much). In 7, Hatmaker takes a challenge to reduce her over-indulgent American lifestyle to 7 things per month. Seven foods, seven times of prayer per day, seven articles of clothing. While her methods seemed over-the-top at times, her themes were un-refutable. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book for weeks, and I was compelled to pray through her challenging experiments myself.
A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman. This book challenged me to find art in my every day life, to welcome creativity and process, to not shirk from experimentation or failure. Emily writes in the wake of finding out she’s got cancer, but it’s not a cancer book. It’s a book about embracing life. This read was inspiring to me, and not in a fluffy “you-can-do-it” way. I bought her next book, Simply Tuesday because I liked A Million Little Ways so much, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. I’ve read this a number of times, and it still made the list. It’s a Christian masterpiece–literary, insightful, deeply theological, funny, and entertaining. It’s a remarkable one-sided conversation between a head demon (Screwtape) and his under-demon (Wormwood) who’s been given his first assignment (a patient), whom he is supposed to win over to the dark side. Lewis cleverly discusses a myriad of Christian topics, particularly in reference to our inability to recognize temptation, through Screwtape’s suggestions and orders to Wormwood. The conclusion is exhilerating–the demon world, for all their devious planning–continues to be confused and frustrated by the inexplainable love of God for humanity. Everyone should read this. And probably more than once.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. This book follows the stories of 2 orphan girls in different centuries, whose stories mirror one another until they intersect at the end of the book. Kline addresses to real-life calamities: the modern foster care system and the travesty of giving away orphan children to random strangers in the early 1900s. While at times, this book was hard to read, I was glad I did. Kline describes the loneliness of the orphan in a compelling and convicting manner.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. TED-talk phenom Brene Brown reached stardom with her shame research, well-written and applied in this bestseller. After having read her second (Daring Greatly) and third book (Rising Strong) on companion subjects of vulnerability and honesty, this is by far my favorite. She addresses perfectionism, shame, and identity in a no-nonsense yet compassionate approach. I basically highlighted the entire book. It was that good.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This Newbery medal winner is not just for adolescents. In fact, I think it’s better for adults. Woodson beautifully describes her life in blank verse poetry, growing up in a poor Black household during the Civil Rights movement, learning to dream and become the person she was meant to be. I was inspired, entertained, and challenged. It was simply gorgeous.
I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. Malala tells her story of growing up in Afghanistan into the remarkable home of an educator who valued women. She gets an education and becomes a spokesperson for women’s rights in a Taliban-dominated society, before AND after being shot in the head and surviving. This remarkable documentation of a courageous family inspired me and kept me turning pages, even though it was not entertaining to read. Every girl should read this book.
Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen. This book bridges the gap between historical fiction and gothic mystery. The story Cullen weaves between Edgar Allen Poe, his mistress, and his wife is stunningly realistic and based on mountains of research and her vivid imagination. Cullen also cleverly writes with gothic flair, giving the entire piece a Poe-esque feel. The story follows the rising literary career of real-life Frances Osgood and her relationship with the mysterious, wildly successful and misunderstood Mr. Poe. The book, while not a technically a romance, details the mutual attraction and admiration that arises between brilliant creatives who are trapped in a Victorian world. I couldn’t put it down.
Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (with Lynn Vincent). Being made into a motion picture, this true story is inspiring, compelling, and convicting. Ron Hall tells the story of his fall and redemption through a loving wife’s forgiveness and a uncanny friendship with a homeless man, Denver Moore, who becomes his closest friend. Readers peek into both worlds and realize the power of love and compassion on every person’s life. I was mesmerized.
There you have it. Twelve books for 12 months. (Two other highly recommended books are Unbroken and Toxic Charity. I didn’t read them for book club, but I read them and was dramatically impacted by them. Could not get them out of my head!) I have about 50 other books waiting to be read right now, so send in your recommendations.