Summer of 2020 has kind of sucked. So I thought it would be a great time to escape through a ton of great books. Here is what I’ve read so far this year and some of my feelings about each read.
First of all, I’ve read more fiction in the last few months than I’ve read in the last several years. I’m ordinarily not a fiction reader – I much prefer nonfiction or memoirs – but I’ve recently discovered how much I love LISTENING to novels (Thank you Audible!) and that’s opened up a whole new world of fiction to me.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
This is probably my favorite book I’ve read this year – or in many years. It’s definitely my favorite Sue Monk Kidd book – and that’s a tall order. I love her writing, I love her characters, I love her settings, I love her dialogue – I really just love everything about her books. This one, though, feels several steps above her other novels. It actually sort of reminded me of her nonfiction book, Traveling with Pomegranates, which she wrote with her daughter. The Book of Longings was so beautiful from the first paragraph to the last words. I cried (sobbed) more than once during the last third of the book – not just because of the story and the characters, but because of the reverence of the writing. Sue Monk Kidd has a way of writing characters and feelings in such a way that feels both raw and real. She truly is one of my favorites!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I wanted to love this book. I had such high hopes for it since everyone everywhere seems to be raving about it. For me, it was just eh. The story was fine and the setting was interesting – I could *almost* picture it – but the characters felt very flat to me. None of them seemed real. I didn’t buy a lot of what they said and did – and the dialogue, at times, made me cringe. The main character felt void of emotions entirely, which might have been a conscious choice by the author, but because of that I never really connected to her or to any of them at all. I also need to note that I listened to much of this book on Audible and the narrator’s attempts at accents were awful – like, really awful. I wish I hadn’t bought the Audible book – perhaps I might have liked the characters more if I didn’t have those terrible accents in my head as I read. The only reason I gave this one three stars instead of two is because the ending made me want to re-read the entire thing so that I could pick up more of the little clues that I missed the first time. I felt compelled to re-read it for about an hour or so and then I got over it.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
I came into this read with zero expectations. I heard that it was powerful and that Oprah loved it. That’s about all I knew. Stephen King also wrote something very lovely on the book jacket about this book – so that kind of scared me a little. This story was gripping. I’m not sure how else to describe it. I remember where I was during certain parts of it – because it was just that memorable for me. I also finished it in 3 or 4 days because I had a hard time putting it down. It felt a bit like a very suspenseful movie. The scenes were vivid and the characters felt quite real to me. I cried more than once as I read this one. The mother and son felt so real to me that I still think about them from time to time. I know there’s quite a controversy surrounding whether or not the author had the authority to be writing from the perspective of someone outside of her race. However, from a story and character standpoint – I absolutely loved this book. It made me want to read more about migration from Central America and Mexico in order to understand what it’s really like. If you personally know of other books such as American Dirt written from the perspective of a person of color – please send me recommendations! I have a few on my TBR list, but would love to add more!
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This is a book that I’ve been meaning to read for YEARS. I’m so glad I finally did. I didn’t enjoy the first half of it as much as I’d hoped to, but the ending made the entire book completely worth it. It is well-written, and seems to be well-researched, but I didn’t fall in love with the characters until much later than I would have liked. In fact, I didn’t realize I cared about them as much as I did until I neared the end of the book and found myself sobbing without a Kleenex – forced to wipe my face with my shirt. The Nightingale is supposedly being made into a movie sometime next year and I cannot wait to see it!
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
This is another book that people everywhere can’t stop talking about. I liked it quite a bit, but I can’t say that I would give it five stars. The themes represented in the book are handled beautifully and the characters and story are interesting, however I had a bit of a hard time connecting with the characters. I felt more connected to the secondary characters than the sisters – although I’m not sure why. I wanted this book to be longer, with more time spent on each character – it covered so much ground that it felt that it moved a bit too fast for me to get entirely connected and invested. I still really liked the book and hope desperately that they make it into a movie or TV series.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I don’t know entirely how I feel about this book. There was a bit too much romance for my taste – although I knew that would be the case going into it. It had several surprising moments near the beginning, and a few really magical ones at the end – although I predicted one of them very, very early on. There wasn’t a lot that happened in this book, but the emotional development of the characters was interesting. Based on several rave reviews, I had pretty high expectations of this book – and it was good, but I don’t know that I would call it a favorite. It’s a good read with interesting characters – four stars from me.
This is normally my sweet spot, but I’ve spend so much time on fiction this summer that I haven’t finished at least three of the nonfiction books I’ve started. I’m currently in the middle of three nonfiction books. These are the ones I actually HAVE finished.
The Comeback Effect by Jason Young and Jonathan Malm
Well-written and helpful book for those of us in a marketing / communications / guest services kind of role – especially in the church. I highlighted quite a bit, and learned several things that I think could be very helpful. However, I honestly don’t remember anything without going back and reading what I highlighted. So, good read – helpful content – not enormously memorable.
Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
I’ve been meaning to read this book for quite a while. I bought it at least a year ago but, for some reason, never actually read it until this summer. It’s powerful. It took me a bit to get used to the tone/voice of the author – he has a very unique voice, unlike anyone else I’ve ever read. I thought this would be a book that would teach me – and it did to some extent – but it’s really a book to instruct you – to wake you up. It really did feel like a sermon – with a raised voice, so you know what he’s saying is important, and an urgent tone, so you understand that this is a call to action. I’ve listened to many interviews and speeches from Michael Eric Dyson and have always been challenged, however the tone in this book felt more important than anything I’ve heard from him before. Tears We Cannot Stop is an important book for an important time.
The Unstuck Church by Tony Morgan
This book is a must-read for any church leaders wanting to know how to move ministry forward. It’s about more than attendance and growth – it’s about all the things underneath that cause a church to move forward, stand still, or fall backwards. I’ve loved Tony Morgan for a long time, so I’ve been looking forward to this book. It is well-written, easy to digest and has tons of useable info that can immediately be put into practice. If you’re a church leader – or are at all interested in church growth – you should also listen to The Unstuck Church Podcast.
Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman
What a magnificent, teeny-tiny little book. Filled with beautiful nuggets of wisdom and encouragement – this is a perfect gift book for anyone going through a hard time. Alice Hoffman offers wisdom from her own journey through illness in a way that will make you smile and will fill your soul up with joy. It will take maybe an hour to read all the way through – but then you’ll want to read it again and again. Absolutely lovely little book.
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
This book by Jemar Tisby is incredible. I listened to a chapter and then read through the same chapter again so I could highlight and make notes. I learned so much in this book that I found myself googling people and events so that I could understand more fully. There are snapshots of black history throughout, but the main purpose of the book is black history within the American church. I’ve begun reading Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi to learn more and I have a few more books like The Color of Law and The Warmth of Other Suns that I intend to read this year as well so that I can learn all the things the American education system left out of the history books. Jemar Tisby is a phenomenal teacher and The Color of Compromise is a must-read.
Memoirs are probably my favorite books of all. I love reading about other people’s lives, struggles, triumphs, and milestones. I cannot tell you how many memoirs I’ve read that I still think about regularly. Here are the ones I’ve finished so far this year.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
You guys. This book. It’s just beautiful. It’s warm and inviting, it’s funny and informative, it’s smart and kind – basically, it’s all the things Michelle Obama is. I bought the Audible book for this one and I’m enormously glad I did because Michelle Obama narrates it – which basically felt like Michelle Obama sat in my room with me and told me her story. I don’t know what else there is to say other than I absolutely loved this book and will probably read (listen to) it again before the year is done.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I liked this book a lot. Trevor Noah is, as I expected, an excellent writer. I’ve been watching Trevor Noah on the Daily Show and his standup for a very long time, but these stories were new to me. I listened to this one on Audible, which was really helpful for the pronunciations and the accents – man, he’s good at accents. Some of this book is incredibly sad – and parts are hilarious – it kind of spans the gamut of what a memoir could be. I really, really enjoyed it and hope that he writes more in the future.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I wish desperately that I had read this book earlier in my life. I feel like it’s such an important book for a young person to read. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to read Maya Angelou’s 1st memoir – I’ve read a lot of her poetry – but I now have to read everything else she’s ever written. I listened to this one on Audible and Maya Angelou herself narrates it! It’s just spectacular. Her voice felt like home to me – like a grandma telling me stories of when she was young – like her voice was so real to me that I could almost reach out and hold her hand. That might sound strange, but I just really felt close to young Maya in this book – which is, in my opinion, a testament to her vulnerability and superior writing ability. One of my favorites so far this year for sure.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
This is Glennon Doyle’s third book and the third book of hers that I’ve read. I’m a die-hard fan/reader of hers and this is her most significant book yet. Her life has changed so dramatically since the first memoir she wrote (Carry On, Warrior), and so I know that she doesn’t talk about her first two books much, but I remember where I was when I read her first memoir. I remember how I felt and how many times I cried when I read about all the ways she was learning to give herself and the people around her more grace. It was a beginning. A beautiful beginning. And Untamed? Well, it’s a more of a becoming. The first book felt very tentative and kind and gentle – this one feels fierce and kind of badass. I loved every word. Glennon is the type of voice that I needed as a young girl – hers is the kind of voice that my four daughters need – that all our daughters need. I’ve been reading along for many years as she has beautifully walked into her skin and become something wild and free – and along the way I feel like she’s helped me find a bit of myself as well. I’m so thankful for this book and this voice – what a treasure. If you’re not familiar with Glennon Doyle – you need to follow her on socials and listen to every podcast she has ever been a guest on – you’ll thank me later.
Educated by Tara Westover
I’ve had this book in my TBR pile for well over a year and finally got around to reading (listening to) it a few weeks ago. It was phenomenal. Beautifully written and inspiring – this story needed to be told. I was told to brace myself because of the difficult stories, and they were difficult, but they were also handled so thoughtfully that I appreciated the care and kindness of the author in telling stories that others might not want to be told. Tara Westover is a skilled storyteller. So much so that it’s difficult to believe that the person writing the story is also the person in the story who spend so many years without a basic understanding of much of what we take for granted – history, science, sociology, basic life skills – it truly is remarkable.
What have you read so far this year? Anything that you LOVED? Based on the ones I loved, do you have any recommendations for me?