Best Books I Read in 2018

Thursday, January 03, 2019


Here are my favorite five books from my past year of reading. I hope that this list will point you to something you'll enjoy.

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide
Compiled by Sarah Arthur (2016)

Between Midnight and Dawn is one of three books that guide you through the church calendar in a wonderfully unique way. Each week presents a loosely themed collection of prayers, Scriptures, fiction excerpts, and poems. Though Arthur clearly put a lot of thought into organizing the book, she does so in a way that does not spoon-feed you. Rather, the hope is to make space for God to speak to you however He will through the various writings.

As someone who rarely enjoys "devotional" books, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Needless to say, I picked up the two other books in the series: At the Still Point (for Ordinary Time) and Light Upon Light (for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany).

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
by Anne Lamott (1995)

First of all, I cannot remember the last time I laughed out loud this much while reading a book. Anne Lamott says things in the most hilariously straightforward, absurd, and delightful ways. She is one of the most engaging writers I have read and this book is just plain fun.

But Bird by Bird is not a shallow book. Lamott's advice on writing, including her famous section on "shitty first drafts", is must-read material for any writer. I particularly appreciated her exhortation to see writing as its own reward rather than looking to publication for satisfaction—a principle with application far beyond writing (see her subtitle: "on Writing and Life").

But please… go read everything the way she says it. No summary can begin to do her words justice. This reminds me: I need to go read more Anne Lamott.

Ordering Your Private World
by Gordon MacDonald (1985)

Thai Christian Students (IFES Thailand) has all their new staff read this old InterVarsity Press book. I am so glad they do! Though the book is as old as I am (!), it is still a timely word to those of us wrapped up in over-busy lives 33 years later.

The thesis of the book is simple: if we want to live a more effective and organized life outwardly, we need to regularly tend to our inner world. Caring for our souls is like keeping a house clean: it is never done. Our souls get cluttered and dirty over time and we must constantly attend our inner lives to keep from falling into disorder.

MacDonald explores five areas of our inner world: motivations, time, intellectual development, intimacy with God, and rest. This is a book you are too busy not to read.

Sit, Walk, Stand
by Watchman Nee (1957)

This very short Christian classic speaks to the same issue as MacDonald's book above. Nee, a persecuted Chinese Christian, flies us over the book of Ephesians to highlight one major thread in the book's structure: before we do anything for God, we need to sit in our identity with Him. Only from that place can we walk forward in his service and ultimately stand firm against the enemy.

I read this book in California during a particularly busy season of our life. I was (and am) so grateful for these much-needed pastoral words from this Christian brother half a century and half a world away.

Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse
by Mary Oliver (1998)

Since you're probably not interested in writing poetry, note that this book is also for readers of poetry. It's sort of like wine-tasting lessons, because sometimes old poems taste funny at first. Also note that "metrical verse" means, you know, most of the English poems ever written, so there's a lot of payoff from this little book.

Oliver uses only 100 pages—17 short, easy chapters—to explain the various poetic elements in metrical verse. Her succinct primer is chock full of marked-up, concrete examples so it never stays merely theoretical. The last 79 pages are a mini-anthology of the (complete) poems used to illustrate concepts earlier in the book — a wonderful place to dip your toes into the vast ocean of poetry.

For more recommendations, check out my Best Books of 2016-2017 and 2015 lists. What were some of your favorite reads this year?


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