Monday, 18 January 2016
Reading List 2015
So here it - my reading list of 2015. I'm sure I'm the only one who gets pleasure out of this and goodness knows I have a thousand other things to do other than write this out, but I'm going to do it anyway. There is something in me that loves marking my progress and my knowledge of the world - even fictional books contain so much information about history, personalities and places I've never been - and I want to stop and acknowledge the learning journey I've been on in the past year. I started doing this two years ago (for 2014 and 2013) and it really spurs me on to be intentional about what I'm picking up and being interactive with.
* = fiction
r = re-read
*One Day by David Nicholls - I've seen the movie and wanted to experience the original. I really enjoyed it. It meanders through the different seasons of the lives of two people in a post-modern era and all the pitfalls and mistakes people can make. If it doesn't sound too arrogant, it made me thankful for my own straightforward relationship and purpose in life.
From Pigpen to Paradise by Pam Young & Peggy Jones - You know how some people need extra motivation and clarity when it comes to dieting or relationships or parenting? Well my thing is home organisation. I need to keep focused and inspired to do it or the whole thing slides. I really liked this book from a couple of decades ago. It's really funny and realistic, about two sisters who developed a system to not let their home life overwhelm them anymore. It's really helped me this year and I would definitely recommend it (along with Time Management for Manic Mums by Allison Mitchell).
How to be a Best Friend Forever by Dr John Townsend - From one of the authors of the fantastic Boundaries series, this applies bible truths with psychology to explore the nature of friendship. I felt like it was something I needed to make sure I wasn't taking for granted, as my friends have carried me through the toughest times of my life. It helped alleviate the questions in my mind at that time and make some healthy relationship decisions.
*Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey - This book was so very very sweet and gentle and powerful all at the same time. From the perspective of an elderly lady struggling with dementia, it mixed past historical events with a confusing modern world but it had a cleverly woven mystery to follow throughout it too. Definitely recommended reading for everyone as it gives insight that can help us empathise with people going through this difficult struggle.
A Grief Observed by C.S.Lewis - Such a raw and honest account of how it felt to lose his wife, he released it anonymously at first. I wouldn't recommend this for any other time than when you're in a pit of grief (which is when I read it), and then it is the most powerful thing you could access. Without reservation he puts into words the hopelessness of loss and the drowning sensation it takes you through. This and Jerry Sittser's A Grace Disguised, are really the only two books that connected with me on this level.
*Persuasion (r) by Jane Austen - I'm sure I read it in my teens but I could only remember tiny snippets of it so it was like reading it for the first time really. Not my favourite Austen, but her writing rhythm is so good to slow down the brain and make you feel at peace, and the gentle humour and observations about human nature make me smile all the way through.
Blessing or Curse by Derek Prince - This is not something I would normally have chosen but last spring I was in a place of wondering what the next disaster over my life was going to be and I wanted to break free from that. I needed to know if there was anything, imagined or real, that had power over my thoughts and life. I felt dubious about it at first, but although Prince doesn't explain things in the same way I would - I think he overstates some things and presumes others - it's basically a biblical journey on how words and spiritual forces can affect your every day life. I began speed-reading it then went back and studied it in-depth when I saw how much scripture it investigates. It really brought me out of that place and I'm glad I pushed past my reservations to pick it up.
*Found by Harlan Coben - A guilty pleasure read. I like Coben's books and keep picking them up as second-hand bargains, and I didn't realise Shelter was actually his foray into teen fiction. Thought I'd check it out anyway (you know, for the kids) then the first one ended on a cliffhanger so I HAD to buy the other two - at full price! Murder and intrigue with some historical mystery thrown in too.
*The Froggit Chain by Katharine Ann Angel - This is written by a friend of mine and is based locally. Took me a little while to grasp the characters and where the story was headed but by a quarter of a way in, you want to keep going and find out how on earth this situation is going to be resolved. The most striking thing about the book is the ordinariness of the characters. She has a fantastic way of sharing their thought process with you so you can empathise with these people who often live life unnoticed on the fringes of society.
The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne - A book about church structure and helping people find where they fit. The material isn't revolutionary but the crucial element of the book is that in order for the church (the vine) to grow organically, you have to build a structure (the trellis) upon which it can flourish. It's such a clear analogy that it really helps in decision making and establishing why you're doing what you're doing.
The Other Side of the Dales by Gervais Phinn - Brilliant writing, about the early years in his job as a schools inspector. Like James Herriot, he has a wry insight to country life and it's a great easy read. I went to see him perform at The Dome in Morecambe a few years ago with my in-laws and he was great then too.
*Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - Oh my word. I read this before I watched the movie and had no idea where it would go. Absolutely amazing psychological thriller with so many twists and turns that it was impossible to predict where it was going to end up. The kind of book that keeps you thinking about it long after you've finished. The movie is great too (faithful to the book) but please please read the book first. Dark but brilliant.
*Mary and Elizabeth by Emily Purdy - Telling the stories of the Tudors through the eyes of the princesses who became queens. Not a bad read, but I can't read historical fiction now without comparing it to Philippa Gregory, and so it didn't really grab me much.
The Kingdom of God by Martyn Lloyd-Jones - A classic, based on his sermons on this topic. Good, powerful teaching with fantastic turns-of-phrase that makes you wish you could've heard him for real. We did a series on the Kingdom of God at church and this book helped to pull out some key points for us to focus on.
Do It Tomorrow by Mark Forster - Another time management book. Made for people who are working in an office setting really, so hard to apply to the various roles in my life, but some good insights into the psychology of procrastination and organisation.
*Swallows and Amazons (r) by Arthur Ransome - This book became very important to us halfway through this year (I'll have to share the story another time) and so I downloaded it for me and Isaac to read. Reminded me of summers in the Lake District and reading it when I was younger. I still don't understand all the boat terminology but it does make me want to go and camp out on an island.
Up the Creek....Without a Paddle by Dave and Jenny Gilpin - These guys are brilliant speakers and church leaders who tell their story of moving from Australia to Britain to plant Hope City Church (which has now planted many other churches). This hilarious diary spans a couple of decades and talks about their emotional roller coaster of trial and error, seeing people come and go, projects rise and fall - it was everything I needed to read about this year as I was facing a very introspective season in my own journey of church planting. It alleviated many of my fears and self-doubts and helped me see things from a much more realistic perspective.
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey - This is the original real life story (also a movie) that inspired the more modern movie that is one of my faves. Two of the siblings share their memories of their influential and eccentric father and their stoic mother and everything that made their household run smoothly (most of the time). A very sweet and funny account of large family life in early 20th century America.
*Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir - She is one of the best history writers I've come across and this is the first novel of hers that I've read. All about the story of Lady Jane Grey, she paints a really clear picture of Tudor life and the precarious social and religious conflicts of the day. Probably my second favourite history writer.
Turning Points by Mark A. Noll - We used this book in our church history course at college and it's broken up into chunks that study key moments in church history, the circumstances leading up to it, and the ongoing impact of it today. Because of this, it's a good book to keep dipping into between reading other stuff, and contemplating the issues and choices that make Christianity what it is today.
Very British Problems by Rob Temple - Not sure it qualifies as proper reading as it's basically a Twitter feed compiled into a book, but I find these insights into social awkwardness hilarious and I identify with way too many of them. What some people call a coffee table book, I think of more as a by-the-loo kind of volume.
*A Time to Kill (r) by John Grisham - I shared last year my disappointment with his newer material, so I thought I'd see if I still felt the same about the original novels that I read as a teenager. This was his first novel, so it was definitely cheesy (as he admits himself) but whether it was nostalgia or not, I really enjoyed it. Think I might be tracking down copies of The Pelican Brief and The Firm for this year to see if they're the same!
*Sycamore Row by John Grisham - So I had to pick up the follow up book that was released last year and had several of the same characters in it, and again, I really enjoyed it. Maybe it was because I was back in the flow, or maybe he was, but his descriptions of the small town South and the clues that keep you guessing definitely had me hooked this time.
The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley - I was watching a documentary not long ago that mentioned this family in passing and I thought they sounded interesting, so knowing nothing about them, I embarked on this collection of their letters. Wow. Written from the 1920s to the 2000s, between six sisters who grew up to be: a controversial novelist; a quiet gardener; the wife of the leader of the British fascist party; a personal friend of Hitler; a communist; and the Duchess of Devonshire. Politics, love affairs, a suicide attempt, imprisonment, royalty, miscarriage, cancer, celebrities - all these massive topics are experienced and discussed light-heartedly between grown up girls who never realised one day they would be published as a chronicle of 20th century life. Brilliantly edited. Kept me fascinated all summer.
Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit (r) by Sean Hepburn Ferrer - Every now and then this catches my eye on the bookcase and before I know it I've sat and read through the whole thing. I love this lady and this book is full of pictures and stories from her son. Made me go through all her movies again this summer - Charade is my favourite.
The Plantagenets by Derek Wilson - Of all the historical periods, this has been my favourite for a long time now and I keep coming back to different materials on it. This starts all the way back with Henry II so really it's the bulk of the monarchy up to the War of the Roses. A well-paced, interesting read.
Glorious Ruins by Tullian Tchividjian - The tag line to this one is "How Suffering Sets You Free" and it looks at how the gospel embraces suffering rather than denying it. Brilliant handling of a subject that prevents many people from engaging with faith, if their understanding has been that God's love or existence can only be proved through positive circumstances.
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp - I love the content and the message of this book, but not the style (please don't hate me). It's a personal testimony of gratitude and how when we change our perspective, we see the glory of God and a thousand things to be thankful for every day. It is very powerful and has led many people to take up the challenge too. If you feel like you're in a very low place and struggling to see the good in your situation, this is great book for you. It's extremely wordy and poetic and that was my only issue with it - I prefer much more literal writing and I kept misunderstanding the situations she was describing because I'm an impatient reader and I was trying to get through it too fast. So learn that lesson, and take your time ;)
*Sing You Home by Jodi Piccoult - Not for the fainthearted! A very meaty exploration of the psychology of music, sexuality, religion and infertility. Piccoult doing what she does best and placing you in a situation where you really don't know what you would do if you were there. The most interesting element to me was the approach of the characters who were representing religion and what their true motivations really were.
Dangerous Honesty by Karin Cooke - Karin works with lots of people who have been affected by pornography, and through the organisation Porn Scars is intervening in many ways to try and change the understanding and the effects of pornography on modern life. She couldn't find a resource to help the women she kept meeting who struggled with pornography as it's generally perceived to be a male problem - so she wrote one! It's available on Amazon and a great resource for leaders, addicts and anyone working in support roles with people affected by pornography. Get it on your shelves so you're ready when you need it!
*The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie - My only Agatha book this year (and no Enid Blyton at all - I mustn't need the comfort blanket much anymore!). An early one, and a romance novel too, which wasn't her forte, but suitably twee and middle class to make it fun.
Serving Without Sinking by John Hindley - The tagline is "How to serve Christ and keep your joy". A small book, full of wisdom. Halfway through it, I went back to the start so I could study it more in-depth. With non-complicated language, it digs down deep to the root of our motivation when it comes to serving, and how quickly we can become burnt out and weary because we're focusing on the wrong things. I want to buy lots of copies of this and share them out, because I think anyone serving in church should read it.
Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic - If you haven't heard of this guy, go and look him up on YouTube and get blown away. Born without arms or legs, this guy has had to choose between self-pity and even suicide, or living his life to the fullest degree possible, and he's chosen the latter. I don't think there's a single person in any situation who wouldn't be inspired and challenged by him. He chooses not to focus on what he hasn't got, and to make the most of his abilities instead. It really is a life changing story.
Love Without Limits by Nick Vujicic & Kanae Vujicic - This is the follow up story of how he met his wife and started a family. Very sweet and cheesy, but so heartwarming you can't help loving them both. I just love testimonies of how people couldn't see a way through and then God changed everything for them.
*The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers - I had three attempts to get into this book I'd borrowed and I just couldn't engage with it. Then on the last try, I persisted a little longer and it finally grabbed me. Set in American mountains in the 1800s, it's one of those where you have to try and get your head around another culture, but once you're in, it is fascinating. A mystery story with deep spiritual reflections - I am starting to like Francine Rivers more and more.
*The White Princess by Philippa Gregory - Part of the Cousins War series, and tying together the threads from The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker's Daughter, this was another brilliant novel, from the perspective of Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and wife of Henry VII. Gregory's magic is that she keeps the narrative consistent all the way through the series, yet with a different voice and attitude than the other protagonists who narrate each story. Every time I read one of her books, I think "That's my new favourite".
Courageous Leadership (r) by Bill Hybels - We have gone through this book a chapter a week in our Leaders Development Group this year, and it has been brilliant. Since reading it a few years ago, I could see how utilising the principles in this book really have made a difference to our church, and we have had some brilliant discussions about ourselves personally and the future of the church. For anyone anywhere in a position of influence (and I think that's most of us), this book is really valuable.
I haven't yet finished Live Love Lead so I'll put that in next year's review.
The books of the bible I've studied this year are Isaiah, Joshua and James.
And that is also my Be Present 366 for day eighteen - I am so glad to live in a time where all these resources are so freely available, not just because of the print but because they can be ordered, borrowed or downloaded in minutes thanks to this high tech world we live in. I can't imagine my life without books and I don't know who I'd be without them. I feel like new worlds are opened up to us every day when we open a book and allow it to stretch our minds.