As an avid, lifelong reader, I make the consumption of books a regular priority. Yet, in 2019, my goal was not necessarily to read a lot of books but rather to read for variety and depth. Being the competitor I am, I did end up reading (or listening to) 52 books in 2019. Out of that batch, these were my absolute favorites, in no order:
1. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE | DON WHITNEY | NONfiction
- In five words: Practical tips on daily sanctification.
- My thoughts: Few books I’ve read have been more helpful than this spiritual disciplines handbook by Don Whitney. All Christians want to grow in their faith, but we are easily inundated by all so-called experts telling us what we must do every morning or evening. Here, Whitney pares it down to a core group of disciplines, including prayer, Bible reading/studying, Scripture memorization, evangelism, and community with Christians. He makes it clear that the Word is always the starting point and we can build off of that with simple, daily habits. One particular note I found helpful was his encouragement to try different methods of learning and growing. We become stagnant if we think reading four chapters a day and spending 20 minutes in prayer is the golden formula for life! This book was a key part in my spiritual growth this past year, partly because it gave me tools to meet with God in new ways; partly because it gave me the freedom to try new things and understand what the essentials are–and are not.
- Key quote: “Discipline without direction is drudgery.”
2. INTO THE WILD | JON KRAKAUER | Nonfiction
- In five words: Guy disappears in wilderness. Why?
- My thoughts: The fact that Chris McCandless’ story is real, is the clinching factor on this book. Basically, this young man from a well-to-do family decided to live off the land and all but disappeared in 1992. He lived as a wilderness hermit for 114 days before he died and was later found. This book is a literary scavenger hunt that uses pieces of evidence and eye witness reports to untangle Chris’ life, his motivations, and the probable cause of his death. The book summary says it well: “When McCandless’s innocent mistakes turn out to be irreversible and fatal, he becomes the stuff of tabloid headlines and is dismissed for his naiveté, pretensions, and hubris. He is said to have had a death wish but wanting to die is a very different thing from being compelled to look over the edge. Krakauer brings McCandless’s uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows.”
- Key quotes:
- “It may, after all, be the bad habit of creative talents to invest themselves in pathological extremes that yield remarkable insights but no durable way of life for those who cannot translate their psychic wounds into significant art or thought.”
- “McCandless distrusted the value of things that came easily. He demanded much of himself—more, in the end, than he could deliver.”
3. THE ROAD BACK TO YOU: AN ENNEAGRAM JOURNEY TO SELF DISCOVERY | IAN CRON & SUSAN STABEL | NONFiction
- In five words: How God uniquely created you.
- My thoughts: I’ve heard a lot about the Enneagram over the past year and was both critical and skeptical of it. Yet, this book–which explains the popular personality typing from a Christian perspective–showed me the validity of learning about how God has wired me (and how he has wired others). The author did a great job of relying on biblical truths to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of each of the nine types, and then providing tips for spiritual growth specific to each type. I love how the author clearly cautioned readers not to cling to “their type” as their source of worth or identity, but rather as a marker of their unique design and an arrow to their designer. Knowing that I’m a Type 1 has been incredibly helpful in my intrapersonal development this past year!
- Key quote: “We must find our real self, in all its elemental poverty, but also in its great and very simple dignity: created to be the child of God, and capable of loving with something of God’s own sincerity and his unselfishness”
4. HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS | J.K. ROWLING | Fiction
- In five words: Boy wizard battles Voldemort (#1).
- My thoughts: I could have easily listed any one of the Harry Potter books in the list of my favorite reads from 2019–particularly because I read them (for the first time ever!) almost back-to-back; they blend together in my mind. That being said, I enjoyed that the second book provided a glimpse of a maturing Harry, but also retained the simple joys of Hogwarts life. This was the first time Harry actually fought Voldemort (I believe) and that was exciting. It also provided more biblical parallels, which I loved reading throughout the series.
- Key quote: “Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he really wanted to do his homework but was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of night. And he also happened to be a wizard.”
5. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS | B.A PARIS | Fiction
- In five words: Perfection is eerie and false.
- My thoughts: This book was incredibly intriguing, offering both mystery and a well-developed main character who I was rooting for. I think it was offered a healthy complexity in the way it addressed good vs. evil. I would have appreciated a better glimpse of Jack’s multi-faceted personality early on, but I still think it was excellently done. Definitely one of the most memorable books from 2019.
- Key quote: “I look around at everybody laughing and joking together and struggle to understand my life has become a living hell that nobody present could even begin to imagine.”
5. LINCOLN IN THE BARDO | GEORGE SAUNDERS | Fiction
- In five words: Willie Lincoln cedes to death.
- My thoughts: I had the hardest time explaining this book to friends! My best explanation? It’s a fictional book about the death of Abe Lincoln’s son, written from the point of view of multiple people (both dead and alive) in the form of quotations. The style is quite brilliant, once you get used to the oddity of it. And the storyline is such a fascinating concept. Willie Lincoln is basically in a neutral sort of purgatory, and is holding out on entering eternity because his grieving father keeps visiting the in-between-land where Willie is. I love the premise, despite the sadness that washed over me as I read this book. Things I didn’t like? Some of the language was vulgar and the complexity—while riveting—was somewhat confusing at points. Still, I enjoyed this book and have a lot of respect for its author. I feel like I just wove my way through an intricate maze.
- Key quotes:
- “When a child is lost there is no end to the self-torment a parent may inflict. When we love, and the object of our love is small, weak, and vulnerable, and has looked to us and us alone for protection; and when such protection, for whatever reason, has failed, what consolation (what justification, what defense) may there possibly be?”
- “Oh, the pathos of it! – haggard, drawn into fixed lines of unutterable sadness, with a look of loneliness, as of a soul whose depth of sorrow and bitterness no human sympathy could ever reach. The impression I carried away was that I had seen, not so much the President of the United States, as the saddest man in the world.”
There you have it: my favorite books from 2019. I’m looking forward to gaining more wisdom, pleasure, and insight through reading this year. I also encourage you to make reading a habit this year and share your favorite books with me, as well. I have an infinite “to read” list that only continues to grow. And I quite like that.
4 thoughts on “My Favorite Books of 2019”
Thank you so much for sharing your interesting thoughts on these books. Lincoln in the Bardo sounds vaguely familiar to me and the one about the sad death of the young man who disappeared into the wilderness sounds intriguing. Is that your bookshelf in the main photo? If so, I am mega impressed! 😃
I hope you found some good books to add to your 2020 reading list! I wish that was my bookshelf! Mine is quite a bit smaller (and I have resorted to placing books in a few locations in my home). It’s just a bookshelf at Half Priced Books. 🙂
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Ahh! Thank you for getting back to me. I will add the two books I mentioned to my “To Read” list but whether that will happen this year only time will tell. 😁
Hello! Love this book list. Will definitely need to check them out.
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