Christmas shopping is upon us, with all three big days of spending under our belts. So now we start in on that list of people who we don’t know what to give them. My solution is always the same: books. I love books. I find peace and comfort and answers and questions in books. I’m one of those people who, in the midst of meaningful life conversation, has the gull to suggest a book as part of the solution.
I don’t mean to suggest that simply reading the book will solve all your problems. But what a wonderful way to start seeking change! A good writer inspires, a good story captivates, a good character invites you along, deeming you worthy.
So, here are my book suggestions (non-fiction), based upon how they affected me, specifically over the past 10 years. I would try to order them, but that’s a bit unfair. So I’ll just add extra emphasis where needed.
1. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
(Donald Miller). This book is now available in paperback, so to put it simply, just buy one for every single person on your list. Use them instead of gift tags and just write their name in the cover. Even the mailman will enjoy this one. It uses the concept of story, such as in a movie or book, to convey the power of living a better life. It parses out character, ambition, conflict and what it means for us as humans to live a good story. I’ve read it no less than 10 times now and am moved every time.
2. Flashbang: How I Got Over Myself
(Mark Steele). This book changed the way I view relationships and what it means to live authentically with those around me. It clearly has a Christian perspective. His storytelling is top notch, and to boot he’s a comic, meaning there were moments when I shed physical tears of hilarity. I gave it to one of my students to read on the way home from Mexico and he was laughing so hard the guy next to him on the plane commented on what a good book it must be. If Clin-ton hadn’t kept it in a vain attempt to finish it, I’m sure I would have read it at least 5 more times. I believe I read it 3 times in 3 years. There were a few parts so funny and meaningful that I would dig it out just to read that chapter.
3. The Blessings of a Skinned Knee
(Wendy Mogel). My cousin sent me this book after a fantastic conversation at the lake and I’ve reviewed it multiple times. It uses 3 basic Jewish principles (which, let’s remember, is what Mary probably used for Jesus) and applies them to common parenting woes. It provides a great balance of letting go within our overparenting, helicopter-mom world of parenting. Loved it, and I’m anxious to read her school- and teen-version, The Blessings of a B Minus.
4. In Defense of Food
(Michael Pollen). If you’ve spoken to me for 5 minutes, you know that food fascinates me. I love food, especially good food. And I want to be healthy and balanced in my love of food and this book provided a fantastic framework for that. It’s got a deep, science-y middle (which I could leave) but for many, the evidence is as importance as the theory. His basic premise: eat food that your grandmother would recognize as food. Great stuff for anyone who is exploring the “clean food” movement.
5. Girl Meets God
(Lauren Winner). I’m a sucker for a good memoir and Lauren’s captivated me from the start. At one point in her teenage years she converted to orthodox Judaism only to later meet Jesus in the Episcopal church. The woman is a genius – a history professor at Duke – and fellow biblioholic. She weaves in her story of love and angst, familial tugs and spiritual stirrings. It’s not your typical Evangelical read. She once emailed me and I saved it for proof. I was wooed.
6. Irresistible Revolution
(Shane Claiborne) or Seven
(Jen Hatmaker). Both of these rock your socks – or more literally, shoes – off. It meets the Christian Living in Materialistic American Culture clash, head on. At times you might feel it’s a bit extreme, but they both offer compelling arguments that extremity is at times needed.
(Po Bronson). I quote this book all the time, especially as it comes to “common sense” approaches to dealing with children. I nearly read the entire first chapter aloud to my cousins at the lake, as it dealt with praising children vs. instilling a sense of working hard. It’s very research-based, but written by journalists, not the researchers or those who funded the studies. The book covers multiple questions parents might have as it comes to raising their kids in regard to dealing with race issues, effectiveness of preschool, even their approach to learning language.
8. Jesus wants to save the Christians
(Rob Bell). Though he’s fallen under heavy criticism this past year, I deeply appreciate Bell’s hermeneutic and approach to scripture, first trying to understand it as it would have been heard by original readers, specifically in the Jewish context. He adds the elements of politics, geography and underlying context. This book was released just prior to the 08 election, and aptly timed, and raises fair questions for the ways in which Christians apply their beliefs in American culture.
9. Radical Homemakers
(Shannon Hayes). Yet another book which takes solutions to the extreme, but the thinking behind it has changed me forever. She challenges that consumer culture has robbed women the joy of contributing to the home in a meaningful way, left only to decide which products to use as opposed to creating the means of the home. It’s a new view on a feminist thought that completely warmed me – that corporate careers aren’t the only way to support my family with substance. This woman makes her own soap, they build their own furniture. They barter and live communally. Even if I continue to buy my soap from someone else, it’s empowering to read about the ways in which I can create rather than consume for my own household. And she minces no words to make it seem easy, only that it is good.
(Alexandra Robbins). Another journalistic piece exploring the “secret lives of driven teenagers.” It’s focused on east coast, high-performing schools, so it’s not exactly my own context, but I believe that a scaled-down, cheaper version exists right here in Ohio. I read this while working with teenagers and was quickly prompted to review how I treated them and what I asked of them, understanding the need to love them not for how they perform or achieve, but as young people learning the ways of the world. Highly recommended for anyone who knows a teenager.