In closing the 2016 reading year, a few lessons come to mind that I’ll take with me into 2017:
- I will read fewer books, and slow down with them, if it means enjoying and comprehending more of what I read.
- I will choose better books rather than more books.
- I will ask for more book recommendations.
I used Tim Challies’ Reading Challenge this year, which was useful in helping me read beyond categories that I would normally read. But, as the adage goes, “Know thyself,” I should’ve predicted that my Type A personality would steal some of the joy of this challenge, in favor of meeting (or beating) my reading goal.
Regardless, 2016 was a year of great books. The titles I’m sharing with you below were my favorites, and they follow the criteria I used in last year’s Reading Favorites article:
If one of the main purposes of books is to make the reader think, then these are the ones I’d say made me think most deeply, curiously, and enthusiastically this year. (I’ve chosen a first prize and a runner-up for each genre.) I hope these thoughts might sway you to read a few of these titles, yourself!
First Prize: Knowing God (J. I. Packer)
Must anything even be said about this beloved book? If you haven’t read it, read it. Start it right now. It’s now officially a favorite of all time, one I’ll recommend to others often, and one that I will try to read again. The premise of the book is that it’s possible to know about God, while never intimately knowing God. If that’s not enough to cut the reader to his or her heart, then I don’t know what will.
Runner-Up: Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Michael Reeves)
Reeves does a remarkable job unpacking a difficult doctrine, while keeping his book understandable and enjoyable to read. I loaned this book to a few people this year, all of whom found it helpful, clear, and practical. The most effective aspect of this book is the delight it stirred in my heart as I read it…so I’d say Reeves met his objective.
Biography & Historical Fiction
First Prize: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas)
Before reading, I knew bits and pieces about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life, but this comprehensive account by Eric Metaxas brought me vividly into his world, causing me to marvel that such a courageous life existed. Over 600 pages long, the biography felt short because of its compelling writing. I’d recommend this to anyone who wants to know what it looks like to face opposition with boldness and in the peace of God.
Runner-Up: Revival and Revivalism (
Both my husband and pastor recommended this, and I confess, I wondered if it was “for me.” To my happy surprise, I greatly enjoyed reading this account of the spiritual awakenings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which focused on the difference between revivalism and revival, the former being an emotionally-based religious high, the latter being the true, enlightening work of the Holy Spirit in dead and darkened sinners’ hearts. Read this history book to better grasp what it looks like when God grips the sinner and brings him into the light of Christ.
First Prize: The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Joe Rigney)
This year, I desperately needed this book. As someone who struggles to rest because of a low-grade guilt that arises when doing so, Rigney helped me to see that the things of earth point me back to God and can help me to enjoy him and love him more, rather than dividing my affections and actions into the “secular” and the “sacred.” I especially appreciated Rigney’s willingness to be open with the reader about his own struggles, as this helped me apply the book to mine.
Runner-Up: The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles (Jared Wilson)
Beautifully and compellingly written from start to finish, Wilson’s book on the miracles of Jesus helped me to see the purpose of these miracles in a new light. Each chapter highlights a different miracle, how each one points us to greater spiritual realities, and what this means for us right now. Wilson’s ability to write warmly and conversationally, among other qualities, enables the reader to enjoy following his arguments to the finish. (This book might also be categorized as “Theology.”)
Vocation & Learning
First Prize: Writing Places: The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher (William Zinsser)
I loved Zinsser’s technical book On Writing Well, so I was excited to read his book detailing the years that formed such a passionate teacher and writer. Clear and to-the-point, Writing Places details the humble vocation of this journalist, professor, husband, and father. Hard work knows no shortcuts, and passion for writing, no one particular place; so Zinsser’s life demonstrates that a dedicated writer makes the best use of the circumstances and opportunities he or she is given.
Runner-Up: Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity (Tim Challies)
Compared to other books on productivity and effectiveness, Do More Better was short and appropriately so! I read this book in two days, on and off; it could probably be read in a few hours with no breaks if that’s all the time you have. Generally, I appreciate how Tim Challies does not hoard everything he’s learned throughout his years of writing and other work, but delights to share it with us.
First Prize: All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
I literally couldn’t put down this novel; it’s thick, but I finished it in a few days. Doerr’s writing style and storytelling skill make this WWII tale of heartbreak and sorrow, love and war, family and foes, a must-read. There’s a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize. (Full disclosure: There is one scene toward the end that’s sexual in nature and therefore difficult to read; but you could easily skip over it, and not much would be lost.)
Runner-Up: And the Mountains Echoed (
Another compelling story, of relationships both strong and broken, Hosseini’s novel was simultaneously wonderful and hard to read. Much conflict and tension surrounds his characters, which felt wearing at times, but it emphasized his points and alerted me to relational and cultural realities I’m often ignorant of. Hosseini’s excellent novel The Kite Runner prompted me to pick up another one of his stories, which wasn’t as good in my opinion, but is still worth reading. I’m especially intrigued by the way he handles conversation in his writing, making it incredibly realistic.
I hope these suggestions prompt you to read great books in 2017. Any suggestions for the books you enjoyed this year? Leave titles in the comments, as I’m always looking for great ones.