the best books I read in 2018, part 1

Happy New Year! And what a better way to begin the new year than talking about books, my favorite inanimate things.

A side note to young parents: The age of one’s children and the amount of reading one does must have a direct relationship. I had some very lean reading years. But my kids are getting older. I am reading more and more. If your kids are still very young, don’t worry! You’ll make it. And in the meantime, you’ll have to settle for reading just a few books. Make sure they’re books worth reading. Maybe I can help save you some time by passing along my recommendations.

This year I’m just sharing the best of what I read and I’m not writing a review of all of them! (Sorry, just stars 1-5.) But please feel free to comment or email me back about any particular book or about other recommendations. (One of the highest honors in our family is to give or be asked for a “book stack.” A book stack is a physical stack of books (or a photo of a physical stack of books) that have been personally and specifically curated for the recipient – a mix of books they would love, books that will challenge them, and books they wouldn’t normally read but maybe should.)

Here is the first (of two) book lists / reviews:

the best book I read for my own spiritual development

The Celtic Way of Prayer, Esther de Waal (1997) 211 pages. *****

A brilliant look into the earthy, everyday, deeply rooted spirituality of Celtic prayers and spiritual practice. De Waal writes very accessibly about ancient Celtic ways of life – a way of life that is very practical and very challenging for all of the ways it embeds prayer and practice in everyday life.

other excellent spiritual books worth reading

The Challenge of Jesus, N. T. Wright****

Marked for Life, Maria Boulding****

The House of the Soul, Evelyn Underhill*****

Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill****

(A tome, if there ever were one.)

The Spiritual Life, Evelyn Underhill***

Reversed Thunder, Eugene Peterson***

Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren F. Winner***

spiritual classics

I read several spiritual classics this year, all were shortish and definitely worth reading.

The Way of a Pilgrim, Anonymous***

The Divine Milieu, Teilhard de Chardin****

The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers****

The Glory Road, Ylvisaker***


the best fiction & poetry I read that the largest majority of people will also like (ha!)

Astray, Emma Donoghue (2012) 271 pages. *****

Extremely ingenious and imaginative, Astray is a collection of short stories in the genre of historical fiction. Ms. Donoghue collected short newspaper articles, a printed line from here or there, or a snippet of advertisements and then invented stories to explain or expound on them! True creativity and brilliance, if you ask me. She (along with Flannery O’Connor and John Cheever) helped me find again in 2018 my fondness for the short story.

other fiction & poetry worth reading

The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor *****

There are two kinds of temperaments in this world: the kind who love Flannery O’Connor and the kind who are alarmed and sort of disemboweled by Flannery O’Connor. I am of the former. I do not know which you will be. But if you are comfortable with the fact that life is dark and sad and complicated, you will probably love Ms. O’Connor. If not, skip it. There will surely be copies of her collected stories floating around in the life hereafter. You can read them then.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck ****

Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury ***

Small Porch, Wendell Berry ****

Stamboul Train, Graham Greene ***

The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton ***


a few great books we read with our kids (aged 9, 7, and 4)

The Fledgling, Jane Langton ****

Roller Skates, Ruth Sawyer ***

Socks, Beverly Cleary ****

Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis (again!) *****

James & the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl ****

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl ****

Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator, Roald Dahl ****

Matilda, Roald Dahl *****

Roald Dahl was more willing to address the dark side of life than most other children’s authors. He was also more [justifiably] critical of adults. Our older two kids are becoming mature enough to face the nuances of the reality that life, the world, and people are not all-good or all-bad. Dahl’s characters have been welcome contributors to our ongoing conversations in this regard!

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson ****