Best Books of 2013

I have always been, shall we say, a passionate reader. When I was in 1st grade, one teacher told my parents the only complaint she had about me was that I would hide books in my lap and read them during class, when students were supposed to be working on math or spelling. One of my first jobs as a teenager was working in the children's department of the local library. Seriously, you want to pay me to handle books all day, look through catalogs of new releases, and help others find books they love, too? Jackpot! One my of retirement dreams is to own an independent used bookstore with a tea shop...preferably somewhere near the ocean. Of course, bookstore owners would tell me it's a lot more work than I'd probably want at age 65, but that's why it's a dream - just something nice to envision for the future.

In February this year, I signed up for an account on Goodreads (if you have a Goodreads account too, look me up - we should be friends). I've never habitually tracked my reading before, but I've enjoyed using the website to see what books I read this year, how I felt about them, and what others are reading in a similar genre. I also feel a lot of gratification when I surpassed my reading goal this year - 40 books, 4 over my goal of 36. Woo hoo!

This past week, I looked over all the books I read in 2013 (at least since February) and picked out my top ten (can I just say, thank you Lord for Kindle - 80% of my reading would be impossible overseas without it!). This was actually a bit painfully difficult, to be honest - it's like picking out your favorite sibling or pet. Maybe some of you wouldn't find that difficult; I wish I knew what that was like. These aren't given in any particular order - they're all good!

1. A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

“Is it any surprise that the current center of coffee culture, the city of Seattle, home to the Starbucks coffeehouse chain, is also where some of the world's largest software and Internet firms are based? Coffee's association with innovation, reason, and networking—plus a dash of revolutionary fervor—has a long pedigree.”

Andrew and I listened to the audiobook during a couple of long road trips. It gives an overview of world history through the lens (or glasses?) of six different beverages: beer, wine, spirits, tea, coffee, and cola. It was an entertaining combination of foodie and world history, with tons of interesting facts mixed in with how these beverages actually influenced the culture and politics of countries throughout history.

2. Comforts from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick

"The key to a godly life is not more and more self-generated effort. Instead, Jesus is saying, 'Love me and your obedience will flow naturally from that love.'"

I reviewed Comforts from the Cross earlier this month on Journey Mercies, so I won't say much about it, except that it is one of the best daily meditations on the Gospel I've ever read. It's a meaty, deep book written for women struggling to apply the meaning of the cross to every day life. You can check out more of my thoughts here. 

"A God-honoring, gospel-loving church is one where the Word of God is the primary motivator for doing the work of God."

Darrin and Matt are church planters who work in urban cities, and they've written a call for Christians to become actively involved in pursuing the good of their cities through compassion ministries, the arts, community development, and any other area through which believers can make a kingdom impact. Following Jesus shouldn't just make us good church people; it should motivate us to love our neighborhoods and communities well. It challenged me to think about how I can live and work in Poipet intentionally, instead of being a passive resident.

4. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls--woman's normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.” 

I read this book as a teenager and found it difficult to get through. Now, as a married woman expecting her first child, I flew through it in a matter of days during our beach vacation and find myself going back over quotes, thinking about how to apply the desires her words stirred up in me for a space of my own and deep, meaningful relationships with others.

"One of the great things about marriage is that God throws a fellow sinner into close proximity to us so that they walk all over our idols." 

I wrote a review of this book earlier this year and will be buying it for all my newly married friends, and maybe for my married friends on their anniversaries, too. It rocked our marriage and will be a yearly read for my husband and I.

"As the fashion industry exists now, the most effective way for garment factories to provide good jobs is for the companies who makes the clothes or the consumers who buy them to demand better conditions."

Living in Cambodia - where much of cheap American fashion is made - led me to reading this book and blogging about the cost of cheap fashion to consumers and workers in two different blog posts (part 1 and part 2 - read it!). Although I went on a shopping spree in America during our home leave, I haven't bought anything for the past 3 months - partly because reading this opened my eyes to how unethical and detrimental most of our shopping habits are.

“Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I've ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing.... Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.” 

Ok, this book has been so wildly popular, I really don't need to say anything - except that I listened to Ann read it on audiobook, and it elevated the experience to a new level. I don't think I could read her style of writing, but listening to it helped it penetrate my heart. I wrote about my thoughts on the book earlier this year.

“Truth walks toward us on the paths of our soon as you think you have the answer, you have closed the path and may miss vital new information. Wait awhile in the stillness, and do not rush to conclusions, no matter how uncomfortable the unknowing.” 

Mysteries are my favorite subgenre of fiction - I can easily tear through a few Agatha Christies in a week. But Maisie Dobbs was my favorite new fiction discovery this year. A nurse-turned-sleuth in London right after World War I, Maisie is philosophical, insightful, and clever.

"Let it be said at the outset - and repeated throughout - that the aim of good interpretation is not uniqueness; one is not trying to discover what no one else has ever seen before."

If you want to know how to read, study, and interpret the Bible so you can apply it to your life as God meant it, this is a fantastic resource. I wrote about how it changed my perspective on the Bible earlier this year.

"Christians can read a broad array of books for our personal benefit, but only if we read with discernment. And we will only read with discernment if the biblical convictions are firmly settled in our minds and hearts. Once they are, we have a touchstone to determine what is pure gold and what is worthless."

I bought this book on an impulse when it popped up as a Kindle daily deal, and it was worth every penny. It helps believers develop a theology of reading based on Scripture, personal goals that guide us in choosing what to read, and how to benefit from every kind of literature, not just theology or devotionals. If reading more books and better literature is one of your goals for 2014, this would be a terrific start to your year!

So that's it! My favorite books of 2013. And next week, I'll be sharing ten books I'm looking forward to reading in 2014. But now it's your turn - what books did you enjoy the most in 2013? And what will you be reading in the new year?

post signature
Note: Affiliate links used