Please note: I have intentionally decided not to include Amazon links (unless something is available exclusively on Amazon). Instead, if you are interested in reading any of the books I mention, I encourage you to check out your local library or independent bookstore. These places (and the communities around them) need your support, and they are generally quite willing to order any book if they don’t currently have it in stock. However, if Amazon is still the more practical choice for you, it is easy enough to search and find any of the titles that I mention.
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
It’s rare that I check out new Fiction authors, but I kept hearing about this novel and it was referred to as a grown-up version of the Pixar movie Up (which is one of my favorites). Naturally, I had to give it a chance, and it won me over almost immediately. Backman has a very distinct voice and style and it was very refreshing to read. I loved the way that he teased out the backstory throughout the whole book, and he had an engaging and diverse cast of characters. He does a great job with the main love story of Ove and his wife, showing how these complete opposites genuinely were attracted to each other in a very believable way. In such a dynamic, it might be easy to see how quiet and dour Ove would be attracted to the bright and lively Sonja, but Backman shows why Sonja also loved him back, how she felt cherished and valued by him. I am definitely planning to check out Backman’s other books.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
I just love Dave Eggers so much. The hyperbolic style of this memoir could so easily come across as obnoxious and self-important, as demonstrated by the title, but Eggers intentionally goes so over-the-top that it’s clear that he doesn’t actually take himself that seriously. This book is also one of the greatest examples of an Unreliable Narrator, because Eggers never even pretends to offer an objective view on any of his experiences. Occasionally he even admits that something was only his perception of an event and that the reality could have been wholly different. What I also really love about this book is his relationship with his younger brother, Toph. The dedication and sense of responsibility he shows in raising his brother after their parents died is so important and shows real love in action. His descriptions of his parents’ illnesses and the grief after their deaths were far too relatable at times, but that also made it somewhat of a cathartic read for me personally.
Theology of Home: Finding Eternal in the Everyday, by Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber
A beautiful and inspiring read, this book embodies many of the attributes that I used to seek in things like Instagram and Pinterest, especially with the gorgeous photography featured. It shows the importance and sacredness of having a well-ordered and Christ-centered home and how that affects the family. I love this book for showing how essential the domestic life truly is; the importance of feeling secure and safe, welcomed, and nourished. The material world has great bearing on our mental states and we do ourselves and our families a disservice when we neglect our home environment.
The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri J.M. Nouwen
Honestly, I probably would not have finished this one if I hadn’t been reading it for a book club. It is not a bad book, but it didn’t really speak to me personally. The story of the Prodigal Son is not one that I particularly relate to, and I also had a hard time connecting to Nouwen’s writing. His personality and style are not ones that I could identify with, and that can be a serious stumbling block when reading any kind of memoir. I do like the concept of this book, though: the combination of reflections on the parable, Rembrandt’s painting, and Nouwen’s own experiences. It has definitely inspired me to look closer at different types of art as tools for meditation.
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, by Matthew B. Crawford
This book makes such an important case for the value of physical work; the value not just for society, which needs the work to be done in order to function properly, but also the value for the individuals actually doing the work. Our current culture has lost touch with so much, and the hyper focus on academia is an important example. We have become so obsessed with the credentials and check marks of “education” that we have stopped paying attention to whether people actually know how to think and apply their knowledge. Kids learn how to take tests but not how to think logically on any given situation. We have also forgotten that all of this institutional education is a fairly recent model in history and is not the only way to proceed in life. Crawford does an excellent job in applying his own experience as both a working mechanic and as an educated philosopher to show the cultural, psychological, and even financial advantages in doing physical labor and work.