Since January is coming to a close, I thought it about time I share a list of my favorite books I read last year, as well as a complete list of all the titles I made it through in 2017 (coming next). Some will surely find this a snooze fest, but hopefully others will enjoy. I really tried to focus on reading mostly nonfiction last year, so the number of titles read isn’t as extensive as it usually is, but let me tell you how difficult it is for the brain to adjust from years of reading fluff to then reading intense and complex texts. And to jump in to some of the stuff I did last year, what hubris!?! I mean, The Confessions? The audacity, the cockiness, the chutzpah! But nevertheless I’m glad I challenged and stretched myself as often as I did, and learned so much. I’ve changed my strategy for 2018 though, and hope to get through 3 titles a month. We’ll see how it goes.

A quick note before I continue though. I’ve been asked several times how I find the time and make the time to read, along with everything else, especially when I’m reading things that take a bit more concentration than usual. First, I am intentional with working it into my schedule every day. Sometimes the schedule gets messed up and I don’t read at all, but overall, my day goes something like this:

Wake at 6 am, get out of bed and start with the daily Bible reading by 6:20. That takes about 20 minutes, leaving about 10-15 more minutes to start reading another book before the kids have to get up for the day and get ready for school. I do my best to stick to this schedule every day, even on the weekends. Since my kids don’t get up till 8 on the weekends, I get in about 1.5 hours of reading before we start the day.

I’ve almost completely eliminated watching TV at all. At night, I instead get into bed and read for 30-45 minutes before going to sleep. In fact the only shows we watched last year was Game Of Thrones and Stranger Things. I’ve watched a couple other things off and on including the Crown and House Of Cards (haven’t finished either), but other than that, I’ve vastly reduced the amount of TV I watched, and I don’t really miss it at all.

Halfway through 2017, I deactivated my Facebook account, which has saved a heck of a lot of time, but I still struggle with Twitter. I am on it too much and hope to kick that habit next. I use Instagram daily, but have never had much trouble with spending too much time on there.

When I’m driving, walking, folding laundry, I am always listening to something, either a book or a podcast. I do still listen to music ;), but usually only when the kids are in the car and I can’t concentrate on a book anyhow, and when I’m cooking or doing some other noisy activity that doesn’t allow me to totally zone in.

Even still with all these “sacrifices”, I only got though just over 20 titles; less than 2 books a month. Proving that with how busy our lives are, you really have to make reading a top priority and be disciplined to see any real progress; especially if you want to read titles with some meat and depth. So with all that being said, let’s get started. I’ll begin with my top 5 favorite reads of the year.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis: I read this with a couples book club from church that I invited myself into, and am so thankful I did. Lewis is probably best known for his children book series, The Chronicles Of Narnia, but he actually wrote an extensive list of adult fiction and nonfiction works, making him a literary giant in both the secular and Christian world. “Mere Christianity explores the common ground upon which all of those of Christian faith stand together. Bringing together Lewis’ legendary broadcast talks during World War Two from his three previous books The Case for ChristianityChristian Behavior, and Beyond PersonalityMere Christianity provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear this powerful apologetic for the Christian faith.”

Lewis has a way of making so many topics seem practical and relevant to your life, and his style of writing is both deep and approachable at the same time. My copy is riddled with notes and highlights, but the one passage on theology had such a profound effect on my thinking and really helped to encourage me in my daily Bible readings and theological studies: “If a man has once looked at the Atlantic Ocean from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds of thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together, In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary.

Now, theology is like the map. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But the map is based on the experiences of people who really were in touch with God – experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. This is why just a vague religion – all about feeling God in nature, and so on, is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; you will never get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Theology is practical.”

Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea by Barbara Demick: I flew through this book when we read it for my other book club, and months later it still haunts me, especially since North Korea is in the news on an almost daily basis. “In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il (the father of Kim Jong-un), and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population.

Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. She takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them.”

The Strange Death Of Europe: Immigration, Identity & Islam by Douglas Murray: This book both saddened and angered me on almost every page turn, but most importantly it taught me a great deal about what is going on in Europe, and is often unreported or swept aside by many news channels. ”

This is not just an analysis of demographic and political realities, it is also an eyewitness account of a continent in self-destruct mode. It includes accounts based on travels across the entire continent, from the places where migrants land to the places they end up, from the people who pretend they want them to the places which cannot accept them.

Murray takes a step back at each stage and looks at the bigger and deeper issues which lie behind a continent’s possible demise, from an atmosphere of mass terror attacks to the steady erosion of our freedoms. The book addresses the disappointing failure of multiculturalism, Angela Merkel’s U-turn on migration, the lack of repatriation, and the Western fixation on guilt. Murray travels to Berlin, Paris, Scandinavia, Lampedusa, and Greece to uncover the malaise at the very heart of the European culture, and to hear the stories of those who have arrived in Europe from far away.”

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Soon after the election of Trump last year, 1984 reemerged as a best seller. But while many reacquainted themselves with Orwell, others claimed Brave New World was really the classic piece of fiction we should be focusing on. Having never read it, I decided to grab it on Audible and it indeed seems eerily relevant to our advancing society as a whole. I mean, 2017 saw the development of breeding pigs outside the womb for goodness sake; nope, not creepy at at all. “Aldous Huxley’s profoundly important classic of world literature, Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order–all at the cost of our freedom, full humanity, and perhaps also our souls.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi: This book touched me so deeply and had a huge impact on me. Nabeel’s journey in leaving Islam for Christianity is both moving and heartbreaking and his book is filled with insights and factual based context for both the sect of Islam in which he was raised, and Christianity. I learned a great deal, but most of all I was touched by his story. I listened to the audible version and completed in a single weekend, and shortly after I finished it, Nabeel passed away of cancer. An extremely powerful apologetic for the Christian faith, before he left this Earth he helped evangelize and bring many people to Jesus. ”

Providing an intimate window into a loving Muslim home, Qureshi shares how he developed a passion for Islam before discovering, almost against his will, evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God. Unable to deny the arguments but not wanting to deny his family, Qureshi struggled with an inner turmoil that will challenge Christians, Muslims, and all those who are interested in the world’s greatest religions.

Engaging and thought-provoking, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells a powerful story of the clash between Islam and Christianity in one man’s heart—and of the peace he eventually found in Jesus.”

I also wanted to give an Honorable Mention to another book:

Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World by Cal Newport: I read this with my book club, and while it starts off with a lot of clinical evidence why deep work is valuable, rare and meaningful, the second half provides a lot of practical tips and advice on how to get more deep work completed every day. Some are typical bits of advice we’ve all heard of and read; establish routine, limit distractions, GET OFF SOCIAL MEDIA ;), others were more fresh including advice with how to schedule your day incrementally and in blocks of time, as well as how to handle the overabundance of emails we all get. “In DEEP WORK, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four “rules,” for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.

A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, DEEP WORK takes the reader on a journey through memorable stories — from Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind, to a social media pioneer buying a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a book free from distraction in the air — and no-nonsense advice, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored. DEEP WORK is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.”

Photography by: Miranda Stratford