It’s a new year and a new decade, so it must be time for resolutions and lists, including a look back at the last 10 years. For some time, I’ve been keeping a running list of all the books I read, along with a few thoughts about each book.
In the spirit of new year lists, I’d like to share an eclectic group of books I read during the last decade. Common issues of faith, community, friendship, and motherhood abound. If they’re not among your favorites already, perhaps you’ll find some options for this new year. Be ready to text your book club members! And while you’re at it, suggest a book in a comment below.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. This can be described as an extended devotion on motherhood (there’s a very conventional cookie-cutter mother, a free-spirited mother, an immigrant mother who gives up her child, a childless woman who wants to adopt, and a teen who unexpectedly becomes pregnant). It can also be described as an extended devotion on community. It is a well written and compelling tale of lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio, that intertwine.
The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg. This is a fascinating but disturbing non-fiction book about girls raised as boys in Afghanistan where a girl pretending to be a boy is better than having no boys in a family.
Hidden Inheritance: Family Secrets, Memory, and Faith by Heidi Neumark. This is a phenomenal memoir in which ELCA pastor, Heidi Neumark, learns that her family has a hidden Jewish heritage. She links all that this discovery means to her current ministry setting and her own Christian faith. It’s extraordinary!
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. Here Evans explored leaving the church of her youth, leaving church behind and then being caught up again in the Episcopal tradition. For me, it’s the best writing Evans, who died tragically in 2019, had done. Those who are new to the faith or questioning long-held beliefs will be right at home.
Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Tale by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. It’s a wonderful story told in alternating chapters, by mother and daughter. The writers explore the changes in their lives–mother, as she goes through menopause and finds a new life despite the death of her child-bearing years, and daughter, as she graduates from college, seeks a career, and marries.
The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson. I picked up this book purely because of its title. I’ve heard the author on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” often, and her bio there includes this book. A quirky memoir of a quirky life, this book falls somewhere between the pompousness of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and the soulful depth of Nora Gallagher’s Practicing Resurrection. With shared cultural references, I felt like I had grown up with Dickinson.
Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott. In her eccentric self-deprecating way, Lamott explores the three types of prayers she most often offers up: help, thanks, wow! Even though this is written in a lighter tone, the slim volume offers solid observations about prayer as conversation with God.
Unfinished Desires by Gail Godwin. Here Godwin explores women’s friendships in all their various incarnations–intergenerational, sisterly, and those among girls and later as they age. The book is set in the mountains of North Carolina in a Catholic girls’ school. Old feuds and grudges span generations as daughters and nieces attend the school from which their mothers and aunts graduated. Issues of faith and class are explored as well. Chapters move back and forth between the near present, the 1950s, and even earlier to the founding of the school in the early 1900s. That literary device was distracting to me, and I found Unfinished Desires not as compelling as some of Godwin’s other works (Evensong and A Mother and Two Daughters are among my favorites), even though I enjoyed reading it.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. This is an engaging memoir that’s both irreverent and poignant. The author returns to her Mennonite parents’ home after two life shocks: her husband of 15 years leaves her for a man, and she’s in an auto accident. Having left the church behind years before, but not having abandoned God and the good cooking of the Mennonites, the author explores what has made her who she is today, a witty college professor with a Ph.D. I also recommend Janzen’s second memoir, Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? where Janzen’s faith is reignited in a most unlikely spot, she meets and marries a most unlikely guy and she deals with breast cancer.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA and an enthusiastic reader. If you purchase any of these books from Amazon, please consider giving with AmazonSmile to support Women of the ELCA.