Top 5 books: Jan-May 2017

Reading is my release. If I’m feeling unmotivated to begin working, or if the day feels daunting and I’m not ready to get into it, I’ll give myself 10-30 minutes of lounging in a sunbeam enraptured with someone else’s productivity and creative work. I like to read as I savour my morning coffee, and to wind down as soon as I get home from work. And on my Sabbath day (where I do nothing that feels like work, and spend the whole day nourishing myself), at least a few hours are always spent under a tree, by the river or in my bed devouring fiction.

For the last 2 years I’ve intentionally only read books by writers of colour, after finding out that almost 90% of New York Times reviewed books are written by white authors, reflecting a publishing industry that hugely favours white authors over people of colour. Two years of purposefully reading different perspectives opened my eyes to so many new life experiences and ways of seeing the world. This year, I’ve loosened the rule and now allow any book that peaks my interest to land on my reading list. I’ve still leaned away from white male authors, but particularly while planning a trip to Israel and reading travel writing and Biblical commentary, widening my net allowed me to read a lot of revelatory things that wouldn’t have made the list otherwise.

Here are my Top 5 books from the last 5 months (January-May 2017):

  1. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant) *****
    A love letter to women. The characters are honest, complex and beautiful – it felt so indulgent to sink into this every morning, and so difficult to put it away. One of my new favourite books.
  2. Walking the Bible (Bruce Feiler) *****
    I stumbled upon this while planning my own walking trip across the Middle East, and it became my roadmap, both geographically and philosophically. Feiler’s understanding of the history and context of each book of the Bible, combined with solid research and insight from locals, gave me a better understanding of the Bible than decades of church and personal study.
  3. The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead) ****
    This is one of those books where characters become like friends you can’t wait to hang out with after work. It follows a young slave as she escapes her plantation and navigates station after station of the underground railway in her journey to freedom. Thorough research is woven together in an edge-of-your-seat narrative that I flew through in just a few days.
  4. The Color Purple (Alice Walker) ****
    I saw this musical on Broadway last year and it rocked my world – I listened to nothing but the soundtrack for months, memorized every song, convinced everyone I knew to listen to it. It never dawned on me that it was based on a book until I stumbled upon this dog eared copy at my favourite used bookstore. The brilliant format is Celie’s love letters to God, and then, when she loses her faith, letters to her sister. Getting to read slowly and in the voice of Cynthia Erivo (who plays Celie in the Broadway show I saw) is the best.
  5. On Writing (Stephen King) ***
    “I hate pop fiction, why would I ever read something by Stephen King?” And yet here it is in the top 5! How my tune has changed.
    The audiobook I listened to is narrated by the author, and the style is so conversational that it’s like you’re having coffee with him. It begins with his early life, writing Carrie in the laundry room of his tiny apartment before he gets a $400,000 advance and explodes as an author. Hearing the journey that brought him to write, combined with some solid drafting tips and the affirmation that you don’t need writing classes or retreats (“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.“), made this a useful guidebook, and his irreverence and honesty made it easy to stay engaged. Definitely recommend to anyone who likes writing (or thinks they hate pop fiction).

Honourary Mention:

The Illegal (Lawrence Hill)
Riveting all the way until the ending, when it is wrapped up in such a neat little bow of happily ever after that I can’t recommend it.

Other books I read in this time:

  • Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order The Books Were Written (Marcus Borg) **
  • The Naked Now (Richard Rohr) **
  • Everything Belongs (Richard Rohr) **
  • Walking the Nile (Levison Wood) *
  • When Spiritual but not Religious is Not Enough (Lilian Daniels) *
  • The Boston Girl (Anita Diamant)
  • Crash Course in Backyard Gardening (clearance rack at the used bookstore)
  • Bible books Exodus, Genesis and Ezekiel (audio versions)
  • Guidebooks for Jordan, Israel and Egypt
  • Journaling as a Spiritual Practice (Helen Cepero)
  • Personal Pilgrimage (Viki Hurst)
  • The Way is Made By Walking (Arther Paul Boers – about walking the Camino de Santiago)
  • The Elements of Style (audiobook)

Got any book recommendations for me? Please comment or send me a message!

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