Black Women, Britt-Marie, and Gentle and Lowly: 10 Remarkable Reads in 2021

This morning I flipped through my reading journal to review what I read for the year and to pick out my favorite reads. Among the forty books I read this year, ten made a significant impact on me. Here they are in no particular order:

Becoming by Michelle Obama.

I feel like I have a good overview of American history since I’ve been reading biographies of the First Ladies of the United States. But over the past few years, I’ve realized that my view of American history is narrow and I’d like to read more perspectives to get a broader picture of American history. Three of my favorite reads this year were by Black women including Michelle Obama’s book Becoming. In Becoming, she talks about her life from birth to the present. It was interesting to learn about her middle class upbringing and how white flight effected her neighborhood. Once she became a lawyer, married Barak, and had kids, I was less able to identify with her since she was no longer middle-class. For example, when faced with the problem of needing healthy meals at home, she did the only logical thing–she hired a personal chef to cook meals in her home. I’m thankful she was able to do that for her family, but from then on out in the book I felt less like I was able to identify with her. When I think about it, it’s really no different than the other First Ladies I read about who had others do their cooking. I am glad I read the book and heard her perspective on life in America and her personal story. I look forward to reading more about her in the future when we have more time to see what lasting impact she made on America.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

If you’ve watched the movie, you’ve only heard a very little bit about these amazing women’s lives. Each one of these ladies who helped with the space program had different challenges, but all had amazing talent, skill, and fortitude. It was also interesting to hear about the Black culture in Hampton, VA. I listened to this as an audiobook, but there were so many women to keep track of that I would have enjoyed the book even more if I would have read a hardback copy.

My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. by Coretta Scott King

I’ve been hanging onto this book to read the same year as I read a biography of Jackie Kennedy to get two perspectives on America during the Civil Rights Movement. This book was written right after MLK, Jr was killed. Coretta Scott King tells about her own family history including her hard-working father who created several businesses in town and didn’t stop pressing on even after some people in the town burned down his home that he built (no one was ever prosecuted for this crime). Some of the people in town didn’t want to see a Black man succeed. The injustice that Black people in America have faced is overwhelming, but I want to read all about it and hear their voice. I’m thankful they are telling their stories in hopes that the injustices will end. I will continue to read more from different perspectives in America. More from Black voices, but also from Latino voices, too. I’d also like to read about the French in Louisiana. I read a small bit when I read Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts, but I’d like to read more. Also, I’ve never read a whole book about any Asian immigrants. And hopefully some of the current Afghan refugees will write their story as well.

Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie was a character I could identify with. She was wondering what her next step was in life. She just left her husband and was looking for a job without ever really having one before. She becomes the caretaker of a community center in a small town and has to get over her hatred of soccer. This was the first Bachman book I have read, but I’d love to read more. His characters are just right. Not too perfect; not overly simple. He gives just the right detail needed to paint the scene in your mind without bogging you down with what color the wallpaper is. And his characters grow and change just enough to be believable.

Christy by Catherine Marshall

I watched the mini-series when I was in middle school. I listened to this book which was read by Kelly Martin. The book was longer than I usually listen (19 hours!) but it was worth every minute. I love how she makes mistakes in her naivety (I can identify with that) and she grows through questioning her faith and putting what she knows into practice. It was interesting to learn more about Quakers through the character of Miss Alice. I just wish there was a more satisfying ending. It was a little abrupt after a long build up.

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund

Everyone was talking about this devotional this year. Rightfully so. This book taught me so much about the unconditional love of God. It changed the way I teach kids in that I no longer feel like I need to tamper every mention of God’s love with mention of our sin. I can just freely and simply tell them about God’s love for them and let them bask in it. Love is the natural outpouring of God’s heart. It is his natural work.

Making Friends with the Bible by Elouise Renich Fraser and Louis Kilgore

I picked this book up at a book sale a couple years ago and the cheesy cover prevented me from picking it up before now. Wow! I was missing out! It’s not just another hermeneutics book. It outlines a process for reading the Bible and journaling so you can get the most out of reading the Bible and how it can connect with your life. There’s an involved process which I’d like to dig into more, but the most helpful part was the idea of journaling before you start to read the Bible. That way you can empty your head so you can concentrate and also so you can identify and name how you are feeling and what you are excited for or anxious about in life as you come to the Scriptures. After reading, you see if anything in your reading connects with or meets the needs you stated earlier. There’s a lot more to the book then this, but this practice was super helpful.

The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended by Sheila Gregoire

In this book, Sheila identifies the common misguided messages from Christian resources about men and women and corrects them through Scripture, science, and her survey of 20,000 women (I was one of them). One of the messages she corrects is the idea that lust is “every man’s battle”; that’s just the way it is so women need to cover up and watch what they do. The truth is not every man is addicted to porn and many who have were able to overcome through the self-control provided through the Holy Spirit. It is inappropriate to just say “well, men are visual so that’s the way it is.” On a positive note, The Great Sex Rescue reminds readers that sex in marriage is designed to be mutually pleasurable for both the husband and the wife; it’s not just the husband’s need that a wife fulfills.

The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr

This book made quite a splash this year in the ongoing discussion of women in the church. This book is superbly written. The author weaves her own story as a youth pastor’s wife and medieval history professor who raised questions about what a woman could and could not do in church. She saw a disconnect between what she saw in Scripture, in church history, and in the practice of her church. I did not agree with all her views she suggests in the book, but it was absolutely worth the read for her insights into church history. It was particularly eye-opening to consider how the home became a sanctifying place for women during the Reformation once Protestant women no longer had opportunities to serve the Lord full-time in church (i.e. no more convents).

How to Talk So Teens will Listen and Listen so Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

This book was a quick read complete with cartoons illustrating how the suggestions in the book could play out with your teens. Some of the suggestions didn’t work for me, but one did. Most of the time when I have a suggestion for my teens, I say “you should do this” or “why don’t you just do this?” Instead, the authors say to replace it with “I wonder what would happen if you did…?” This works!! Instead of the teens shutting me down with a NO or rolling their eyes at me, they usually think through my “wondering” and give reason why my suggestion may or may not work. It was worth reading the book for this one idea.

Those are my 10 remarkable reads for this year. Below I have a list of the other books I read or listened to this year. I’d love to know what you read this year. Anything remarkable? Comment below!

  • Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
  • The Outstanding Life of an Awkward Theatre Kid by Ted Kluck
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  • In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
  • Seasons of Love and Loss by Jenna Bush Hager
  • The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare
  • Mamie Doud Eisenhower: the General’s First Lady by Marlyn Irvin Holt
  • The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
  • What Means These Stones by BFC Historical Committee
  • The Bible Fellowship Church by Harold SHelly
  • Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
  • Jackie Kennedy: The Untold Story by Barbara Leaning
  • Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Earth Keepers: Reflections on the American Land by N. Scott Momaday
  • Hanging Up by Delia Ephron
  • Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobe DuMez
  • Once Upon an Island: The History of Chincoteague by Kirk Mariner
  • An Actor’s Life by Jenna Fischer
  • On the Road by Jack Karouac
  • Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
  • Health, Healing, and Wholeness: Devotions of Hope in the Midst of Illness by Tracy Crump
  • Beyond Chittering Cottage: Poems of Place by Rachel Speer Donahue
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen
  • Jump Off the Hormone Swing by Lorraine Pintus
  • The Penderwicks by Jean Birdsall
  • The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker
  • The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James
  • Emily of Deep Valley by Maude Hart Lovelace
  • How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price
  • The Art of Life by Edith Schaeffer

Note: Some of the links above are Amazon affiliate links.

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