Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Top 30 Books of 2009

In honor of my upcoming 30th birthday, it's time once again to unveil my top picks of the past year. I read 80 books in 2009: fiction and nonfiction, hard-hitting and fluff, life-changing and mere distraction. Here are my favorite reads of the past year, presented in order read. There were a lot of great contenders but I tried to pick the ones that still stand out in my mind. What were your favorite books from 2009? Maybe they'll be featured next year!

1. Marley and Me- John Grogan (1/12/09)
After barely surviving Old Yeller, I never thought another dog story would make me cry. Grogan's tale of how Marley came in to his life stole my heart in the process. I haven't seen the movie...I know it won't live up to the book even if it does star Owen Wilson.

2. Crazy Love- Francis Chan (1/23/09)
What can I say about this book? To say that it was "challenging" is inadequate. It kicked my butt and then some. In many ways I have been pondering the message of this book ever since I read it. Chan wrote that I should consider an area of my life where I was living out in faith, where if God didn't show up, I'd be in big trouble. I was shocked to realize that I couldn't come up with anything. Yes, I rely on God for strength to do my best at work but I also know that I have some talents and skills that help too. Since then, I've been considering a leap of faith, which is now in the works. Stay tuned...

3-9. Outlander Series- Diana Gabaldon: Outlander (1/29/09), Dragonfly in Amber (2/9/09), Voyager (3/13/09), Drums of Autumn (4/2/09), The Fiery Cross (5/27/09), A Breath of Snow and Ashes (6/30/09), An Echo in the Bones (11/12/09)
Annie lent me the first book in this series for my birthday. The tale of time-traveling World War II era Claire and 1740s Scot Jamie is obsession-worthy. The books are very saucy at times and Gabaldon does not spare her reader from the blood and guts associated with battle wounds and disease. She does an impressive amount of research for each book (generally 600-900 pages long apiece); Gabaldon takes us from the Scottish Uprising of 1745 through Revolutionary War America. After book 3 I started pacing myself because I wasn't ready for the series to be over. I was so excited that the 7th book was released in the fall but now have to wait another couple of years before Jamie and Claire's story will continue.

10. The Singular Pilgrim- Rosemary Mahoney (2/1/09)
Mahoney's quest is both travel narrative and exploration of faith. She decides she must come to terms with her Catholic heritage and figure out what she believes. She travels to some of the world’s great pilgrimage sites: Ireland’s Croagh Patrick, Lourdes, Santiago de Compostela, Canterbury, and the banks of the Ganges. I was intrigued by her response to the sites. There are no great revelations in the end but I am inspired to consider a pilgrimage for my next vacation destination.

11. Bringing Home the Birkin- Michael Tonello (2/12/09)
As I will never be able to afford Hermes myself, I enjoyed living vicariously through Tonello's exploits. He stumbles into a career of buying Hermes scarves on commission for wealthy clients and, eventually, the Holy Grail of fashionistas everywhere: the coveted Birkin bag. It was an enjoyable treat to learn how Tonello bypassed the Wait List.

12. Generation Kill- Evan Wright (2/14/09)
Rolling Stones journalist Wright chronicled his experience as an embedded reporter with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion‎ of the United States Marine Corps during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It's a revealing behind-the-scenes look at the war while introducing us to the men fighting on our behalf. We are able to see the problems the men face, such as distinguishing civilians from the enemy, but also their strengths and camaraderie. The book has since been turned in to a series for HBO.

13. God's Politics- Jim Wallis (3/9/09)
The message behind this book was my saving grace during the 2004 election: "God is not a Republican...or a Democrat." While there's much more dialog on the relationship between faith and politics now, I haven't forgotten the people who told me I was not a real Christian unless I voted for George W. Bush. It was refreshing to find other Christians with a similar point of view. Wallis explores the Christian response on a range of issues, catering to neither side of the political spectrum. It's challenging and thought-provoking, whether you agree with him or not. I was able to hear Wallis speak a couple of years ago, which was motivation enough to finally read the book that inspired it all.

14. The Sister- Poppy Adams (4/26/09)
This was a strange and haunting tale of the reunion of two estranged sisters after 50 years that I could not get out of my head. The ending left me in want of someone to discuss it with!

15. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle- Barbara Kingsolver (4/30/09)
Kingsolver and her family document a year of deliberately eating food that was produced where they lived. The book is chock full of information on processed food, farmer's markets, and more, as well as delicious recipes. I haven't taken a similar plunge but it definitely made me reassess where my food comes from.

16. Lord, Change My Attitude (Before It's Too Late)- James MacDonald (5/4/09)
I can't say I'm a fan of MacDonald's writing style but God definitely used this book to impact me. I am resolved to put off a complaining attitude and put on a thankful attitude, among others.

17. The Year of Magical Thinking- Joan Didion (5/8/09)
A powerful account of the author's grief after her husband John's sudden death from a heart attack. While this happened, their daughter Quintana was on life support. Didion gives us an unflinching look at grief and the things we tell ourselves during times of loss, the so-called "magical thinking."

18. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle- David Wroblewski (7/26/09)
A brief background: Edgar was born mute. His parents raise and train a fictional breed of dog that is quite remarkable and known for their companionship. When Edgar's father dies suddenly, his uncle Claude insinuates himself into the farm and their lives. Think Hamlet. I won't go on any further with a synopsis so as not to spoil the novel except to say I was fascinated from start to finish. There are beautifully written insights on grief that will resonate with anyone who has mourned or works with those who mourn.

19. Traveling Mercies- Anne Lamott (8/2/09)
Lamott is raw, her testimony unrefined, and yet she is real, she is dynamic, and she is honest about her issues. This is a beautiful exploration of faith.

20. Love Walked In- Marisa de los Santos (8/6/09)
I found this to be such a lovely story, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and humorous all at once.

21. Revelations of a Single Woman- Connally Gilliam (8/31/09)
Without a doubt, the most honest book I've read exploring singleness. Gilliam's book is easy to relate to and she addresses subject matter that is typically taboo in Christian circles. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is single and wants to be engaged in their faith in this season of life.

22. The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry- Kathleen Flinn (9/7/09)
After learning she's been fired, Flinn decides to move to Paris and pursue her dream of a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu. Funny yet informative, Flinn includes many great recipes along the way.

23. My Jesus Year- Benyamin Cohen (11/5/09)
The son of a rabbi attends various Christian churches for a year. "Cohen sees the best and the worst of Christianity -- from megachurches to storefront churches; from crass commercialization of religion to the simple, moving faith of the humble believer; from the profound to the profane to the just plain laughable. Throughout, he keeps an open heart and mind, a good sense of humor, and takes what he learns from Christianity to reflect on his own faith and relationship to God." You'll laugh, you'll cringe, you'll ponder.

24. The Rose Labrynth- Titania Hardie (11/10/09)
This is an intriguing mystery/thriller that draws comparisons with The DaVinci Code. But it's so much more! Modern-day descendants of Dr. John Dee inherit documents that lead them on a winding trail, trying to find Dee's ancient discoveries during Shakespeare's era. Racing behind them is a Christian Zionist/Theocratic group that believes Dee's secrets will allow them to unleash "the Rapture" and leave everyone else behind to deal with Armageddon. Lots of research went in to crafting the story and readers are given extra clues to solve the puzzle. Here's some of the puzzle I put together to start you off.

25. Welcoming the Stranger- Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang (11/15/09)
This was a book club read. I'd never looked in depth at the issue of immigration before, much less discerned what a biblical response might be. I feel much more informed now. The book has a great many insights and the authors are skillful in examining all sides of the controversial matter. My friend David posted a 2 part interview with Jenny Hwang on his blog, here and here.

26. Forgotten God- Francis Chan (11/24/09)
After Crazy Love, I thought I was prepared for what Chan would dish out with Forgotten God. A fresh examination of the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives- or the lack thereof. But just like before, I was challenged all over again. He writes; "I don't want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn't be doing this by my own power...God wants the praise for what we do in our lives. But if we never pray audacious, courageous prayers, how can He answer them? If we never follow Him to positions where we need Him, how can He show up and makes His presence known?"

27. Firefly Lane- Kristin Hannah (12/20/09)
A story of friendship spanning 3 decades. "Tully and Kate buoy each other through life, weathering the storms of friendship---jealousy, anger, hurt, resentment. They think they’ve survived it all until a single act of betrayal tears them apart…and puts their courage and friendship to the ultimate test." Kristin Hannah never disappoints.

28. While My Sister Sleeps- Barbara Delinsky (12/26/09)
You can read the full review here. Here's a snapshot: Molly Snow has always lived in the shadow of her older sister, Robin, who is a determined runner bound for Olympic greatness. Tragedy strikes when Robin is found unconscious on the roadside by another runner. It is determined that 32 year old Robin had a massive heart attack and is now brain dead. Secrets are revealed and bonds are tested as the family grapples with difficult decisions and faces letting go.

29. Paperdoll- Natalie Lloyd (12/30/09)
The premise of the book is "what happens when an ordinary girl meets an extraordinary God." Lloyd unpacks the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, how she must have felt as she walked to get water, unaware she had a divine appointment waiting for her. It's inspired a lot of pondering on my part.

30. SuperFreakonomics- Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (12/31/09)
I was excited to learn that Freakonomics authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner released a follow-up: SuperFreakonomics. The section on chemotherapy in chapter 2 "Why should suicide bombers buy life insurance?" led me to write this review.


  1. Impressive! If you liked #23, I recommend "Rapture Ready," a funny, sympathetic exploration of evangelical Christian pop culture from "outside."

  2. Holy smoke Leigh!!! I can't believe you do all this. It's awesome and I will probably read a couple of these. Peace


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