Sarah Bessey Favourite Books 2015

Rather than wait and do my usual “Favourite Books” post at the end of December, I decided to do it now so that you can mine the list for gifts! (If you’re still gift hunting, I put together an ethical gift guide that empowers women, so check that out, too.)

Does anyone else ever go into a bookstore and feel overcome with sadness because there are simply too many good books and so little time to be alive? I have to believe in libraries in heaven because that’s how I’ll spend my first millenia.

I didn’t get to read as much this year as usual what with, well, life. But what I did read, I mostly enjoyed sincerely. (I love to read novels, spiritual memoirs, and theology books mostly so the list is skewed in that direction.)

As usual, these books weren’t necessarily published in 2015, rather, I read them in 2015.

Here are my favourites:

Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation by Walter Brueggemann :: The Bruegge (nobody tell him that I secretly call him that, m’kay?) is my consistent favourite. Ever since my dear friend Kelley Nikondeha introduced me to his work several years ago, I’ve been on a steady task of reading his body of work and it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. This year, I read this deceptively slim volume for preachers/proclaimers and let me tell you, if you are a creative or a proclaimer in any way, this is the book I’d hand out over any other books aimed our way this year. The Bruegge Abides, man.

Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner :: Buechner is another perennial favourite of mine but this one somehow escaped my notice for many a year. And I’m so glad I encountered this book. It’s transformative for those of us who feel compelled to share the Gospel particularly through art. This was the book that introduced me to the phrase “obey the sadness” from King Lear and, if you’ve read my own latest book, you’re familiar with it as a chapter title, I’m sure. (Incidentally, out of the entire book, that chapter is my own personal favourite.)

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker :: Jen is one of my dearest friends but that’s beside the point, truly. This book came to me at just the right time. I needed almost every thoughtful and challenging word of it, right down to the sentences when I laughed so hard, I barked out loud.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed :: I just happened to pick this book up this year without ever having read a Dear Sugar column or listened to the podcast. So zero expectations going in and I was absolutely dazzled. This book felt like standing in front of a blinding light. I loved it and I learned so much from it, even from “advice columns” that had nothing to do with me. It’s ferocious and unflinching. (Head’s up for anyone who finds a bit of adult language offensive – this one is salty.)

Coming Clean by Seth Haines :: Coming Clean is not simply a book for alcoholics; it’s a book for anyone who has dealt with pain and been left scrabbling after God when their coping mechanisms fail or easy answers run out. This book is a mirror, held up for all of us to behold our addictions and the ways we’re all still recovering. Raw, sobering, miraculously ordinary, hopeful, beautiful, and yet terrifying. Seth is an honest writer, and there is no higher praise.

Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home by Amber C. Haines :: I want people to read this anointed book for dozens of reasons: Amber‘s voice, her writing, is incomparable to anything you’ve read before. But even beyond that gift, she writes about desire, our longing for home, with a deeply orthodox and yet mystical and sensual soul. This book made me feel homesick and at-home all at the same time. Only Amber could so beautifully and rightly write into the parts of our human experience that usually defy words.

The Givenness of Things: Essays by Marilynne Robinson :: This is the first non-fiction book of Marilynne Robinson’s that I’ve read and it’s beautiful, eloquent, smart, and I pretty much underlined the entire book. Every time I read an essay, I returned to the world feeling like everything – including me – was stronger and brighter and wiser.

Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with your Favourite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg :: Mallory is a humour writer and this book is probably the funniest I read this year. I love a good irreverent life-humour book – like Amy Poehler’s Yes Please or Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy – but for some reason, this one just became my favourite of the year. It’s so sly and wicked and filled with inside jokes for us English Lit nerds. I nearly pounded my knees over Cathy and Heathlcliffe’s text messages to each other.

The Lake House by Kate Morton :: I adore a big gorgeous gothic mystery novel set in England. Kate Morton never disappoints. After a long wait, she finally released a new novel and I pretty much devoured it in a weekend. This book is perfect for a cozy winter night’s reading – but be warned, you might stay up later than you expected.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr :: It took me a while to get into this one. Everyone swore it was worth it and they were right. At about a quarter of the way through, I nearly abandoned it but then the light turned on and I couldn’t put it down. A marvellous novel, I loved it.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman :: Neil Gaiman re-released one of his quintessential novels this year and I picked it up at the library. Well, I could not put it down. It’s weird, scary, and absolutely fascinating.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie :: What is there left to say about this brilliant book? It’s won every single award for good reason. I loved the characters in this book so much that I missed them when it ended. Plus it’s gob-smackingly insightful. It’s sad, complex, funny, wise, and witty. It made me love people more.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison :: This is one that surprised me. I was given it as a Christmas gift and when I read the back, I wasn’t that interested to be honest. I let it sit on my side table for nearly half the year, reading everything else first. But one night, I picked it up and 24 hours later it was finished. Just a good novel to read – funny and interesting.

A few more I loved:

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica N. Turner

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World by Carolyn Custis James

Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood by Nate Pyle

Shameless Self-Promotion Time

Check out my own two books for your Christmas lists:

Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith and/or Jesus Feminist

If you want to talk more about books:

My 10 Favourite Books of 2014

10 books that changed my faith

10 books that influence my parenting

10 books by Canadians I wish the world would read

10 books for tinies and 10 books for older tinies (ages 4-7)

10 books I read over and over (and over)

10 spiritual memoirs

My daily books + 10 books of poetry


Your turn: What were your favourite books of 2015?

aff links

Peace :: Second Sunday of Advent
Joy :: Third Sunday of Advent
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  • LOVED Amber Haines’ book. I wasn’t sure I would at first, because her writing really is SO poetic and lyrical (and sometimes that doesn’t transfer well into prose), but it just seems like each successive page was more engrossing and beautiful and painful than the last. Definitely highly rec’d from me!

  • Kristin Lee Williams

    I loved A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara. One of the most difficult books (in terms of traumatic content) I’ve ever read but definitely worth it. I also really enjoyed Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, Stoner by John Williams, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein, Embracing the Body by Tara Owens and El Deafo by Cece Bell. But so, so many good books. I could probably name 100 more that I loved this year!

  • Added a few to my want-to-read list! Thanks for the suggestions!

  • Beth

    I was just thinking about this this morning. My favorite books of the year were Live Love Lead by Brian Houston, Grace Revolution by Joseph Prince and Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey. 🙂

  • I adored Tiny Beautiful Things–“This book felt like standing in front of a blinding light” is such a wonderful description of what reading this book feels like.

  • Patty

    I also Loved Rachel Held Evans book too…as a Catholic who has grown up with the understanding of a sacramental system, I really appreciated her unique reflection and thoughts. I do want to read Nadia and Amber’s books too!!

    Love these type of post’s…its now inspired me to write something similar on my blog! Thanks, Sarah 🙂

  • Trish Finley

    I really loved Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane this year. It made me feel like I was little again, running in the woods around our 100 year old farmhouse. Sometimes as a wildly imaginative kid I was unable to differentiate between my fantasies and reality (especially with monsters) and this novel took me back to that place. (To be honest I don’t think we ever leave that completely behind. The popularity of fairy tales and Neil Gaiman are proof of that.)

    Yours and Nadia’s new books are both currently being passed around to my coworkers at Starbucks to feed hungry souls. 🙂

  • Kelly Frazee

    Bandersnatch by Erika Morrison! I’m not finished with it though so this may be a little premature but, so far so good!

  • Lonna Hill

    Thanks for the list. My favorite reads this year for non-fiction were China in Ten Words by Yu Hua and God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China. Both of these were really interesting as I was trying to learn more about China before moving here. Also for non-fiction I liked Steve Sheinkin’s The Notorious Benedict Arnold and Bomb. He’s now at the top of my list for favorite authors. His books are marketed for YA, but are really great for adults to read, too.

    My favorite adult fiction book is And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. My favorite YA fiction books are Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan, and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

  • I’ll will enjoy referring to tis awesome list.. love all Buechner — heave you read Godric? Just great! Walter’s book will be on my list. Love the Prophetic Imagination.! Thanks so much for your intelligent choices! Blessings with your new baby!

  • Tasha R

    I love this list! The best book I read this year was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson followed closely by Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle. My favorite fiction reads were A Man Called Ove and What Alice Forgot. Please keep posting the book lists! Love them!

  • “Does anyone else ever go into a bookstore and feel overcome with
    sadness because there are simply too many good books and so little time
    to be alive?” <—- YES!

  • I JUST finished The Lake House last night! I enjoyed it too, although not as much as some of her older ones. I also loved For the Love and All the Light We Cannot See. Wild in the Hollow is on my list. 🙂

  • Melissa Madigan

    OK Sarah, so while glimpsing over your list on your other post on “daily books” and poetry, I am now intrigued to know what this Irish poetry book of yours is?? My hubs is Irish, and we are travelling to Ireland for our 5 yr anniversary next year…perhaps I will be inspired to recite one for him?-Melissa M.

  • I was scouring your site to make sure you mentioned Searching for Sunday! So good! 🙂

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  • sandjsmith

    …..and Bandersnatch!!!!!!!

  • “Presence and Encounter” by David Brenner with an intro by Richard Rohr. I had to read this one twice, it was so good. I am pretty sure i highlighted so much of it that it glows in the dark.

  • I loved The Givenness of Things! Such a good book. The Fear essay in particular, I thought, was a helpful commentary on our times. And a much needed exhortation. I read All the Light a while ago, while I was living in Chile. There is one line at the very end that still moves me to tears. And I thought there was tender bittersweet truth to be had in that book.

    Marilyn Robinson’s last book of essays was really good, too. You might enjoy it. Do you ever read Mary Oliver’s poetry? Her latest books of poems is wonderful. It’s called Felicity. Oh goodness. It’s good.