My Favourite Book of 2011

Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle – If you are a writer or an artist that follows the ways of Jesus, this is your book. I believe I may have underlined almost every page in some way. This has been my Year of Madeline L’Engle. Her words have been with me throughout so much this year. I’ve devoured many of her books, even returning to old faithfuls like Wrinkle in Time. I have adopted her as my patron saint. 

Favourite Memoirs (my one weakness):

The Crosswicks Journals: A quartet of books by – you guessed it – Madeline L’Engle, writing through her life as a mother and an artist. One of my favourite posts this year (In which these are the tired thirties) was inspired by her work here. Although some of them are out of print, they’re easily found used. The books in this series of memoirs are A Circle of Quiet, The Irrational Season, Two Part Invention and (my least favourite of them) The Summer of Great-Grandmother

Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Right Questions by Rachel Held Evans.  Truly a gift to me, this book felt like it mirrored my own story in many ways. Off the page, Rachel has become a friend; she is generous, inquisitive, smart and funny. But even before I liked her, I loved her book. Authentic faith is open to serious questions.

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber: Most conversion memoirs I read have an inspiring story but this one rises above the others because it’s always well-written, intellectual and interesting; I couldn’t put it down until it was done. I tend to dog-ear pages when I like something on the page and underline mercilessly (my books are well-loved, to say the least) and I found myself marking up many of her words, many of the poems that she chose to mark her conversion.   When I closed the book, I found I was impressed by one thing in particular: what a deep role Christians played in her conversion. All too often, we act like Christians are the thing we have to “get over” to get to Jesus. We act like we found Jesus in spite of the Christians.  Instead, the Christians in her tale are wise, loving, deliberate, compassionate, challenging in the best ways, well-read, intentional and intellectual. In a way, it’s as much a love song to the universal church and friends that loved her well, making the path clear for her to the great Love of her life. Her chapters after her initial conversion, following a rhythm of tide in and tide out is honest in the wrestle of her new identity and priorities, particularly as an introvert, an intellectual, a literature-lover. I closed it with an appreciation for the world she’d opened me to, the Christians I’d met and her words to believe wisely.

Favourite Faith and Spirituality Books

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. No doubt this title will be on many “best of 2011” lists but it’s for just cause. I jointed the 1000 Gifts community at Holy Experience a few years ago and, let me be honest, it has deepened my life, my life parenting, my marriage even, because the practice of eucharisteo (thanksgiving) has given me eyes to see the gifts.  Her beautifully written book helped me recapture joy in my life. It’s not so much that I am “more present” as much as it is that I have invited and welcomed His presence into every aspect of my life.

Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. The book that may have been the biggest publishing story of 2011 was, to me, beautiful. I wrote openly this year about our struggles with much evangelical thought on these subjects and the catalyst for those conversations was this very book. It is hopeful, challenging and a conversation-starter. 

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.  During Lent last spring, I picked up this community prayer book. I don’t make a big rule out of it – I’m not much for rules or “should do” in my faith – but almost every day, I read the day’s prayers. Some days, I do all three prayers for the day – morning, midday and evening – but typically, I do only the morning prayers. I love it and it has tremendously impacted me.

Favourite Fiction Books

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. A total departure for me in taste, this novel is fast-paced, un-put-down-able, unique. I can’t remember the last time since Harry Potter that I was up all night finishing a book. The following two books are also good but the first one captures not only a great story but a commentary on violence and survival.

The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I’m a sucker for the English gothic genre and both of these stand-alone titles were mysterious, haunting and captivating. 

Favourite Parenting Books

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. You’d think by my third baby, I’d have it down pat but I learned so much from this book. It helped me immensely and was instrumental in our decision to plan a home birth for Evelynn Joan.

The Ministry of Motherhood and The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson. True wisdom, gentle parenting, strong convictions. I felt convicted and challenged (but in good ways) by these two titles. Much of her wisdom has woven its way into my parenting, particularly in the challenging days. I remain very thankful for the influence of these titles in our home.

Honourable Mentions Completely Worth Your Time
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James

So tell me, friends, what was the best book you read in 2011? 

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Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links are used. So if you buy through those links, I may earn 23 cents someday. 
Note: Many of these titles were not released in 2011. However, if I read them in 2011 for the first time, then they were considered for this list. 

In which [love looks like] the evening of Christmas
In which these are the favourite posts of 2011 - yours and mine
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  • What is the What? by D. Eggers was my fave book this year.

  • Canita

    I just began “One Thousand Gifts” a couple of days ago after seeing mention of it in a few of your blogs.  Needless to say, my highlighter is getting a workout!  I’ve got the Sally Clarkson books on my “to be ordered” list.

    My fave book of the year is one that I taught/read with my 11th grade students this fall–“The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass:  An American Slave”.  It’s simply written and a true testament to perseverance and faith in oneself (AND many of my non-reading students really loved it!)

    • That sounds fascinating, Canita. I’ll add it to my queue at the library.

  • Callie R.

    I’d say 70% of these were on my “read and loved” list this year too.  I’ve really got to check out some L’Engle.  I’ve never even read “Wrinkle in Time”!

    • Gasp! I’m horrified! (Kidding, kidding…clearly, I am much the same. Just got around to reading her this year at long last.)

  • Your post is so timely. I was just about to email you and say thanks for the Surprised by Oxford recommendation. I’m a little over halfway through and  cannot put it down.  Do you have a copy of Dorothy Sayers Creed or Chaos? It’s on re-order at Chapters and out of stock everywhere else (and really expensive to by used) so hopefully Chapters restocks it at some point.

    I’ve added all the Madeline L’Engle ones to my Chapters list and the Rachel Evans ones too. Love hearing what you’re reading – thanks for sharing.

    • Oh, so glad you liked it, Jenn! I haven’t heard of Creed or Chaos (is that embarrassing?). I’ll add it to my queue.

      • Dorothy Sayers was quoted in Surprised by Oxford so then I went on a hunt and I think I fell in love with everything that was written about her. 🙂 She’s mainly writes fiction but she’s written a couple non-fiction books that look really interesting.

  • Joymh

    Love “Crosswick Journals”, thanks for the recommendations!
    Best book of 2011 ~ Persuasion by Jane Austen

    • That is probably my favourite JA book next to P&P. I also love the movie.

  • Brittaney

    Well, I feel a bit like an ignoramus since I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned and pretty much read fiction exclusively. But, my favorite fiction read this year was the story of Rahab told in Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Ashfar. I passed it around to everyone in my family and even my Dad and Uncle loved it. It felt like every paragraph had a deep theological truth told in a simple story. And the author is Iranian which made the book even more interesting. She has amazing insight.

    • I remember you mentioning that one to me a few months ago. I really need to read it!

  • Diana Trautwein

    I have read almost all of those on your list, having been a L’Engle fan since about 1976. I also am a fan of : Barbara Brown Taylor, Anne Lamott, Luci Shaw, Gerald Sittser, Frederick Buechner, Walter Wangerin, Eugene Peterson and this year, Ian Morgan Cron. His two books were absolute favorites of mine – a novel, “Chasing Francis,” and a memoir, “Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me.” And Carolyn will have a sequel to “Surprised by Oxford,” I am thrilled to say! Maybe next year?

    • I really want to read Chasing Francis as well. And yay for a sequel! So glad to hear that!

  • Abbie Kampman

    Yes and yes and yes- but need I really say that to my kindred bookie friend?  🙂  Mission of Motherhood is my mantra these days and Kate Morton is my fiction patron saint right now!  Yes, I will forever go to you for all necessary book recommendations hereforth (as I have for the past 10 odd years).  One thing though- I think it’s Ina May “Gaskin”, Ina Garten is a Food Network chef (another of my very favourite celebs!).  Hugs and love, always…

  • Oh, Madeleine…I’m so glad you’ve finally read these, Sarah. She’s a saint.

    The best books I read this year were The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris and The Sword of the Lord by Andrew Himes. The book with the biggest emotional impact on me was Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson. The most profitable from the standpoint of starting conversations and giving practical help were Love Is an Orientation by Andrew Marin, The Irrestistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, and Love Wins by Rob Bell. The best work of fiction was The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck.

    • Kathleen Norris – 2010 was my Year of Kathleen Norris. She was my obsession. Her Quotidian Mysteries and Aceda & Me I wanted to read Sword of the Lord but shied away at the last. It just seemed so “out there’ to me and I was feeling pretty full up on fundamentalism already. 😉 All of your other ones are favourites of mine as well.

  • Mary1912

    At your recommendation I read “Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me” by Ian Morgan Cron. LOVED it. My favorite this year. Hunger Games is on my list for this year. I may take up L’Engle this year too..I need something spiritual…and so far not much has impressed me.

    • So glad you liked it! He has another one that I want to read next. And yes, you’ll probably appreciate L’Engle. It’s story-telling as spirituality. her one on her marriage as her husband is dying, A Two Part Invention, is sublime.

  • Lovely suggestions for my reading list! 
    (PS. Just started watching Downton Abbey and am obsessed, so I know I can trust your taste). My favorites were all over the map–Forgotten God (Francis Chan), Half the Sky (Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn), and Bossypants (Tina Fey). What can I say–I like to cry AND laugh.

    • I loved Bossypants, too! Actually laughed out loud while reading it several times! And so glad you’re loving DA. Next up for you: Lark Rise to Candleford! 😉

  • A good friend of mine is reading Walking on Water and has such wonderful things to say about it. 
    I just finished The Hunger Games last night. I actually bought it for my husband for Christmas, but I picked it up Christmas night and just couldn’t put it down. It was so good. I am going today to buy the other two. I just can’t wait 🙂 
    I love to read, but haven’t read much this year. With two little ones, it has (sadly) made it’s way to the bottom of my list. I did recently start Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider and am really liking it so far. 

  • I think 2012 is going to be the year I read everything I can get my hands on by L’Engle. I started reading A Circle of Quiet yesterday, and found myself both wanting to cry and shout in triumph only a few pages in. Vicky Austin is one of my all-time favorite heroines (even more than Meg), and reading more of what L’Engle says about herself is giving me a deeper appreciation for her fiction. I can’t wait for the rest of the Crosswick Journals, Walking on Water, and going back to the Murrys and Austins.

    My favorite author for 2011 was Diana Wynne Jones – I fell in love with her tricky plotting and her brilliant writing, how she can pare complex thoughts and emotions down into a few simple sentences. She reminds me of why I love MG and YA fiction!

  • Loved, loved, loved Bossypants by Tina Fey. Probably my favorite read of the year. 

    I’ve also been soaking in Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions by Dan Brennan about cross-gender friendships. I know it’s from 2010, but this was the year I read it, so you know. 

    And probably my favorite read by a fellow blogger was Knox McCoy’s Jesus and the Bachelorette. I love Knox’s writing, and even though I’ve never watched the show, I absolutely loved his book. Totally worth the $5 (and more).

  • Wendy Douglas

    Loved all 3 of the Hunger Games book and read them all in a weekend. Just couldn’t put them down. Other great reads were The Organic God by Margaret Feinberg, 5 Dysfuntions of a Team and Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni, Jesus on Leadership by Gene Wilkes, and The Land Between by Jeff Manion. Oh and Gifted to Lead by Nancy Beach, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala, The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School by Aaron Reynolds, and Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands by Nancy Ortberg.
    Sorry was I supposed to list only one? 🙂

  • Between your list and these comments, I’m so reminded of how many GREAT books I read this year and how many I still want to read!

    For 2011, my top read was Half the Church. I just can’t shake her words or message.

    And of course, Walking on Water is Top Three Change My Life List forever and always.

    I love you, dear friend. XOXOXOOXOXOOXOXOXOO (do you ever tire of me saying it?)

  • Leanne

    Walking on Water has been a favorite since college – I have read it many, many times and am always happy to find another person who loves it!!  I enjoyed the Hunger Games series and several by Karen Kingsbury (not deep or high-brow literature, but cozy and “Lifetime-movie-esque”!!).  My favorite nonfiction books were Evolving in Monkey Town, Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose (about a completely secular college student who spends a semester at Liberty University) and Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner (a very lovely spiritual journey memoir).  Hard to pick just one or two…I read over 100 books in 2011!!!!

  • Trait

    Three books stood out to me this year. The first is “The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature” by Timothy Ferris. The author explores the foundations of America’s liberal democratic heritage by tracing its direct lineage from the scientists and thinkers of the Enlightenment. It was absolutely fascinating as I learned much about scientists and thinkers such as Isaac Newton and Thomas Paine.

    The second book is Ted Gup’s, “The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives.”  Gup, a former Wash Post investigative reporter dug into the history of and true circumstances of some of the people who perished while in the clandestine service.

    I was impressed with Gup’s writing, so that led me to a book he wrote which was published last year.  It is entitled “A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness – And a Trove of Letters – Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression.” By happenstance, Gup discovered that his grandfather placed an ad in the Canton, OH, newspaper just before Christmas 1933 inviting those enduring hard times to write letters describing their circumstances. In return, his grandfather sent them $5, a sum equal to $100 today. The result of the book is an unvarnished look at the Great Depression and an equally compelling tale of his grandfather’s own history.  This, without a doubt, is my favorite book of 2011.

  • justamomandmore

    walking on water, one thousand  gifts and evolving in monkey town are in my top ten as well. i also read bossy pants for fun- i love tina fey and her sense of humor. she reminds me that its a good thing to laugh at ourselves. sabbath by wayne muller was another great book for me- i’m busy- always busy. his book taught me the importance of sabbath- truly sabbath and what it means to rest in Him.  i love to read book lists- thanks for sharing! i will probably pick up those other madeliene l’engle books at some point. her writing is so encouraging!

  • Stephanie

    Oh! Books! Of course, I have to comment. 😉

    I just finished “Delirium” by Lauren Oliver (blah) and am about to begin “Quo Vadis” by Henryk Sienkiewicz. 

    I’m also reading “The Secret Garden” aloud to the girls at bedtime. Enchanting.

  • fiona lynne

    Gosh, it would take me a while to remember all the books I’ve read this year. But one of the most recent ones was “The Wrong Messiah” by Nick Page, a British author *highly recommend his books) which walks through the gospels, pointing out all the ways Jesus did the “wrong” thing in the eyes of the religious leaders, his family, even his disciples. I was surprised by the end, how emotionally involved I had become – I felt like one of the disciples, so inspired by this man they had followed, but despairing of his crazy confusing decisions…
    Have added lots of your book recommendations to my “to read” list.

  • Traveller

    A trifecta of books on shame … Released from Shame by Dr. Sandra Wilson, and 2 by Brene’ Brown: I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) and The Gifts of Imperfection.  Taken together, they have advanced my journey out of shame and into living a fuller and more wholehearted life in Christ. 

  • Traveller

    Sarah — I’d love to hear your top 5 “converstion memoirs” since that’s a thread in my reading right now … I’m beginning with Surprised by Oxford …

  • Leah

    Enjoyed many of your favourites this year as well – one I would add as a not to miss is Naked Spirituality – Life With God In 12 Simple Words by Brian D. McLaren.

  • Oh great. Thanks. Now I have a whole nother list of books to add to my reading list. These all sound wonderful. As if my reading list wasn’t already long enough!

    The only books on your list I also read this year were Ina May’s and Rob Bell’s. Ina May’s was instrumental in helping me to decide to give birth at home in August (which went beautifully).  I felt Love Wins started out really strong but kind of petered out in the end . . . but that might just be because I had my baby in the middle of it and that kind of distracted me for a while.

  • I picked up “Walking on Water” this year too and, as a musician, have been so refreshed by it… definitely one of my favorites.  Earlier in the year — just before the final movie released — I finally got around to reading the entire Harry Potter series.  Oh yes, that’ll be on my list.  And, let’s see… Lately I’ve been getting back into George MacDonald’s victorian/gothic novels edited by Michael Phillips… the likes of “The Fisherman’s Lady,” “The Marquis Secret,” and “The Maiden’s Bequest.”  Classics.  Sorry, couldn’t stop with just one!

    I’ve been hearing a lot about “One Thousand Gifts,” so I’ll have to pick that one up soon!