At this point, after a week of everyone suffering a most violent flu and faced with the prospect of cleaning and disinfecting this house, I am tempted to take the easy route and just burn it down. So instead I’ll blog. Yay for productivity!

These are the books I loved or learned the most from this past year. They weren’t necessarily published in 2010 but they found their way to me then. (I didn’t bother including all of the books that I’ve re-read this year because I am one of those people that reads and rereads their books over and over again until they are dog-eared. I’m looking at you, Jane Eyre.) Also, this year, I took a two week break from any type of reading that wasn’t Harry Potter. And it was very satisfying.

My Favourite Book of 2010
I mean that in the You-Must-Get-Yourself-To-A-Library-Or-Bookstore-And-Read-This-Because-It-Will-Change-Your-Life-Profoundly way.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work”
by Kathleen Norris

Originally a lecture series by one of my favourite authors (seriously, anyone who writes a book of poetry entitled “Little Girls in Church” AND writes about faith and spirituality on the prairies is clearly a kindred spirit in some measure), this is a deceptively tiny book. And really, it came pat to the psychological moment (or it was Holy Spirit lead – you can guess which one I lean towards believing) for my own life as I try to balance the daily work of living with a rich life of the mind and spirit.

This wise little book reached down into my heart to help me reconcile many of my deeper questions about work and finding God in mundane, daily details, in giving him glory when there isn’t much about my life that looks “glorious” to others. I’m not one that adheres to the notion of “biblical womanhood” and sometimes, in Christian circles, this can leave me feeling a bit like “The Other.” The subtitle is a bit misleading – it’s not really about “homemaking” or “women’s work” (both phrases can make me a bit nervous) – it’s really for men and women and it’s about knowing the role – and the holiness – of the daily work in our lives.

“I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self.”

Amen, said this tired, overworked mystical mother of two-nearly-three tinies. I may have underlined the entire book. (You think I’m kidding…)  And I feel like I could write for about two weeks on all of the wisdom and kisses-from-heaven I received while reading it.

And here are a few others worth your time, in my (never very) humble opinion:

Faith and Spirituality

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
by Donald Miller

I don’t really want my life story
to be about how
I paid off my mortgage
or got another nice car.
I don’t really want my kids to say
they could eat off my floor.
That doesn’t really
inspire anyone.

My full review of this book is here.

Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community
by Andrew Marin

I have deep respect for Andrew Marin and his lovely, thoughtful wife, Brenda. They are the real deal. Their work as bridge builders between the LGBTQ community and the Church is sorely needed – on both sides. This book is practical but it’s also compassionate and Gospel-centric without being narrow-minded.

Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life
by Kathleen Norris

This New York Times bestseller arose out of The Quotidian Mysteries (that one I loved so much above). It’s an expansion on several ideas within it – namely about acedia (the spiritual cousin of depression). I resonated with much of the book because I have often walked through seasons of my life that I have called “depression” because I didn’t know what else to call it even though I knew it wasn’t the clinical version of this very real disease. I feel now that I have named it in acedia as well as how to grapple with my tendencies. It also gave me a very real kick in the pants about the role of daily work in my life even around spiritual disciplines.

Fiction and Literature

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
by Syrie James

My copy of Jane Eyre is so incredibly dog-eared, the spine so battered, that I couldn’t help but love this book. I read her previous book about Jane Austen but this one was just a good, interesting story especially since it’s about a book that I know and love so well. And the insights to a family of incredible women writers was just icing.

The Glass Castle
by Jeanette Walls

I struggle with calling this a favourite but it was definitely one of the best I read this year. It was gritty, raw and heartbreaking.

Resurrection in May
by Lisa Samson

Lisa Samson is my absolute favourite writer in the Christian market. I know she’s not everyone’s cup of tea but the woman tells good, compelling stories with quirky characters. Her last few books have been incredible (The Passion of Mary Margaret was absolutely gorgeous) and this one was no exception.


Playful Parenting
by Lawrence J. Cohen

This book could have been written by my parents. For those of us that choose not to spank and try to keep the yelling and barking of orders to a minimum, this gives a lot of material for alternative means of discipline. I have used so many of these ideas – many of which I recognised from my own childhood! – with the tinies and, I have to admit that “shaking the grouchies out” has proven much more effective at breaking a serious session of whining and complaining than any time I’ve hollered “Stop being so whiny!” The funny thing about this book is that it gave me all the “reasons” and “psychology” for choosing playful parenting but the truth is, my parents had already been practicing it, by instinct, and I learned much of it from them.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
by Ina May Gaskin

Giving birth has been one of the most empowering experiences of my life. I almost can’t express how beautiful and powerful it has been. After birthing two babies and preparing for our third, I have revisited many of my old favourite books about natural childbirth but I was shocked to realise I hadn’t actually read Ina May’s landmark “Guide to Childbirth” yet. And wow! What a great book! The first half is filled with good, normal stories of birth and the last half is about the the actual process and ideas, techniques and wisdom from those stories. Since we’re planning a homebirth for this baby (with a midwife) this has been very reassuring and informative.

For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School
by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

I blame my friend, Gina, entirely for this book. She left it for me (likely as revenge since I gave her children the Cat Piano) before she went back to Texas and I let it sit on the table, glaring malevolently at it occasionally. She is a Charlotte Mason homeschooler and I wanted no part of it. (The cover was off-putting – I admit I’m that shallow.)  Then I finally read it because I’ve been so torn about schooling and education and what the best path will be for our family in the fall. And of course, it rocked my world. I still don’t know about homeschooling but the book itself isn’t necessarily about homeschooling as much as it is about education. And seeing education in a whole new light, particularly from a Christian worldview, as a discipline, a way of life and an atmosphere. It challenged many of my ideas about our home and how we educate and raise children in our society.

Food and Simple Living
Jamie’s Food Revolution : Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals
by Jamie Oliver

After emerging from the Whole Food Challenge changed for life, I have found that it’s Jamie Oliver I return to most often for recipes and general guidance about keeping it simple and keeping it good. 

Now here’s the big question: What would you recommend? 

What was your favourite, please-go-read-this-right-now book of 2010? I’m looking for a new book or seven for January….

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These weren’t necessarily published in 2008.

But out of the many, many books I read, here are my Top 10.  

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.
By Brian D. McLaren

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out
By Brennan Manning

Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White
By Claudia Mair Burney

Grace-Based Parenting
By Tim Kimmel

Late Nights on Air: A Novel
By Elizabeth Hay

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
By Shane Claiborne

The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime
By Phyllis Tickle

The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating
By Alisa Smith, J.B. Mackinnon

Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality
By Rob Bell

Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds
By Susan Gregory Thomas

The ones that almost made the cut:

An Emergent Manifesto of Hope

Justice in the Burbs: Being the Hands of Jesus Wherever You Live
By Will Samson, Lisa Samson

The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living
By Janet Luhrs

The Way of the Heart
By Henri J. M. Nouwen

Embrace Me
By Lisa Samson

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography
By Kathleen Norris

And the movie I watched this year that I would like to insist that every woman see at least once:

The Business of Being Born
By Ricki Lake, Dr. Michel Odent, Abby Epstein, Cara Muhlhahn, Dr. Marsden Wagner


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  1. Trait says:

    I didn’t get to read as much as I would have liked this past year due to the craziness of my professional life. I did manage to read a few really good books. “The Making of a Marriage” is an excellent book by Brent and Janis Sharpe, our pastors in Tulsa. Their suggested communication methods have been very beneficial in our marriage. I also read “Progressive Oklahoma: The Making of a New Kind of State” by Danney Goble. It provided an excellent background on Oklahoma’s constitution and early history. Next, I read Rilla Askew’s “Fire in Beulah.” It is a fictionalized account of the historic Tulsa Race Riot in 1921. While I have problems with some of the plot holes, the book did an excellent job of making the reader understand what it was like to live during that racially charged time period. Most recently, I read Karl Rove’s biography, “Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight.” I found the book to be well-written and it provided a good behind the scenes explanation of some of the events in the Bush presidency.

    1. Sarah Bessey says:

      Those do sound very interesting, Mr. T! I don’t know that I’ll pick up the Okie one but the others sound fantastic. I bet my sister would find the one about the Tulsa riot very interesting – we talked about it a lot while we lived there.

  2. Young Mom says:

    I may have to write one of these posts myself, I’ve read so many amazing books this year!! “The Wizard of Oz and other Narcissists” “Toxic Parents” “The Sexually Confidant Wife” “Crazy for God” “Discipline without Distress”, I’m sure there are more I’m not thinking of. This year has been lifechanging for me.

    I’m in the middle of “Taking charge of your Fertility” and “Wholehearted living” by Brene Brown and “Patience with God”

    1. Sarah Bessey says:

      You totally should! Talking books just make me all kinds of happy. A few of those titles you mentioned sound fantastic! I also read TCOF this year since our history of miscarriage etc. I found it VERY useful.

  3. Karen says:

    Of all the homeschoolish books I’ve read over the past 20+ yrs, For the Children’s Sake has been my fav.

    I’d agree with Young Mom about “Crazy for God” by Frank Schaeffer. It was a big hit with all 4 adults in our family.

    I also really enjoyed “The Daylight Diet” by Paul Nison, which has changed our lifestyle and health without imposing any specific diet of food. It’s more about how/when we eat (rather than what we eat), digest and sleep. I’ve been recommending it all year, and won’t stop 😉

    I also got alot from “Rational Fasting” by Professor Arnold Ehret.

    Thanks, Sarah, for the book suggestions. They look great. I read “Playful Parenting” years ago and liked it, but obviously haven’t incorporated much into my parenting. I might have to re-visit that book again.

    1. Sarah Bessey says:

      I haven’t read Crazy for God yet but I keep hearing so much about it! I also read the feature article about him on CNN today (I think I bookmarked it?) and it was very intriguing. I’ll take your advice on that one in 2011.

  4. Man. You’ve just filled in my reading list for 2011. I’m especially intrigued by The Quotidian Mysteries. I’ve seen it referenced elsewhere but I’ve never read it.

    I read mostly nonfiction, so I’d put A Million Miles on my Best of 2010 list too. I also got fired up reading Free-Range Kids, about how we over-protect our children from vital life experiences. (So good. I’ve recommended it to every Mom I know since I read it.) I’m also reading a lot of books about real food, so The Omnivore’s Dilemma totally fascinated me. It’s a great story, apart from the science. And he writes very respectfully about people who believe in God, which is rare for a journalist who lives in the Bay Area.

    And since I somehow got through high school and college without ever taking a literature course (except for drama lit in college, which was great, but it was very specific in genre), I am currently trying to read a few classics every year. This year, I read a lot of Alexander Dumas – I liked The Three Muskateers, but I loved The Count of Monte Cristo.

    1. Sarah Bessey says:

      I LOVE Free Range Kids! It totally jumped my fence on a few things but I really enjoyed it and learned so much. Her blog is also very good. Michael Pollan messed up my life but in a very good way. His “In Defense of Food” is another very, very good one.

      I read Dumas a few years ago and had the exact same thoughts.

  5. Isn’t everyone that shallow? I think we all read books by their covers…I have recommended a few books to others and told them to read it despite the cover and/or title (Christine Caine’s Can I have and do it all please?, Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow and the German version of Captivating by John & Stasi Eldredge).

    If you’re looking for a delicious novel I can recommend Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber… great story and sumptuous descriptions of middle-eastern food and community in the Arab-American LA and Iraq. (From 2003 so perhaps you’ve already tasted it)

    Or, for some Vancouver area flavour SKY Lee’s Disappearing Moon Café (big part of my MA orals). Epic tale of a Chinese-Canadian dynasty and revealing the sad state of women in Chinese traditional culture.

    1. Sarah Bessey says:

      I love Christine Caine! She is so inspiring. Just reading her Twitter stream is often enough to make me want to go do SOMETHING.

      I haven’t heard of Crescent and it sounds fantastic. I’ll add it to my library queue. I love a good novel more than anything, I admit.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I’m so impressed by the amount of book-reading you do. I have to admit that blog reading sometimes steals time away from the book-reading I want to do.

    I’m going to add “The Quotidian Mysteries” to my library list. “Playful Parenting” has been on there for awhile…

    1. Sarah Bessey says:

      I think I may lose my mind if I wasn’t reading. When I start to get a bit squirrley that’s Brian’s cue to send me to my books. Ha! But your life is a bit fuller than mine with your big adventure. You may have some time on the road to do some reading next year though and Quotidian Mysteries will be a good one.

  7. Carlo says:

    Thanks for the tips. My fave this year was The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton. Wise, grounded thinking on the early parts of Genesis that I’d been struggling to get to grips with. And it;s very readable too.

    1. Sarah Bessey says:

      Very interesting, Carlo – thanks for the tip! I haven’t heard of it before.

  8. Gina says:

    Yay! Yay! Yay! I knew you would love it.

    *does a jaunty little high-step out of the room*

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