There are few things I love more than stepping through the heavy front doors of my local bookstore carrying a stack of new reads. Like the fat mouse in Cinderella stuffing corn kernels under his chin, I fill my arms with breezy novels, tender memoirs, and instructive tomes that challenge me toward better living.
This is a brief list of books that have much to offer us in the way of inspiring growth. In an age of listicles and influencers, we need some quieter voices whose wisdom will stand the test of time and point us toward the eternal. Whether you’re in college, newly married, or deep in the weeds of parenting small children, I hope you’ll find something useful here. These writers draw us in with their words, meet us where we are, and call us to move forward a bit wiser and more gracious.
The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
“Even when all the paperwork — a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns — clearly indicates you’re an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.”
This book would make a great gift for a new or seasoned mom, and would also be worth picking up if you’re newly married and looking toward family life. For those already in a season of parenthood, her words offer reassurance. For those looking toward the future, her stories give us a peak behind the curtain.
The Middle Place is a memoir about growing up, embracing the role of being someone’s parent, and still very much needing the love and guidance of your own parents. Corrigan’s book gives language to this particular tension of young adulthood, one that we often feel but can’t express.
Scary Close by Donald Miller
“It’s true our lives can pass small and unnoticed by the masses, and we are no less dignified for having lived quietly. In fact, I’ve come to believe there’s something noble about doing little with your life save offering love to a person who is offering it back.”
If words like “intimacy” and “vulnerability” make you cringe even while you know, cognitively, that they’re essential to living a full life, get this book in your hands immediately. If the every day intimacies of ordinary life make you feel squeamish, just go ahead and clear your schedule to read this book.
Miller speaks to some of our deepest fears and reassures us that true intimacy is worth the risk and might be the most audacious thing we could ever do with our lives. Instead of talking down to the reader from a lofty platform, he speaks directly to us from his own personal experience.
Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
“If you’re tired, you’re tired, no matter what. If the life you’ve crafted for yourself is too heavy, it’s too heavy, no matter if the people on either side of you are carrying more or less. You don’t have to have a public life or a particularly busy life in order to be terribly, dangerously depleted.”
This book is for anyone whose response to “How are you?” begins with the word “busy”. If you’re looking for a life that’s full of meaning and purpose, not heavy with drudgery and tedium, then read this book. If you don’t have much time to read, each essay can stand alone, making it perfect for morning reflection time.
Niequist reassures us that the world will not stop spinning on its axis if we slow down or even stop for a while. She invites us to rest and offer rest to others. She calls us to offer sanctuary for ourselves and others in a world that can feel downright hostile.
Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
“Feelings lead to behaviors. Once we know what we’re feeling, we can make choices about where we want to go with them. But if we push them away the second they appear, often we end up veering off in the wrong direction, getting lost yet again in the land of chaos.”
If you’ve ever been to therapy or are curious about therapy, Gottlieb gives us an accurate depiction of what good therapy looks like. If you’re a therapist, look for the techniques and practical ideas she’s sprinkled throughout the text. If you just love great storytelling, give this book a chance. It’s guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes from both laughter and sorrow. Kind of like life.
Through her experiences on both the sofa and the armchair, Gottlieb reveals the universal truths about what it means to be human and calls us forward to make the most of the days we’ve been given.
Everything Happens For A Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
“I can’t reconcile the way that the world is jolted by events that are wonderful and terrible, the gorgeous and the tragic. Except that I am beginning to believe that these opposites do not cancel each other out. I see a middle-aged woman in the waiting room of the cancer clinic, her arms wrapped around the frail frame of her son. She squeezes him tightly, oblivious to the way he looks down at her sheepishly. He laughs after a minute, a hostage to her impervious love. Joy persists somehow and I soak it in. The horror of cancer has made everything seem like it is painted in bright colors. I think the same thoughts again and again. Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.”
If your life has been touched by cancer in anyway, Kate’s words offer comfort and language for the complicated emotions of life with cancer. If you need a reminder that life is still good even in the midst of hard things that aren’t specifically cancer, you might also enjoy this book.
This book sat on my shelf for over two years because I was afraid to read it. Cancer memoirs speak to a deep fear within me. Honestly, I wish I’d read it sooner. It is as delightful as it is heartbreaking. Bowler writes in a way that is both honest and accessible about a topic that can be tricky to talk about.
Small Victories by Anne Lamott
“I have gotten lost all of my life, maybe more than most, and been found every time.”
This is a book for those of us who tend to make a mess of things from time to time, who tend to look up from our wandering only to find we’re a bit lost. In other words, it’s a book for everyone. The writing itself is exquisite, which makes this book impossible to put down. It’s another great option for morning or evening reflecting. Each short chapter contains some gem of wisdom to hold on to.
Lamott welcomes us in to her own doubt, fear and wandering and reassures us that maybe these aren’t the worst thing. They might even be the best things — if we let them be, maybe they will lead us toward a solid faith.
The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp
“You may believe in God, but never forget — it’s God who believes in you. Every morning that the sun rises and you get to rise? That’s God saying He believes in you, that He believes in the story He’s writing through you. He believes in you as a gift the world needs.”
If your faith life is stale or stagnant, Ann Voskamp will certainly help you get unstuck. If you like Jesus and beautiful writing, look no further. She brings both to the table in a big way. As a wife and mother herself, she speaks in a special way to those of us who are also wives and mothers. However, I found it to be profoundly applicable to my own life when I first read this book during my college years.
Voskamp brings us face to face with the truth of our identity in Christ and calls us onward to do something with the gift of this broken life we’ve been given. Equal parts warm embrace and kick in the pants, you’ll come back to this one over and over for years to come.