Reading Recap 2019


Photo by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash

Reading Recap 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

It is time yet again for my favorite post of the year! I can’t believe that this will be my fifth reading recap or, even crazier, that I’ve had my blog for longer than five years. Before I start to feel really old and wonder where my life has gone, here’s what my reading life looked like in 2019:

  • I read 50 books, 10 fewer than my goal and way fewer than in previous years.
  • BUT part of that was due to being in school for the last three months, which meant I read barely anything for fun and I read a lot of parts of books that I couldn’t count in my final list.
  • ALSO I am slowly becoming less attached to the number and more concerned about the experience, simply enjoying reading and doing what’s best for me. It’s a good thing.
  • I’ve continued last year’s trend of writing more goodreads reviews. They aren’t as polished as they might be if I posted them on here, but it blesses me to be able to set down a few thoughts once I’ve finished something.
  • With that in mind, I have linked each book here to my goodreads review of it if you want to read more of my thoughts. Here, I’m just posting a brief reaction to each book.

As always, the only books I include in this list are ones I read for the first time this year. I love to re-read—for example, the only books I read for fun at school were The Lord of the Rings, which were like comfort food and exactly what I needed for the transition to college. This list, though, only highlights books new to me (with quotes! of course.).

{ fiction }


1. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

The hours I spent on my porch with Oathbringer this summer are some of my best memories of 2019. Sanderson is just unbelievable. I always forget how much I enjoy his writing when I’m not reading it. This is probably my favorite book in The Stormlight Archive so far, mostly because Dalinar is one of my favorite characters (#unpopularopinion). I relate to him so deeply, and his next Words … man. They hit hard. The climax was everything you want a Sanderson climax to be. I’m actually glad it took me this long to read it, because now I don’t have to wait as long for Stormlight 4.

“Sometimes a hypocrite is nothing more better person who is in the process of changing.” (Dalinar)


“It is my solemn and important duty to bring happiness, light, and joy into your world when you’re being a dour idiot. Which is most of the time.” (Syl)


2. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Another summer read. Deeply moving and powerful and thought-provoking. I know I only spent two weeks in South Africa, but it still made it extra special. The themes it explores of racial reconciliation and fear and messed-up systems and religion that seems to have seen better days are all so relevant and so important. And the writing is beautiful. Paton is a courageous and empathetic writer.

—It suited the white man to break the tribe, he continued gravely. But it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken. … They are not all so. There are some white men who give their lives to build up what is broken.

    —But they are not enough, he said. They are afraid, that is truth. It is fear that rules this land.


3. Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

This was one of the first books I finished in 2019 and I knew right away that it would make this list. I’ve always been intrigued by Joy Davidman, the American divorcé that C. S. Lewis technically married twice. This is a novelized biography of her written in the first person, which (to my delighted surprise) works out perfectly.

Joy’s voice comes through as honest, passionate, sensitive, and real. I’m glad I don’t agree with all her decisions because first, she’s human and we all make mistakes and second, it reminds me that no one is unredeemable or unworthy of love because of what they’ve done.

Also Till We Have Faces is my favorite Lewis book and the chapter where she’s helping him write it is something I didn’t know I needed in my life.

Basically, I love Becoming Mrs. Lewis not only because now I know Joy and Jack better, but because it meant a lot to me personally and spiritually. The best kind of book.

Why did the everyday-ness of my life sometimes feel constricting, when the everyday-ness was everything.

honorable mentions: Conqueror (Sanderson meets actual history) by Conn Iggulden and A Gentleman in Moscow (beautiful prose & cool setting & history & philosophy) by Amor Towles

{ non-fiction }


1. Extravagant Grace by Barbara R. Duguid

This is one of the most important books I have read, ever. I say that without exaggeration. I talked about it so much to my mom that she read it and brought copies for everyone in our family. Just because it hit my spiritual pain points doesn’t mean it will be as revolutionary for everyone else, of course. But I still think the message is desperately important for people who grew up in the same evangelical circles I did. It answers the question, why do we struggle with the same sins over and over as Christians?

The short answer is that the Christian life is about glorifying God—which we often equate to being morally perfect (can you tell why this meant a lot to me as a One?). However, often we glorify God more when we recognize how sinful we are, and often the only way the grasp that is to keep failing. The more we are aware of our sin, the more we are aware of the greatness of God’s grace. So rather than feel discouraged about the continual battle, we can use it as a reminder to worship. We can laugh at ourselves and say, of course I’m sinning. I’m a human, and I’m imperfect. But I am also radically loved and forgiven.

The two things I love best about this book are 1) it completely avoids the other extreme of throwing up your hands and saying, well, I might as well stop trying not to sin; and 2) Barb is so honest in discussing her own struggles.

If the story of redemption is about us gradually becoming more and more sinless, then Paul’s boasting in his weakness makes no sense whatsoever. But, if the story of redemption is about Jesus and his righteousness, then our continuing weakness actually shines the spotlight on Jesus all the more brightly.


2. Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson

This one doesn’t have a goodreads review because I wasn’t sure how to summarize this beautiful book. What do I say, except that if you think AP’s music is beautiful or his fantasy novels inspiring, you will discover that he also excels at writing nonfiction.

It’s funny, honest, inspiring, and full of both beautiful stories and moving truth. It’s part memoir, part how-to-write (but it’s not just for artists! I love the dignity with which he treats everyone’s creative calling and abilities). Here, just let these quotes convince you to read it:

I wonder if the Holy Spirit is rambling around in the temple of my heart, scribbling promises on every exposed bit of lumber, declaring my sacredness so that I will remember that I belong to him. And maybe when I’m old and I cross paths with some weary traveler, they’ll sense a rightness, a pleasantness of place, and will experience a peace that they cannot understand or explain.


Lead me home, Jesus. Let me die to my need to be someone important. Let me die to my need to leave a mark.

Over the gateway of Self is a sign that says, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter.” It is a hellish, helpless place. Die to self. Live to God. Let your words and music be more beautiful by their death in the soil of worship, that the husk of your own imperfection might fall away and germinate into some bright, eternal song only God could have written.

We must resist Resistance.


3. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

This may seem strange, but this book has influenced my “real” life just as much as it has influenced my reading life. It’s small and written in an academic style that is nevertheless engaging (I enjoyed his wit). It’s always a delight to read books about reading by fellow book-lovers—and Jacobs dislikes How to Read a Book! Of course I love this book.

But the topic that stuck out the most to me was the idea of serendipity. Jacobs was talking about it in regards to reading, how we can panic that we won’t read the best books out there or read all the books we want to or create the perfect reading list. But he said the most powerful books he’s read have been ones he accidentally stumbled upon. They weren’t ones he researched and decided they would be good for him. I love this concept in regard to reading but also in regard to my future and decision-making.

The cultivation of serendipity is an option for anyone, but for people living in conditions of prosperity and security and informational richness it is something vital. To practice “accidental sagacity” is to recognize that I don’t really know where I am going, even if I like to think I do, or think Google does; that if I know what I’m looking for, I do not therefore know what I need; that I am not master of my destiny and captain of my fate; that is probably a very good thing that I am not master of my destiny aunt captain of my fate. An accidental sagacity may be the form of wisdom I most need, but am least likely to find without eager pursuit. Moreover, serendipity is the near relation of Whim; each stands against the Plan.

honorable mentions: Grant (he’s the MAN) by Ron Chernow and Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (best how-to writing book I’ve read) by Roy Peter Clark

{ other }


Robert Frost’s Poems

I started this collection in 2018, but it took me eight months to get through it. Some days I read multiple poems, other times I went weeks without picking it up. It’s one of the best things I’ve done. There’s something magical and moving about reading a whole collection of poetry. By the end, you feel like you know the person. As a writer, it’s interesting to see how his writing changed through the years and the kinds of topics and techniques he kept coming back to.

I just love how he describes nature so well—he could stop there and be a pretty good poet. But then he’ll add in some philosophical musing or connection to humanity, and the poem becomes so much deeper and richer. And yet, he’s not preachy or abstract. He is simultaneously a philosopher and a farmer.

That day she put our heads together,

Fate had her imagination about her,

Your head so much concerned with outer,

Mine with inner, weather.


~ “Tree at My Window”


Tales from the Perilous Realm by J. R. R. Tolkien

This was another volume started in 2018 that stretched over many months. It has so many delicious Tolkien tidbits, from poetry to short stories to his wonderful essay “On Fairy-Stories” which I’m so glad to have finally read. Some of the poems stretch on, and there are several arguments in the essay that went over my head, but nothing can beat the imagination and heart and word-weaving of Tolkien. Also Alan Lee’s illustrations! And Roverandom‘s just the best. Also Smith of Wootton Major. And Leaf by Niggle!

Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors’ own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum. Fantasy remains a human right: we  make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.

~ On Fairy-Stories

There we have it, friends! One of the reasons I love this post so much is the discussion that always ensues. What are some of the best books you’ve read this past year? What are your thoughts on these books, if you’ve read them? Has your reading life looked different recently?

3 responses to “Reading Recap 2019”

  1. […] past years’ bookish collections: 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | […]


  2. This is an excellent list! Oathbringer was AMAZING, I agree. And I love Tales From the Perilous Realm, so I’m glad you’ve read it now too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! I loved your review of Oathbringer on gr & heartily agreed with all of it. =D


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