The December Book Talk Where Reading Friends Pause to Ponder

Farewell, 2020!
Welcome, 2021!

If I’ve learned anything from the year we’ve just experienced it’s the need for (and the importance of) compassionate listening to those who are different from me in any number of ways. As a majority culture, rural-dwelling woman on “this side” of fifty, it’s tempting for me to throw everything I don’t understand into a “Deal with it Later” folder and then just go on embracing my ignorance.

Reading is one way I have found to sit with the stories of others and to expand my world, but I’m open to other ways, so I’ve chosen the word persevere as my guide for 2021. Of course, I’d much rather live with words like success or results, but persevere seems like the right word for all that’s ahead. I’ll be persevering in serving my family and my church, persevering in my writing by sharing my words here and there; trusting God for opportunities to teach as the world reopens once again; and persevering in healthy living and in habits of holiness.

December Reads

I’m hearing every possible message about the reading life in 2020. For some, quarantine and social distancing created the perfect space for all things books and reading, while, for others, the anxiety attached to the unknown got in the way of concentration, making for a dismal reading life.

Wherever you fall on that bandwidth, you’re invited here to share your favorite reads of this highly unusual year. I’ll get things started by sharing mine, but first, here’s a collection of December 2020 reviews.

The Nazarene

This is a book I wish I had shared in time for Advent 2020, but lyrical reflections from the Gospels, particularly on the life of Jesus Christ, deserve a place in our reading at any time of year. Author and musician Michael Card has described himself as “the broccoli of Christian music.” With wry humor, he shares that his listeners tend to recommend his music to others prescriptively as a panacea for whatever ails them. Could this be true of his books as well?

Card has brought his songwriter’s heart and his scholarly mind to the creation of The Nazarene. Having written extensively about the life of Jesus in his song lyrics, he has gathered the stories, the parables, and the essence of Jesus’s luminous life on earth into short essays based on those song lyrics.

Whether used in conjunction with the songs or simply as brief devotionals for meditation, Card’s writing is designed to create a thirst for the sacred text, to send readers running for their Bibles to follow the stream of God’s loving kindness directly to the Divine Headwater.

(For more on God’s lovingkindness expressed in the Old Testament, hop on over to my review of Michael Card’s Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness.)

The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation

Everyone has a particular image that comes to mind when they envision spiritual formation. What exactly does it look like? And what about evangelism–maybe you picture buttonholing strangers for uncomfortable conversations?

According to A.J. Sherrill, each of us has been hardwired by God to grow into a deeper discipleship in ways that are unique to our personality, and as we come to understand our own brokenness, we are more effective in every single facet of spiritual formation (including soul winning). These gifts come with an understanding of the Enneagram, a tool that promotes self-knowledge and greater understanding of the people in our lives.

In The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation: How Knowing Ourselves Can Make Us More Like Jesus, Sherrill pushes against both ends of the Enneagram opinion spectrum, for it is neither a tool of the devil nor an end in itself. Light on theory and heavy on practical application, he travels through both testaments with numbered sticky notes, lightly attached to biblical figures. I found most helpful his description of each number’s “subconscious strategy employed to fix the world,” (115) and his recommended spiritual practices to promote wholeness in the reader.

I also discovered that while reading and study are my favorite spiritual disciplines, I may need to press harder into practices that don’t feel as natural such as contemplative prayer and solitude. I’m encouraged to develop habits, a rule of life that draws me nearer to Jesus as I am continually transformed through faithful reflection and engagement.

Searching for Mom

Because adoption is such a force for good, the dark side of being adopted comes as a surprise, particularly for those of us who experience it remotely through the stories of others. While it is true that adoption rescues many children from danger and untenable living situations, it is also true that adoptees begin life with a loss.

Sara Easterly has crafted a memoir of her own experience as an adopted daughter that looks unflinchingly at the realities accompanying separation from birth parents, no matter how early the separation occurs. I learned that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide as non-adoptees, and they are prone to “fantasy attachments” to some imagniary, ideal birth mother which often hinders their ability to attach to their adopted family.

Searching for Mom traces Easterly’s journey into motherhood, her years of ambivalence about searching for her birth mom, and the protracted illness and death of her adopted mother. She employs a bridge metaphor to describe the years of struggle and her eventual resolution, envisioning her birth mother and grandmother, her adopted mom and herself all standing together on a bridge, “all of us stuck there, paying a price in some way. One of us finally dared to venture across. Now the others had to cross, too.” (159)

If adoption is part of your story or the story of someone you love, you will benefit from Sara’s honest portrayal, scriptural insights, and unique ability to share the heart of an adopted child.

J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought

J. I. Packer passed away in 2020, and when I heard the news, my immediate response was resolution: I would re-read Knowing God, and so I started immediately, taking in a few pages every night. Around the time I finished, I learned that InterVarsity Press had published a new biography of Packer, written by Alister McGrath, proof that God is indeed sovereign over even our reading lives!

J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought is an unusual biography that also doubles as a theology refresher course, but as McGrath examines Packer’s legacy, it is abundantly clear that this was the only way it could have been written, for Packer’s life and his vision of the Christian faith were intimately interconnected. His spiritual formation and his growth as a theologian invite the reader into awe as we stand beside Packer and behold the glory of God, inexpressible, and yet worth spending a life time appreciating and inviting others to enjoy and to dimly grasp.

“Look!” said Packer. “This is the biggest thing that ever was!”
May God grant this perspective to each of us–along with the wisdom to peer faithfully into the mysteries in a life devoted both to knowing God and to delighting in being known by God.

Say Something Special: 252 Conversation Starters

Did you ever dodge a social situation because of the dreaded “conversational ball?”
“It’s easy,” say the experts. “Just like tossing a ball. You say something, and then it’s the other person’s turn. You just keep that conversational ball moving by responding to what they say.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been much good at games that involve a ball.

However, what if it were possible to go into every social situation equipped with a few really good questions or topics for discussion from a person for whom conversation is as natural as breathing? Say Something Special offers 252 conversation starters on 15 different topics ranging from family memories to extra-creative getting-to-know-you questions.

Sue Moore Donaldson has fashioned what comes naturally to her into a set of conversational training wheels, and I welcome the support. There’s a generosity inherent within the offering of open-ended questions and a listening ear to follow, a hospitality of spirit that is both welcoming and disarming. I’m looking forward to trying some of these conversation starters at my dining room table soon!

2020 Favorites

By the end of this year, I will have read at least 82 books. I have written about most of my favorites here, so rather than adding to the word count of this post with a lengthy description of each, I’ll share this collage of images, and end with my deep gratitude for your faithfulness in reading and interacting here. Some of you are new readers and many of you are longtime friends, and I appreciate each of you and the gift of your time and attention.

Every blessing for 2021,

Many thanks to the publishers for providing copies of these books to facilitate my reviews, which, of course, are offered freely and with honesty.

On the Third Thursday of every month, I send biblical encouragement and newsy insights to newsletter subscribers. You can sign up using the handy (and only slightly annoying) pop-up form or simply click here to subscribe.

And as always, you can also subscribe to Living Our Days blog to get regular content delivered to your inbox twice a week. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page. If you’re encouraged by what you read here, be sure to spread the word!

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

58 thoughts on “The December Book Talk Where Reading Friends Pause to Ponder”

  1. I love seeing other people’s reading lists as I get to see what I missed and add them to my “to read” list. Thank you for sharing about J.I. Packer as I think it may be a good time to pull “Knowing God” back off my shelf for a re-read 🙂


    1. Michele, I just finished the book, Searching for Mom: a Memoir, and wrote this review for Amazon and Goodreads: “As an adoptee myself, I found this to be a wonderfully warm, open, honest and transparent book! I highly recommend it for adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents—everyone will benefit from the author’s insights in this memoir.“


  2. I’m impressed by how much you’ve managed to read this year! 2020 has definitely caused me to read less than usual. The Ruthless Elimination Of Hurry was also one of my favourites this year though. And I look forward to reading more about your focus on the word “persevere”. I considered that for my word in 2021. It didn’t quite fit but the word I have gone for is a bit similar. I’ll be writing about it next week.


  3. Persevere is such a wonderful word and habit. When it is used in the service of God, as I am sure you will, it is even better. Thank you for sharing your book lists with us, Michele. I have gotten so many good reads from your lists. I have never read Marilynne Robinson but my son asked for one of her books for his birthday, so I bought one for me too (our birthdays are 2 days apart). Looking forward to reading it. The Barbara Brown Taylor book and Uncommon Ground look good too. Congratulations on 82 books this year!


  4. 82 books! That’s awesome! ‘Knowing God’ by Packer is a favorite. The biography you mentioned sounds interesting! I would also love to read ‘Becoming Elisabeth Elliot’. Enjoy your reading in 2021. : )


  5. Okay, I will probably add most of those to my reading list! But I wanted to stop reading and buy the conversation starters right away! I love hearing other people’s stories and thoughts, but when people are shy about sharing, I catch myself launching into unending personal stories and commentary!


  6. What a great reading list, Michele! I enjoy your reviews and find them very helpful. I see several books on your list that I have not read, already starting my 2021 reading list!


  7. Persevere is a good word, for I don’t believe, come January 1 our troubles will suddenly have vanished. Am envious about the countryside of your existence. After 6 years on the countryside, I have returned to the suburbs, and I really miss the trees of the forest, But I found back my old love: art, so I’m good. Was surprised about your book blog and wonder what prompted you to leave a comment. My grad. training made me lose the love of reading – I did too much of it, lol!


  8. I asked for Becoming Elisabeth Elliot for Christmas; it did not appear among the gifts! However, I did receive a gift card that I can apply to its purchase. Now I need to add Jack to my list. I love Marilynne Robinson’s writing. And though I read Knowing God years ago, I’d undoubtedly benefit from a reread, as you are doing, Michele. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry also appeals to me, having become addicted to hurry during my teaching/children raising days. (It’s a habit that does not want to die even in retirement!) As always, I greatly appreciate your recommendations, Michele–especially when you’re giving us your top picks out of so many!


  9. Also ordered Say SomethingSpecial from your link here and wrote this review on Amazon and Goodreads: “What a huge list of compelling questions! Such a great way to engage with people of all ages around encouraging communication!”


  10. How awesome that you have read so many books! My son is an avid reader, works at a library, and plans to get his Masters in Library Science. I love to read as well:)

    My focus word for 2021 is “inspire”.

    Looking forward to reading your blog in the new year.


  11. Thanks for the recommendations! I was gifted “The Nazarene” but haven’t read it yet. And I also have a few Enneagram books I haven’t read yet. One of my most surprising favorite reads of 2020 was “Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes” – worth checking out in my opinion!


  12. I am impressed, and admire, all that you have read this past year. You go girl!! Thank you for sharing these recommendations. Happy New Year!


  13. I think “persevere” is a wonderful word for 2021, Michele. It might be because I actually started writing down books as I completed them last year, but I feel like my reading life thrived last year too. A few titles that stand out from my list include “I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt and the Things We Think We know” by W. Lee Warren, “Hope Heals: A True Story of Ovewhelming Loss and an Overcoming Love” by Katherine and Jay Wolf and “You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters” by Kate Murphy.


  14. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn

    Liked by 1 person

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