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In January, I made a devastating self discovery. I realized I had made it through 2015 having only read one lone book. That’s pretty pathetic. I mean, I grew up with my nose stuck in a book – I absolutely adore books, and bookstores, and libraries. But after graduating college, as countless people can attest, I just could not seem to find the time to read anymore. And the sad thing is that my evenings are more likely to be spent watching Netflix than devouring a novel or leafing through a biography. I’ve grown lazy and I realized I missed reading. So I decided that 2016 would be the year that I rekindled my old love affair with books. I created a Goodreads account – possibly the best app ever. And I started a reading challenge. I’m not even close to the 40 books I thought I’d somehow manage to read. But here we are, 18 days away from the New Year and I’m pretty excited to say I have officially finished 24 books (6,372 pages according to my Goodreads account)!

I stumbled across some amazing books this year: a few novels, a handful of classics, a timely political book or two, a few on theology, and just for fun, a couple of biographies. The more I read, the more I crave. This year, I was reminded of a time before Netflix. Before Facebook. Before E-mail. When one of my greatest sources of entertainment and distraction was books. I’m not going to share reviews of all 24 books because that would be absurd. But I thought I’d share my top five favorite books of 2016 – not necessarily books that were written in 2016, but books that I either discovered or finally got around to reading this year. I’ve been challenged and blessed, emotional and contemplative as a result of thoughtful, deep, educated, and compassionate authors. I hope you will be too!

1] Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

This, quite possibly, is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and most definitely my favorite book of 2016. If you are not familiar with Rosaria’s story, I’d recommend starting with her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

This year, I’ve listened to several podcast interviews with Rosaria. I devoured her books and I’ve been so impacted and blessed by this woman’s heart of compassion, hospitality, and deep knowledge of scripture. I finished Openness Unhindered feeling absolutely challenged about the way I engage and interact with unsaved souls, the openness of my home, my own compassion (or lack of compassion) for my neighbors and people in my community.

In this book, Rosaria talks about the history of of sexual and gender identity in the universities and our present culture. She pulls from her own years of research and study as a highly educated woman. She also beautifully and lovingly details Christ’s design for creation, and the beautiful and distinct differences between men and woman. She talks about loving people where they are, cultivating an atmosphere that is open and welcoming – even to people who are different and even sometimes uncomfortable to interact with. She talks about being purposeful and intentional in relationships. Loving people where they are.

If I had a book on hand to just pass out to people, it would be this one.

2] Hiding in the Light by Rifqa Bary

I’m a huge lover of true stories. I devoured Unbroken in four days, and many of the books on my Goodreads to-read list are biographies and true accounts. I first heard Rifqa’s story on a podcast (confession: I discovered a lot of books this year via podcasts), and I knew I had to get my hands on her book. Rifqa was raised in a strict Muslim home in the United States, but had an encounter with God as a young child. This is the story of her salvation, God’s protection and deliverance, a battle with her family and the court system, and ultimately the Lord’s mercy in a situation that seemed impossible. The book is captivating and beautifully written. It’s also incredibly sobering, and convicting in the kind of way that forces one to examine their own hearts and think about what truly matters.

3] Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

I loved this book for 1,001 reasons. If I could mirror anyone’s writing style, it would be Shauna’s. She’s hilarious, descriptive, and down to earth. Her writing is infectious, her stories so beautifully and wonderfully illustrated. But I think more than anything, I appreciated her genuine approach to just writing about life – the ups and downs, the kitchen successes, and little life disappointments. I found myself relating so deeply to her love of food: discovering new places and associating some of the best memories with delicious food. I can also agree that one of my favorite places to be is around the table, immersed in conversation, passing plates, clinking classes, pouring wine or coffee. Throughout this book, I found myself constantly exclaiming, yes!

4] 1984 by George Orwell

It’s a classic I somehow failed to read in high school. So I read it this year (a super timely book, by the way). This is not a happy book by any means, but it’s an absolutely interesting storyline and one worth reading. It’s gripping. Thrilling. Incredibly interesting. I read several novels this year, but 1984 was certainly the best. And while current New York Times Best Sellers have their place, there’s nothing quite like classic literature.

5] All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

It probably took my two months to finish this novel. It was long, and dealt with difficult subject matter  – Nazi occupied France, a blind girl, and a German orphan. I’ve noticed a lot of readers disagreed about this book. Some thought it was just another predictable WWII novel. But I thought it was brilliant. I was captivated by the storyline, the characters, the mystery. Like 1984, it was not a happy book. It certainly did not have a happy ending. But that’s not always a reason to read books. Sometimes a story cannot possibly end happily. That’s a reality, but it doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t be told. This was a fictional novel, but it was obviously based on non-historic fiction (unlike 1984). I’m a little picky when it comes to novels, but this is a good one that I would definitely recommend especially on a snow day, or a long trip, or just a few hours lounging in a hammock.

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