Some parenting books stress me out and leave my mind abuzz with new anxieties. Reading these books, however, felt like listening to the measured wisdom of an older aunt or uncle. I finished each book intrigued, inspired, and eager to grow. The authors draw from long careers working with children—as a literacy expert (Mem Fox), family consultant (Kim John Payne), and educator (Dr. Karyn Purvis). Research is clearly presented and practical applications abound.
It seems everyone these days has a must-read book list. Seeing so many book recommendations can feel overwhelming to me–a natural rule-follower (give me the syllabus!). This is especially the case with nonfiction books, which are what I mostly read this last year. Here are fifteen must-reads on X topic! You’d better dive in. You’re already behind! It can feel paralyzing. How do I vet which books are worth my time? How can I possibly read them all? The short answers would be–don’t read so many lists in the first place, consider what you are trying to experience or learn from a book then choose it, recognize you can’t read everything, then just start reading.
With my limited time, I usually choose books from my growing to-read list. I take screenshots of books that sound interesting, transfer them to a Pinterest board, then browse the list when I’m ready to start a new book. I also add new titles and displace old ones at any time, so the list feels less like a looming assignment and more like a spontaneous buffet. I typically read a few books at a time, both in print and audiobook form. If I am in a reading slump, I read something short: a middle grade novel or a short story or essay collection. The high I get from finishing a book helps to grease the cylinders for more reading. I have also begun abandoning books at times, a practice I used to think somehow shameful but which doesn’t bother me now (some exceptions are books that I choose to slog through because a. I’m trying to develop reading stamina, b. I am working towards some goal, or c. I am reading it alongside someone else).
One place I like to go for new books ideas is a blog series called On My Shelf, which includes brief interviews with people about books that have formed them. Here are some posts I have drawn from: Jarvis Williams, Karen Ellis, and Thabiti Anyabwile.
These books were a comfort to me this year. In Handle With Care, Lore Ferguson Wilbert articulated many of my own thoughts on physical touch and writes with candor and warmth. Fred Rogers’ words in You Are Special were like the quiet encouragements of a patient counselor. In An Invitation to Silence and Solitude, Ruth Haley Barton was my personal counselor, allowing me see my need for a rhythm of silence. Anne Bogel’s book, Don’t Overthink It, made me feel less alone in my tendency towards decision fatigue and anxious spiraling. In Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund makes a compelling case for Jesus’ profound tenderness towards His children. These books were restorative and calming to me this year and I highly recommend them.