Bookish Delights · Current Events

2021 Reading Challenge, Part 1

Last year was a rough one for reading. I read, as I always do, but due to all the difficulties, I bent more toward re-reading my favorite comfort books than challenging myself to accomplish any sort of list.

This year, however, I wanted to get back on track with the discipline of reading, so I set some goals for myself. One of them was to simply spend more time reading. Canceling my streaming services helped greatly in that regard – no longer could I just pop a show on during dinner, which forced me to turn to my books.

The other goal was to read four books a month in four different genres/categories – a spiritual growth book, a classic, a current events book, and a young adult book (to keep up with recommendations for my students).

While I haven’t hit that goal every month this year, I have stayed consistent with the categories, rotating through them on a regular basis – and, most months, hitting at least three books. I’ve had to learn to discipline myself to read just a few minutes longer to finish certain books on time, and it’s been good for me to accomplish goals and devour a range of topics and stories.

For those who like book recommendations, I’ll share the books I’ve read from the first four months of the year along with a short commentary on them. 

January

  1. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport [Current Events]

Type of Read: Engaging, practical, thought-provoking, inspiring.

The first book I read this year was so good I wrote an entire blog post review of it (which I rarely ever do). Cal Newport gives compelling reasons why we should be mindful of our choices when it comes to digital consumption. Those reasons also tie into biblical ones about “making the most of our time because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). I highly recommend this book, especially if you feel uncomfortable with the amount of time you spend on screens on a regular basis.

  1. Holy Sexuality & the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story by Christopher Yuan [Spiritual Growth]

Type of Read: Practical, thought-provoking, gentle correction of Christians’ mistaken approaches toward those who are same-sex attracted.

With topics about sexuality and gender identity everywhere we look these days, this book is the perfect one to make sense of them from a biblical perspective. From the back of the book, it says, “Holy Sexuality and the Gospel offers theological and practical insights that lead us to find our identity in Christ – not in our sexuality.” Christopher Yuan himself came out of the gay community and is now a professor at Moody Bible Institute and offers sound, honest insight into how to love our brothers and sisters in Christ who are same-sex attracted.

One part that especially encouraged me as a single woman was this, “Relationships with our brothers or sisters in Christ should be among the most intimate and real relationships we have. One-flesh union of husband and wife makes it unique compared with other relationships. Yet it is still a temporary union for our time on earth. The only permanent human relationship is between those bound by Christ’s blood in the spiritual family of God.” I highly recommend this book, especially for those who feel they want to understand a better biblical teaching about homosexuality, identity, and the Gospel.

  1. Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson [YA book]

Type of read: Easy-to-read fiction, beautiful storytelling, gripping themes

Forge is the second in a trilogy called The Seeds of America – the first book is called Chains. The first book tells the story of a slave girl named Isabel during the Revolutionary War; this second book goes into the story of her friend, Curzon, who is also a slave. In this book, he escapes to go fight with the Patriot army, although he is captured again at one point. Both Curzon and Isabel wonder if it’s worth it to help fight the battle for freedom when they themselves are not free, which are compelling and worthwhile questions to wrestle through. I definitely recommend this book, both for middle-school aged students and for adults, as it’s an excellent story.

  1. Hard Times by Charles Dickens [Classic]

Type of read: Older English, complex sentence structure, takes a bit more time

Hard Times is one of the shorter books by Charles Dickens, which is why I chose it. I started it at the end of January and finished it the beginning of February, and it was well worth the read. Charles Dickens always astounds me with the way he weaves characters that you both love and hate. This particular story was a gritty portrayal of life in an industrial English town – of those who barely scraped by, but who lived with loyalty and integrity; and also of those who profited from the masses and made selfish choices. It was incredibly heartbreaking at times, but such an insight into human character and the impact our choices have on others. I definitely recommend this book, especially if you want to try out Charles Dickens but don’t want to dive into some of his longer books.

February

  1. Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks [YA book]

Type of read: Light, easy-to-read fiction, sweet story

I read this book because one of my students loaned it to me and recommended it, and I ended up really enjoying it. It tells the story of a girl whose mother is an author and one night, the mother disappears. The girl goes looking for her mom and gets transported to another world where writers go to find their stories. She ends up writing a story of her own and discovering things she didn’t know about herself. The storytelling seemed a little less engaging at times; some of the characters were not that deep either, but as a writer, I did like the message that your stories are important and need to be told. I would recommend this book to middle-grade students, especially girls who like fantasy.

  1. Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice by Scott David Allen [Current events]

Type of read: Engaging, practical, very current

Last summer I was overwhelmed by the amount of movement from the “social justice warriors” on social media around racism and not sure exactly what to support. This book addresses those topics through a biblical lens and helps realign misguided intentions toward truth. If you want a place to start in dissecting much of what’s going on in our country through a biblical perspective, I definitely recommend this book.

  1. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney [Spiritual growth]

Type of Read: Quick and easy, convicting and helpful

This was one of the books on my bookshelf that I inherited from my dad, so I pulled it off to squeeze it into the month of February. It’s a short read, but with worthwhile content. I think it might be better suited to newer Christians in helping establish some solid disciplines, but it’s always good for believers to evaluate their spiritual health. Reflecting on things I often take for granted or kind of skim through helped me remember the core tenets of my walk with the Lord.

March

  1. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba [YA book]

Type of read: Easy, engaging, valuable story

This was a book that was donated to my classroom library this year that I had been wanting to read for awhile. The story of William Kamkwamba and how he built a windmill from junkyard scraps in his village in Malawi is truly inspiring. Just the perspective of how little his village had compared to how much we have in America is enough to make a person humbled. His perseverance, determination, and ingenuity was amazing to read about, too, as he taught himself all that he needed to know about building his windmill. I highly recommend this book for all ages.

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel [Adult fiction]

Type of read: Fascinating science fiction story, page turner

This book was recommended to me by a friend, and because I had a bookstore gift card burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to buy a “treat” book for myself. Adult fiction wasn’t one of my categories for the year, but it was nice to take a break for a book that sweeps you into the story. Granted, it was eerie that the author wrote this about seven years ago about a pandemic when we just came out of one. However, in her pandemic, it was the kind where people were dying within 24 hours of contracting the disease and left few survivors on the earth. The story switches back and forth between pre-pandemic storylines to 20 years post-pandemic and the people who are trying to survive.

One line in particular brought me to tears unexpectedly. In the post-pandemic world, there is a group of traveling actors and musicians, and they call themselves “The Traveling Symphony.” They go from settlement to settlement performing various Shakespeare plays. At the end of one of the chapters, it says this, “All three caravans of the Traveling Symphony are labeled as such, THE TRAVELING SYMPHONY lettered in white on both sides, but the lead caravan carries an additional line of text: Because survival is insufficient” (p. 58).

After a year’s worth of no arts – no theater, no concerts, no dance recitals, no live performances of any kind – my soul felt that connection to these traveling performers. And it reminded me of why the prolonged lockdowns and quarantine were so harmful – because we were not meant just to survive. We were meant to live and embrace things like the arts that give meaning to life. Definitely recommend this book as a fascinating story (warning: some language).

  1. The Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin – the first third [Spiritual growth]

Type of read: Incredibly dense and challenging (and this was a condensed version!)

This was another book I inherited from my dad, and while I grew up knowing the basics of Calvinist theology, I wanted to read it straight from John Calvin himself. He actually has a beautiful writing style, and there were certain lines that simply struck me with awe:

“When the sky is overcast and a violent storm breaks, the darkness and thunder terrify us and we think everything is in a state of confusion, when, in fact, everything goes on serenely up above. In the same way, when our lives are in turmoil so that we cannot think straight, we should still believe that God, in the pure light of his justice and wisdom, keeps our problems under his control, and finds the right solution. […] What could be more absurd than to show restraint towards our equals, and suspend judgment rather than be called impetuous, while we arrogantly insult God’s hidden wisdom when we ought to respect it” (p. 76).

Knowing our theology well gives deep assurance and peace. I’m grateful for men of faith like Calvin who have come before and disseminated it so clearly. I’ll just have to finish the book when I have a little more brain capacity to do so.

  1. Dracula by Bram Stoker [Classic]

Type of Read: Descriptive storytelling – sometimes dragged out certain events for too long.

As classics go, this is one that has well-earned it’s title. The fact that Dracula has become such a well-known mythical figure speaks to Bram Stoker’s utmost ability to weave a powerful story. It is Gothic horror at its finest – some parts made me squirm a little, but that’s because I’m not one who loves horror. Like I said, some parts were overly-drawn out, but overall, the characters were well-developed, and the plot line fascinating.

April

  1. The Diversity Delusion by Heather Mac Donald [Current events]

Type of read: Practical and engaging

This book is not for everyone – as far as current events go, it’s pretty controversial, but I was grateful for the points that she made. As I have been against affirmative action since high school (I wrote an essay about it on one of my AP tests), it was fascinating to hear just how far it has been taken in recent years to accommodate women and people of color. The facts are clear that we have made our country one of great opportunity for all people, yet people are still being judged on the basis of their gender and skin color – the pendulum has just swung in favor of those who were once marginalized. This is not the case in every single circumstance, but it is in the majority of universities and corporate jobs. I am for people being hired and accepted into universities based on their skills and abilities, and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.

  1. Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund

Type of read: Quick, encouraging, shepherding

The subtitle of this book is “The heart of Christ for sufferers and sinners” and that is exactly what it unfolded. I have always struggled with fully believing Christ’s love for me. I’ve tried to earn God’s good grace when I know that’s not possible, and this book was a balm for my weary soul. This is obviously focusing on just one attribute of Christ, but it is the heart of who he is (1 John 4 repeatedly states that God IS love). He longs for us to be his children and to trust his heart for us, and I need this reminder again and again. Definitely would recommend, especially if you need a refreshment to your soul.

  1. The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden [YA book]

Type of read: Quick, sweet children’s story (also a classic)

This is one of those kids’ books I’d always heard about and just never read (and thought it would be very different!). I pulled it from my classroom library and read it within a day. It was such a sweet story of the cricket who accidentally gets transported to Times Square from the country and makes friends with a boy whose parents run a newspaper stand as well as a cat and a mouse who also live in Times Square. I think it’s one of those books that every kid should read in their childhood.

I don’t expect everyone to read or like the same books as me. However, as I appreciate it when others share their book recommendations, I hope some of these were helpful to you. I’ll post May-August’s books in September, and September-December’s books next January, so there will be more to come. I also don’t have a set list of books that I’m going through, so if you have recommendations of books for me, I’d be happy to hear them. Happy reading!

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

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