The Best Books I Read in 2023

The Best Books I Read in 2023
Photo by Kourosh Qaffari / Unsplash

In no particular order, these are some gems I stumbled across this year:

Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle

I have read some good books on the creative work we're called to do. Steven Pressfield, Seth Godin, and others have written extensively and helpfully on the topics of how to not let good intentions stay that way and what it means to create art for our fellow humans. But before Walking on Water, I had yet to find a helpful exploration of how faith shapes and informs our creative work. Madeleine L'Engle is the author of many popular children’s books, but most famously, A Wrinkle in Time. I had no idea L'Engle was a Christian until I stumbled upon this book, and she offers beautiful insights into what art is, what truth is, and how one tells us about the other. Real art is true and if it is true, then it is in the most real sense, Christian.

Favorite quotes:

"In art, either as creators or as participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace."

"[One of L'Engle readers:] 'I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was eight or nine. I didn’t understand it, but I knew what it was about.' As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain."

"We cannot seem to escape paradox; I do not think I want to."

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

I discovered Anthony Doerr through his historical fiction novel, All the Light We Cannot See, and was moved by his storytelling. When I saw he released a new novel, I was cautiously excited to try it out. His newest book blends historical fiction and science fiction, linked together by the modern day. I had a tough time following so many different characters’ storylines at first with no idea how they were all going to come together in the end. I was starting to get discouraged until I coincidentally pulled out the book at an airport next to a former English teacher. Immediately, “That’s such a good book! It has a lot of storylines, but hang in there, it’s worth it.” That was all the encouragement I needed to follow through, and I’m glad I did. It’s a beautiful story about our need for stories. Doerr has the rare blend of being both a beautiful writer and a good storyteller. Definitely made me think. One of the best fiction books I’ve read in a long time.

Favorite Quote:

"So long as Anna keeps reading, Maria seems to be at peace, her face calm, as though she sits not in a damp cell in a besieged city listening to a silly tale, but in a garden in the hereafter listening to the hymns of the angels, and Anna remembers something Licinius said: that a story is a way of stretching time."

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller

Marriage has the power to shape us over the course of a lifetime like few other things can. This wonderfully helpful book was written by late NYC-based preacher, Tim Keller, and his wife, Kathy Keller. One of the things I appreciate about Tim Keller's writing is how thorough and seemingly exhaustive it is. With something as intricate, difficult, and glorious as marriage, it would be easy to gloss over minutia or uncomfortable conversations. Thus, I appreciated his and his wife's deep explanation of their beliefs on and experiences of marriage. The Kellers made a compelling case to marry based on friendship compatibility with the trust that romantic compatibility will follow. This is not the storyline that sells, but more often it is the one that works. With marriage being such a prevalent part of our society--I think this is a valuable read for single and married people.

Favorite Quotes:

"The Christian teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice. Jesus gave himself up; he died to himself to save us and make us his. Now we give ourselves up, we die to ourselves, first when we repent and believe the gospel, and later as we submit to his will day by day. Subordinating ourselves to him, however, is radically safe, because he has already shown that he was willing to go to hell and back for us. This banishes fears that loving surrender means loss of oneself."

"It is a mistake to think that you must feel love to give it."

"He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely."

Chronological Bible (NLT)

Last year was the first that I read the entire Bible. I followed a "Bible in a year" plan, and the daily bite sized readings helped me get over the Bible's daunting nature. Most days I was too tired or confused to comprehend what I was reading, but I think the mere act of chugging along produced a greater understanding of and appreciation for the Bible than I expected. Since I found that journey so worthwhile last year, I decided to try it again this year. Except this time, I read through a chronological Bible. It's written in chronological order of when the events in the Bible happened rather than the traditional structure. For example, the same miracle told from different perspectives in different books was grouped together. It was an enlightening way to read the Bible.

Favorite quotes: too many to list

Domestic Monastery by Ronald Rolheiser

I originally bought this book to give to a friend but ended up reading through it in one sitting and covering it in underlines and notes. A short little book, Rolheiser offers beautiful reminders about the groundedness of Christ. The temptation is to believe spiritual life exists apart from our "real" one, and we must match the silence and discipline of a monk to glimpse God. Yet Jesus showed us that monks living apart from civilization in silence may be no more holy than a mother living amidst three noisy kids and all the loud activities that come with them. Christ is with us in our everyday lives. Just as the monks are reminded to pray, to turn their eyes toward God, by a scheduled bell--so too can the noise and seeming "interruptions" of our lives serve as a reminder of our dependence on God. Very insightful book.

Favorite Quote

"Stay inside your vocation, inside your commitments, inside your legitimate conscripitive duties, inside your church, inside your family, and they will teach you where life is found and what love means. Be faithful to your commitments, and what you are ultimately looking for will be found there."