The Ten Best Books I Read in 2023

 This is now the fifth year that I have published this list of my Top Ten books from the past year. I have fun writing it, and I enjoy hearing from people who consider reading from it. I think one of my advantages to be that I don't just read stuff published this year, so often the list spans decades if not centuries. Scroll down for 2019-2022's lists. A list of honorable mentions is at the bottom. Here are the books in the order that I read them.

Reading While Black by Esau McCaulley

I would put myself with many white Christian readers as having undervalued the unique contributions of authors of color in general, but particularly of the African American church and its rich legacy. Esau McCaulley is brilliant, and he is devoted to the Bible. The chance to look at biblical themes through his eyes as a representation of the eyes of the African American church community is a gift to all who want to understand the Bible better.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

The title and sub-title are pretty self-explanatory. This combination of autobiography and apologetic for Christianity is a good analysis, but I think its power is even more in the late Qureshi's love for his Middle Eastern, and even particularly Islamic, heritage. Thus it helped me understand some things about Christianity and Islam, but it also gives us a model for how to engage across differences with love.

The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Earley

This is the kind of book that I might read, but would generally be very unlikely to put in a top ten list. Justin Whitmel Earley was a missionary and is now a lawyer who wrestles with anxiety. Implementing "habits of purpose" have been instrumental for his own spiritual and emotional health. The book is structured a bit like a corporate seminar (which is why I would usually be averse to its style), but his personal candor gives the book an organic feel. Each of the 8 habits are sound. "Scripture Before Phone" has been the most enduring for me.

"There is no love of neighbor without attention to neighbor."

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

This Newbery runner-up (see below for thoughts on the winner) is a Thai-inspired adventurous fantasy on the high seas off the edges of the known maps. To that end, it has a bit of a Dawn Treader feel. Less magical, but still a lot of fun.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

This one is more and more known, especially with the Tom Hanks Americanized film version. The novel is a brilliant and beautiful look into the life of an old curmudgeon. Everyone knows someone like that, and most everyone needs to understand them better, and this book is helpful to that end. After reading Beartown last year, I've decided that Backman has maybe the best masculine protagonists around. I say "masculine" instead of "male" because so many male literary protagonists are mirrors of the author: sensitive, well-read, maybe misunderstood by the masculine culture around them. Backman's men would probably never read a book much less write one, but he makes them come alive.

I didn't think I'd want to see the movie, but Rachel talked me into it. It's actually also great, but read the book first, because as my brother-in-law Brian says: "Books are better."

Looking for the Hidden Folk: How Iceland's Elves Can Save the Earth by Nancy Marie Brown

This one was compliments of a Russell Moore podcast, and I was intrigued because we were spending a few days in Iceland last summer. Apparently, the modern secular state of Iceland has a shocking number of people who sincerely believe in the reality of elves. Brown, instead of viewing this with disdain, stretching our thinking about how we understand what is real (including a great discussion about dark matter), and asks whether we need such stretching in order to live well. Brown seems to blame Christianity for science and how it sucks the wonder from the world, whereas others blame Christians for anti-scientific credulity. Regardless, I find myself bringing up thoughts from this book quite often.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I read this science-fiction classic because Maggie said it was great, and she was right. I hadn't read Bradbury since junior high, and never this one. It's a loose collection of stories, but each of them stands on both its meaning and on Bradbury's beautiful language. Just like I said last year for The Last Cuentista, Sci-fi shines when its strange stories help us better understand how to be human.

The Holy Ghost by John Hendrix

Thanks to James Paternoster for a book that I would never have imagine existed. John Hendrix is a PCA elder and a design professor. This panel-comic collection features an overly confident badger, an angry doubtful squirrel, and the Holy Ghost as...a blue ghost. It nails (and possibly exceeds, given its title character) the capacity shown in Calvin and Hobbes to be both funny and profound in a comic. You can't help but wonder if you're going to find sacrilege, but in the end you find orthodoxy.

All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir by Beth Moore

I've never read any of Moore's bible studies (because I'm a guy?), but hearing about her public life in the last few years has been as unavoidable as it has been difficult and admirable. So I was eager to hear her story. What I didn't anticipate is just how great a writer she is. Her writing craft is funny, insightful and gracious. Beth Moore is a valuable voice for these days of American Christianity and I'm so glad she told her story courageously and well.

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin

Newbigin is one of those giants of 20th century theology that I've heard quoted for years and never read. Thanks to Steve Telian for giving me this copy which finally pushed me to read him for myself. Newbigin criticizes the limits and inconsistency of pluralism as a guiding cultural philosophy and talks profoundly about how Christians should live within such a culture.

"It is often said that the Church ought to address itself to the real questions which people are asking. That is to misunderstand the mission of Jesus and the mission of the church. The world's questions are not the questions which lead to life. What really needs to be said is that where the Church is faithful to its Lord, there the powers of the kingdom are present and people begin to ask the question to which the gospel is the answer. And that, I suppose, is why the letters of St. Paul contain so many exhortations to faithfulness but no exhortations to be active in mission."

Honorable Mentions:

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson

The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

Rembrandt is in the Wind by Russ Ramsey

The German Wife by Kelly Rimmer

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Uncommon Ground by Timothy Keller and John Inazu

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Labors of Hercules Beal by Gary Schmidt

Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin

Finally, since Rachel and I have read and ranked all the Newbery Medal winners ever, here are some thoughts on the 2023 winner:

Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson

This runaway slave story is uniquely subversive in that the slaves of the American South are running away, not to the North, but to an impenetrable swamp where they have constructed a secret culture of their own. It's a fascinating setting which has at least some historical roots (though how much is difficult to determine). The inevitable young protagonists of this Newbery would do better to listen more to their elders, but it really was a great read (see Honorable Mentions above).


The Ten Best Books I Read in 2022

For the fourth year in a row, I'm closing out the year by sharing the ten best books I read this year.  Scroll down to find the lists for 2021, 2020, and 2019.  I've enjoyed hearing from those of you who took this list to the bank.  Generally, I keep a chronological list of everything I read, adding a * to any book that I thought was just great, and it's usually about ten books each year.  This year, I either read a lot of great books or my * standard is slipping.  So I had to do some winnowing to get down to ten, but I've included the other * books at the end in an Honorable Mention category.  Here they are, in the order in which I read them.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Written in 2014, this novel follows the world through a novel flu epidemic that wipes out 99% of the population.  I got it a few years ago, but needless to say, didn't have the heart to read it during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.  With an amazingly written, interwoven plot, the primary thread follows a traveling Shakespeare troop that plods up and down the now-wilderness of the Lake Michigan shoreline.  One review said something about, as dystopia goes, this is the first novel that is more about living than surviving, and I would agree.

Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I've Loved) by Kate Bowler

Kate Bowler is a Duke Divinity faculty member whose research has centered on the prosperity gospel.  Then, at age 35 with a young son, she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, and this book records her own struggles with living out incredible suffering.  She is insightful, incredibly nuanced, sassy, and sympathetic to a very large variety of people.  She is the kind of witness that you want to listen to and learn from.

It was the sin of arrogance, of becoming impervious to life itself.  I failed to love what was present and decided to love what was possible instead.

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

In the last four years of making this list, this is the first time that the Newbery Medal winner has earned a spot in the top ten.  It's probably the best Newbery since 2011's Moon Over Manifest.  It's an odd hybrid of Latin-x culture ("cuentista" being "storyteller" in Spanish) and Sci-Fi, as it follows a ship of people seeking a new world home after Earth is struck by a comet.  But it totally works.  I'm not a huge Sci-Fi fan generally, but this is the genre at its best, dealing with big life questions that pit our desire to be safe against our desire to be fully human.

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

I had previously read Schmidt's Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and The Wednesday Wars (top ten 2020 list), but Okay for Now cemented my opinion that Gary Schmidt is simply one of America's best young adult novelists.  I'll read anything he writes (and I read two more of his novels this year to make good on that).  How can a book about an adolescent boy be so sad and funny and happy and heartbreaking all at the same time?  (My only suggestion is that the publisher take a different approach to his cover art, which makes his books look fluffy.)

Hind's Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

I read this book back in college and loved the simple way in which in made me reimagine my life as a journey.  Its literary style is in no way impressive, but while visiting the Pyrenees this summer, I was reminded of it, and decided to read it together with Maggie.  The allegory still holds up well, and the depiction of the Christ-figure Shepherd is really joyful.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

This was recommended by our teammate Glory.  It's the story of a rural Swedish hockey town whose hockey hopes (or obsession) are pitted against an act of great violence in their community.  I have never had a book on this top ten list that I almost stopped reading halfway through.  It was difficult to understand just why this book was so hard to read at certain points, but I think it's fundamentally because Backman's characters are so nuanced that they feel so real.

Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson

As predicted, Eugene Peterson made the list for the third year in a row.  Scott Myhre recommended this one, and it is a great exploration of Jonah, but more than that, a thorough look at pursuing holiness in vocational ministry (for him as a pastor, but for me as a missionary, and many others, I'm sure).

What I love is the creativity.  And what I know is that I can never be involved in creativity except by entering the mess.

Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness and Gentle Discipleship by John Swinton

I would have never found this book if not for James Paternoster giving it to me, and I'm so glad he did.  John Swinton is a theologian at Aberdeen Divinity School, but he is also a mental health nurse.  This book is somewhat academic, and thus not for everyone, but I just loved it.  Swinton describes how modern Western notions of Time are not necessarily biblical, and how such notions marginalize those with profound disabilities.  He then explores how being with people with disabilities can help us all learn more about Biblical timefullness.

As an aspect of God's love, the purpose of time is to facilitate and sustain love.

The reality is that, when time is love, speed equals less of it.

Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri

Daniel Nayeri tells the basically autobiographical story of growing up in Iran, and his mom converting to Christianity, which led to her (along with him and his sister) fleeing the country, landing finally in the USA.  It's hilarious and bizarre and endearing and creative.  It's a fantastic American immigration story with all the tension of America being great and also not great (and not home).  Nayeri's description of his complicated relationship with his dad is depicted just as sorrowful and unique as I imagine it is.  Thanks to Clayton for recommending it.  Maggie also loved it.

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

I have read and loved Gilead, Lila, and Home by Robinson, all following the same main characters.  I was excited to read another, this time following the prodigal white preacher's son Jack in the part of the saga where he falls in love with the winsome black preacher's daughter Della in an era of St. Louis history where such a relationship was illegal.  When I was about 50 pages into the book, I was admiring (again) Robinson's craft, but feeling the weight of her long conversations and complicated characters.  But, by the end, it was simply another home run.  Marilynne Robinson is incredible.

Truth versus poetry was really no contest.

Della said, "It will be alright." And then she said, "If it isn't, what will it matter?"  True enough.

Honorable Mentions:

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Educated by Tara Westover

Bullies and Saints by John Dickson

The Gift of Disillusionment by Peter Greer and Chris Horst



Seven days ago, my grandpa, Eugene Frank Blanski, the namesake for my own middle name, passed away at the age of 90 after 4 years of being a widower, and only 10 days of a battle with cancer.  Today, I am in a hotel in Bujumbura, ready to board three flights to get me back the Minnesota to be with my family during his funeral.  I am so thankful that I got to spend 40 years with him, and that all three of my children knew and loved him.

In 2012, my family came to stay with he and my grandma at their apartment in Minneapolis.  He was about 80 years old at the time, years after a big heart bypass and knee arthroplasties, but he laid down on the carpet, wrestling and tickling little Maggie and Ben, and I'm not sure which of the three of them had the best time.

When they were done, I watched him quietly crawl backwards into the adjoining sitting room.  I peered around the corner to see him bracing himself against a bookcase to get himself back up into an upright position.  It wasn't easy and he almost slipped at one point, hitting his forearm again the shelf.  Seeing that he was again standing, I went back and sat down in the living room.  In a couple minutes, he reappeared and called me into the other room.

He wanted me to look at his arm.  Between his paper-thin skin and his blood thinners, there was a nasty gash, but I thought it would heal without stitches, which is what he wanted to know.  "It's the dardnest thing.  I don't know how that happened," he said.  

Of course, I knew.  And I think we both knew that telling anyone would risk others telling him that he should act his age and not try to wrestle with toddlers on the ground.  He had no regrets and no interest in getting that kind of feedback, so he stayed quiet.

Later I would read Atul Gawande's Being Mortal where he states that with advancing age, we want autonomy for ourselves, but safety for those we love.  I thought back to Papa on the carpet, Papa struggling to right himself, Papa running silly risks for the sake of being silly with my kids.  I decided then that I would keep this story for myself, and only share it after he died.

In 2018, my family had a reunion at some cabins at one of the TVA lakes that are scattered around Tennessee, invariably hilly in order to have dammed the river and made the lake in the first place.  My parents had bought a golf cart to take my grandparents around.

While putting my shoes on in our cabin, I heard my mom shriek, and I ran outside to see something I had never seen or thought I would see: My grandpa at 87 sprinting full tilt down the steep forested slope between our cabin and the next.  He had decided to forgo the golf cart and just take the hill slowly.  But then he found he was unable to stop the acceleration.  As I ran after him, I pictured him slamming into a tree and (again, the blood thinners) that would be the end.  Instead he felt on his side, dodging the forest, and landed on his back in a soft bed of leaf litter just as I careened up next to him.

After seeing that he was alright, and clearing him for cervical spine fractures, we slowly got up.  Amazingly, he got away with that stunt with only the few cuts and bruises that are in the photo above, and he was out roasting marshmallows with my niece Sierra the next night.

All that to say, I still admire his choices even if they were sometimes wrong.

Papa and I were so different.  A successful CPA who helped build his own firm, he wanted me to learn sound principals of financial management.  When I was in college, he arranged for his financial advisor (who was actually named Poindexter, a coincidence that I still find humorous) to call me in my college dorm just to ask if I had any questions about mutual funds and investment.  Neither of us really wanted to have that call, I think, but we did for Papa's sake.  Not only could I have cared less, but at that point in my life, may even have had some kind of vague moral opposition to learning financial management.

We never lived in the same state, though he and Grammy would visit often.  So why did I feel so close to this man, who was so different and often far away?  Because he loved me, and I absolutely knew it.  More than that, he approved of me, and I knew that, too.

The day after hearing about Papa's passing, I went out, as I always do a couple days a week to meet my friend Lijalem, an Ethiopian surgeon working at Kibuye, for a few minutes before heading to the hospital.  We sit on the porch of the kids' school and pray for the day of work that is before us.

He had heard that my grandpa had passed, and as he approached me, he put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a hug.  He sat down across from me, and with sorrow in his own eyes, he said, "Eric, I'm so sorry to hear about your grandpa.  Did you love him very much?"

It has been an amazing thing to be surrounded by African friends in a time of grieving.

Yes, I did love him very much. 


The 10 Best Books I Read in 2021


For the third year in a row (scroll down for 2020 and 2019), I am posting the ten books that I enjoyed the most in the past year.  Here they are, in the chronological order that I encountered them, with a 2021 Newbery commentary at the end.

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I decided at the beginning of 2021 to read a few classic novels that, for some reason or another, I had never gotten to.  I started with Jane Eyre, which is absolutely brilliant.  The capacity of these Victorian women authors to provide such complex character sketches is so rich.  I owe it to Peter Bast who convinced me years ago to not shy away from Pride and Prejudice on the grounds that most big fans are usually women, and I'm thankful that he rid me of such...prejudice.

"The sovereign hand that created your frame, and put life into it, has provided you with other resources than your feeble self, or than creatures feeble as you."

2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

For fans of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns who recognized Hosseini's brilliance but just found those great books so hard to read, this may be the perfect novel.  The international and long-time-arc elements of Hosseini's other novels are still there, but the moments of redemption are less dark.  It was published in 2013, and it seems like it missed the level of fanfare that the prior two novels received.

3. Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

The first of two YA novels on this list, this one came to me via Rachel's recommendation.  Wolk's character and intricate plot are set in the Elizabeth Islands about a hundred years ago, off the coast of Cape Cod, a remote area that I've never really imagined before.  So it's that great blend of domestic/accessible and exotic/fascinating.  I love to read books set in areas where I travel, so I later read this book aloud to our kids when we spend a few days in Cape Cod in June.

4. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson

Peterson had a book on last year's list, and if I had to guess, I would say that he's likely to have one on next year's list.  The more I read from him, the more I want to read.  This book was recommended by Russell Moore (see below) on a blog.  It forms part of Peterson's "Spiritual Theology" series which focuses on the marriage of biblical theology to everyday practicality.  It's a decently hefty read, but very worthwhile.

"Is it not obvious by now that all through this narrative of the formation of the Jesus community the means used are unconventional, countercultural, and alien to any person who knows nothing of resurrection?  But once resurrection is introduced into the story, all the ways in which we work have to be rethought, re-imagined, and reworked.  The world's means can no longer be employed for kingdom ends."

5. Hope in Times of Fear by Timothy Keller

I was looking forward to this new book.  It wasn't what I expected, but I'm happy that it is what it is.  Keller's writing about Easter and Resurrection ended up being timed to both a worldwide pandemic as well as his own personal battle with what appears to be terminal cancer.  Far from triumphalistic, he spends a lot of time developing how a strength-in-weakness or death-before-resurrection parabola is so central to the Biblical story.  I also can't help plugging Keller's article in The Atlantic.  I'm so glad that he got to write this book.

"The Bible's teaching is that the road to the best things is not through the good things but usually through the hard things...if we remember this, we can face anything."

6. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

This book, recommended to me by Brian Beise, is a short detective novel which never says that it's about a 90-year old Sherlock Holmes pulling himself out of retirement for one final case, but it nevertheless obviously is about that.  The writing is great.  The restraint in never actually saying what is so obviously true is maybe the most worth savoring.

7. Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren

This book just picked up Christianity Today's Book of the Year Award (second time for her after Liturgy of the Ordinary).  It's a truly fantastic look at finding hope in the darkness, using a Compline prayer from the Book of Common Prayer as the skeleton for the book structure.  Friends have pointed out how much they feel this book is similar in theme to my own, and I definitely agree.  The gift of this book, for me, was getting to read the same thoughts I needed to write in a fresh voice different from my own.  I've already read two other books from her bibliography.

"Christian discipleship is a lifetime of training in how to pay attention to the right things."

8. The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore

Having greatly appreciated Moore's voice on a lot of current events, I wanted to read one of his books.  I was somewhat surprised to see this one themed around family, since I had mostly encountered him talking about public policy and such.  It's absolutely brilliant and insightful, taking Family off the pedestal where many have put it, and placing it rightfully under Christ's lordship so that it can be more than what it could be as a merely disordered love.  I suppose a good part of my affinity for this work was my identification with Moore's own personality in family life, so I'm thankful that he was that personal in his writing.

"What is meant for [something] to be good...would be for it to go according to my own plan.  I was deeply and profoundly stupid."

9. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Rachel's family had a family reunion in Charleston, where I had never been, and this was a read to accompany that new place.  It's an epic tale following the stories of a budding woman abolitionist and a young slave girl in South Carolina in the first half of the 19th century.

10. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Maggie was so taken with this one, that I wanted to read it myself.  I've loved Spinelli ever since reading Maniac Magee in 4th grade.  The storytelling is good, but ultimately this book rises on the main character of Stargirl.  It's a story of non-conformity, but unlike a lot of such stories (e.g. Timmy Failure), the non-conformity is ultimately self-giving love, and it's beautiful and sad as such stories probably always are.

There is a sequel, which is pretty good, but Rachel proposed a better idea for a sequel.  There is also a Disney+ movie, and I don't think I want to see it.

(our Newbery Rank list here)

The 100th Newbery Medal was award to Tae Keller for How to Trap a Tiger, which is a story of a young Korean-American girl (and her sister) coping with the pending death of their grandmother, who adheres to a number of traditional Korean beliefs.  The writing is quite good, and probably the best plot achievement is how the reader is suspended for quite a long time about how much magic is really going on in the story. Not a home run in my book (still waiting for a year when the Newbery is a top 10 read for me), but a great book.

*At the end of the book, there is a very brief mention of the teenage sister being in a same-sex relationship.  It seems completely extraneous to the story, but the casual normality of it was likely the author's point.  I leave it to the reader to decide.


Maggie Writes!

Maggie has taken to writing fan fiction novellas.  You can find them here.

(I'm linking this because FB is disallowing me to link directly to her page.  Which is really weird.)


The 10 Best Books I Read in 2020


For the second year in a row, I kept a list of all the books I read in 2020.  Just like last year, this affords me the opportunity here at the end of the year to look back and recognize my ten favorites.  

1. A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser
This was actually the first book I read in 2020.  It was recommended by a guy at MTI in 2018 as an incredible book on suffering, and it is indeed that.  Jerry Sittser lost his mother, wife, and daughter in the same accident with a drunk driver.  His reflections on suffering are profound.  I keep coming back to this quote I've already used multiple times in 2020 (here and here): "Sorrow is noble and gracious.  It enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously, of feeling the world's pain and hoping for the world's healing at the same time."  I can't think of many ideas more important for the world of 2020.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Like everyone else, I read (and enjoyed) this in high school, but that was a long time ago.  Harper Lee nailed it.  Beautiful story, characters, and style.

3. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
There is a bit of irony with me placing this one after Harper Lee, but for me, it's just a chronological coincidence.  Stevenson's story about getting an innocent man off death row, along with his general overview of the injustices (racial and otherwise) of the American legal system, is incredibly compelling.  The stories and his descriptions of the issues are engaging.  Stevenson's voice is distinctively and richly Christian.  It's a voice that the church and the world both need, and I'm so glad he's out there testifying.

4. The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
This book was the 2008 Newbery runner-up to Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, which was actually also a great book.  So, I'm not debating the difficult choice there, but The Wednesday Wars was certainly Newbery Medal-worthy.  The book moves from one vignette to another, any of which would have been worthy of a climax.

5. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Ever since falling in love with the darkly-redemptive The Power and the Glory about twenty years ago, I've been searching for another Greene novel that captures the same beauty.  This is a very close second.  Greene's psychological dissection of how a modern heart AND mind encounters Christianity from the outside as well as the inside often plays a peripheral role in his story, but it comes into center focus here.

6. Plaidoyer Pour La Vie by Denis Mukwege
Dommage that this book doesn't yet have an English translation.  Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Denis Mukwege has been working tirelessly for women who are victims of sexual violence in nearby Bukavu, DR Congo.  He is also a graduate of the University of Burundi.  His heroic efforts have put his life under constant threat.  As an autobiography, Plaidoyer Pour la Vie gives Dr. Mukwege a chance to talk openly about his faith and his life growing up among medical missionaries.  Incredible story.

7. Silence by Shusaku Endo
This book was surprisingly hard for me to find (there appears to be no Kindle version?), and I haven't seen the Scorsese film with Liam Neeson.  It is a story of deep struggle and seemingly lost faith in the era of Catholic missionaries to Japan.  The characterization is made in the intro that Shusaku Endo is a kind of Graham Greene for Japan, and I can see that.  The story is as beautiful and deep as it is heartbreaking.  I will be reading more by Endo.  "Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be... Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.  And then for the first time a real prayer rose up in his heart."

8. The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson
This is simply a practical gem.  Peterson talks about how contemplative living is necessary for good living, but we treat is as peripheral.  Which is true for pastors and everyone.  Thus, this is a book about getting life and work right.  His image of the pastor as the Melville "man with the harpoon" while everyone else in the boat is rowing, so that he can strike well in the opportune moment, is a durable metaphor.  "...the faithful endurance that is respectful of the complexities of living a moral, spiritual, and liturgical life before the mysteries of God in the mess of history."  I know that's a sentence fragment, but what a fragment.

9. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Rabbit
I'm surprised I never read this as a kid.  The story of the immortal Tucks and all its implications is married perfectly with Babbit's style.

10. Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
Enger's prior novel made my list last year, so that tells you something of my evolving opinion of him as a novelist.  Virgil Wander is the wonderfully quirky story of a small town on the north shore of Lake Superior, MN.  It feels magical, but it's really not.  It feels redemptive, but also ordinary.  Which is great.

BONUS: Newbery 2020 Reflection:  We continue to read and rank the Newbery Medal winners every year.  Now our kids are getting into it, which is fun.  Next year will be the 100th year, so we're looking forward to that.

2020 Newbery Medal: New Kid by Jerry Craft.
This is a great graphic novel about a black kid who starts at a new elite school where he struggles with being a person of color in a very white world.  The story and the illustrations both work really well, and all our kids enjoyed the book.  It's funny and nuanced.  The odd thing is that it's a graphic novel.  Our impression is that the Newbery Medal went to a story that could stand alone without its illustrations (thus having excluded past greats from Brian Selznick like Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck).  Apparently not.