It started as a coping mechanism. I was in charge of multiple international young adults and couldn’t turn my brain off. So I picked up 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and took a deep dive into the colourful world of Jules Verne. Then I slept.
Four years on, I still read. Every night. I don’t do it because I think it’s a good, smart thing to do. I read books because I come alive when I do. Simple as that. And it’s rare that I read books without picking apart every chapter and clause to find what makes it effective. The writer in me doesn’t switch off.
Yet there’s moments where I stumble across books that shake me. Only a few words strung together. But still—a slow-release earthquake. In that moment, I’m not picking apart diction or grammar. I’m just a reader. Shaken.
So, here’s my five most influential reads of 2021 (because, well, I can’t help writing about them—enter at your own risk).
1. Loveology: God. Love. Sex. And the Never-Ending Story of Male and Female (2013) by John Mark Comer
“You can’t choose who you fall in love with, but you can choose who you spend time with.”
I grew up in Christian ministry, so I’ve heard my fair share of relationships teachings. And being single for (cough) a long time, I’ve read plenty of books on it. But no joke—this is one of my favourites.
And this quote—you can’t split it in half, you have to read it as a whole. Yes, we have more choice than we think in the “falling” process. But how many times have you successfully “convinced” yourself out of being attracted to someone? I think I’m at zero.
But what I have learned is—I can choose who I spend my time with. So you could say that John Mark Comer didn’t really teach me anything new. He just phrased something so perfectly to explain what I’ve learned over the last decade. And we need that—people to voice what we’re discovering ourselves.
2. Lab Girl: A story of trees, science, and love (2016) by Hope Jahren
“So I quit my hospital job and gave up on saving other people’s lives. Instead, I started working in a research laboratory in order to save my own life.”
Speaking of discovery, I’m not an avid reader of memoir, nor am I particularly into botany or science. But a friend highly recommended this book, so I took a crack at it.
Biographies and memoirs are fascinating in this—you can suddenly find yourself in their story. It’s why sermons with personal stories mean more to you. Well, it’s why stories in general matter. You’re in it, too.
As I was paying off my student loan, I worked as a preschool teacher. I love teaching, and I love my students. But when I read scientist Hope Jahren’s reflections on going from one job to another, it hit me. I didn’t want to be reading other people’s picture books forever. I wanted to write—and draw—my own.
Let’s just say it changed everything.
3. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (2016) by Elizabeth Gilbert
“A good-enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect novel meticulously written never.“
Enter Big Magic. Another friend highly recommended this, and in a wild vote of confidence, I ordered it on Book Depository. It arrived, and it was the hardest book to read at night. Why? Because I kept getting ideas for creative projects every time I picked it up. It’s very hard to sleep when you suddenly have 5+ book ideas clattering around your head.
However, if you want a Christian theology of creativity, this isn’t the book for you. Or maybe… it is. Elizabeth Gilbert writes with this heightened awareness of the spiritual aspect of creativity, far more than any “secular” book on creativity. So if you read it with an understanding of the prophetic and God’s heart, it makes total sense.
So, if you like making stuff—and can handle a little bit of mystery—read it.
4. Becoming Myself: Embracing God’s Dream of You (2015) by Stasi Eldredge
“John and I learned long ago that in cases of suffering, you can have understanding or you can have Jesus. If you insist on understanding, you usually lose both. When suffering enters into your life, take a deep breath. The very first thing to do is to invite Jesus into it. Pray, Jesus, catch my heart.”
My year was not all happy revelations on creativity and book-reading.
In February, my not-yet-born nephew was diagnosed with heart disease. It’s one thing to have things like this happen when you’re right there—but it’s another thing to have an ocean between you with a pandemic border closure.
There were days this year where I would wake up and not know whether Toby had made it through the night. There were days I dragged myself to work, teaching in a daze, surrounded by happy, healthy children in New Zealand—and wishing I was sitting in a hospital hallway in LA.
When suffering enters into your life, take a deep breath. The very first thing to do is to invite Jesus into it.
I read these words long after Toby was okay and the weeks of dread had ceased. But they still grabbed me, shook me. So many times when things hurt, I want to get it. If I’m sick, I want to know what kind of vitamin I’m missing. If I’m exhausted, I want to know how I can plan my week better.
But some things can’t be solved or understood in a moment, if ever. And when I read Stasi’s reflections, I knew I had to invite Jesus into it all again. Over and over again.
Let’s just say he changed everything.
5. Little Women (1869) by Louisa May Alcott
“It was a very astonishing year, altogether, for things seemed to happen in an unusually rapid and delightful manner.“766
Finally, we end with this quote from Little Women, which I read for the first time this year (I know, I’m still shocked it’s taken this long).
Although I could certainly describe 2021 as an “astonishing year”, this echoes my hope for 2022. I’m not in denial, I already know 2022 is going to be hard. I’m leaving New Zealand, my home of ten years. I’m starting a new job, entering a new world.
But I’m also going to hug my family.
And despite the battles ahead, I have a feeling things will happen in an “unusually rapid and delightful manner”.
I have a feeling it will be the same for you.