Being a writer means being a reader:  I have to fill the creative well with words or I run the risk of running dry. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction and haven’t been disappointed—these are some of the best books I’ve read in years—including Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering and Kristof’s Half the Sky. The things I’ve learned from those two books alone are worth an entire blog post.

But today, I’m sharing a sampling of my recent nonfiction reads. (Next time, I’ll share more fiction. Send me your recommendations.)  If you get to know me, you’ll find I’m typically reading three or more books at any given time. I’m a reader whose book tastes change by the day—sometimes I want light and funny; other times I tackle the heavy stuff.  Both kinds are necessary, in my opinion.

As I encourage others to share their stories, I am challenged to write better when I read good books. That means my inspiration comes through late nights on the couch, snuggled up with a good book and some hot tea. Frankly, there’s no better way to spend an evening.

On My Bookshelf

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller 

This is the best book I’ve read on pain and suffering. Thoughtful and truthful, Keller divides the book into three parts: the philosphy/historical perspectives on suffering, the theological understanding of suffering, and the personal view of suffering (how to cope).  Although the beginning was slow for me (philosophy isn’t my favorite subject), once I hit the theological and personal sections on dealing with pain, I was hooked.  Not a light read, but one with real wisdom and depth. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the “why” questions of pain and the best way to respond as a believer.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken has been popular since its publication and now I understand why: This is an unbelievable story, written like a novel with outstanding details, exciting plot twists and undeniable hope in the face of death. Numerous times throughout the book I remarked, “I can’t believe he lived through this.” Zamperini’s true story is the one of the most remarkable I’ve ever read. Author Laura Hillenbrand meticulously researched her facts and her outstanding writing brings an extraordinary depth to the story.  But the real star of the book is the main character, Louis Zamperini, whose immense suffering and spiritual transformation make the book a a truly unforgettable read.

Stitches by Anne Lamott

I have read all of Anne Lamott’s nonfiction works and this book, like her others, shows Lamott’s classic style, with humor and deep perspectives on life and faith.  In Stitches she tackles the tough subjects of pain and grief and how we handle the difficult topics of life—school shootings, children with cancer—with courage, compassion and grace. This is a short, delightful read. As always, Lamott’s quirky humor is the star of the book.


This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Don’t be fooled by the title: Ann Patchett’s latest essay collection is not about marriage.  Only one essay, which is also the title, is on marriage and is the book’s best piece. Ironically, this book was an accidental read for me. I bought it before boarding a flight after realizing my iPad had failed to fully download my ebook. Desperate for some in flight reading, I saw Patchett’s essay collection and knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Patchett’s writing is clean and tight—she is a great author to read if you are a writer. Her choice of words, sentence structure, and story arcs are masterfully done.  But even if you’re not a writer, you’ll appreciate how everyday life can be a great story, simply told.

Without a Word by Jill Kelly

I started reading this book after numerous friends recommended it to me saying that Jill Kelly and her famed quarterback husband, Jim, had a story that paralleled our own. In Without a Word, Jill chronicles the story of their son’s disease, his painful struggle, and unfortunate death at age 8.  Although it has taken me a long time to pick up this book (I wasn’t sure I could handle a story so similar), I’m still glad I did. She is extremely candid about her hardships, but also displays an amazing hope in God despite the fact she was a new believer, struggling in her marriage, at the time of her son’s illness. After caring for my own son through an incurable disease, I find Jill’s hope extraordinary in the face of insurmountable odds.

(Note: Jill Kelly will be in the area to speak for a Night of Hope, on April 27 and 28.  Check here for more information on tickets.)

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book without a friend recommending it to me. But once I read it, I knew why it came with such accolades. This book is a must read that opened my eyes to the injustices that women face worldwide. Kristof, a New York Times reporter, and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, travel around the world writing about the oppression women face, including lack of education and basic healthcare, as well as violence, human trafficking and poverty. Written in Kristoff’s signature journalistic style, girls’ stories are presented plainly and powerfully. These women face terrible hardships on a daily basis, which makes the facts even more impacting. But the book doesn’t leave us there. It reveals grassroots efforts to help women, showing that when you improve women’s lives, you improve the lives of the whole family.  The book also describes how regular people can make a difference when they decide they can’t sit back and close their eyes to injustice. There is also a two-part documentary by the same name featuring many of the women from the book. Powerful storytelling.

What is on your bookshelf?  Anything you would consider a “must read?”  


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