Top Books in 2019

Blog Post

Madeleine Hagan: The Salt Compass Blog


My list of “top books in 2019” is significantly longer than last year’s list, but that is just because I could not narrow the list down any further. Each of these titles got at least a 4-star rating from me, and if you decide to read any of them I hope that you will enjoy them as much as I did. Happy reading!​

Nonfiction Books in 2019

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson

“O God,” you pray, “I’m so small and the universe is so big. What can I possibly say? What can I add to this explosion of glory? My mind is slow and unsteady, my heart is twisted and tired, my hands are smudged with sin. I have nothing — nothing — to offer.”

Write about that.

“What do you mean?”

Write about your smallness. Write about your sin, your heart, your inability to say anything worth saying. Watch what happens.

— Andrew Peterson

This. Book. This is one of the opening quotes from Andrew Peterson’s new book Adorning the Dark: Thoughts On Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making and it was well worth the wait. He writes about what helps him fight against his inner critic as he creates, about how community and art nourish each other, and how essential excellence AND beauty are in this world. This whole book is breathtaking, and as a writer I found it so relatable and really encouraging. Even if you aren’t a musician or a writer, this book is a must read. There is so much gold in this one.

Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott

I have read so many books in 2019 by Anne Lamott because I absolutely love her sense of humor, her sass, and her wisdom. For example:

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
—Anne Lamott

After reading a few of her books like Almost Everything, Small Victories, and Hallelujah Anyway, I recognized her name mentioned in podcast I was listening to when the guest recommended her book Bird By Bird for writers. Hello, yes please. So far, Bird By Bird is the first book I’ve read about writing that actually helped me write. The tips are so practical.

One in particular that helped me was her suggestion to write a scene as is staring at it through a 1″ x 1″ picture frame. This was brilliant to me, because oftentimes I get overwhelmed by the idea of writing entire plot lines or dramatic moments, so to just breathe and write 1″ at a time actually helped me write sentences (and then paragraphs), rather than stare at a blank screen for hours.

The Eternal Current by Aaron Niequist

Being such a fan of Shauna Niequist’s books, I had to check out her husband’s first book The Eternal Current as soon as it came out. It’s about actually practicing spiritual practices in the church setting, and what that would look like and involve.

He draws a parallel to a runner’s group that meet up weekly to talk about running, study best ways to train and keep healthy for running, things to avoid when you want to run best, etc. But if the group doesn’t actually do any of the running together, they aren’t really a runner’s group are they? He then brings that over to the church and talks about ways to practice what we believe, beyond a list of “traditions” or “rituals”. It was a fascinating book and he recommended so many other books on related subjects throughout each chapter, and I found myself instantly interested in those too. Because of that, I feel like this is the book that set me on the trail to find so many other books that I read this year.

Everything Happens For A Reason by Kate Bowler

“Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.”

—Kate Bowler, Everything Happens For A Reason

The full title for this book is Everything Happens For A Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. The tagline hooked me. I opened up this book not having heard of it before, so it felt like a blank slate. I immediately loved her raw, real words as she revealed what her life was like when she was diagnosed with cancer in the midst of her prosperity-gospel-ish community who started sentences like: “If you just had enough faith…” or “If you truly believed you were healed…”

Yeah. Her perspective was so, so good to read, as she responds to people who speak without thinking and then as she wrestles with questions of her own. I was reluctant to return this one to the library when I finished it. Definitely give this one a read.

Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen - Top Books in 2019

Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen

If you have been reading around this online space for any length of time, you know how much I loved these books. I started with Blessed Are the Misfits and followed that with Unoffendable, and they were instant five-star reads for me. There is a blog post about Blessed Are the Misfits here if you want to hear more about it. I relate to so much of what he talks about in this book, and I suspect many others do too. If you’ve ever walked into church, looked around, and then thought, “Is there something wrong with me?”, give this one a read and you just might have the same lovely revelation I did: No. And I’m not the only one.

Unoffendable was just as good as Blessed Are the Misfits, and the premise of this book is this: What if we don’t have a right to our own offense? What if Christians were supposed to be the least offendable people on the planet? He builds a case throughout the entire book about anger and offense, and how damaging these are. He talks about how essential forgiveness is, and how desperately we need to practice it, even when we feel justified in our anger and our hurt. It was challenging in the best of ways.

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

“And every new day, this is the turn my heart must make: I’m living this life, the life right in front of me. This one where marriages struggle. This one where we aren’t living as we thought we might or as we hoped we would. This one where we are weary, where we want to make a difference but aren’t sure where to start, where we have to get dinner on the table or the kids’ teeth brushed, where we have back pain and boring weeks, where our lives look small, where we doubt, where we wrestle with meaninglessness, where we worry about those we love, where we struggle to meet our neighbors and love those closest to us, where we grieve, where we wait. And on this particular day, Jesus knows me and declares me his own.”
–Tish Harrison Warren

Liturgy of the Ordinary explores what it is like to connect what we might consider to be “mundane” tasks like making our bed, having a cup of tea, losing our keys, or sitting in traffic with important, sacred practices. It’s a glimpse at what it could be like to not hate what is so “ordinary” and realize that perhaps these things are helping change us in the best possible ways.

“Redemption is crashing into our little stretch of the universe, bit by bit, day by day, mile by coming mile…We are waiting, but we will make it home.”
–Tish Harrison Warren

For more about this book, check out the blog post it inspired: When Divinity Brushes Against the Texture of the Ordinary.

Is This It? by Rachel Jones

“My whole life feels segmented. No one knows the whole 360 degrees of my existence. Except, that is, God.
God knows “when I sit and when I rise…my going out and my lying down”. God knows that I went to spin class yesterday.
God knows how well I slept last night.
God knows that I really need to buy toothpaste this afternoon, what I’m loving on Netflix at the moment, and what I’m doing on Saturday.
God is “familiar with all my ways”. He knows, he knows, he knows all 360 degrees of you. He knows you even better than you know yourself.”
—Rachel Jones, Is This It?

This book is so encouraging for all the Quarter-Life Crisis questions that swirl around in the mind of those in their 20s who are just trying to keep it all together. If that’s you (and it is definitely me) I definitely recommend giving this one a read. She’s honest, funny, wise, and real and constantly pointing the questions we wrestle with back to our Savior.

Is This It? by Rachel Jones - Top Books in 2019
Fiction Books in 2019

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

There is so much I want to say about The Starless Sea. I loved her first book The Night Circus, but in all honesty, I think this one managed to be even more exquisite. Her words are magic through and through. While I was reading it I texted my best friend and said: “It’s a book I want to carry around wherever I go because it’s thick and strong and golden with honey and magic and stories told in the dark and I don’t know why carrying it around is nice but it is.”

I struggle to form coherent sentences for this book, so I just settle for spluttering  out superlatives and half-formed phrases. It’s an un-rushed stroll along a harbor under a velvet sky. It’s the clinking of glasses and the smell of stories that don’t belong to you. The premise is this: Zachary Ezra Rawlins finds a book in a library that has a chapter in it about himself. This discovery leads him on a journey toward a place he didn’t even know he was searching for.

“Everyone wants the stars. Everyone wishes to grasp that which exists out of reach. To hold the extraordinary in their hands and keep the remarkable in their pockets.”

“We are all stardust and stories.”

“These doors will sing. Silent siren songs for those who seek what lies behind them. For those who feel homesick for a place they’ve never been to. Those who seek even if they do not know what (or where) it is that they are seeking. Those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.”

― Erin Morgenstern

Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

"For every tale carved in rock there are more inscribed on autumn leaves or woven into spiderwebs."
― Erin Morgenstern, The Starless Sea

Uprooted by Naomi Novik - Top Books in 2019

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

(Snippet from On Reading Of Enchanted Woods)

There was magic within the pages and castle towers, ancient tombs, and trees swollen with corruption and madness. Bravery, deception, foolishness, and perseverance were there as well.

After reading at night I fell asleep with a shiver and dreamed of creeping vines, ancient rivers, a ravenously expanding forest, before waking up to read more in the early hours of the morning.

I wanted the characters to succeed so badly. Will they stop the raging power in the forest? Or will the Wood consume one town after another, snatching people from their beds and taking them hostage?

If you would like to read about how I felt when I finished reading Uprooted, check out this blog post over here.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

(Snippet from Delectables: Round #2)

Because everyone needs a dark, magical blend of Russian folklore set in the heart of winter. There’s a richness to this one that is vivid and lyrical. Vasilisa sees creatures that others do not, and she takes care of them so that her village is protected from the evil that awakens in the forest. You feel the frost at your fingers as Vasilisa listens to stories about Morozko (the winter demon), and you cringe away from the disbelief that blinds so many of the main characters and wraps them up in fear of the very thing that would save them.

The Bear and the Nightingale felt like a marvelous ghost story one might tell around a campfire where everyone huddles closer to the flames, enraptured and uncertain what the next page will reveal. (It helps that the book begins in a very similar fashion.) There are two additional books in this trilogy that I haven’t read yet that continue Vasilisa’s story, but this one stands alone just fine by itself too.

The Bear and the Nightingale - Top Books in 2019

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

(Snippet from Books For those Who Love Books)

Welcome to a world of libraries and grimoires – magical books that can whisper and tend to transform into monsters when mistreated. Apprentices spend their days training to become wardens in the Great Libraries, protecting the moody grimoires. One night, death creeps through the halls of the Summershall Library, unnoticed until it’s too late. Apprentice Elisabeth Scrivener is blamed for a murderous act of sabotage she didn’t commit and handed over to the evil sorcerers who will decide her fate. Everyone knows sorcerers summon demons and commit atrocious acts, but when Elisabeth meets Nathaniel Thorn and his assistant Silas, she wonders if perhaps her lessons about sorcerers were not entirely accurate after all. As the murders continue in each of the Great Libraries, Elisabeth discovers that what is at stake is on a much grander scale, and a devastating scheme centuries in the making is finally unfolding.

“Books, too, had hearts, though they were not the same as people’s, and a book’s heart could be broken: she had seen it happen before. Grimoires that refused to open, their voices gone silent, or whose ink faded and bled across the pages like tears.”
― Margaret Rogerson, Sorcery of Thorns

With the musty smell of books, the emerald green of magic spells, and romance that blooms beneath freshly falling snow, I found Sorcery of Thorns and all of its vibrant enchantment the perfect fiction to cozy up with on a rainy weekend. (And can we just take a moment to appreciate how gorgeous the cover is? Wow.)

The Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke

This is one of the first poetry books I’ve read in a while, but after reading his poem “The Man Watching” which I mentioned in the last round of Delectables, I had to read some of Rilke’s other work. There are some really beautiful poems in here, including the one pictured here with some of these beautiful lines:

“This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

The Salt Compass Blog by Madeleine Hagan