Jodie’s Top Five Books of 2021 {Book Club}

Reading for me is getting lost in words. The best part is when I look up from the book that’s captured my attention to pause and soak in its depth and impact. The worst part is when I look up with my mind completely blank and realize that I can’t remember a thing that I just read.

Probably more than anything, Goodreads has helped me to keep track of the books that I’ve read, am reading, and want to read. A great discovery for me was that making highlights on Kindle books that I either check out through the library or purchase through Amazon automatically saves them to my Goodreads account as well. As much as I like holding a hard copy book in my hands, I’ve also come to deeply appreciate this highlighting feature for Kindle books.

Coming up with my Top Five Books of 2021 definitely wasn’t easy for me to narrow down. I’d love to hear your Top Five in the comments.

Favorite Devotional

Moments with the Savior: A Devotional Life of Christ by Ken Gire

Maybe because of my preference to read a book from cover to cover as soon as I get it, I have never been a huge fan of devotional (read one or two pages at a time) books, but after I started writing devotionals as part of the Thrive Connection author team two years ago, I decided I should start reading more of them. I found a hard copy of Moments with the Savior at a half price bookstore and it’s completely changed my resistance to devotionals. Ken Gire’s insights and attention to the senses invite me in and bring a unique freshness to familiar gospel stories. After multiple read-throughs, every time I reach the last page of Jesus’ ascension, I still can’t wait to begin the very next day right back at the beginning again with his birth. My 15-year-old asks me to read him a devotional from this book almost every morning, and it’s been a significant launching point for us to talk about how God is speaking to us.

Favorite Critique of the Church

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

I discussed this book in an online book club with others who found themselves dismantling their faith in the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election, trying to figure out how to remain in the Church while separating from political stances that contradict who we believe Jesus to be. Apart from the book club, I found myself referencing and recommending this book in numerous faith conversations. Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor at Calvin University, conducted extensive research of the past 75 years of American evangelicalism and her historical way of connecting dots has really helped me. This book is a challenging and important read, even if you’re not American. I also recommend this podcast interview with the author. Another insightful book that our book club discussed regarding the creation of a macho (white) Jesus representing Christian nationalism was White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones.

Favorite Interfaith Book

Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others by Barbara Brown Taylor

After leaving our Muslim community in China six years ago, I realized how much I missed diversity and desired to have friends who believed differently than me, in our land now dominated by whiteness and “rightness.”  Getting involved in a Daughters of Abraham interfaith book club has been such a blessing in my life. We discussed Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Leaving Church soon after I joined the group, and I immediately added her to my list of favorite authors. This year I facilitated our book club’s virtual discussion of her newest release, Holy Envy, and we dug into the way she honors the sacred within different faith traditions with the college students in her World Religions class. One of my favorite quotes from the book addresses our divisive climate in a way that resonates with me: “The only clear line I draw these days is this: when my religion tries to come between me and my neighbor, I will choose my neighbor.”

Favorite Spiritual Formation Book

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life In Christ by Peter Scazzero

In September I completed a 2-year program with the Soul Care Institute and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality ranks up there as one of my favorite course reads. Peter Scazzero says, “The spirituality of most current discipleship models often only adds an additional protective layer against people growing up emotionally. When people have authentic spiritual experiences—such as worship, prayer, Bible studies, and fellowship—they mistakenly believe they are doing fine, even if their relational life is fractured and their interior world is disordered. Their apparent ‘progress’ then provides a spiritual reason for not doing the hard work of maturing. They are deceived.” This book breaks through the deception we have grown comfortable with and offers practical steps to grow in emotional/spiritual maturity. Another favorite spiritual formation book from my SCI program was The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson. I benefited from this one even more by discussing it virtually chapter by chapter with a group of treasured expat friends from China.

Favorite Fiction

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

My 15-year-old and I reread the whole book series of the Logan family this year (including The Land, The Well, Song of the Trees, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, Mississippi Bridge, The Friendship, and The Gold Cadillac). I consider these books by Mildred D. Taylor to be true gems. I absolutely love the way she develops her characters and the plots of her books, addressing racial issues that give us insight and empathy as well as righteous anger. Based on her own family history, she explores racial identity, lynching, share cropping, land ownership, education, and segregation in the post-slavery South. Internalizing these stories alongside my children has been invaluable. In many ways Taylor’s writing has caused me to question whether America has come very far over the past hundred years in the area of racial injustice and has convinced me of our great need to listen to voices of color.

What are your Top Five?

Next week we will chat about the short story The Burglar’s Christmas!

December 14thThe Burglar’s Christmas

December 21st: Favorite Books of 2021

December 28th: Uncle Richard’s New Year Dinner

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash


  1. Sarah Hilkemann December 7, 2021

    Thank you for sharing your Top 5 list, Jodie! I’ve read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (when we read it here in Book Club many years ago) and it was so helpful. I haven’t read any of the others you mentioned, although a couple are already on my to-read list. 🙂 I love that you have opportunities to read in diverse community.

    I haven’t narrowed down my top 5 list for the year but a couple of favorites for this year include The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr and That Sounds Fun by Annie F Downs. Two very different books! 😉 But they both included ideas and lessons that I keep coming back to or pondering.

    1. Jodie December 7, 2021

      Sarah, it’s been fun to be connected with you on Goodreads and keep up with what you’re reading! The Making of Biblical Womanhood is on my want-to-read list. Thanks for the opportunity to share my Top Five with the VA community. Writing this post made me realize how much I value being able to discuss what I’m reading with others. It has been such a blessing for me to have diverse community to engage in conversation about challenging, meaningful topics.

  2. Phyllis December 7, 2021

    I am having a terrible time cutting my list down to 5! I read some really good books this year. Here are my top 10+:
    Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey
    Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi
    Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke
    Shattered Dreams, by Larry Crabb (and 66 Love Letters)
    Pillars, by Rachel Pieh Jones
    In Search of the Common Good, by Jake Meador (related: You Are There, by Robert Campbell)
    Reader, Come Home, by Maryanne Wolf
    A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, by Paul E. Miller
    After the Last Border, by Jessica Goudeau
    Where the Light Fell, by Philip Yancey

    I see that I spent a lot of time in Christian living types of books this year. I don’t usually have so many of those on my list.

    1. Jodie December 7, 2021

      Phyllis, thanks so much for sharing your top 10. I’ve read half of those on your list and the others look like ones I’d like to look up. I love that you mentioned Rachel Pieh Jones’ book Pillars. I really enjoyed that one as well! That’s the book I’m planning to recommend to my Daughters of Abraham book club next year. Did you watch the interview with Rachel and Barbara Brown Taylor about what a Christian can learn from Muslims?

      1. Phyllis December 9, 2021

        Yes, I did watch that interview and now Barbara Brown Taylor is also on my to read list because of it. 🙂

  3. JoyH December 9, 2021

    It is always hard to pick the ‘best’ books, but here’s several I marked as favorites in my book journal.

    Suffering is Never for Nothing, Elisabeth Elliot

    “What was extraordinary about her was the light of Christ that showed through all the cracks created in her by the extraordinary experiences she suffered. But it was never for nothing.”

    “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God.”

    “If your faith rests in your idea of how God is supposed to answer your prayers, your idea of heaven here on earth or pie in the sky or whatever, then that kind of faith is very shaky and is bound to be demolished when the storms of life hit it. But if your faith rests on the character of Him who is the eternal I AM, then that kind of faith is rugged and will endure.”

    Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, Ellen Vaughn; After reading many books by and about Elisabeth Elliot and her husband and fellow missionaries, I really wanted to know more of her life post-Ecuador. This book gave more insights into the people Elisabeth and Jim were, but ended with her leaving Central America. The next volume will speak of her latter life. I hope it comes out soon!

    From Red Earth, Denise Umimana Memoir of Rawandan women and families who were murdered in a genocide in 1994

    “How can you greet a man who murdered your children?….Forgiving is a choice, an attitude to life. It’s a decision I have to affirm every day, with God’s help. Because when I wake up each morning, my husband and children are still dead…My forgiving is based on what Jesus did. He took the punishment for ever evil act through out all time. His cross is the place we find victory.”

    One woman went to the prisons where some of the killers were and told them, “The way to escape your darkness is to face the light, confess your sin, and run to the cross. The blood of Jesus speaks louder than the blood you shed, louder than your self-accusation….Freeing comes only to people that repent…let those killers who do break down discover that behind God’s judgement is unending love.”

    Come, My Beloved by Pearl Buck —the multigenerational fictional story of msy’s in India

    “He held a world of memories within himself which other young men knew nothing about, and which he could not explain to them for they had nothing wherewith to understand.”

    “And by day the other country where his grandfather lived receded from his living thought and feeling. The old habits of childhood returned, they rose out of the shadows where they had waited during the years that he had spent in America and again the old half-Indian ways of the mission house became his ways.”

    “And indeed she was much an Indian, for it is not only blood that makes the human being but the air breathed, the water drunk, the food eaten, the sounds heard, the language spoken and those with whom communication is made most deeply, and for her these were all Indian.”

    Covered Glory, Audrey Frank subtitle: The face of honor and shame in the Muslim world
    Raquela, A woman of Israel, Ruth Gruber (biography)
    The Partridge Principle, David Grubbs; a thrift store find that had been on my shelf, memoir of msy work in Zimbabwe
    River of No Return, Don Smith; another thrift store find, delightful essays of spiritual lessons in the Idaho outback

  4. Phyllis December 9, 2021

    I also read Suffering is Never for Nothing this year, and I almost included it in my best list. It is really good!

  5. Rachel Kahindi December 9, 2021

    Oooh, thanks for sharing! I haven’t looked through my book list for this year to determine my favorites, but I’m loving your list! Several of these are on my TBR, like Jesus and John Wayne and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. Moments with the Savior looks great – this is the first time I’ve heard of it.

    1. Jodie December 9, 2021

      Rachel, thanks for commenting. Would love to hear your favorite list when you make your choices. You have great insights.

  6. Jodie December 9, 2021

    Joy, thanks so much for sharing your favorites–with quotes even! I am a big fan of Elisabeth Elliot but had not heard of Suffering is Never For Nothing. Will definitely look into that one and some of your others as well. I had actually thought of listing Favorite Book on Suffering as one of my categories. If I had, I would have chosen This Too Shall Last: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers by K.J. Ramsey. It’s excellent.

    1. Phyllis December 11, 2021

      I think I have a whole category of books on suffering in my reading, too. That one is on my list, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

  7. Paulette December 12, 2021

    Thank you, Jodie, and others who shared favorite books from the year! Some to add to next year’s reading list. 🙂

    It’s been way too long since I’ve been able to read a whole book with all of you here in the club. (The Many Wonders of Costa Contente, actually…sometime near the beginning of 2021 :/ ). So I was happy to see that December is short story month again.

    In case others have also been spending too much time on screens and looking at words lately, or simply want to multi-task in the midst of a busy Advent season, thought I’d share this audio reading I just found of “The Burglar’s Christmas”.

    Looking forward to listening to this story, chatting about it, and taking the chance to reminisce about the special seasonal childhood memories of how my parents used to read us Christmas stories and Advent devotionals every night of December.

    1. Jodie December 12, 2021

      Thanks for sharing this audio reading, Paulette. Look forward to listening. That’s special that you have memories of your parents reading Christmas stories and Advent devotionals every night in December. Blessings to you this season.

    2. Sarah Hilkemann December 13, 2021

      Paulette, so fun that there’s an audio version of the Burglar’s Christmas! Thank you for sharing that!

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.