A few months ago, our blog guru, Sam, asked me to write a post about five of the Best Books of 2014. He probably asked me this because I’m a writer. And I read pretty much all the time. But also because I think reading is a way to expand the mind, to experience things on the page that we can’t always experience in person. So I carefully chose books that I think will broaden your views of poverty, community, and what it means to serve “the least of these.” (I also chose just four books, because, as you’ll see, some of these took a little longer to get through … and also because I’m a rebel!)
Enough talking. Let’s read!
1. The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
(Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros)
I’m going to be really, really honest with you. This book was hard to read. It easily took me twice as long to read as most books, because every few pages I would have to put it down and walk away. Written by the founder and president of International Justice Mission (Haugen) and a federal prosecutor (Boutros), the pages are filled with devastating stories of how violence is systematically destroying people in poverty. Not just people, though. Children. And therein lies my disclaimer. It’s hard enough to read about violence. But violence done against such innocent victims is enough to keep you up at night.
So why am I recommending this book? Because violence against children should keep you up at night. And Haugen and Boutros don’t stop at stories of violence; they also delve deep into stories of redemption. This is a book of both tragedy and hope. I hope it will serve as a wake-up call — as well as a call to action.
2. Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community
(Anne Marie Miller)
I needed to give myself a bit of a breather after The Locust Effect so I switched to Lean on Me. As a single woman, the idea of community is very important to me. Miller’s take on genuine, authentic relationships is both refreshing and challenging. Her style of storytelling is conversational—I felt like she and I were just hanging out and catching up. But don’t mistake that for falsely cheerful. Miller talks about the valleys — those times of utter collapse that have driven her to reach out to others.
As Christians, we are called to live as Christ-followers. Miller reminds us that Jesus was passionate about truth-speaking relationships. Lean on Me is a challenge to intentionally seek relationships in which we can both give and receive God’s life-giving love.
3. A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity
(Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn)
A few years ago I read the book Half the Sky, which details the plight of women and girls living in extreme poverty. I have literally not stopped thinking of that book. It has influenced how I think and how I write. So I was thrilled when I heard that Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, both amazing journalists, were writing another book, A Path Appears. This book weaves together narratives that tell the extraordinary story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Of charging down the path out of poverty and desperation straight into a place of hope.
I actually read this book at the same time I read The Locus Effect. I’m not a big proponent of reading two books at once, but in this case it was the perfect combination. I had to be flattened by the gravity of poverty in order to be lifted up by hope. While I may not fully agree with every technique explored in A Path Appears, I am fully on board with the idea of people helping people in real, tangible, unexpected ways. And this book inspired me to find new, challenging ways to do that.
4. Title Pending: Things I Think About When I Make Stuff
As a writer, I live in the constant fear of my creative well “drying up.” That each word I write, each story I tell, could be the last one. And that’s why Justin McRoberts’ latest book, Title Pending, was so important to me. In it, he talks about his own creative process as a singer, songwriter and author. He talks about inspiration and criticism. He addresses selling out and starting over. And he does all of this in a way that made me say over and over, “Yes! That’s so true!”
You may be asking, what does a book about the creative process have to do with me? First of all, McRoberts is an incredible artist and a huge advocate for Compassion … so you should know about him for that reason alone. But more than that, we were created by the Creator. There is a divine spark in each of us. And we are all on a journey … one that will never be done as long as we are flawed humans. I’ll close with a quote from McRoberts that I hope will bring you inspiration, whether you’re a “creative” or a regular Joe:
Here is something true: Maturity is never about arrival. You never get anywhere and you never “arrive.” Yes, you can (and should) improve and grow, but not toward some “end,” as it were. There is no best version of you out in the cosmos somewhere waiting to be discovered or achieved. There is no glorified version of your artist-self out there who is fully realized and fully actualized.
There is only the next song, the new piece. Every follow-up album or body of work, every new melody or stroke or lyric, is another beginning.