Staff Picks: What We Loved Reading in 2023

 
Avery Powers | Nov 21, 2023

It’s amazing how much the books we read can shape and colour our year. I waded through a lot of heavy autobiographies and thick classics in 2023, and my year felt a lot more serious than the year before. Have you experienced that?

I’m not the only one who did a lot of reading this year. We at TGBC have read dozens of books in the last 12 months, and we’re here to share the ones that made us laugh, cry, and think. Here are the books, both secular and Christian, that our staff loved reading the most. 

Let us know if you’ve read any of these in the comments!

On Getting Out of Bed by Alan Noble

Kelly Keller, Customer Service Associate

On Getting Out of Bed by Alan Noble is my pick. This is a compassionate, vulnerable exploration of making our way through depression and debilitating mental-illness episodes. It’s a short, kind book, pressing into the realities of treatment, while also encouraging the reader to suffer in the light of Christ’s provision for his people. I appreciate Alan’s openness and vulnerability on this topic. "Rising out of bed each day is a decisive act. Living is a wager. It's a severe gamble … To choose to go on is to proclaim with your life, and at the risk of tremendous suffering, that it's good."

Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters

Alison Mitchell, Senior Editor

This year I have re-read the full set of mediaeval mysteries starring a Benedictine monk called Brother Cadfael—all 21 of them! I first read these as a student and have enjoyed revisiting them over the years. I have even been to Shrewsbury to visit the abbey where they are based.

The books follow on in series, so as you read them you discover the history of mediaeval England and Wales between 1137 and 1145. The history is real. Cadfael, and his investigations, are fiction.

I find the history fascinating, especially seeing how affairs of state impacted the most humble villager. And Cadfael is a compelling character. But I do find the Benedictine background sad. They want to live humble and holy lives, and yet they base that on tradition and rules rather than the riches of Scripture. They search for “saints” to revere, but completely miss how faith in Christ is the only way to be a real saint, one of God’s holy people (1 Corinthians 1:2). I find myself longing to point them to the truth about Jesus!

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Tim Thornborough, Publishing Director

The first ever serious adult novel I read was Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh. A hilarious send-up of the British aristocracy and private-school system. I ploughed through all of his books at university—A Handful of Dust and Scoop being the best I remembered. Somehow, I never read Brideshead until this year, despite it being considered a classic. It didn’t disappoint.

It’s a painful story of wealthy, titled (and entitled) people between the two world wars—haunted by the first, and fearful of the impending second—the pain of growing up, and the mess they make of relationships. We see the Brideshead tribe through the eyes of the central character, who is not “from money” but is increasingly drawn to this fractured, guilt-ridden family, and in particular their youngest son Sebastian, who descends into alcoholism, and the daughter, with whom he eventually falls in love. It is a bitter-sweet story in which everyone is broken.

Much of the heartbreak in this story is driven by the family’s obsession with Roman Catholicism, which was shared by the author. They are all trapped by it, and by a sense of obligation they feel towards it engendered by their pious but ruthless mother. The narrator is an atheist, and is also ruined by it in the book's denouement. A sad and powerful book of the highest calibre whose characters will stay with me a long time—along with a reminder that false religion is a life-ruiner that people need liberation from.

I might also have chosen: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Games, and an excellent book of literary criticism called Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature As an Adult by Bruce Handy; both of which I have enjoyed enormously.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Nelly Ortiz, Customer Services Manager

Driving back home with my son when he's on holiday from college is usually my best chance to chat about the most gripping books he has read recently. I was immediately interested in his latest recommendation, Piranesi by English author Susanna Clarke. Trapped in an imaginary and lonely world, the fictional character Piranesi is the main narrator of this book. He inhabits a labyrinth of halls where the sea floods are a constant danger to his life and where mysterious remains of statues and columns describe a different world to the one he lives in. This semi-aquatic world has lost all time references, so his diary is recorded with events such as “the twenty third day of the seventh month of the year the albatros came to the halls”. But even more fascinating is that Piranesi has a sense of purpose—of enjoyment in his daily survival—even though he has a hard life and has been ill at times.  

He is driven by a huge desire to discover more. No other human creature seems to have survived this world for as long as he has. He is intrigued by the human remains he has found of a few adults and a child. He has found familiar objects of another life that he cannot explain. Piranesi has learned to love this world. He can't remember a time before he was here. About once a week he spends time with “The Other”, the only living human being Piranesi has ever seen in this world. It's really moving to read Piranesi's sense of moral duty and his high regard for truth and loyalty. His diary entries are sometimes unusually academic and what he most treasures is peace and friendship in a world where he has lost everything. 

How can he be so resilient? Later, his life starts to change when he discovers light under a passage and hears voices of other human beings behind it. Susanna Clarke is the winner of Women's Prize for Fiction 2021.

Pride: Identity and the Worship of Self by Matthew Roberts

Anne Woodcock, Staff Editor

Occasionally a book affects me like one of those Magic Eye optical illusions from the ‘90s. This one certainly did! Matthew Roberts articulates the biblical response to the Western sacred cow of rights and identities promulgated by LGBTQ+ activism. His bold but gracious writing has cut through the jumble of Bible texts, tricky questions and tentative answers that has been cluttering my mind and has resolved it into a clear, compelling view of biblical truth in all its countercultural yet sane, vivifying potency. Some takeaways:

  • This new problem is a very old one.
  • How conscientious biblical Christians are affected by idolatry of the autonomous self.
  • Roberts modelling how to handle disagreement with brothers in Christ.
  • Renewed confidence in the good news of biblical truth for those who have assumed an LGBTQ+ identity.

Like Tim Challies, I highly recommend it.

In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Geoff Dennis, Vice President of Sales

My favourite book I have read so far in 2023 is In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri J.M. Nouwen. This was an extremely challenging (and very short) book written by a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer (1932–1996). After nearly two decades of teaching at the Menninger Foundation Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, and at the University of Notre Dame, Yale University and Harvard University, he went to share his life with mentally-handicapped people at the L'Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada. He lived a radical life of love and service to “the least of these”.

One quote that really challenged me to “let go” of what I think my life should be like is:

“The world says, ‘When you were young you were dependent and could not go where you wanted, but when you grow old you will be able to make your own decisions, go your own way, and control your own destiny.’ But Jesus has a different vision of maturity: it is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go.”

Faithfully Present by Adam Ramsey

Calista Doty, Customer Service Associate

I brought this book on vacation with me and swallowed whole chapters poolside while my children splashed and dived and played Marco Polo. It was very appropriate for embracing rest and being present with my family in that context, but also was pertinent to the busy season I would enter into upon going home. Too often I absorb the culture's lie that I can exist in a digital space outside myself, or that I should be able to squeeze more time and efficiency in my 24-hr days. But Ramsey calls Christians to embrace the human limits of space and time as God-given, for our good. This brought me into worship of the eternal God who is not bound by either, and yet humbly entered into them for our sake. A must-read for every person who feels the struggle of living within limits. 

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton and Lara Love Hardin

Tom Beard, Logistics Manager

A mind-blowing story of how Ray Hinton spent 28 years on death row. Despite knowing how the story ends, the tale gripped me with its rawness, honesty and power. It’s such an amazing tale of Ray’s faith and how he’s able to forgive so much because he’s aware how much he’s been forgiven; but alongside that, the unconditional love that he was shown by his best friend and his mother is so moving, and the injustice that deep-seated, institutional racism and poverty brings to so many is heart-breaking. Ray’s afterword, asking the reader to focus on how many of the current death-row inmates are actually innocent, was particularly powerful.

Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves

Bethany McIlrath, Vice President of Marketing

I picked this book on someone's recommendation and couldn't put it down. It's a really rich reflection on our incredible triune God that's also really helpful in understanding more of the theology of the Trinity and the importance of God being triune. I came away more in awe of God the Father, more grateful for the Holy Spirit, and loving Jesus more. 

Hopeward by Dai Hankey

Gerardine Densham Brown, HR Manager

I'd like to commend Hopeward by Dai Hankey. The cover says its for weary pilgrims; we all get weary from time to time. I found it a really inspiring easy read. It was easy to pick up, read a chapter and put down again—I didn't feel I needed to dedicate hours to reading it, which is great when life is busy. 

It is an honest read and doesn't leave the reader thinking their theological knowledge is lacking. It left me feeling uplifted!

The Man on a Donkey by H.F.M. Prescott

Katy Morgan, Editor

I liked this book so much I read it twice in the space of eight months, which is saying something for a 700-pager. It’s set in Tudor England and tells the story of a rebellion against Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries, following several different characters whose lives eventually overlap. It’s incredibly well written and well observed—you really feel that you get inside the characters’ heads and understand their world. It’s also very sad at points, and very profound. One of the characters has strange visions of the Lord Jesus, going about his business in the ordinary world of the Yorkshire Dales where she lives. As the visions intertwine with the plot, you realise that the whole thing is really about Jesus—his incredible love, and the miracle of his incarnation and death. It brought me to tears and made me love Jesus more.

Pray Big by Alistair Begg

Alexa Burstow, Branding and Marketing Specialist

During my sabbatical this year I read Pray Big by Alistair Begg, which looks at how Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians can inspire our own prayers.  

Although it was the second time I had read Pray Big, this paragraph resonated with me for the first time: 

“Too often, as Christians, we live like someone who has been given a full-board ticket on a cruise ship, and who sits on their deckchair eating crackers and drinking water because they haven’t realised that all the food is free with their ticket. They never go to the restaurant because they haven’t understood just what it is their ticket includes. They’re on the boat—but they’re not enjoying being on the boat” (p 46).

This was a huge wake-up call for me to look up from my day-to-day concerns and focus on Christ and what I have in him—every spiritual blessing! This coming year I pray that I will appreciate more and more that God chose me, adopted me, secured my destiny, forgave me and sent his Spirit to me, so that I “may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).

Britt-Marie Was Here and Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Just Be Honest by Clint Watkins

Caroline Napper, Proofreader

Two of my favourite books this year were by the same author: Fredrik Backman. I read Britt-Marie Was Here and Anxious People. Both books were full of quirky characters, laugh-out-loud lines, perceptive insights about life (pastors, if you need quotes for sermons) and, most important for me this year, happy(ish) endings. There is enough tragedy in the real world, so I appreciate when an author can give a character a chance of happiness! 

The Christian book I most appreciated was a new one coming out soon by Clint Watkins called Just Be Honest, which gave me a fresh perspective on the practice of lamenting.

For more interesting reads, check out our staff’s top picks of 2022. Stay tuned for upcoming TGBC releases here.

Avery Powers

Avery is our Marketing Engagement Specialist. She manages our global social media channels and works alongside authors to help share about their books. You can often find her sharing stories in our bookstore at conferences.

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