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Books As Companions

Books As Companions

by Sarah Stewart on January 10, 2024

I don’t remember a time before I could read. For my entire life, books have been a comfort and a friend. In good times or in bad, when at home or away, for pleasure or for some specific goal, reading has been my companion. I’m pleased to share with you the list of books I read in 2023.

The first theme I noticed this year was the enduring power of certain classics. Both Killing Commendatore by the Japanese magical realist Haruki Murakami and The Guest by Emma Cline were inspired by The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s tragedy of wealth and desire has resonance today. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver is a retelling of Dickens’ David Copperfield (and a rebuttal to J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy). And Lessons in Chemistryby Bonnie Garmus imagines the realities of a life like Kate Murray’s, the mother from A Wrinkle in Time. I recommend all these books, as well as the classics they draw from. It was much more rewarding to read The Great Gatsby now than when I was assigned it in high school.

I continue to love genre fiction, especially science fiction, fantasy and mysteries. The Broken Tower by Kelly Braffet, the second installment in her fantasy trilogy, is the best thing she’s written yet. Recurrence Plot is a strange and wonderful time travel novel by activist and artist Rasheedah Phillips. The fantasy novel Little, Big by John Crowley (first published in 1980) has stayed with me, even though not all of its themes have aged well over the past 40 years. Classics and science fiction came together in reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley for the first time. I was surprised at how modern it felt in its musings on mothering, gender and identity.

Some books are practical. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat has my dinners tasting better. My family now cooks with a bowl of kosher salt available for liberal use on the kitchen counter. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer was a revelation. How had I not read this sooner? That book and Honoring the Body by Stephanie Paulsell are both heavy influences on my preaching this year.

This year I’m listing the books in the order in which I read them. In past years I’ve split them up into fiction, poetry, essays, etc.; but my reading doesn’t actually proceed that way. I might read a book of essays for the joy of learning something new (like QED by Richard Feynman); I might read a novel to help me with a sermon (like Apeirogon by Colum McCann). Reading isn’t based on genre or even form. It is simply a lifelong friend, one I look forward to spending more time with in the year to come. As always, let me know what you’re reading right now!

In faith,

Rev. Sarah Stewart

Books I Read in 2023

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz (audiobook)

Babel: An Arcane History by R. F. Kuan

52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation: Practical Hospitality by Randy Hammer

Babies and Their Mothers by D. W. Winnicott

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (audiobook)

The Broken Tower by Kelly Braffet

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

The Black Christ by Kelly Brown Douglas

Little, Big by John Crowley

Decolonizing the Body: Healing, Body-Centered Practices for Women of Color to Reclaim Confidence, Dignity & Self-Worth by Kelsey Blackwell

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (reread)

Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger, illustrated by Eddie Campbell

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Recurrence Plot by Rasheedah Phillips

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat, illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

It by Stephen King (reread)

Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice by Stephanie Paulsell

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, trans. Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

The River Why by David James Duncan

Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough by Candice Marie Benbow

Old Babes in the Woods: Stories by Margaret Atwood

Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Uyeda Akinari, trans. Kengi Hamada

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle (reread)

The Curator by Owen King

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror and of Life on the Move by Sonia Shah

The Spare Room by Andrea Bartz

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz

The Prisoner by Marcel Proust, trans. Carol Clark

Without: Poems by Donald Hall

Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry by Margaret J. Marcuson (reread)

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Prom Mom by Laura Lippman

Yellowface by R. F. Kuang (audiobook)

QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard P. Feynman

Somewhere We Are Human: Authentic Voices on Migration, Survival, and New Beginnings, ed. Reyna Grande and Sonia Guiñansaca

Gravity: A Very Short Introduction by Timothy Clifton

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (audiobook)

A Certain Justice by P. D. James

The Guest by Emma Cline

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