the top 8 books of hannah’s lifetime

This guest post is written by Hannah Blankenship.

In a world obsessed with videos and podcasts it can be easy to forget about an old fashioned technological tool: books. A good book can nourish our souls in a way scrolling on a screen never could.  With the beginning of 2022, you might have made a resolution to read, and this list would be an excellent place to start.

Simply put, these are books which have astounded me— they have shocked me with their beauty, the way they etch out the deepest sentiments and longings of the human heart, the way they put into words the sorrowful and the beautiful that makes up the fabric of this life, their masterful storytelling and image painting and plot crafting. From fiction thrillers to non-fiction memoirs to religious commentary to satire, there is a good read for everyone here. 

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

When I am asked what my favorite book is, this one is always my answer. Written by a home-bound invalid and master narrative weaver, it is one of the most vividly told true stories I have ever read. It follows the struggles of a child menace-turned fastest man in the world-turned WWII pilot whose plane crashes in the middle of the ocean. His fight for survival quite literally broke records, and his redemption in the book comes in a beautiful and unexpected way. I could rave for days about the narrative arc and recurring motifs of this story that would make for a stunning work of fiction, but the best part is that it’s all—every bit of it—true.

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller

I hardly ever reread books. In fact, I could count on one hand the books I have reread ( they’re all on this list), but this is the book I have read the most times by far. In this book, a modern-day shepherd looks at each verse from the well-known and beloved Psalm 23. For many of us, Psalm 23 is a recitation, and after hearing it and saying it enough the words lose their meaning. Or, more than likely, we didn’t really know what they meant in the first place. What does “He anoints my head with oil” mean anyways? Turns out, since David was a shepherd, this psalm has a wildly different and infinitely richer meaning to someone who understands the shepherd vernacular. This book transformed Psalm 23 into one of the most comforting passages in the Bible for me. It describes the good Shepherd in a gentle, beautiful way that has helped me through many hard times. 

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

I first read this book pretty young, maybe even in elementary school. It is a jaw-dropping story of a woman living during WWII who hides Jews in her home at the risk of her own life. Unfortunately, she is caught and taken to a concentration camp. Through unimaginable horror, the faith and bravery of Corrie Ten Boom and the Ten Boom Family sustain those around them amidst one of the darkest times in human history.

Walk to Beautiful by Jimmy Wayne

This is an incredible book most people have never heard of. This true story follows the life and growth of country singer Jimmy Wayne. If you don’t like country music, don’t let that turn you off—the story goes much deeper than cowboy boots and achy-breaky hearts. Jimmy was born into a messy family situation and hopped around the foster care system, beginning life bitter and jaded. Young Wayne even etched a tattoo into himself that said “FTW” and stood for “F— the World.” But then one family’s love changed his life forever. Fast forward and he has risen from poverty to playing in front of thousands at Madison Square Garden. With his fame, he decides to literally walk across  the United States and raise money and awareness for children in the broken foster care program. Thus, the book follows his life journey, or walk, to beautiful, as well as his trek across the nation. Through his transformation, his tattoo even takes on a new meaning—a moment of beautiful redemption I still remember reading. 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Well-known worldwide, and for good reason, this book doesn’t need James-Bond level action and a glamorous setting to keep you glued to the page. In fact, the setting is the opposite: a tiny, slow town in middle-of-nowhere Alabama. I had to include it because it’s one of the books I have reread, a rare feat for me. What I love about this book is not only the talented storytelling— Harper Lee can paint a character like no other— but the message of the story’s main conflict. What is it in our lifetime that is seen as normal but is so tragically unfair to our fellow humans? What injustice exists in our world today, and am I ignoring it? Will I have the courage of Atticus Finch to stand up to everyone and risk everything? I can only hope the latter, and To Kill a Mockingbird inspires the spirit of Atticus in all who read it.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

This is one of my other favorite works of fiction. Written by the author who inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s’ 1963 film The Birds, it is a masterful work of literature. The story follows an unnamed woman who marries a charming English widower on a whim. But his late wife, Rebecca, plays a bigger part than you might expect. The plot twists in this book are second to none, and even as I am writing this I can see the scenes in my head that emerged from Du Maurier’s excellent imagery and plot manipulation. The book is eerie, so if you’re looking for the niche genre of well-written romance thriller, look no further. 

Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorious 

This is a  secret gem of literary non-fiction. It follows the life of a man trapped inside his own body: a paraplegic with a healthy and normal mind. This book is the story of his slow escape— and it’s hard but hopeful, unexpected but beautiful. 

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Odd but genius, this is the third and last book I have read multiple times, and will no doubt read again. It truly opened my mind when I first read it. The Screwtape Letters is made up of letters from Screwtape, a master demon, to his nephew, a demon in training named Wormwood. These letters contain the devil’s “secrets” to drawing humans away from “the enemy” (God). It’s a satire and is not meant to be factual, but it illuminates the condition of the human heart in a way never done before. It’s almost like a bird’s eye, removed view of humanity that ingeniously reveals our tendencies to stray but the tender love of a God who always pulls us back. 

Here’s to hoping we all find time to read in 2022. Start with some books on this list, and trust me, you will find time!

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