Sabbatical: Reading List

I’ve enjoyed the spaciousness of my sabbatical schedule to read often and across a wide range of topics. To date, here are the books I’ve read and a brief review. Links are included for reference; they are not sponsored/I get no financial kickback if you click/buy.


  • Translating Your Past by Michelle Van Loon — I was hopeful that this book would spur continued thought about family history and offer me additional tools for the work of researching family history. It didn’t. Rather, it felt simplistic, overly evangelical, and void of any real depth. One commendable area addressed, however, was the impact of adoption in family stories/histories.
  • More Than A Womb by Lisa Wilson Davison — As one who has chosen to not create biological offspring or to raise human children in a Western, individualistic way, Davison’s theological observations on “childfree” women of the Hebrew Bible were captivating, thought-provoking, and affirming of many different (biblical) expressions of gender identity, primarily, of course, of what constitutes “feminine.”
  • The Green Burial Guidebook by Elizabeth Fournier — An easy, quick read for those who are thinking both long-term about their own final wishes, or for those who are needing to address the ins and outs of green burials for others who are currently dying (or even those who have just died). It is broadly practical and helpfully basic–a good starting point for anyone who doesn’t know where to start on the topic.
  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande — (You might start to see a theme on death and dying here…) This book came highly recommended from some folx at Madison Mennonite, including a couple who worked for many years in hospice/palliative care. Of the many takeaways from this gem of a book, I appreciated the five questions Gewande introduces the reader to that help clarify wishes for any of us as we face illness and/or death: What is your understanding of where you are and of your illness? Your fears or worries for the future? Your goals and priorities? What outcomes are unacceptable to you? What are you willing to sacrifice and not? And later, what would a good day look like? (Note: This is the only book I’ve read written by a man. :))
  • Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt — A required text for my Doctor of Ministry session this summer, Biased includes data and reflections on years of social-psychological research on how our mind-bodies react and engage with those we have been conditioned to see as “other.” A fair amount of the book includes Eberhardt’s work with police forces and how bias awareness training ideally helps police in their response to (perceived) crime. Having read a fair amount on the topic of race-related bias, much of the book was a repeat of other material; it is highly readable, though, and would be a good resource for the average reader still exploring the topic.
  • The Art of Dying Well by Katy Butler — Another practical guide related to death and dying, only this one covers a longer stretch of time, and the chapters progress through later life in stages. I appreciated the “checklist” at the start of each chapter, helping the reader gauge their stage and what the pertinent questions were to help them live fully in that particular time.
  • Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit by Lyanda Lynn Haupt — Beautiful philosophical prose on our relationship with Mother Earth and all her inhabitants. I enjoyed this book for the ongoing invitation to discover what it means to be spiritual beings in a complex web of interdependence.
  • Grieving the Death of a Pet by Betty McCormack — We encounter death in many ways, and the death of beloved pets is both an area of personal tenderness and grief and a significant experience for those in our communities. This book affirms the real experience of grief that humans are often left with at the death of a non-human companion and encourages self-compassion in the aftermath of loss. I only wish I had read this sooner.
  • Sacred Decisions: Consensus in Faith Communities by Marcia Patton and Nora Percival — Another DMin book for this summer’s session. I read it as Congress and the President argued over the debt ceiling, and I was again reminded that the Church has a prophetic role in showing another way to make decisions that are for the good of the many. The book is a good primer for those who want to learn more about consensus decision-making and why it’s what all communities of faith should be practicing.


  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet — An assigned text at the Oregon Extension, this historical fiction raised interesting issues related to race, family, and society. While I read it for pleasure, it makes me glad to know that this is the kind of stuff that (some) university students are reading and wrestling with.
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley — The first of several “young adult” novels I read (wherein the protagonist is a young adult; the topics are relatable for adults as well). Thoughtfully written with a window into Ojibwe culture, describing through the story some of the impacts of imperialism on one Native American tribe of the midwestern U.S., and the beauty of what cannot be conquered.
  • Shutter by Ramona Emerson — This, along with most of my fiction choices, was a random pick while perusing the shelves at George R.R. Martin’s Beastly Books in Santa Fe. Part mystery, part ghost story, Shutter is Emerson’s first novel, and while I read it and enjoyed it, it wouldn’t be at the top of my recommendation list. It feels like too easy a mystery to solve when you have ghosts on your side…
  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel — In driving through Albuquerque with an old friend, she suggested, after hearing the kinds of fiction I typically read, that I check out St. John Mandel and recommended I start with Station 11. At a bookstore later that afternoon, Sea of Tranquility was the only book they had from ESJM, and trusting this friend, I snapped it up. Between a global pandemic situation (which seemed awfully familiar) and time travel, this was a page-turner and left me wanting to read more of St. John Mandel. Suffice it to say, I will trust my friend to give me recommendations again.
  • Shadow and Bone + Siege and Storm + Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo — A young adult fantasy trilogy that both Justin and I got into. Very easy reading and the kind that will keep you turning pages well past your typical bedtime (just one more chapter!). It’s entertaining while also not terribly thought-provoking or original. That’s not to say that I could write these books–just that they probably won’t produce much personal growth. 🙂 (The Netflix version of the books, though, is pretty awful in my opinion, mostly due to the writing and cheap CGI work.)

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