Reading Well during Self-Isolation

“Some books leave us free and some books make us free.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a lot of people reach out asking for reading recommendations while they have the extra space during self-isolation. Netflix is great, but let’s be honest: between our favourite shows and Zoom and FaceTime and digital news and social media, our lives more than ever have become screen-time heavy.

What an opportune moment this can be to pick up a book or two or ten.

Now may be the time to pick an author you’d like to get to know and read a few of their works (like Francis Schaeffer or John Flavel). Or perhaps tackle a tome like ‘A Secular Age’ (Charles Taylor) or ‘Institutes’ (John Calvin) that you’ve never quite had the mental bandwidth to dig into. Or work through a systematic theology. Or maybe it’s just developing an appetite for reading for the very first time.

Along with starting the day filling my mind with God’s Word (before news headlines), below are a few lists of books that I’ve read recently, that may be helpful for whatever type of self-isolation you are navigating right now:

  1. Those who want go deep spiritually and get into healthy rhythms,
  2. Those who are anxious or grieving, 
  3. Those who are parents,
  4. Those who want a good story,
  5. Those books that are my personal annual reads.

1. For those wanting to go deep spiritually and get into healthy rhythms: 

Many of us are finding that all our normal rhythms of life have been disrupted. Which means we have a great opportunity to hit reset. Others of us may be feeling completely overwhelmed and out of control, because working from home made things busier, not easier.

Each of these books helps us live with a sense of Holy Spirit-powered pace, by helping us think through helpful rhythms and practices that shape our daily life in Christ. If you’re feeling out of rhythm while in quarantine, one way to restore sanity, may be building out a ‘rule of life’ that gives a sense of order to your days (for a couple of helpful links to get you started on building out your own personal rule of life, see here and here).

  • Recapturing the Wonder (Mike Cosper)
  • The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (John Mark Comer)
  • The Common Rule (Justin Earley)
  • The Imperfect Disciple (Jared Wilson)
  • Liturgy of the Ordinary (Tish Harrison Warren)

2. For the Anxious or Grieving: 

While most of us have had our lives disrupted in their rhythms, some of us are facing significant difficulties, pain, setbacks, or knows someone firsthand who is. Each of these books teach us how to both lament well and persevere through trials.

  • Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy (Mark Vroegop)
  • Suffering (Paul Tripp)
  • Joy in the Sorrow (Matt Chandler)

3. For the Parents: 

Now more than ever, we parents who are cooped up in a house 24/7 with our little ones, need intentionality and patience in how we set the climate in our homes. We’ll have lots of opportunities to go deep in new discipleship rhythms (check out the New City Catechism app as a great devotional tool with your kids), along with lots of opportunities to model repentance to our kids when we get it wrong. So for this category, I have just one book recommendation. If you haven’t read it, read it. If you have, re-read it. And apply it. Seriously.

  • Parenting (Paul Tripp)

4. For those who want a good story: 

On top of my other reading I do for sermon writing and personal growth, for the past few months I have been trying to enjoy a novel every week, letting my mind and imagination get lost in a good story. Here’s a few I’ve read through recently and loved. Some are historical fiction, others are just beautiful story-telling. All of them were fantastic. 

  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe – this book is a treasure)
  • All the Light we Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
  • The Narnia Chronicles (C.S Lewis – a nightly read with our kids)
  • Space Trilogy (C.S Lewis – especially book #2, ‘Perelandra’)
  • Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)
  • Roots (Alex Haley)
  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Heather Morris)
  • The Book Thief ( (Markus Zusak)
  • The Help (Kathryn Stockett)
  • Perpetua (Amy Peterson)

5. My Annual Reads

I have a short list of books, that I make a habit of re-reading every 12-18 months. These are books with messages I want on repeat in my heart.

  • Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Richard Lovelace)
  • The Imperfect Pastor (Zack Eswine)
  • The Ragamuffin Gospel (Brennan Manning)
  • Lectures to my Students (Charles Spurgeon)
  • Death By Living (N.D Wilson)
  • Church History in Plain Language (Bruce Shelley – really engaging overview, this is one I will often listen to on Audible while mowing the lawn).

Bonus: My Upcoming Reading Pile

Lastly, here’s a few in my immediate ‘to read’ stack on my desk, that I’m looking forward to digging into!

  • Darkness and Dawn (F.W Farrar)
  • England Before and After Wesley (J.W Bready)
  • An Earnest Ministry (John Angell James)
  • The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah)
  • The Barchester Chronicles (Anthony Trollope)
  • The Gulag Archipelago (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)
  • Michael Jordan: The Life (Roland Lazenby)
  • Gentle and Lowly (Dane Ortlund)
  • On the Road with Saint Augustine (James K.A Smith)

For other categories, check out our ‘Recommended Reading’ page here on the website.