Reading: April 2021

Last month I told you I would share some delicious books that I began reading but couldn’t finish in March. They wouldn’t be devoured. They insisted on being savored, slowly, bite by delicious bite. You might want to wait until next Lent to read Where the Eye Alights by Marilyn McEntyre, though you sure don’t have to. It is a book of Lenten meditations, but as Lent is also life, you will find applications whenever you have the opportunity to crack its cover. And I recognize that Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer will not be everyone’s cup of foraged mint tea – even with the gorgeous writing that helped me fall deeper in love with our Mother Earth, I still glossed over some of the scientific details – and yet I recommend it whole-heartedly.

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Where the Eye Alights: Phrases for the Forty Days of Lent by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a lovely book of Lenten meditations based on phrases drawn from scripture and poetry and life. I expect to return to this book annually.

“When we pray, we rise or descend; we invite and ask and receive; we listen or submit; we wait; we quiet our minds; we leave behind the noise and haste; we settle into or approach with fear and trembling; we resist but are overcome. Sometimes we suddenly realize that, ‘bidden or unbidden,’ the Spirit of God has come upon us and all we have to do is say yes.” 91

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I dream of a world guided by a lens of stories rooted in the revelations of science and framed with an indigenous worldview – stories in which matter and spirit are both given voice.”

This spectacular book has nudged me to fall ever deeper in love with Mother Earth. While the book is science and story, memoir and treatise, the most practical advice for me comes from the idea of The Honorable Harvest – “to take only what is given, to use it well, to be grateful for the gift, and to reciprocate the gift.” Never take the first gift for it might be the only one. Humbly ask for permission. Only take half, or less if that’s what you need. Honor the gift by using it well and sharing it freely. How different life on earth could be for us now if we all heeded these simple directives.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had never heard the term “portal fantasy” until I got to the interview with the author at the end of the book, but it makes sense. Think Narnia. Also, my favorite novel of 2020 was The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, so when January encountered her first door, I thought, oh no, here we go again… But January’s door leads to different lands. This book is a fairy tale involving many quests and I was happy to tag along for the journeys.

“Doors introduce change. And from change comes all things: revolution, resistance, empowerment, upheaval, invention, collapse, reformation-all the most vital components of human history, in short.”

“I hope you will find the cracks in the world and wedge them wider, so the light of other suns shines through; I hope you will keep the world unruly, messy, full of strange magics; I hope you will run through every open Door and tell stories when you return.”

The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation by Jim Wilder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had some helpful conversations with this book. I had more conversations with my pastor-husband about this book. Our brains are wired for relationship – and neuroscience proves it. The gospel of Jesus centers (and recenters us) on love, and to be honest, it makes me more than a little sick that church – or at least, a lot of churches – has become so focused on ministry that we have misplaced the proper emphasis on love.

Love, joy, relationships all ought to be at the center of every interaction related to church. Instead we stress theology and structure and wonder why people don’t grow. Or walk away dissatisfied.

My biggest concern with this book, however, is the emphasis on “healthy shame,” loving correction within a relational community. I don’t think the idea is wrong, but I haven’t encountered many church communities with enough emotional health to use shame as anything but a weapon. The authors admit that our churches may not be safe, and acknowledge that the first step is to create a culture of love, joy, community, etc, but they don’t go far enough in telling the people in the pews, or even the people in low-level leadership, what to do if the top leadership isn’t already leading the way in creating that culture.

Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life by Jennifer Aaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Laughter releases many of the same neurochemicals as a good workout, resulting in a feeling akin to a ‘runner’s high.’ Beyond feeling similarly pleasurable, both also prime us for greater personal connection and resilience to stress. So in a way, Jillian Michaels and Amy Schumer have the same job.” p37

I love to laugh, though I am only ever unintentionally funny. I am funny by vulnerably being my weird self and creating safe space for others to be themselves and make mistakes, too. This book gave me permission to laugh long and hard, especially at myself, in work and life.

While it was full of practical insights, the most helpful bit for me was the distinction between levity, humor, and comedy. We can create a mindset (and workplace) of levity even if most of us will never do stand-up comedy.

We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Maria Fabiola is a noticer, but also a laugher.”

I am nearly the same age as the characters in this book and, though I grew up in Southern California, I now live in the Bay Area – so much of this book is easily relatable to me. I also had a sparkling Maria life-of-the-party friend who brought me forward or left me behind on her whims, although never to the heights of this drama.

Maybe that’s why I finished the book feeling tired. I enjoyed reading the book, but I didn’t enjoy the book. It’s well written and a quick page-turner (or kindle-flicker?), but not a single character in this book is actually likeable. They create or ride the drama to no good end.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Dr. Christine tells me I am learning to deal with a life I cannot control. What she doesn’t say, what she doesn’t have to, is that I’m failing at it.”

We’re all learning that same lesson, and most of us are failing at it. Or flailing at it. The book hinges on the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It’s a helpful question as we clarify and work toward our goals. But it can keep us stuck if we hold on too tight.

I devoured this book. Seriously, if I could have stayed up any later reading, I would have finished it in one go. It might be the smartest book of its genre that I’ve read, thoughtfully considering the ins and outs of life and love and friendship.

“You mistake love. You think it has to have a future in order to matter, but it doesn’t. It’s the only thing that does not need to become at all. It matters only insofar as it exists. Here. Now. Love doesn’t require a future.”


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Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

9 thoughts on “Reading: April 2021

        1. Wow, you’ve got quite a list as well! And how beautiful that you are praying for your pastor. My husband is a pastor and I sure hope people pray for him regularly.

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