Reading: Feb-March 2022

Lots of reading recently… I’ve been doing research for a Writing as a Spiritual Practice class I hope to teach next month (stay tuned for more info) and I’ve also participated in an online book discussion group with other writers. And then there’s all the fiction I read to procrastinate on the actual work projects or to end the day with solitude. A couple that didn’t make the review cut: Messy Minimalist, because I am not its target market; and Once & Future, a gender-bending, ancient-dystopian sci fi retelling of the Arthurian legends, about 20,000 words too long since the author ended abruptly with a “to be continued” lack of conclusion.

Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a gorgeous book. It seems a courageous act to take on Shakespeare and family as your subjects, but O’Farrell has a tremendous gift for words. Agnes was so fully written that the reader has a window into her mind and soul. I expected more about the play Hamlet, yet the last page (no spoilers) was so sublime that I read it several times with a gasp of recognition as novel and play came together. I didn’t want this book to end, and it’s a story that will linger with me.

Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anyone can make a list, and those so inclined can use list-making to lean in, pay attention, and see what emerges. McEntyre offers so many suggestions that my own ideas sparked as well.

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So practical. As a writer, I’m convinced my mental chatter spins at an even faster rate, though 4,000 WPM is incredible to consider. I also live with my heart on my sleeve, and this book explained some things for me. I took copious notes while reading and have already begun implementing what I learned, both with my thought patterns and in writing.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this book around 1991 just as I graduated college. I attended a weekend retreat with ML’E at a monastery in Santa Barbara and she signed my copy. Reading it again 30 years later, I realize how foundational this book has been for me. My views of art/creativity, time, my own sense of purpose, so much of what I believe and how I live can be traced to this book. I’ve just finished it again, yet I know it’s not finished with me.

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t often read thrillers, especially with violence against women. But this book became available when I needed to lose myself in a book and it’s set in Mendocino, a place I’ve visited. I’m so glad I read it. It’s smart and wise and hopeful. It also character-driven, not violence-focused, which helps. Two quotes:

“What is all the suffering for if not so we can see how alike we are, and not alone? Where will the mercy come from, if not from us?” (202)
“For the longest time I stand on Lansing Street, thinking about beauty and terror. Evil. Grace. Suffering. Joy. How they’re all here every day, everywhere. Teaching us how to keep stepping forward into our lives, our purpose.” (359)

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows? … We cannot say. We are men only, a brief flare of the torch. Those to come may raise us or lower us as they please.”

A fabulous rendering of The Iliad. It took me a bit to get going, but once I got there I didn’t want to put the book down. It’s a story of friendship, love, and coming of age, of living into our “fate” whether we want to or not, of being and becoming our best (and worst) selves, and of remembering that life is made up of glorious moments and not just glorified actions.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was laugh-out-loud funny and a great escapist read.

Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set between the acting worlds of Manhattan theater and Hollywood TV, these characters are still remarkably relatable. Life is messy, people struggle for various reasons, and we reach out to our people for better or worse. For what it’s worth, I didn’t like her debut The Nest but I liked this one. It’s realistic with a measure of hope.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting side-by-side read while watching the Shonda Rhimes / Netflix limited series Inventing Anna. Two young female con artists… I appreciate Moriarty’s ability to string the reader along with suspense while not taking things to the thriller level. I read the first half of the book over a week in between things. And then I had a free afternoon/evening and read the last half all in one go.

Really, this is the story of a marriage and a family. How we love and hurt and shape those closest to us. The sacrifices we make for each other, willingly and less so. How people become who they are and how they can choose to become someone different. Having grown up in a complicated family (aren’t all families complicated?) with four children, I found that aspect of this book highly relatable.

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