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.

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

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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

Reading: March 2021

Two novels and two memoirs. That’s all I have to share this month, but that is not all I read. I began reading some delicious books in March that would not be devoured, that insisted on slow savoring. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you in the April edition of this reading series.

What are you reading?

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

Image by Bessi from Pixabay

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“The mirror exposed time’s passage, yes, but eclipsed her heart’s true mileage. The lined face, the extra pounds, the hair chemically treated to hide its gray. Each year the body was hers, but her mind was out of sync with her reflection. Always playing catch-up, trying to rearrange the scrambled pieces of her life.”

I’ve heard it said – and it’s been true in my experience – that we are always every age we’ve ever been. That, as we age, we contain within ourselves the version of who we were at every age. This book is a clever working out of that idea, a complicated story with a simple message: “Notice more. Appreciate more.”

I tried too hard to figure it out for a while, and then I let it take me for a ride. But I didn’t love it, for three reasons. First, the only hint of explanation as to WHY things happen as they do is this sentence fragment in the first chapter, which never comes up again: “…every granted wish comes with a hidden cost, every blessing shadowed with a curse.” And then there’s the HOW: how does Oona leave letters for herself in years she hasn’t yet lived? Willing suspension of disbelief, sure, but this seemed like a missed opportunity to bring readers along. And finally, Oona herself… I had compassion for her, but I didn’t like her. She’s got spunk, she had to have spunk or the story would have ended with her in bed after the first jump, but she doesn’t have much depth beyond leaving big tips and donating mightily to charities from an impersonal distance.

This bit in the acknowledgements, though, is an encouragement to writers:
“I got a lot (hundreds!) of rejections in the years I’ve been trying to make it as a writer. Sometimes they buoyed me because of a bit of nice feedback, sometimes they left me indifferent, and more than once, they plummeted me into deep despair. But the rejection gave me grit and tested how much I wanted this dream. And it made this moment so much sweeter because it didn’t come quickly or easily. So to every agent and editor who said no, thank you. And to writers still trying to get their stories out there, keep fighting the good fight.”

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“…the Plains have been essential not only for my growth as a writer, they have formed me spiritually. I would even say they have made me a human being.” p11

Norris undoubtedly possesses a gorgeous way with words, but at times reading this book felt sluggish… I didn’t much care for small town mentality thirty years past. Still, parts of her reflection on living on the Great Plains + monastic life were oddly comforting in a pandemic, a strange and lonely frontier of its own.

Note: Dakota might be out of print. Check your local library.

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“…the books I am writing and the words I am speaking are for the purpose of bringing peace.” p117

Curtice was raised in the Southern Baptist Church, though she was aware of her Native American heritage. As an adult, she has leaned into her identity as a member of the Potawatomi people and writes at the intersection of these two parts of herself, two traditions. She writes an important, prophetic book filled with wisdom.

And more often than not,
the hummingbirds should get
our full attention,
because they teach us what it means
to gulp the nectar of life.
They teach us to remember
that we, too, are small, thirsty things,
looking for the river to drink from,
or, at least,
a
refreshing
fountain. (p41)

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead? The one thing that defines you, that makes everything else about you fall into place? Not on the internet, but with those real people around you?”

This is a fun book about how a simple question written and answered in a green composition book winds its way through a neighborhood and pulls together the people who encounter it into a meaningful community.


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Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Reading: July 2020 pt1

Nothing like a global pandemic to shut down summer travel!

During a typical summer, we would spend a week on the Monterey coast. We would probably also get away for some camping or to visit family. Guy and Q16 had reservations for a Scout bike trek in Maui, and Q would also have gone to Scout camp. Well, not this year.

Courtesy of generous friends who booked a small condo in Tahoe they were unable to use, we spent three nights away…except I was still on crutches. No hiking along lake-view mountain trails for me. You know what I did instead. That’s right, I read! Good thing, as Quindlen points out in the quote below, that books are both the destination and the journey, the means of travel and home itself.

Below are my thoughts on the books I’ve read so far this month. Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Please comment and share with me a book you’ve enjoyed recently!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a beautiful book! And yet, my overarching emotion while reading was sadness, utter heartbreak for Desiree and Stella, mostly for Stella.

I caught a short review in O Magazine when I was about 2/3’s done with the book that said this is a novelized version of The Great Migration. Maybe I’d heard those words, but I didn’t understand them. Google helped me out.

Did you know that between 1916-1970, 6 million Black people left the American South for the Northeast, Midwest and West, “one of the largest and most rapid mass internal movements in history”? I didn’t. Another thing the history books didn’t teach us.

And HBO bought the rights to make it a series. Hooray! Definitely one to watch, but read the book first.

The Book of V. by Anna Solomon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone tackles a classic to dig deeper and reinterpret it for a new generation, when they do the source material justice and create something beautiful and beautifully new from it, I am here for it. The Book of V. is all that.

Note: If you are an easily offended Christian or Jew who doesn’t want anyone to play with your scriptures, this is not your book. I’m a devoted Christian willing to hold loosely that Solomon intended to write something new; it’s art, not divine inspiration, obviously different.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I needed a reading palate cleanser, something super light to read before bed. It’s the kind of book I would have read with my kids in elementary school, maybe 3rd grade, though the characters are in middle school. The takeaway: be kind to everyone, and take small risks to enjoy life more.

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious You by Jen Hatmaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“I finally clearly know who I am and how I was made, how I thrive and what I’m here for, what I believe and what I care about, and I’m not afraid to walk in that, even when it doesn’t fit the mold. I am finally the exact same on the outside as I actually am on the inside without posturing, posing, or pretending.”

The theme is integrity–being fully and fabulously yourself no matter what. And Jen makes a great cheerleader for women. I took some notes, and I have some work to do (as we all do). From the outset, Jen cautions her readers (women) that some chapters will hit us squarely in the feels and others won’t, that some will hit us at growth points and others we’ll already have under control. True in my reading experience.

I read the Kindle edition, and I hope it’s just that, but I found myself regularly distracted by typos.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.”

Morrison’s first novel. Imperfect, beautiful, devastating. Having read in the forward that her intent was to explore “the social and domestic aggression that could cause a child to literally fall apart” without demonizing the characters who trashed her, I wasn’t sure I could continue. I did, though, and it broke my heart. Some parts are so uncomfortable and still ring so true.

I gave it a 2 star rating because of its imperfections and because this is not a book to lightly recommend (though let’s be honest, an armchair reviewer like me giving any rating to an author of such prowess and grace as Toni Morrison? Ridiculous). It’s not for the faint of heart. Beloved and Sula are both so much better, so don’t start with this one if you’re unfamiliar with her canon.

“The soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late.”

Let it not ever be too late!

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay
Anna Quindlen quote from StorytaleDecor on Etsy

Reading: May 2020 pt1

I normally post reading reviews once a month but we no longer live in “normal.” I’ve read more books in two weeks than in a typical month. Maybe I haven’t read more pages, though, since I’ve read several YA books, including a graphic novel. I love a good YA and even more so now in these upside-down times.

Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. Now is a perfect time to catch up on some new and old favorites!

A Tree Grows in BrooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Human beings’ innate desire to live and to thrive even in the most difficult circumstances, and to find beauty therein, remains one of our most defining characteristics. Like the one tree that grows in the cement between tenement buildings in Brooklyn at the turn of the century, we are a resilient species. No wonder this book is a classic, such a *true* story, though the book’s length sometimes felt like a slog.

“What must I do, Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?”
“The secret lies in the reading and the writing.”

“…the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination.”

“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere–be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minutes. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

New Kid (New Kid, #1)New Kid by Jerry Craft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a geek for the Newbery Medal books, and New Kid is the 2020 Newbery Medal recipient – surprising for a graphic novel to win, but not truly surprising when you read it. The coming-of-age story is well-told, nuanced, with relatable characters struggling in real ways. And the art is beautiful to boot. A quick and worthy read.

Your Perfect YearYour Perfect Year by Charlotte Lucas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the 2020 World Book Day free Amazon/Kindle downloads, this was a fun book to read and so good for shelter-in-place since it is light and life-affirming. Definitely chick-lit, with a slight touch of The Rosie Project in Jonathan’s awkward offensiveness. It challenges us to say “Yes!” to life, to take stock of what we enjoy/don’t, do more of what we love, do hard things when necessary, be kind, and watch our thoughts since they create our actions.

We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober LifeWe Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life by Laura McKowen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This “quit lit” memoir is really a story of becoming, of choosing to stop just being and rather become, of creating a life instead of simply existing. Drinking may not be your issue, but this book has something to say to anyone who wants more of life.

“This is how it is done–how anything is done. One moment, then the next, then the next. This is how this book is being written: I type this word, then this one, then this one. The words build sentences. The sentences build a paragraph. A book is impossible, but a word and then another word is not. A lifetime of sobriety was impossible, but a moment of sobriety was not. I was doing it, and I was doing it, and I was doing it again.”

“The truest story–the one that will always be trust–is that I am a human being, being human. Sometimes, I am my best self. Sometimes, not so much. But goddamn, I am trying to do better. I am always trying to do better. My guess is that you are, too.”

Merci Suárez Changes GearsMerci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2019 Newbery Medal winner

Merci is an 11yo Cuban-American living with her inter-generational family in Florida and dealing with the drama of attending (on scholarship) sixth grade at a private school while her beloved grandfather shows signs of progressing Alzheimer’s Disease. This was a sweet story, I like Merci as a character, but it didn’t rock my boat the way other Newbery winners have.

James and the Giant PeachJames and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My son cleaned off his bookshelves during shelter-in-place and I decided to read some of the classics he’d stored in his room before deciding whether to move them to my shelves or eventually donate them. I love Matilda and The BFG. James was a quick read (started last night, finished this morning) but so odd. Dahl’s style rings through every word and image, and I had to wonder if he was writing today, would his books receive the same reception? Children are abused, neglected, or both… Maybe he was the literary precursor to Lemony Snicket and Miss Peregrine? Though this wasn’t my favorite, I appreciated the developed personalities of the characters and how they came together to form a well-rounded team.

As a writer/reader, this was my favorite bit of wordplay:
“…and all the time the water came pouring and roaring down upon them, bouncing and smashing and sloshing and slashing and swashing and swirling and surging and whirling and gurgling and gushing and rushing and rushing, and it was like being pinned down underneath the biggest waterfall in the world and not being able to get out. They couldn’t speak. They couldn’t see. They couldn’t breathe. And James Henry Trotter, holding on madly to one of the silk strings above the peach stem, told himself that this must surely be the end of everything at last. But then, just as suddenly as it had started, the deluge stopped.” (98)

Fantastic Mr. FoxFantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since I didn’t love James and the Giant Peach, and I remember not liking the few scenes I caught when my kids watched the movie eons ago, I set my expectations low for Fantastic Mr. Fox. In turn, it pleasantly surprised me. It’s plain ol’ fun! I can absolutely imagine reading this aloud with kids and then discussing both the farmers’ and the animals’ perspectives for a meaningful conversation. In fact, I’m sorry I missed that opportunity with my kids.

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Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. 

Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay