Reading: April 2020

Entering our eighth week of shelter-in-place and I have been reading more. However, the pendulum swung from not reading as much as usual as SIP began to reading far too much, reading to avoid present circumstances.

Always slow to transition, I am slowly developing healthier rhythms. I’m finally sleeping most nights during mostly normal hours and life, while obviously uncertain, looks brighter. The spring sunlight on bursting blooms helps.

And I remain ever so grateful for my packed-to-the-limits bookshelves, and our online library system, so that no matter how long this season of life should last, I will never run out of reading material.

What are you reading?

What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and LoveWhat Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love by Carole Radziwill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had never heard of the author or this book before a friend brought it to my doorstep.

Consequently, I almost gave it up. To start the narrative felt choppy until somewhere after her childhood it hit its stride. The author is also name-droppy, and since the only names I recognized were the Kennedys, I had no context for several key characters. I guess I’m just not a celebrity memoir fan.

The Madonnas of LeningradThe Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully life-affirming.

Even in the darkest of times–during war when people are freezing and starving to death, and when failing health steals our current reality and replaces it with long-ago memories–life’s beauties are available for those who choose to see.

I wanted a photo book to accompany the novel’s descriptions of the art, but instead had to use my imagination (and Google), though imagination hits straight at the heart of the book.

The Unexpected Joy of Being SoberThe Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like wine. I live 45 minutes from California’s famous wine growing regions in Napa and Sonoma. Until COVID-19, I worked at a wine bar.

And I’ve become aware of the growing trend of sober curiosity, of upscale mocktails, of dry bars. As a vegetarian, I know what it’s like to walk on the other side of the street from “everyone” else. I wanted to know more.

This book is a vulnerable personal memoir mixed with science and self-help. It’s raw and real, gritty and practical. I especially appreciated her section on mindfulness, or what to do with all the Big Feelings people drink to avoid.

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Formulaic and predictable, and still entertaining.

This bit felt prophetic:
“We are now perched on a strange cusp of history…a time when the world feels like it’s been turned upside down, and nothing is quite as we imagined. But uncertainty is always a precursor to sweeping change; transformation is always preceded by upheaval and fear. I urge you to place your faith in the human capacity for creativity and love, because these two forces, when combined, possess the power to illuminate any darkness.”

UntamedUntamed by Glennon Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Women have been taught systemically to keep quiet and not take up space. Men have been taught to expect that from women. All of us have been taught to be suspicious of women who speak up and take up all the space they please. Because it’s in the air we breath, we don’t even recognize our bias. Glennon has written a beautiful memoir of what she’s learned in the last few years and how she’s living her best wild life.

Favorite quotes:
“I am a human being, meant to be in perpetual becoming. If I am living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths. My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation, and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself. The goal is to surrender, constantly, who I just was in order to become who this next moment calls me to be.”

“Brave does not mean feeling afraid and doing it anyway.
“Brave means living from the inside out. Brave means, in every uncertain moment, turning inward, feeling for the Knowing, and speaking it out loud.”

This one describes me to a T!
“I am a sensitive, introverted woman, which means that I love humanity but actual human beings are tricky for me. I love people but not in person. For example, I would die for you but not, like…meet you for coffee. I became a writer so I could stay at home alone in my pajamas, reading and writing about the importance of human connection and community. It is an almost perfect existence.”

Yes No Maybe SoYes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a couple of heavy reads, I wanted a YA to cleanse the palate and found this available for library download (thank God for library downloads during shelter-in-place!). It took a while to pick up, as at first I thought the authors had too much agenda. About halfway, though, I found myself hooked and from there it was a quick ride to a satisfying and not-too-neat finish.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: September 2019

Books come to us at a time and for a reason. I often pick up and put down a book  because our time hasn’t yet come. I am willing to jettison a book that offends me, whether because of the writing or the content; I don’t feel I have to finish every book I start (I used to), because life is too short to read bad books.

In this season of life, as fall has arrived and my sabbatical summer has ended, I’m reading mostly non-fiction about creativity and recreating my life. If you’re in a different season, likely we’re reading different things. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Art MattersArt Matters by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Illustrator Chris Riddell took some of Neil Gaiman’s essays and, well, illustrated them. “Make Good Art” was the best essay, with a clarifying image: the goal of my art is like a mountain. So long as I am walking toward the mountain, I’m on the right path. Anything that takes me closer to the mountain, say yes to that. Anything that turns me away from the mountain is a no. Helpful.

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get DiscoveredShow Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book isn’t rocket science, but it is encouraging and helpful to those who create and want to be known for their creativity.

The Artist's WayThe Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this book for years but pulled it off the shelf to guide me through my summer’s sabbatical, having quit my career and needing to find my way (write my way, more precisely) into a new one. This book was so on point: each time I felt resistance in any area, she addressed it specifically. I plan to keep this book close at hand for regular encouragement.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a WalkLillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed my New Year’s Eve 1984 walk with Lillian through her city, Manhattan. Each stop along the way led her to share stories from her life- about history, culture, friendship, women and work and family. Her engagement with strangers, always respectful, always interested, were the highlights of the evening.

I enjoyed it until I didn’t. She took such sideways turns… I limped along with her as she walked to midnight and beyond, but she seemed deflated. I wanted more for her.

“A motto favored by the ancients was solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking” (234).
“The point of living in the world is just to stay interested” (238).

A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journals #1)A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possibly my favorite non-fiction book of all time. I read it first when I was a 21-year-old college graduate, when the concepts of “ontology”- being-ness – and “chronology” vs. “kairos” – clock time vs. flow – were new to me and entirely formational. As a young adult, I was seeking how I would be in the world, and especially seeking those experiences that would take me out of time, like dinner parties with friends, reading a captivating book, walking on the beach, and using my expensive education and the skills I had (and would develop) to make a difference in the world.

Reading it again at almost 50 years old, I have a different, renewed, appreciation for what Madeleine wrote when she herself was 51 years old. So much of what she wrote in 1972 still feels relevant, even oddly prophetic.

“Creativity is an act of discovering…. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love.” (12-13)

The Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the CubeThe Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube by Michelle Goodman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book would best be read by women in their 20’s, possibly before college graduation or soon thereafter. Since I’m not in that demographic, the best part of this book for me were the inspiring stories of women who followed their bliss into non-traditional careers.

Platform: The Art and Science of Personal BrandingPlatform: The Art and Science of Personal Branding by Cynthia Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

No denying the world has changed. Everyone who spends any time on social media of any form has a platform, whether or not they know it, admit it, or care about it. Johnson is bold, an actor who becomes any character she wants to be to live the life she wants. She has a lot to teach, and this book contains practical advice and real-life illustrations to back it up. I didn’t always enjoy the book, and TBH, I’m more than a little overwhelmed by this new reality, but as they say, that’s life.

“So if everything is constantly changing and evolving, why do we become complacent and accept things as they are in the present? Acceptance…stops us from seeking change and challenging ourselves to grow.” (13)

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Reading: Nov-Dec 2018

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 44 books this year, same as last. Misleading, because there are at least 3 DNF’s and a short story or two. Still, it averages to about 4/month, and of course you have to sift through ordinary stones to find the gems. First, the latest round up, and then my 5-Stars of 2018…

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book feels intensely personal, each character so carefully enfleshed that I could recognize them walking down the street. The primary conflict, lived out in multiple story lines, revolves around the clean-cut, well-planned suburban lifestyle versus the creative and/or unconventional lifestyle. How many of us wonder about life might have been like on the road less traveled? Also, what does/should family look like, and more particularly, what does it mean to be a mother?

“Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare–a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug–and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.” (249)

“Sometimes, must when you think everything’s gone, you find a way….Like after a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago, when we were in Nebraska. It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow….People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.” (295)

The Gospel of Trees: A MemoirThe Gospel of Trees: A Memoir by Apricot Irving
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF.

I wanted to like this book. The author is just a few years younger than me, and I wanted to learn first-hand what it was like to grow up in a missionary family serving in Haiti. I wanted to hear about whatever intentional or accidental impact they had, and that the Haitians had on them. I wanted to know how the experience affected their family and their faith.

Irving’s writing is passable, occasionally better than, but also humid-heat-dreamlike to such an extent that, more than once, I had trouble following her. I kept thinking that yes, she did have a story to tell, but that she needed a far better editor.

The library wanted their book back, and I couldn’t imagine picking back up where I’d left off. So I won’t.

The WifeThe Wife by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At only seven chapters and 218 pages, this short novel packs an epic wallop! I picked it up after learning that the movie (which I haven’t yet seen) was based on a book, written by the incredible Meg Wolitzer. I would love to hear her speak about what this writing process was like, a woman writing about a woman hiding her fierce talent behind a man’s ego.

You sound bitter, Bone would say.
That’s because I am, I would tell him.
Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend, they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites picking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaction. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else.
“Listen,” we say. “Everything will be okay.”
And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is. (184)

Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1)Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend bought me the Gregor series when she discovered I liked The Hunger Games but hadn’t read Collins’s earlier books. These are fun, imaginative books. Engaging enough to keep my interest and great for a quick, entertaining read.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (Underland Chronicles, #2)Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

 

ElevationElevation by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not a horror fan. In fact, I stay well clear of that genre altogether, in books and movies. But having seen and appreciated the movie versions of King’s books Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile, I thought I’d give this one a chance.

I’m glad I did. The book invites readers to consider: What would change in your life if you actively anticipated the day of your death and, instead of feeling sick, you felt better than ever? How would you prepare for the end, and how could you help make the world a slightly better place before you depart?

Decluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with StuffDecluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with Stuff by Dana K. White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skimmed.

I read a lot of these books and my house is still way too cluttered. But this one had new light to shed on the piles.

Three take-aways:
Start with the visible-to-others areas (and in so doing I now have a decluttered kitchen bookshelf – win!)
Containers – not as in “I need more” but “the containers you already have limit what you keep.” As in, my house should have space to contain my life, not just my stuff. And my closet should contain my clothes; if it doesn’t, I have too many wearable items. Or (ouch), my bookshelf should contain my books (and a few knickknacks, like framed photos, etc); if my books don’t fit my shelving, I don’t need more shelving but fewer books.
What you reach for first is your fav. Before you put away the clean dishes or laundry, get rid of something still in the cupboard or drawer, since clearly the thing you used and cleaned is the thing you prefer.

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or WhateverThe Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been following Jamie’s Facebook page, and occasionally her blog, for years. She had left Costa Rica before I discovered her, and I was about to leave with my family for a three-month sabbatical. We both have a thing for Jesus, so we also share that in common. I knew what I might expect in this book, but I didn’t know I’d crack the cover in the morning and finish reading the book before dinner.

This is a good memoir, but it’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone. People inclined to dislike Jesus-followers, the Christian church, and missionaries probably shouldn’t bother. People inclined to defend the Church and the way missions have been done over centuries without question also shouldn’t bother.

But those who want a fresh take on all of the above–and who have an open mind (and aren’t overly bothered by sarcasm and swearing)–might truly appreciate this book. In fact, I am hoping others I know will read it so we can have a conversation about it.

“If our calling is who we are, not what we do, and our equipping is our practical capacity to serve others, then, based on who God created me to be and how He equipped me throughout my life, I think maybe I was drawn to Costa Rica for the express purpose of seeing how naivete and brokenness like my own have affected global missions and humanitarian aid, and then inviting whoever would listen into a difficult but necessary conversation about setting things right.” 183

My 5-Star Ratings for 2018:

The Wife, Meg Wolitzer
Blood, Water, Paint, Joy McCullough
Connect the Stars, Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
Monterey Bay, Lindsay Hatton
Educated, Tara Westover
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner
Refugee, Alan Gratz
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivy
Tell Me More, Kelly Corrigan

Thankful Thursday – March 2016 Books

I’m on a reading roll – and loving it! – but that makes it unwieldy to post reviews quarterly. So here are my March reads:

The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding MarriageThe Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage by Rob Bell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m aware Rob has become a polarizing force among people of faith. That’s mostly, though not completely, irrelevant to this book. This book is more like sitting down to a conversation between Rob, his wife Kristen, and you on the topic of marriage and what fosters or hurts its health. It’s an easy read with some helpful things to say. If you want a quick-and-easy read, with a sometimes spiritual bent, this book is for you.

The crazy title word refers to an ancient Hebrew concept in relation to creation. Before creation, God was all there was. In order to create, God had to “zimzum,” or contract part of himself, in order to make space for something other. And so they describe marriage as a dance between two people, zimzum-ing for one another in order to create something new and good, for a purpose.

RatscaliburRatscalibur by Josh Lieb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book contains kid-friendly references to Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Knights of the Round Table, and more. It’s creative, funny, and meaningful – your courage more than your actions make you a hero. A perfect read-aloud. Tween did an in-class book report on this and other 6th graders thought it sounded great.

EuphoriaEuphoria by Lily King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I tend to like books that whisk me away to a different time and place and introduce me to intricately-written characters I can get to know and learn from. Euphoria scores on all points. Set in 1930’s New Guinea, it follows three anthropologists studying native tribes along the Sepik River. Anthropology was a brand new discipline and they are trying to figure it out – along with their own hearts – as they go. Loosely based on accounts of Margaret Meade, this book took me down fascinating rivers of academia, study, life, and the human heart.

Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life PermanentlySmall Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently by Caroline L. Arnold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

People tend to make sweeping resolutions for how they want to be: fit, organized, healthy. Instead, we should make microresolutions, easily achievable goals we can do at set times, that will add up over time to that be-goal. Instead of muscling through to our goals by force of will power and decision making, microresolutions help us form habits over time. If I want to be healthy, I can set a microresolution to walk for ten minutes on Mondays. After I’ve achieved that goal over a month – making it a habit – I can add a new microresolution: walk for ten minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; or something related like, replace the mid-afternoon bowl of chips with a cup of tea.

This idea is so simple, and so do-able! I know it’s common business practice, but Arnold’s presentation of it here inspired me to set my own microresolutions. So far I have a list of 23 goals I will tackle over time – she recommends no more than two at a time until they become habit. Already while reading the book, I have two successful microresolutions on their way to being habit!

Fervent: A Woman's Battle Plan to Serious, Specific and Strategic PrayerFervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan to Serious, Specific and Strategic Prayer by Priscilla Shirer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the most practical and motivational books on prayer I’ve read. It’s target audience is women, but the advice – and more importantly, the Scripture – is pertinent to everyone. I blazed through the book, anticipating that I will go back through it more slowly as I create my own prayer journal to live into God’s Word through prayer. Highly recommend for anyone desiring to pray more.

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not sure I was going to like this book, but it grabbed me at the start. Maybe it’s the teenage narrator, the really smart, humble girl with an oddball mom and a withdrawn genius dad. Turns out mom is, in fact, the genius. Or maybe they all are.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the author’s intention, but it did have me pondering how we live and how others perceive us. The women, especially, have some awfully low views of one another, especially those who don’t make an effort to fit in. There are more important things than fitting in. And infinitely more important things than judging one another.

Overall, an entertaining read.

Carry OnCarry On by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At more than 500 pages, I thought this book might take me a while. Instead, I read it in a few days. Rowell’s writing style is very inviting, told from the perspective of many different characters, which also makes for short “I’ve got to read one more!” chapters.

The book is entertaining, but I’m still not sure what to make of it. I thought it might be a Harry Potter satire, and in some ways, it does function as such. Simon = Harry. Penny = Hermione. Baz = Ron. The Mage = Dumbledore. Watford = Hogwarts. So the characters, even in their differences, are familiar.

But it’s also a ghost story, a love story, and an adventure story. Perhaps I liked it in part because it kept me guessing.