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

Permission to Stay Cozy

This week’s Five Minute Friday writing prompt is: PERMISSION

Friday was National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day. Seems to me we’ve been living National Wear Your Pajamas to Work YEAR!

When California declared stay-at-home orders in March 2020 due to the global pandemic, I lost my job. I stopped sleeping, which meant I had little energy to exercise, and I developed anxiety. My kids are old enough to feed themselves, so I had freedom to move at whatever speed my body and soul required. Some days I got up and going like everything was normal, though nothing felt normal. Other days, I stayed not only in my pj’s but also in bed. With a good book.

In my adult life of trying to get all the things done, I had forgotten how restful it can be to stay in bed with a book. I read until I got bored of reading which, for me, is a feat unto itself. I read so many good books, though not all of them in bed. I moved around the house – to the couch, the green Adirondack chairs on our front porch, or the (also green) bistro table on our back deck. I sat in the sun or the shade, depending on the temperature. I stayed cozy. It had a healing effect.

Yesterday was a BIG day for me. I submitted my first book proposal (more on that coming soon). We also got our second COVID-19 vaccine.

I have heard from people whose shot experiences run the gamut from a sore arm to slight fatigue, from lightly flu-like symptoms to heavy. We heeded the advice to drink plenty of water, take D3, and take Motrin as needed. We planned a quiet weekend to have time to recover just in case.

So here I am today, cozy in bed with my computer on my lap, coffee mug and water bottle to my right. I’m feeling mostly fine. My arm is sore, but not overly, though it woke me in the night to tell me to shift to a different position. Maybe I’m a little tired, but that could also be allergies on this gorgeous spring day outside my open window.

Mostly I’m feeling grateful. Grateful to scientists who responded quickly and thoroughly to develop effective vaccines. Grateful to my husband for wading through the appointment-making systems online (our kids get their first vaccines today). Grateful to have a full stack of books on my bedside table. Grateful to have given myself permission to stay cozy.

What permission do you need to offer yourself, and how might receiving that permission feel healing?

STOP.

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Reading: February 2021

Do you always finish reading the books you start? I read three chapters of Kristin Hannah’s Firefly Lane – almost word-for-word the one episode of the Netflix series I watched – and returned it to the library. Maybe if I hadn’t seen the show I’d have stuck with the book, but I didn’t want to invest hours into reading about three decades of an unhealthy friendship. Then again, I finished reading two novels this month, both of which were okay, not great.

Good thing I had two fantastic books of prayer to balance it out. Brian Doyle’s A Book of Uncommon Prayer wins my favorite for this month, just by the width of the wild hair that tickled me, causing me to laugh out loud at his respectful sense of humor in prayer. Couldn’t we all use some humor in prayer?

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image from Canva

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My big takeaways: everyone and everything is far more connected than we take time to recognize, and antiracist policy will be the key to making a better world. I wanted to give this a higher rating, except – sometimes Kendi runs away with his words in a way that sounds overly clever, and sometimes the weaving of his personal story with his research feels forced.

“Incorrect conceptions of race as a social construct (as opposed to a power of construct), of racial history as a singular march of racial progress (as opposed to a duel of antiracist and racist progress), of the race problem as rooted in ignorance and hate (as opposed to powerful self-interest)–all come together to produce solutions bound to fail.”

“The history of racist ideas is the history of powerful policymakers erecting racist policies out of self-interest, then producing racist ideas to defend and rationalize the inequitable effects of their policies, while everyday people consume those racist ideas, which in turn sparks ignorance and hate. Treating ignorance and hate and expecting racism to shrink suddenly seemed like treating a cancer patient’s symptoms and expecting the tumors to shrink.”

A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary by Brian Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A friend recommended this book, and I used it as my Sunday meditation readings over the last month. I appreciate that Doyle turns his lens every which way as an appropriate occasion for prayer – to people he knows, or sees, or admires, or doesn’t even like; to hot showers and little brown birds, newts and cell phones; to the Church, and nuns, and Osama bin Laden; to writers, editors, and proofreaders; to sunny and rainy days. I also really appreciated his metaphors for God: Generosity, Designer, Coherence, Breath, Light, Bus Driver, Boss, Publisher, Band Manager, Imagination.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“Influenza delle stelle [means] the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed. … I’d never believed the future was inscribed for each of us the day we were born. If anything was written in the stars, it was we who joined those dots, and our lives were the writing.”

Timely, for certain, given that a novel about a global pandemic came out during another pandemic (& astonishing that Donoghue submitted final edits in March 2020 and publishers rushed the publication process, often as long as 2yrs, to just 4mos). And we’re still wrestling with bias issues related to gender and class. And politics and war.

The book is well written, but I didn’t like it. I kept turning pages much like I hit “next episode” on Netflix hospital shows, reading because it’s entertaining enough and I’m in it now. The last chapter contained a sensational twist that felt unnecessary, like it was added either for shock value or for contemporary relevance – neither justification made it necessary.

The Lies That Bind by Emily Giffin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“Maybe all relationship journeys are messy and complicated in one way or another, products of two flawed people coming together to form a flawed but, one hopes, stronger union.”

I chose this book because I hoped for a light before-bed read. Sadly, my favorite part was the pop culture references early on – TV shows and fashion trends that set the scene. The relationship issues were long and winding, frustrating and eventually predictable. Note: many reviews I read felt that Giffin made light of the 9/11 tragedy and profited from the suffering of others. While it didn’t bother me as I read, their perspective clearly has merit.

A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal by Sarah Bessey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A brave, bold, beautiful book containing prayers – leading and worshipful, gentle and prophetic – and meditations on prayer. This book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will quench the spiritual thirst of anyone who wonders if prayer is still for them. Yes, prayer is for you – because God is for you, always. In the introduction Sarah prays for this book: “May it be hope for the grieving, tenderness for the hurting, challenge for the comfortable, a kick in the ass for the lethargic, a permission slip allowing rest for the overwhelmed, an anointing for the work ahead, and a sanctuary.” I finished reading the last prayer Sunday and started again from the beginning Monday…



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Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Reading: January 2021

My reading year started strong with two non-fiction books that offer important, striking social criticism, both 5 stars in my opinion. I finished out the month with four novels, the best of which was a book I hadn’t expected to read (Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld).

What books have surprised you recently?

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White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“…our simplistic definition of racism–as intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals–engenders a confidence that we are not part of the problem…”

This book is so clear, with so many applicable examples. If you’re open to self-examination, this book is a must.

Ask:
Why does this unsettle me?
What would it mean for me if this were true?
How does this lens change my understanding of racial dynamics?
How can my unease help reveal the unexamined assumptions I have been making?
Is it possible that because I am white, there are some racial dynamics that I can’t see?
Am I willing to consider that possibility? If I am not willing to do so, then why not?

Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“…alcohol is addictive to everyone. Yet we’ve created a separate disease called alcoholism and forced it upon the minority of the population who are willing to admit they can’t control their drinking, and because of that, we’ve focused on what’s wrong with those few humans rather than what’s wrong with our alcohol-centric culture or the substance itself.”

Eye-opening. Big Alcohol is guilty of marketing the way Big Tobacco is no longer allowed to because our society has fully bought into alcohol as a good thing, a proper and helpful – even healthy – way to unwind and celebrate. Society has blamed the victims rather than accepted appropriate responsibility. And AA, which obviously has helped many people, was created by and for white Protestant men; it has defined what alcohol abuse means, what those who abuse it look like, and it has become widely accepted as the only viable treatment option…even though it doesn’t take into account the real and different needs of marginalized people, including women.

This book takes on everything we think we know about alcohol and addiction recovery and turns it on its head in helpful, practical ways. It should be widely read beyond those who suspect they might have a drinking problem. Because almost everyone drinks, and many people have addiction issues in other areas – eating, bad relationships, technology, etc.

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“It’s about the kind of love that doesn’t ask you to be anyone but who you are.”

That about sums up the theme of this book: love accepts us as we are. Good point, well told. But the book didn’t rock me like When You Reach Me.

Stead is a fantastic writer, so I wanted to like this book more than I did. I adore Bea, but her character also confused me. I wish the author had been clearer about the nature of Bea’s struggles – I think that would have helped readers identify with her and feel more empathy for her. Beyond her family, the adults surrounding Bea are total tools and that frustrated me. But I think this story will be helpful for young people living through anxiety, divorce, remarriage, and having a family that looks different from others.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“For the rest of her life, when asked to recall her earliest memory, Kate would remember watching [Peter] run around the side of his house with a red ball in his hand and already knowing his name.”

This multi-generational story of two families, beginning with two young men who meet in the NYC police academy, is chock-full of every family’s struggles while being completely unique. It’s pain-full and that alone took me two tries to get through. In the end it wants to tell us that we can survive most anything life throws at us. But if you’re reading for a fun, literary escape, this isn’t your book.

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This gothic-styled book, haunting like a bad fever dream, is mostly just strange. The characters aren’t fully fleshed out. The events feel disjointed and like they should have meant more than they do. Even the climax, predictable as it was, I just didn’t care. All the while I kept thinking, “John got himself into this mess and he can just as easily extract himself.”

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t expect to read this, but it was available when I was looking for something to fill the gap between other books. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, as I’ve felt hit-or-miss about Sittenfeld’s books. I’ve had mixed feelings about Hillary for years – pity, confusion, ambivalence, respect.

Up to a point, we know the general outlines of the narrative (I’ll admit it felt voyeuristic to read about Hillary and Bill, yet it served the author’s purpose of humanizing Hillary…). Sittenfeld’s interpretation of what might have happened if Hillary had left Bill takes interesting twists and turns and I couldn’t put it down. Mostly, she paints Hillary in a respectful light that creates empathy – for who she is personally and politically as she faces the particular challenges a would-be glass ceiling-shattering woman must.

“But as much as I wanted to be president, I wanted a woman to be president – I wanted this because women and girls were half the population and we deserved, as a basic human right and a means of ensuring justice, to be equally represented in our government…. Some presidents cared about improving the world, and all of them had egos; but none of them had run because they hoped to gain entry to the highest office of power on behalf of an entire gender. Yes, I was me, Hillary, but I also was a vessel and a proxy.”


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Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Reading: September 2020

I anticipated that my reading would slow down as we progressed into fall. Helping my kiddo manage his school load, plus adding a grad-level writing class of my own, has meant less time devoted to whatever strikes my fancy.

However, there were also a couple of hits-and-misses that went back to the library, one forever (The Wedding Date) and one I might pick up again at a later date (Ask Again, Yes). And you’ll notice that of the five books I read this month, three I wasn’t sure about and yet enjoyed as I hung in there for the duration.

How do you decide when to stop and when to keep reading? Is there a book you’d recommend now that took more than one start to enjoy?

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

Rest in Power, RBG (3/15/33 – 9/18/20)

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute, fun, light. Plus girl power. Easy, entertaining reading.

Edited to say: I’m glad I started with this one. I didn’t realize this was #2 in a series, so I went back to read The Wedding Date…and promptly gave up because it had no plot.

Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today by Joan D. Chittister
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So much wisdom! I first read this book more than a decade ago for a spiritual disciplines I took in seminary. I picked it up again since the pandemic erased my daily routines and I thought it could offer a much-needed perspective. Amazing that Benedict’s rule, written in sixth-century Italy to establish order among monastics, and Sister Joan’s meditations on it written 30 years ago, still have so much to say to life in 2020.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The early relationship between Lillian and Madison was so gross I almost gave up, classic rich-girl // poor-girl at boarding school nonsense; poor girl takes the fall and rich girl gets the good life she hasn’t worked for or deserved. But then, wow… I didn’t want this book to end.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What makes for a good fairy tale? And who deserves one?

This book grew on me. It’s light, fun, and culturally timely: a Black, queer girl growing into herself in a predominantly white Midwestern town. When I finished, I immediately texted the title to a friend I thought would enjoy it.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this one. It’s a fairly simple story, and the title character – at least at first glance – also seems a fairly simple guy. An Everyman, even a fool.

But it won the Pulitzer, so I suspected there had to be more to it. There is and, in the end, I loved Less – the character and the book.

Like this observation:

It is, after all, almost a miracle they are here. Not because they’ve survived the booze, the hashish, the migraines. Not that at all. It’s that they’ve survived everything in life, humiliations and disappointments and heartaches and missed opportunities, bad dads and bad jobs and bad sex and bad drugs, all the trips and mistakes and face-plants of life, to have made it to fifty and to have made it here: to this frosted-cake landscape, these mountains of gold, the little table they can now see sitting on the dune, set with olives and pita and glasses and wine chilling on ice, with the sun waiting more patiently than any camel for their arrival.

And each of these descriptions:

We all recognize grief in moments that should be celebrations; it is the salt in the pudding.

He looks up at a closed-circuit television to follow the fleeting romances between flights and gates…

It was nothing like he expected, the sun flirting with him among the trees and houses; the driver speeding along a crumbling road alongside which trash was piled as if washed there (and what first looked like a beach beside a river turned out to be an accretion of a million plastic bags, as a coral reef is an accretion of a million tiny animals); the endless series of shops, as if made from one continuous concrete barrier…

The boat ride is half an hour, during which Less sees leaping dolphins and flying fish skipping like stones over the water, as well as the floating mane of a jellyfish. He recalls an aquarium he visited as a boy, where, after enjoying a sea turtle that swam breaststroke like a dotty old aunt, he encountered a jellyfish, a pink frothing brainless negligeed monster pulsing in the water, and thought with a sob: We are not in this together.

He sees, in the lines around her mouth, the shadow of the smile all widows wear in private.

He is shown to a car as small, bland, and white as a hospital dessert…
…he takes the wheel of what basically feels like an enameled toaster…

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Reading: August 2020 Pt2

You guys, it’s serious… My right thumb swelled up. It hurts to bend it. I don’t remember bumping it on anything; could it be from practicing yoga? It has no visible bruising, but it shook so that I have to put it under my Kindle while I’m reading and use my left hand to swipe…to swipe?…I usually use my right thumb to swipe… Oh. My. Goodness! I DEVELOPED A REPETITIVE STRESS INJURY FROM SWIPING ON MY KINDLE.

Sometimes you just have to laugh! And, of course, there are much worse ways to handle life’s stresses than reading too much. What are you reading and enjoying? And how are you keeping up a sense of humor and laughing at yourself?

One more thought: two of these books’ titles begin with “Dear…” and those two plus one more all include writing letters to someone as a literary device. During this time when we’re not seeing as regularly, if at all, the people who once populated our days, why not send someone a letter through the mail? Sure, you could text or email, but who doesn’t love receiving something personal in the mail? Let someone know you’re thinking of them.

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

Deacon King Kong by James McBride
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some of the most uniquely vivid characters I’ve encountered in recent reads, and another mind-bending illustration of how our lives can be so incredibly intertwined even without our recognition of it.

“…and on it went, the whole business of the white man’s reality lumping together like a giant, lopsided snowball, the Great American Myth, the Big Apple, the Big Kahuna, the City That Never Sleeps, while the blacks and Latinos who cleaned the apartments and dragged out the trash and made the music and filled the jails with sorrow slept the sleep of the invisible and functioned as local color.”

“In those twenty minutes the war between the races, the Italians versus the Irish, was waged, the two representatives of the black souls of Europe, left in the dusty by the English, the French, the Germans, and later in America by the big boys in Manhattan, the Jews who forgot they were Jews, the Irish who forgot they were Irish, the Anglos who forgot they were human, who got together to make money in their big power meetings about the future, paving over the nobodies in the Bronx and Brooklyn by building highways that gutted their neighborhoods, leaving them to suffer at the hands of whoever came along, the big boys who forgot the war and the pogroms and the lives of the people who survived World War I and World War II sacrificing blood and guts for their America, so they could work with the banks and the city and state to slap expressways in the middle of thriving neighborhoods and send the powerless suckers who believed in the American dream scrambling to the suburbs because they, the big boys, wanted a bigger percentage.”

“They stared at her with that look, that projects look: the sadness, the suspicion, the weariness, the knowledge that came from living a special misery in a world of misery.”

“…all living the New York dream in the Cause Houses, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, a gigantic copper reminder that this city was a grinding factory that diced the poor man’s dreams worse than any cotton gin or sugarcane field from the old country.”

“But then, she thought, every once in a while there’s a glimmer of hope. Just a blip on the horizon, a whack on the nose of the giant that set him back on his heels or to the canvas, something that said, ‘Guess what, you so-and-so, I am God’s child. And I. Am. Still. Here.”

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love! This precious book was so perfectly written that it was like watching a movie, or a really well-done TV series, play out on the page. I binge-read it over a few days and then cried when it ended. The only time I needed to put it down was when I realized I was so fully identifying with Edward that I might actually be feeling his depression (after all, I was reading in bed with coffee on a Saturday morning, that became a Saturday afternoon… I needed to get up and move).

“He wants to know what to do.”
“She taps the center of his hand. ‘That’s easy. The same thing we all must do. Take stock of who we are, and what we have, and then use it for good.'”

“‘What happened is baked into your bones, Edward. It lives under your skin. It’s not going away. It’s part of you and will be part of you every moment until you die. What you’ve been working on, since the first time I met you, is learning to live with that.'”

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book during a week of protests regarding another cop-involved shooting of a Black man and then a white teenager shooting 3 protestors in Kenosha, WI… Let’s say it was timely and I felt angry, sad, confused, heartbroken, challenged. I appreciate that, as the author tried to work out her own questions and feelings about the devastating state of race relations in America, she provided a well-rounded picture of its complexities.

“It’s like I’m trying to climb a mountain, but I’ve got one fool trying to shove me down so I won’t be on his level, and another fool tugging at my leg, trying to pull me to the ground he refuses to leave.”

“What do I do when my very identity is being mocked by people who refuse to admit there’s a problem?”

“That idiot ‘pundit’ would rather believe you and Manny were thugs than believe a twenty-year veteran cop made a snap judgment based on skin color. He identifies with the cop. If the cop is capable of murder, it means he’s capable of the same. He can’t accept that…. They need to believe you’re a bad guy who got what he deserved in order for their world to keep spinning the way it always has.”

“You can’t change how other people think and act, but you’re in full control of you. When it comes down to it, the only question that matters is this: If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?”

It Is Wood, It Is Stone by Gabriella Burnham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“It is wood, it is stone. It is the end of the road.
“It is life, it is sun. It is night, it is death.”

Beautifully written, this book is like a fever dream: out of place, foreign, characters floating in and out and doing god knows what for god knows what reason. Thing is, I didn’t like a single character in this book. Every one of them bugged the crud out of me.

“He imagined that in the U.S. democracy prevailed, not like the corrupt politicians in Brazil who embezzled government money, or the police officers who shot innocent people on the street.”

“I had caught a glimmer of myself as someone who dug into her life with teeth and let the juice run down her chin. It was worth it to feel sticky afterward, but it wasn’t worth it to lose you.”

I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having thoroughly enjoyed other books by Waxman, I was thrilled to pick up another one. This one, however, is so emotionally on-point as it describes a relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter during a spring break college tour, so immediately relatable (my sons are in college/high school) that it became hard to read. It would make for a great mother-daughter book club for daughters in the beginning of high school, or for moms well beyond the drama of having launched their kids.

“Why do adults talk such shit about mindfulness and living in the moment, and at the same time point us all in the same direction and tell us to run as fast as we can to get ahead? Do this, you’ll be able to level up to a good high school, do this, you’ll be able to get into a good college where, if you work hard, you’ll be able to get a good job, where you can work harder and get a better job. When are we supposed to start actually living?”



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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: August 2020 Pt1

In January I set a goal through the Goodreads reading challenge to read 55 books this year. Reading four to five books each month seemed doable. Not a pushing-myself challenge, but something to keep me on track.

Here it is mid-August and I have completed the challenge: I’ve read 55 books, with more in progress, more in my to-read stack, more coming each week from the library straight to my Kindle.

Now that the kiddo is back in school (distance learning via Zoom) and I’ve registered to take a graduate course myself, plus some actual paid work coming my way soon, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up this pace. But we’ll see… I’m guessing I’ll get close to 90 books by the end of this year, and that will be one Great Big Good Thing about this otherwise off-kilter year.

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.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautiful memoir in verse, tracing Woodson’s life from birth (legend has it that the Woodsons are descendants of Thomas Jefferson) to adulthood. Remarkably, she has dyslexia and still words fascinate her and help her find her place in the world – from her earliest days of learning to write a “J,” to toting around a composition book, to discovering people like her in “easy” picture books, to memorizing stories because they flow like air in her lungs, to writing her own stories. It took me a while to read as I chewed the poetry in small bites.

“I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them
then blow gently,
watch them float
right out of my hands.”

“How can I explain to anyone that stories
are like air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out
over and over again.”

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pete: “It’s just rock ‘n’ roll. None of this really matters.”

At first I agreed with Pete. This whole book is rock ‘n’ roll, a lot of drama over nothing. But it’s entertaining, and of course it’s about people – their dreams and relationships and motivations. And in the end, I loved them.

Billy (about Daisy): “She had written something that felt like I could have written it, except I knew I couldn’t have. I wouldn’t have come up with something like that. Which is what we all want from art, isn’t it? When someone pins down something that feels like it lives inside us? Take a piece of your heart out and shows it to you? It’s like they are introducing you to a part of yourself.”

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Clever, entertaining, weird. But problematic. Set in 1950’s Mexico, the language reads too contemporary and I found that jarring. Somewhat predictable, I anticipated half of the reason for the drama early on. And I’m not convinced about the relationship at the end.

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the unique misfit-ness of the characters – lonely deaf girl, shy Filipino boy, spiritualist girl with sidekick young sister, and the stereotypical bully (with enough backstory to make him sympathetic). And Filipino grandma with dream-insight and ancient tales that bear on reality.

But I wanted more. It was okay, but not what I typically expect from Newbery.

“Crying is good for the soul,” said Ruby softly. “It means something needs to be released. And if you don’t release the something, it just weighs you down until you can hardly move.”


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Reading: July 2020 Pt2

I normally read a lot on vacation, and this year I didn’t even have to pack and travel to accomplish that “more than usual” book consumption. Staying home I had more time than ever!

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.

image by Risa Rodil, risarodil.com

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“…even though the Church I love has been the oppressor as often as it has been the champion of the oppressed, I can’t let go of my belief in Church–in a universal body of belonging, in a community that reaches toward love in a world so often filled with hate.”

If you are a white Christian, do I have a book to recommend to you! Brown has written from her heart and her head, from her experience, from her place in the shadow of hope. Sit with this one. Listen hard. Drop your defenses. Take notes. Ponder and pray. Then commit to do something to work toward change.

Jesus gave the Church the ministry of reconciliation–not just people to God, or Jew to Gentile, not even just Black and white, but reconciliation between all people in the sight of the God who loves everyone of us. We can do better. Let’s do better.

How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great News by Peter Enns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“…the Bible holds out for us an invitation to join an ancient, well-traveled and sacred quest to know God, the world we live in, and our place in it” (p10).

This book busts to pieces that old cliche: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Because we have to ask: What does the Bible actually say? It said something to an ancient people, but we are not them. So what does it say to us, today, wherever we are? Not just the meaning of the written words on the page, but the intended wisdom behind those words read with the Holy Spirit who is wisdom.

Honestly, this concept shouldn’t be shocking to anyone who has ever heard a sermon preached, because pastors and scholars have long been interpreting what the Bible means for us today. Or to anyone who has noticed a contradiction or differences between the stories about Jesus in the four gospels. Enns points to examples within the Bible itself where the biblical authors were already interpreting the Bible as they had it, for example, how should God’s people worship God during the exile when they couldn’t worship in the Temple? Another example: Paul reinterpreting the Law post-resurrection.

This is great news, because it means the Bible isn’t static but a living book of wisdom. It makes the Bible even more exciting. And Enns brings his great sense of humor to his writing – a breath of fresh air in biblical scholarship.

The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My son and I read aloud The One and Only Ivan when he was in elementary school. We both loved it, so how could I not read her follow-up about Bob? (Kiddo is now in high school, so we’re sadly no longer reading aloud together). As a dog-mom to three rescue dogs, as an animal lover and frequent zoo visitor, I enjoyed this book, too. It would be a great discussion started for adults and kids to talk about how we treat animals, how to forgive yourself and others, and what it looks like to be afraid and brave at the same time.

“Humans love it when we get silly. I think they’re so weighed down by people problems that sometimes they need to be reminded what happy looks like.”

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Book of Longings is the fictional account of Ana, a strong woman with a largeness inside her to be a voice, to fill others’ ears with the words she writes from the holy of holies inside her. She is also the wife of Jesus.

I wasn’t sure I could go there with a married Jesus; it doesn’t offend scripturally, but it sure bucks tradition. Kidd writes in her author’s notes that she recognized the audacity of the goal in writing this story. But the story is fully Ana’s, and the author’s words are so gorgeously entwined that they caught me up.

Truly, I loved this book. I got angry at the injustices women have faced, then and now. I enjoyed the way scriptural characters and incidents were depicted with new light. Alongside Ana, I fell in love with a human Jesus whose humanity often gets lost in the religious focus on His divinity. I wept while He died in a way that, with its familiarity, I don’t weep nearly enough when I read the Bible.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Even though it was predictable, I wanted to like this one. Lara Jean was a relatable character, smart and funny with weaknesses that both set her apart and that she knows she needs to work on. But I didn’t like the ending at all. I know it’s book 1 of 3, but really, it needed a better ending.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Collins’ best book yet and, sadly, so currently relevant.

What do we believe about the essence of human nature? Are human beings essentially good or evil? Do they need to be controlled by social contract to prevent a devolution into chaos? What defines or distinguishes those in power from those who must be controlled? And how do our beliefs about human nature affect our actions? More importantly, how society will be structured?

I couldn’t put this one down. It was fascinating to meet young Coriolanus Snow, to watch how his early life experiences shaped him, to see who had influence in his life and how he could be manipulated, as well as how he manipulated others. Snow lands on top, indeed.

This could make a good book club pick. Unlikely, but I would also suggest it as an optional extra credit assignment for high school students.



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Cover image by Lubos Houska 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: June 2020

In May I finally got around to reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The song the Oompa-Loompas sing in response to TV-obsessed Mike Teavee shrinking when he is the first human “sent by television” caught my attention:

How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster [TV] was invented?
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY…USED…TO…READ!

The Oompa-Loompas sing on, describing every manor of book…fine fantastic tales of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales. Read, read, read!

I’d describe quarantine life as a mix of family, productivity, and downtime that includes plenty of time for both TV and books. We’ve been binging Top Chef and I’m watching Big Little Lies Season 2 for the second time (I can’t get enough of the Monterey Coast, beachy views I ought to experience first-hand on our annual family vacation) and catching up on movies, more screen time than normal for sure, but that still leaves more time for reading than normal. It’s a balance.

Here are my thoughts on this month’s round up. 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!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is quite a feat: long, smart, quiet, thoughtful, witty, content and restless, endearing… And while it would be good at any time, it also offers timely insights for quarantine since the main character has been “exiled” to life inside a Moscow luxury hotel.

“…imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness.”

“Having acknowledged that a man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them, the Count thought it worth considering how one was most likely to achieve this aim when one had been sentenced to a life of confinement.”

“For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”

“…our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity–a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”

The Peacock Emporium by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This novel had so much going for it, but needed to be about 100 pages shorter with another solid editorial pass and perhaps a different structure. It meandered too slowly and too far afield. Moyes has a gift for developing strong and (mostly) likeable characters which is what kept me reading. Except in this case, Suzanna was not likeable. I’m convinced she was supposed to read as pained and complicated, but as she came across like a petulant child, it made it hard to relate with her. Cleaning up the overall story line would have helped readers understand and like Suzanna which would have helped the book as a whole.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting look at Black and white relationships with self, friends, lovers, and employers, all packed into an entertaining novel that hits close to home in current relevance. Two white adults who share a complicated history take sides regarding a young Black woman after she has a difficult encounter with a store security guard while babysitting a white toddler. Takeaway: the only opinion that matters to your life is your own; no one else gets a definitive say unless you allow it.

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Race, poverty, inadequate legal assistance, and prosecutorial indifference to innocence conspired to create a textbook example of injustice. I can’t think of a case that more urgently dramatizes the need for reform than what has happened to Anthony Ray Hinton.” –Bryan Stevenson

Read. This. Book. What a tragedy that Hinton spent 30 years on Death Row for crimes he didn’t commit. Judicial and prison reform are necessary in the US right now.

The 22 pages of names in small type at the end of the book, names of people currently sitting on Death Row, are heartbreaking.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Too long. At times, it felt interminable. I almost gave up several times before I hit ch12, when suddenly the dialogue, humor, and story all picked up. And then it flagged again. However, the ending felt satisfying, and when I went back to reread page 1, it all tied together with exactly the message you’d expect from Liz.

“The war had invested me with an understanding that life is both dangerous and fleeting, and thus there is no point in denying yourself pleasure or adventure while you are here…
“Anyway, at some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time.
“After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.”

“The world ain’t straight. You grow up thinking things are a certain way. You think there are rules. You think there’s a way that things have to be. You try to live straight. But the world doesn’t care about your rules, or what you believe. The world ain’t straight, Vivian. Never will be. Our rules, they don’t mean a thing. The world just happens to you sometimes, is what I think. And people just gotta keep moving through it, best they can.”

Beach Read by Emily Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So much fun, even if its characters seldom trod on the titular beach. After a heavy few months, I needed a lark of a book and this sang the tune. Definitely one to stick in your beach tote!

From the author’s discussion guide: “Sometimes we lose the ability to create simply because we’re tired. We need to rest and recover. But other times, we can’t move forward because there are hard questions we have to ask first. Hurdles in our path we first have to jump or walls that need breaking down–interrogations demanding to be made.
“And when we’re brave enough to do so, we can make something beautiful. Something we didn’t know we were capable of before we began.”

The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was fun, entertaining, and it tried to be meaningful and maybe that’s what dragged it down a star. It’s fine, but I’m not raving about it.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just finished reading this short yet dense book and I am scratching my head. It’s on the list of potential required books for my son’s upcoming junior year in high school English class. My son is 16yo, one year older than Coates’ son to whom the book is written as a letter. This is one heckuva letter for a teenager.

My biggest takeaway is that, even though we’re only a few years apart in age and we both grew up in America, Coates and I grew up in different worlds. Some passages, I had to let go of trying to understand and just let the feeling of otherness wash over me. I looked up lightly dropped references and even Google couldn’t help me – I knew I was supposed to recognize the references, or at least Google should have, but I think that was the point: I didn’t know the references because we come from different realities.

I took so many notes as there’s a lot to digest…

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A perfect summer read – light and thoughtful with a few twists.

Her descriptions of body positivity are spot on, like we expect from her but even better. And her grappling with society’s dependence on social media makes sense at this moment in time.

Above all, find your people – your real, loving and true people – and hold them close.


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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay