Reading: January-February 2018

Two memoirs + two books on how to live your best life + three novels = my 2018 reading so far.

Sometimes it cracks me up how books come to me in relationship to each other and how they seem to reveal to me the state of my own heart. Two books about how to live: I desire to live intentionally and I’m willing to shake things up to get better at my own life. Two memoirs: well, I am a blogger, after all; I write and regularly publish memoir. In addition, one of the memoirs is by a young woman who wrestles in her relationship with the Church (my own struggles take different forms and reach different temperatures, but I relate) and the other is by a Bay Area wife and mom learning to live well after death steals some of her beloveds (I live here and I’ve been there).

Nine weeks of 2018, and I’ve read seven books, several with 5/5 ratings. Not a bad start!

Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to SayTell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kelly Corrigan lost two precious people to cancer. So have I. She’s raising teen girls in the San Francisco Bay Area; I’m raising teen boys, also in the Bay Area. She works and volunteers and balances all that family life holds and I can relate to the whole big, beautiful mess.

Fav quotes:
“Minds don’t rest; they reel and wander and fixate and roll back and reconsider because it’s like this, having a mind. Hearts don’t idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it’s like this, having a heart. Lives don’t last; they thrill and confound and circle and overflow and disappear because it’s like this, having a life.” (25)

“…we can be damaged and heavy-hearted but still buoyant and insightful, still essential and useful, just by saying I know.” (102)

“This abstract performance art called Family Life is our one run at the ultimate improve. Our chance to be great for someone, to give another person enough of what they need to be happy. Ours to overlook or lose track of or bemoan, ours to recommit to, to apologize for, to try again for. Ours to watch disappear into their next self—toddler to tyke, tween to teen—ours to drop off somewhere and miss forever.
“It’s happening right now, whether we attend to it or not.” (220)

How to Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind of Happiness That Helps The WorldHow to Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind of Happiness That Helps The World by Colin Beavan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The standard life approach doesn’t work for most people: get good grades, go to a good college, land the perfect career that makes enough money to live well, marry the love of your life, live happily ever after. That might have worked at one time, but the world has changed. So why not take responsibility and develop the life you want? Live in line with what matters to you. Ask “How can I help?” in each situation, and see what happens.

I read the first section, then started skimming (it is long…), then read sections that interested me. Some good stuff but, funny, not all that truly life-changing. I picked up Designing Your Life (Burnett & Evans) at the same time – though they’re different, they are variations on a theme and that one is shorter and better.

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book captivated and entranced me. It moved me and eventually broke my heart. One lonely couple hard-scrabbling to establish a life in 1920’s Alaska provides the landscape for the most wonderful ‘real-life’ fairy tale. This book has found a place on my forever-favorites list.

“In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believe as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees.” (251)

“We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end up or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?” (258)

“When [joy] stands before you with her long, naked limbs and her mysterious smile, you must embrace her while you can.” (336)

Still Me (Me Before You, #3)Still Me by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good book for binge reading while sick. It’s not as heavy/thought-provoking as Me Before You and I like it better than After You.

“There are so many versions of ourselves we can choose to be. Once, my life was destined to be measured out in the most ordinary of steps. I learned differently from a man who refused to accept the version of himself he’d been left with, and an old lady who saw, conversely, that she could transform herself, right up to a point when many people would have said there was nothing left to be done.
“I had a choice….The key was making sure that anyone you allowed to walk beside you didn’t get to decide which you were, and pin you down like a butterfly in a case. The key was to know that you could always somehow find a way to reinvent yourself again.” (386)

RefugeeRefugee by Alan Gratz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book while looking for historical fiction suggestions for my 8th grade son. As he finished another book, I devoured this one. I will now pass it on.

Chapters go back and forth between three stories, three young people and families fleeing their homes: Josef, a Jew, fleeing Nazi Germany; Isabel fleeing Castro’s Cuba in 1994; and Mahmoud fleeing war in Aleppo, Syria, in 2015.

The chapters are short and compelling, which keeps you flipping pages even when the stories are heart-rending. This book holds in tension the horrors humans inflict on each other with the hope of those who seek refuge, who hang on desperately to hope and one another. Occasionally we see genuine human kindness break through like light in darkness.

Honestly, I’m more than a little wrecked at this wretched reality. And I’m concerned about my 13yo reading about these atrocities. Except this is the world we live in. When we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it–and repeat it we do, as these characters spread out over almost a century could attest.

“I see it now, Chabela. All of it. The past, the present, the future. All my life, I kept waiting for things to get better. For the bright promise of manana. But a funny thing happened while I was waiting for the world to change, Chabela: it didn’t. Because I didn’t change it. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.” (277) –Lito, Isabel’s grandfather

Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for YouDesigning Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You by William Burnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great book to encourage intentional decision making and action to becoming your best version of yourself. For anyone looking for a job, or even just wanting to tweak their current job, this book holds so much practical wisdom. But for anyone looking to live more fully into their best self, this book contains practical tools to urge you onward.

“A well-designed life is generative—it is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise.” (xvi)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” becomes “Who or what do you want to grow into?” (xxi)

“…follow the joy; follow what engages and excites you, what brings you alive.” (49)

“Work is fun when you are actually leaning into your strengths and are deeply engaged and energized by what you’re doing.” (49)

“…if a problem isn’t actionable, then it’s not solvable.” (82)

“It’s important to think of ourselves as life designers who are curious and action-oriented, and who like to make prototypes and ‘build our way forward’ into the future. But when you take this approach to designing your life, you are going to experience failure. In fact, you are going to ‘fail by design’ more with this approach than with any other.” (182)

“We are always growing from the present into the future, and therefore always changing. With each change comes a new design. Life is not an outcome; it’s more like a dance. Life design is just a really good set of dance moves.” (184)

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the ChurchSearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“…there is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you’ve mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud…” (187)

There is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about this book, as Held Evans whispers aloud her many doubts and questions, inviting us in to hear, to honor the silent pause, to nod in recognition, to receive graciously her vulnerability and there find that we are not alone. As she wrestles with God, we find that we are all held by God.

This book isn’t for the faint of heart, Christians easily offended who don’t doubt or at least admit to their questions (not me). It also probably makes most sense to those raised in evangelical churches in the US, those who speak “youth group” and “quiet time” and “contemporary Christian music” as a first language (yes, me). Some won’t like it at all; however, I found grace here, and grace to me always indicates the presence of Jesus.

“This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is.” (250)

Thankful Thursday – Spring 2016 Books

Lotsa reading happening over here, and it’s been a fun mix of a couple of novels, even more young adult novels, a goofy volume of poetry, and several non-fiction books.

Every Thing on ItEvery Thing on It by Shel Silverstein
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A quick-and-easy read-aloud for a poetry reading requirement, but not my favorite Shel Silverstein. Still, a couple of poems stood out: “WRITESINGTELLDRAW” and “THE RAINBOW THROWER.”

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my second time through this book – I read it myself years ago and this time read it aloud with Tween – and I liked it even better this time. And even more so when I read Gaiman’s acknowledgements, which begin with Rudyard Kipling and The Jungle Book. Gaiman read and reread The Jungle Book from childhood through adulthood, and that information sheds such light on what he has created. I thought parts might scare my sensitive Tween, but that was my too-rational adult brain overthinking; he took even the “scariest” bits in stride, as children perceive the world differently than adults – a perspective that helped me appreciate that life’s “scary” bits don’t have to be overwhelming, even to a sensitive mama.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond FearBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the right book at the right time for me. Gilbert blends the right amount of play and seriousness, discipline and joy, storytelling and truth-telling. Highly recommend to anyone who desires to live beyond fear, whatever form creativity takes in your life.

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders: A NovelHarriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders: A Novel by Julianna Baggott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my new favorites! Having allowed myself to stop reading another book, acclaimed and lovely, but not for this moment in my life, I picked up this book. Sentences in I knew I’d found a treasure. Harriet Wolf is an author and matriarch of three generations of women, all broken in their own beautiful ways. Baggott weaves together scenes from Harriet’s books with narratives told in each woman’s voice. Fantastic, moving, healing, wonder-full.

Why Not Me?Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although I went in looking for a lighthearted laugh, some essays left me feeling I wasn’t rich, smart or hip enough to get her humor. And yet I stuck with it to the end, so that’s something. Fans of her TV work might like this more than I did. Still, I do appreciate her vision for her life, her hard work and diligence, and that she’s willing to laugh at even the crappy stuff in life.

After You (Me Before You, #2)After You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I entered this book with some trepidation. I adored Me Before You–unlikely a story as it tells and as painful in the end–and I didn’t want this one to muck it up. It didn’t. It didn’t exceed Part 1, but it did faithfully continue Louisa’s story. It depicts the roller coaster experience of grief, specifically Louisa’s plod through the loss of Will, while intersecting her story with others who are also grieving and dealing with losses of many sorts. In the end we feel proud of Louisa for having the courage to move on in more ways than one, and we hope that we will have the same courage when it required.

Raymie NightingaleRaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kate DiCamillo is one of my very favorite authors. This isn’t her typical book. I liked it, but it took me a while to warm up to the story. It’s sad, mostly. But in that bleak landscape, there are whispers of DiCamillo’s usual magic, hope in the darkness or, in this case, Raymie’s soul growing larger as she learns to let go of what she expected and embrace the new people and path before her.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own PersonYear of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

LOVE this book! It reminded me of a mash-up of two other books I’ve read recently: I Dare Me (Lu Ann Cahn) and Why Not Me? (Mindy Kaling). But way better.

Why was I surprised that the woman who has written some of my favorite TV dialogue can write so thoughtfully, so eloquently, with the perfect balance of depth and humor? And while she does write at length about how she wrote Cristina Yang’s “Grey’s Anatomy” character because she (read: we!) need a Cristina Yang in our lives, her own voice sounds a whole heckuva lot like Bailey. And I love it.

She says YES to the things you’d expect: YES to scary invitations, YES to asking for help, YES to play and getting healthy and true friends. But also YES to hard conversations, and to NO, and even to Wonder Woman. To being a badass. Badassery is a word, people: Shonda Rhimes added it to the dictionary.

The Calder Game (Chasing Vermeer, #3)The Calder Game by Blue Balliett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Teen read this in middle school and so now Tween and I have read it aloud together. None of us have read the other two books that precede it, although that didn’t affect our enjoyment. This book intertwines art, artists, history, three uniquely gifted kids (one in math, one in language, the other as a “finder”), and a mystery that stretches from Chicago to Blenheim Palace, England. The description of the Calder retrospective in the first few chapters was so beautiful, so alluring, I could easily imagine myself there and also longed to be there.

GratitudeGratitude by Oliver Sacks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These four short essays written in the last few years before Sacks’ death tell the life story of an extraordinary man who has made an indelible mark on the world. That we should all live so fully, think so deeply, and convey such gratitude and grace as we approach the end.

“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can” (16). It is up to all of us to choose to live richly, for none of us truly knows how much longer we have.

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written” (20).

End of 2015 Reading

As a result of my last reading post and the reading crisis within which I found myself, a generous friend gifted me a book: Me Before You. An avowed Read-Page 1-To the End reader, whereas I am a Read-the Last Page-About a Chapter In reader, she swore me to uphold End Page Secrecy. I did, and I’m glad. I couldn’t possibly have understood the last page before its time.

And then I have these ambitious friends who have posted on Facebook their tremendous accomplishments of having read 60 or so books in 2015. Egads, people! You must read at Light Speed. And yet, they inspire me.

So I looked at my Goodreads account a few weeks ago and gauged a realistic number: I could reach 30 books by 2015’s end. The last one is a bit of a cheat, a book of “cat poetry” I read aloud with Tween, accompanied by his hilarious cat-howl laughter. It was fun, not at all serious together-time, and worthy for those very reasons.

So here are my last few books of 2015. Happy reading in 2016!

Me Before You (Me Before You, #1)Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In desperate need of a new story to whisk me away, a friend gave me this book. Indeed it whisked me away. I fell in love with two worlds-apart characters who meet up over extraordinary-ordinary reasons: need and money. Without beating me over the head, this story had me think deeply and want to live bigger, and with more love. And it broke my heart in the best way.

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seemingly ordinary yet terribly broken characters crash their lives into one another, telling lies and believing whatever seems most convenient, until tragedy befalls each one. Not a perfect book, but a quick and suspenseful read.

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible StandardsFor the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book of essays made me laugh and cry and think and feel. As a 40-something pastor’s wife/writer with kids at home, Jen and I share so much in common that occasionally I wanted to beat the book on my head and ask, “Why didn’t I write this?” But she is much, much funnier than I am, and I will read whatever she writes. I preferred Seven, but I’m sure I will return to the essays in this book from time to time.

Three Times Lucky (Tupelo Landing, #1)Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great read-aloud to share with my Tween – original characters, entrancing writing, fast-paced and engaging story. I would guess the only reason this Newbery Honor Award book didn’t win the Newbery itself is because of tough competition in 2013 (winner: The One and Only Ivan, also a delight).

A Northern LightA Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A coming of age story set in 1906 Adirondacks, this book gives a fascinating view into another time and place, centered on Mattie, a poor, smart farm girl raising her siblings after her mother’s death from cancer. She longs for a life of the mind while struggling against the harsh physical realities of her days. Mattie’s life juxtaposes Grace’s unfortunate and untimely death, one who can change her fate and the other eternally trapped. Not a perfect book, as the jumping back and forth in time make it confusing at times, especially for a YA book.

A Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer LifeA Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life by Jared Brock
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is fairly well-written, entertaining, thoughtful and funny in turns, and a complete mess. I have marked sections I want to remember and wish I could excise whole chapters. Brock is smart, energetic, and wants to change the world in Jesus’ name. To do so, he knows he needs to learn how to pray. But some of the stops along his journey seem intended to shock more than educate – Westboro Baptist, really? Benny Hinn? Even Tony Robbins (and coal walking)? He knew before he went in that those folks were not going to teach him what he wanted to learn about how to sincerely pray in Jesus’ name. He did learn a few things about prayer throughout the year, and he  gleaned truth to share, I just wish the book had been more carefully orchestrated and edited so as not to poke fun at those who have enough trouble already and to be more genuinely helpful without the distractions.

I Could Pee on This And Other Poems by CatsI Could Pee on This And Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Recommended by cat-loving friends with kids, we bought this for our cat-loving Tween. He giggled throughout, and the giggles themselves were worth the purchase price.