Thankful Thursday – Books!

I read 30 books in 2015. Not a lot, but more than two a month. So far in 2016, I’ve upped the ante, closer to one a week. I may not keep it up, but it’s been fun so far. I keep my library queue updated as I hear about books I want to read, which makes it like a game of library roulette – I read what I get, and I set reading goals based on due dates and which books are more likely in demand and so unlikely to be renewable. Just last week my neighbor popped over and found me in my pj’s too late in the morning, because I just had to get to the end of a book. She loaned me the library book she’d just finished, with four days left to read it. Done! And wouldn’t you know it? The day I returned it, my queue provided my next book to take its place.

Another coincidence that made me chuckle: the first four books came in young adult-adult pairs of two, one pair on death and another on female friendships.

So here you go, the low-down on what I’ve read so far in 2016.

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I almost stopped reading after one chapter – the subject matter is raw – and I’m so glad I didn’t. This book is beautiful, with beautifully-drawn characters, people I feel I know, struggling in the wake of tragedy and the daily tragedy called High School. For those who liked Paper Towns and Eleanor & Park, this book might be even better.

Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A middle-aged man recounts his thirteen summer as son of a Methodist minister in a small Minnesota farming town, the summer death stripped him of childhood and forced him to face life as a young man. The book feels slow and almost dreamlike in its reflection but superb in capturing the superlatives that make up ordinary life: doubt, faith, friendship, family, anger, fear, joy, beauty, love. It portrays what it looks like to live faith, which necessarily includes doubt, without being preachy even during the few snippets of sermon. The story points to grace which leads to hope.

“In your dark night, I urge you to hold to your faith, to embrace hope, and to bear your love before you like a burning candle, for I promise that it will light your way.
“And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may no be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. This miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day” (195).

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Without the raving of friends I might not have picked up this book, but I’m glad I did. I know these characters, and if you’re a parent with kids in grade school, you do, too. They made me laugh and made me want to stomp on their toes and/or hug them. The bitchy, controlling parents who believe their kid can do no wrong. The meek who get trampled for listening to and believing their kid. The life of the party and the parent-organizer. And oh, the issues: gossip, manipulation, parent v. parent v. administration. It’s all real, frustratingly so.

But it’s really about friendship, family, and parenting in a cultural environment that doesn’t always prioritize the right things. And in the end, it does a good job of revealing that exteriors and reality don’t always match up. We all need more compassion. As the book says, “It could happen to any of us.”

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stead has mastered the thoughts and voices of middle school girls. So spot on and surprisingly smart. In fact, it’s evident that Stead loves her characters, refreshing as culture tends to look down on middle schoolers. The story broke my heart in all the right ways and handed it back fully restored. It’s not a great book, but if you like early adolescents, or if you want an inside peek into their complex inner lives, this is a good book. If you haven’t read Stead’s When You Reach Me, do so quickly. It is amazing.

I Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every DayI Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every Day by Lu Ann Cahn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really liked this book. A wowza-successful middle aged woman decides to try something for the first time every day of the year, and in so doing “unsticks” her life. Some of her Firsts seem drastic – New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge or riding a mechanical bull; others are wacky – eating a scorpion; some are playful – hula hooping; some are ordinary – trying a new restaurant or recipe; some are life-changing – she learns new skills and takes risk that may eventually pay off in her career. The overall take-away is to open your eyes to see the invitations – and say YES! – to live a full, creative, exuberant, playful life.

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #1)The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While my guys have read just about every Rick Riordan on the market, this was my first. Tween and I needed a new read-aloud, and as this series is based on Norse mythology (my heritage), we dove in headlong. Surprise, surprise, I liked it! There may have been too many characters considering my woeful Norse myth-knowledge, but it was fun. Just right for a read-aloud with a middle grade reader boy.

Finding AudreyFinding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Different from Kinsella’s other books, while maintaining her style, makes this foray engaging in new ways. I related a little too much to the mom freaked out by her teenage son’s gaming habits. She made me feel better about myself, actually, until I realize she’s got way more on her hands than I want. Poor Audrey is making her way through her “broken” brain’s reaction to tragic events, and her family is doing their best along with her. I don’t know enough about how teenage brains heal, so this effort may be a little too romantic and unrealistic. Still, it was sweet.

Who Do You LoveWho Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a very readable down-to-earth love story, beginning with Rachel and Andy as children and following each one as they weave in and out of each other’s lives through middle age. It was good, not great. I much prefer Good in Bed and In Her Shoes, but if you’re looking for a light, don’t have to think too much love story, this is it.

When Organizing Isn't Enough: Shed Your Stuff, Change Your LifeWhen Organizing Isn’t Enough: Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Julie Morgenstern
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Because I constantly fight with clutter, I constantly pick up organizing books. This one is different and at first I thought it wasn’t for me, as it really has to do with people moving through life transitions: change of employment or relationship status, for example. The paradigm is this: Separate the treasures; Heave the trash; Embrace your identity; and Drive yourself forward = SHED. Of course those 4 steps can apply to anyone at any point. They’re broader than just Stuff as well, because you can apply the paradigm to mental and emotional clutter as well as physical. I mostly skimmed the book, but there’s some good stuff in there you won’t find in your average organizational book.

Three WishesThree Wishes by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book fell into my hands courtesy of my neighbor and I had four days to read it before it was due at the library. It’s an easy read, so I devoured it like birthday cake. It looks light and fluffy, but is surprisingly rich as it follows triplets from their 34th birthday celebration back in time to before their conception and through life as these look-alikes live out their individual identities.

Our families assign us roles we live out:
Lyn – driven, achiever, martyr
Cat – dramatic, funny, bitch
Gemma – forgetful, drifter, surprisingly smart but unfocused
And yet we have the power to make different decisions, ones that may seem out of character to others but drive us forward in new and better directions.

 

What’s Your Dance Party?

I’ve been thinking about “YES!”yes

This word, “create,” requires saying Yes to life, to invitations, to play, and, sometimes worse, to those things that intimidate or downright scare me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for saying “NO!” as necessary. I believe in it. Oh baby, YES, we have to say NO! from time to time. My everyday hero, Jen Hatmaker, says: “People will take as much as you will give them, not because they are terrible humans, but because they only want this one slice of you. Plus, you’re probably good at their pet thing. But they don’t observe the scope of your life and all the other tricks on your beam. You can say no, and no one will die. God wants this freedom for us.” Sometimes we have to say No in order to say Yes to something more important. I’ve been thinking on that a lot lately, too.

But, YesGetting out of our comfort zone to live a full, exuberant, energetic, creative life, that requires Yes answers where No might be our instinct.

i-dare-me-clubI’ve been reading a book, I Dare Me!, about a middle-aged wowza-successful gal who felt stuck. To un-stick herself she created a list, with lots of help, of Firsts she could do every day of the year. She began with one of her biggest fears, swimming in the ocean, and so she took a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. I’m not afraid of the ocean, and still, Yikes! Some were way more do-able, like taking a new class at the gym, trying a new recipe and/or restaurant, even going without make-up for a day (and yet, she’s an on-air news anchor, so…). It’s inspirational. I don’t want to do many of the things she did, but I’m asking the big question: What could I do? It’s a Yes to life!

Yes is about letting go of what others think, of what you think, of who you should be or what you should do. It’s embracing the whole range, from silly to ridiculous to meaningful.

Today I said Yes, if only just for a few seconds.

At our moms’ group, a sweet gal shared her story of birthing three babies in rapid succession, and in that time two household moves, of post-partum depression that lasted too long, and from all of that, to Zumba. You read that right, Zumba!zumba-in-the-circuit-logo-2

Previously, I had only ever Zumba’d in the privacy of my own home, not-jiving to a library DVD. I tried a few days in a row, working on steps and rhythm, before I decided I have neither steps nor rhythm (my gals will attest: after a few late-night glasses of wine, I might be convinced otherwise, but we keep that to ourselves).

Zumba was the thing God used to heal this sweet mama. She loves to dance, and so when her youngest began sleeping through the night she first took one class, which led to three, which became a dare from her husband to become an instructor. And so she did! Through Zumba she left depression behind. She grew lighter and brighter and, along with her, so did her family. And today, so did 150 or so women at our church as she led us in a simple, just-for-us routine.

The friend behind me had dressed the part: yoga pants and tennis skirt. Me, not so much. I confessed (uh, she was standing behind me, it wasn’t gonna take long…): “I don’t dance.” Thank God, she replied (surprisingly!) in kind.Andy-Grammer-Keep-Your-Head-Up

The song was Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up.”

You gotta keep your head up, oh
And you can let your hair down…

Step side-to-side, I got it (sort of). Add hands and body, I began to lose it. I thought, No Way am I gonna shake my tush in this room, with windows to my side, friends and co-workers nearby, What Are We Doing???

Then I looked around. One hundred-plus women shimmied around the room, each with her own size, shape, and style. Our group founder, about five gals in front of me and about as close to 90 as I am to 50, wiggled and giggled with glee. The smile stretching across her face, the obvious joy-filled un-self-consciousness she was experiencing, it moved me.

I remembered to Dare Myself. To Say Yes (also one of the rules of improv – always say “Yes, and…” – which also means you are fully present in the moment, Not Overthinking).

I let go. I shook my hands, my hair, and my rear. It could not have been pretty, but it was free. I reveled in the beauty of the story we’d heard, of how one gal found her way back to herself through dance and movement.

I believe we were made to move, and we all move to a different beat. And I believe we all have a passion, each different from the others, something that brings us to life and energizes those nearby. The dance-mama found her jive in Zumba. Mine is writing – I get bright-eyed and energetic thinking about what I will write next. It’s not all joy; some of it is excruciating hard work, but it’s still worth it. It’s my passion.

What’s yours?