Reading: May 2020 pt2

I’ve been planning another reading post for weeks, but I couldn’t anticipate how an upside-down world would spin off its axis yet again. In light of George Floyd’s murder and the resulting protests, I’ve been pondering, praying, quiet, recognizing just how much I don’t know and that, while my voice is important and silence isn’t an option, my words are not the words we should be listening to.

Example: last week we watched The Lovebirds with Issa Rae and Kamail Nanjiani. Through comedic circumstances, they witness a murder. But they don’t go to the police.

I would call 911. I would expect the police to show up and listen carefully and respond effectively. I wondered out loud, “Why don’t they just go to the police?”

And then she says it, something like: “Police don’t believe people who look like us.”

Oh… Setting aside the obvious fact that this was a movie, isn’t getting the police involved still better than trying to solve the crime yourselves?

Maybe not. See George Floyd.

So I have renewed my commitment to listen. To learn. I began following several  Instagram accounts – @oshetamoore, @lisasharper, @austinchanning, all women because I am a woman – and I picked up a book from my shelf: The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is one of my all-time favorite life-changing books. It ought to be required reading for every American over the age of 15. Stevenson is the attorney who got Hinton off death row after he had served 30 years for murders he didn’t commit. So it’s high time I read Hinton’s story in his own words. Just Mercy was turned into an Oscar-nominated movie, but the book blows the movie away.

Another book that helped me understand the complicated relationship between POC and the police: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s also a movie, one I enjoyed after reading the book.

How are you listening to POC? What books or resources do you recommend?

Now, the other books I’ve read recently…

I'd Give AnythingI’d Give Anything by Marisa de los Santos

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have absolutely adored other books by this author, and this one wasn’t as good. People make mistakes, big and small, and we can forgive them and ourselves, move on and/or move forward. Life goes on. I liked it more at the end than I thought I would, but still not my fav of hers.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1)Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sweet and scintillating story of two people overcoming their self-constructed walls, once meant to ensure self-preservation, in order to fall in love. Note: graphic sex scenes (not my usual fare, but fun in context…).

Daily Rituals: How Artists WorkDaily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Skimmed because Currey didn’t include sufficient information to tell the reader what his subjects had contributed to the world. Another problem: I couldn’t discern an organizational strategy. Subjects aren’t listed in chronological or alphabetical order.

As he admits in the intro, Currey should have titled this book “Daily Routines.” The biggest take away is that there is no one size fits all, but rather, each person creates their own habits. In the book’s final entry, writer Bernard Malamud sums it up: “There’s no one way–there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place–you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time–not steal it–and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1)Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love! Of course I’ve seen both movies countless times (prefer the Gene Wilder version), but reading the book was so much fun I can’t believe it took me so long to get to it.

Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAINRadical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN by Tara Brach

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish I could remember who to thank for directing me to this life-changing book! RAIN is hard, important work, learning to Recognize my feelings, Allow them to just be (rather than stuffing or numbing them), Investigate how they feel in my body, and Nurture my inner self. Let it RAIN!

Two images in particular have been helpful: the Golden Buddha disguised under the hardened clay/mud – we’re all golden underneath our coping mechanisms; and the lone snarling dog caught in the trap by the tree – when we recognize how others hurt, it enables compassion and helps us to understand/forgive.

As a life-long Christian, I feel like I received a crash-course in prayer that the Church never provided.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: May 2020 pt1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Newbery Medal winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

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: March 2020

One might reasonably expect that a bookish individual would, during a pandemic that requires shelter-in-place, escape into a stack of books. I am realizing, slowly, that all reasonable expectations might as well hurl themselves out of windows.

Harsh, but also sorta true. The world has spun off its axis and, while I’m mostly fine, there are moments, hours, days when nothing at all feels right. I could, I should, take advantage of this abundance of time to read, to write, to create. Instead, I tumble headlong down the black hole of social media. I start and stop various projects, leaving trails behind me. I read, just not as much as I could.

As this becomes the new normal, at least for now, I’m inching toward adjusting as well as one can. I’m reading more, finishing rather than merely starting projects. Appreciating both the sunny and rainy days as they come. Being gentle with myself and others.

How are you holding up? How are you filling the days? Perhaps I can offer some suggestions.

GoldGold by Chris Cleave
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cleave is an exceptional writer, stringing together words in gorgeous ways to tell engaging stories. I loved Little Bee. Gold was entertaining and I ripped through it, but it wasn’t nearly as compelling as his previous book.

The Garden of Small BeginningsThe Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I adore Abbi Waxman! This one wasn’t quite as good as The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, but it still grabbed me from the start and kept me engaged till the end. I have a brown thumb, and still this made me want to garden. Spring is here- let’s do this!

The Magician's AssistantThe Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As the COVID-19 quarantine came down and I didn’t have sufficient library books, I combed through my shelves to find something I hadn’t read that could take my mind off current events. This fit the bill. It wasn’t as good as State of Wonder. Also slightly predictable, with an anti-climactic ending. Still, Week #1 of containment done and this helped.

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning GodMiracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God by Sarah Bessey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve now read all of Sarah’s books and this is her best. Oh-so-vulnerable, gut-wrenching, thoughtful, loving… I cried with her all through Rome, and hope I will always keep the image of her heel-crushed tulips carefully woven into the Easter cross, right where they belong. Bravo, Sarah, for writing your journey so that we may be blessed through your suffering.

“…learn what it is to be an ordinary miracle” (202)

“May you be swept off your feet by the goodness and welcome of God, the ferocious love and friendship of Jesus, the delight and disruptions of the Holy Spirit. May you love because you were loved first” (211)

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry GirlsThe Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shelve this one under “the sins of the parents will be visited to the third generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).

During shelter-in-place, I’m learning to use my library’s online services. This book was available now to read on Kindle so I clicked on it. I’m glad I did. Fully developed characters, a compelling, multi-generational family story. So sad and yet hopeful.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: January 2020

Do you use Goodreads? Once upon a time, I made notes about books I’d read in a small notebook designated for that purpose. Goodreads is so much better, with images of the books, summaries, and access to others’ short reviews.

They also do a fun page at the end of the year that summarizes my reading for the year: how many pages I read in how many books, shortest and longest, the ones I liked most and least, and how their ratings measured up on Goodreads. See my results here.

My specific goal for this year is to read at least four books each month, for an overall total of 55 books. Yes, I know, that math doesn’t work, but I know that some months I will read less and others more, so I do expect to be able to exceed the four books per month.

Except I didn’t make it this month. I am currently reading my fourth book, Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley. That review will appear in next month’s reading post.

The Starless SeaThe Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love this book, a magical (“m-word”) ode to stories, to story lovers and story tellers. She even weaves in the storytelling involved in video games, a field with which I have little experience. I rarely reread, but the stories within stories and the connections between them that eventually become apparent deserve another go.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My husband and son decided to celebrate BIG birthdays by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. While they were away, I decided to take a virtual quest with Bill Bryson up the Appalachian Trail. I’m not a backpacker and this book confirmed my inclination to stay off tall mountain trails, but I enjoyed reading about his trek. I was surprised at how much I learned…not a simple memoir, he weaves history and natural science into almost every chapter.

Year of the MonkeyYear of the Monkey by Patti Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this as a giveaway from Alfred A. Knopf by entering a contest on Goodreads.

I have never read a book like this- memoir, poetic prose, tribute to lives well lived, dream… To be honest, I knew the name “Patti Smith,” knew that she was a musician, but I had to google to find out more about her. In fact, I had to google a lot of names and books and places to keep up with the narrative. Smith is clearly a super-smart cookie and creatively open to listening to the directions and whims of the universe. I admire that.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: November 2019

Let’s all Read More Books!

I’m always reading, and I always have more to read. We have so many bookshelves people have joked that we live in a library (sounds good to me). My library basket also overflows, and I regularly have to return unread books because I can’t finish them fast enough.

Books star at the top of my gift lists, both to give and receive, like the star at the top of the Christmas tree. We’re all thinking about gift lists right about now, aren’t we? Below are thoughts on what I’ve read this month; for more suggestions, you can see my reviews through the link to Goodreads at the bottom of this post, or search “reading” and “books” on my blog.

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The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam, #2)The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Given the madness of the world in recent years, I’ve tended to stay away from dystopian fiction. However, Oryx & Crake was a favorite when it came out, I was between library runs, and I had The Year of the Flood on my bookshelf. It does seem interestingly prophetic… I may have to go back and reread Oryx & Crake before moving on to MaddAdam, though.

Dear Evan HansenDear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Trigger alert: in case you’ve been under a rock & didn’t know (I didn’t…) this is about suicide attempts, both successful and not.

I read this cover to cover in one day as we traveled from the West to East Coast. It’s beautifully written, believingly charactered, and simultaneously tragic and life affirming. Now I need to see it on the stage…

Update: I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat whenever I’m in the car, and I have to say, I like the book better than the music.

You Think It, I'll Say ItYou Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sittenfeld just may not be speaking my language. I gave up on Prep a few pages in. I made it through Sisterland, but it felt forced. I loved Eligible, but it’s a modern day Pride & Prejudice. I had high hopes for You Think It, I’ll Say It that didn’t pan out. An exploration of romantic love via short stories, some characters felt repetitive, only a few stood out as well-developed, and mostly I felt sad for the personal and relational brokenness depicted throughout.

The Last RomanticsThe Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a family saga different from any I’ve ever read. The storms the four Skinner children weather together knit them together, and also form them as unique individuals. They are wild and strong and expressive in different ways. The book doesn’t move fast but I was so intrigued as to what was happening with each character that it pulled me along, especially with an intriguing twist near the end.

“What I wanted to say to this man was that the greatest works of poetry, what makes each of us a poet, are the stories we tell about ourselves. We create them out of family and blood and friends and love and hate and what we’ve read and watched and witnessed. Longing and regret, illness, broken bones, broken hearts, achievements, money won and lost, palm readings and visions. We tell these stories until we believe them, we believe in ourselves, and that is the most powerful thing of all” (195).

The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and MoreThe Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype–and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More by Michael Breus
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skimmed for relevant information. A fascinating look at how people can best honor their individual body clock.

Since I quit my day job six months ago, I have had the opportunity to notice how and when my body/brain work best. For example, when I need to sleep/wake. When I’m hungry without the call of “lunchtime!” When the internet distracts me and how to harness it. When I feel most/least productive and creative. Skimming this book helped me to understand both why and what to do to take advantage of how my body wants to operate. Not always practical when you have standing obligations, but still helpful as a guideline.

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What are you reading? Any books you’re giving or hoping to receive for the holidays?

Reading: October 2019

I live in Northern California, in the San Francisco East Bay, where fall has come to be known as “Fire Season.” High temperatures and high winds plus summer-sun-scorched grasses in lots of otherwise beautiful open space make for a terrifying combination.

As I write, the Kincade Fire has scorched more than 76,000 acres of Sonoma County, including over 100 homes, and it’s only 30% contained. There was a small fire in the next town over from us last Sunday. And, in case you missed it, we were evacuated a few weeks ago.

PG&E continued the power outages for safety and inspection. This time our power did not go out, but winds snapped a cable that took out our WiFi for most of three days. Honestly, in some ways that was worse: I’m okay with camping at home so long as I have access to information. Thankfully, the planned blackouts have come to an end. For now.

However, when it’s too windy to walk the dogs and we have no internet access distractions, I’m happy to take that time to stick my nose in a book. Reading as an easy escape was just the ticket this month!

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The DreamersThe Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I couldn’t put this one down. It’s a dream of a novel, and a nightmare, and perfectly written.

 

The Rosie Result (Don Tillman, #3)The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A satisfying conclusion to the Rosie trilogy, which I thoroughly enjoyed start to finish.

 

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative BattlesThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All artists (read: every human being) faces Resistance. Resistance takes many forms, but essentially looks like inactivity due to fear. Combating Resistance = WAR! In the fight, we encounter the Muse who has been with us all along except we haven’t been paying attention.

I didn’t always like this book, but I don’t like war, either. Pressfield is right all along: resistance, war, muse. All the way through, except it’s not linear. It’s an every minute of the day battle, and one I’m committed to. Let’s do this!

“…the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying…. We’re facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, whom we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential and to release the maiden who is God’s plan and destiny for ourselves and the answer to why we were put on the planet.” (108-109)

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” (165)

PaxPax by Sara Pennypacker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite having spotted this in a bookstore years ago, I almost gave it up a couple chapters in as I anticipated the story would be sad. I’m glad I persevered. This isn’t a sad story, but strong, a new take on coming of age. It tells of peace and war, brokenness and health, relationships with family, people who become dear, and the world. In the end, my only complaint was that I couldn’t tell when and where it was set. But then, I recognized, that very fact makes the story even more universal: peace and war, brokenness and health, occur at all times everywhere.

“Because I am exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing. That is peace.” (102)

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the WorldThe Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not the best written book I’ll ever read, but certainly an important read.

When people ask, “Why can’t the developing world figure out its poverty issues?” there are so many answers. (To be clear, the US has plenty of its own poverty challenges).

But maybe the best is right here: we need to empower the women.

The big issues are connected in complicated ways: health, family planning, education, agriculture/food, work (especially unpaid labor), child marriage and human trafficking. They all have root in gender inequity and potential solutions stemming from steps toward gender equity.

This book is global and specific. Gates preaches what she also puts into practice in her own life. I thought I knew a lot on this topic, and this book opened my eyes to how much I have left to learn.

EchoEcho by Pam Muñoz Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Your fate is not yet sealed.
Even in the darkest night, a star will shine,
A bell will chime, a path will be revealed.

This book begins and ends as a fairy tale, just what I had been looking for. In between, it contains three stories of musically gifted young people facing extremely difficult situations. Their stories echo one another though their lives are completely different…except for the possession of one very special harmonica.

I couldn’t stop smiling through Part Four, an enchanted evening indeed.

I wobbled in the middle, because the stories seem sad. But that’s the point: you don’t see how things will end while you’re in the middle. So you need some beauty and light, and music is an excellent provider of both.

“Some of the parents are asking why the school district is paying for a music teacher during a war. But Mr. Daniels says everyone needs a little beauty and light in their lives, especially during the worst of times” (529)

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