Books: May-June 2019

Notes on the recent round-up…

100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self by Annie F. Downs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard about this book in December on Aarti Sequiera’s IG feed (one of my fav Food Network Stars) but couldn’t get it in time to start on Jan 1. Still, it was the right book at the right time. Simple writing and not always applicable (I’ve been married for a long time, while Downs is still hopeful she’ll meet the right guy), but still, the challenge to be brave is the same no matter what individuals face on any given day. I heard myself using brave as a verb: “I braved up today and…” and God used it to help me make a courageous decision I’d put off for too long. On to new adventures which will require even more bravery!

“…hold on until the Lord makes it really clear that you’re supposed to let go. Ask God. Ask people you trust. Ask your own heart. But while you are listening, persevere, and lean toward holding on until God and other people make it really clear that you’re supposed to go” p130.

“I hope you’ve already taken that first step because I am sure, like I’ve rarely been so sure of anything before, that your people are waiting and your God is watching with expectancy for you to see where your map is going to take you” p231.

Outer Order, Inner CalmOuter Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I enjoyed The Happiness Project and thought this would be similar. Not. It’s a ton of short practical tips for decluttering, creating order, and achieving inner calm. She admits throughout that some tips will work for some people and not others since we all have different triggers and tolerance levels. For my taste, it was almost too much. Her Top Ten Tips were helpful, but I encountered most of those in her first book.

UnshelteredUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My favorite thing about this book is that the last few words of each chapter also serve as the title for the following chapter, a neat literary trick.

Such a smart writer, Kingsolver took on so much in this book that at times it felt tedious. The house falling down around the characters stands as metaphor for our world cracking from the havoc we’ve wreaked on it as well as our country under the dubious leadership of a Pied Piper’s false promises. Evolution requires conflict, as do ideological debates, and evolution and debate both play central roles in this book. Shocking how, in some cases, characters can hold staunchly to their false beliefs despite truth like the nose on their face, while in other cases two seemingly opposite views can be equally accurate depending on perspective.

In these last few years I have despaired for the house crumbling around us. I have felt fear and loneliness, anger and frustration for the division in our country that lies in people with whom we at least occasionally share a roof. In the end, I think Kingsolver means to leave us with hope. The walls are, indeed, crumbling. We may very well soon find ourselves unsheltered. We feel ourselves likely to die, yet we might yet discover the warmth of the sun.

“‘No creature is easily coerced to live without its shelter.’
“‘Without shelter, we stand in daylight.’
“‘Without shelter, we feel ourselves likely to die.'” (90)

“‘My mother used to say when God slams a door on you, he opens a window.’
“Tig gave this two seconds of respectful consideration before rejecting it. ‘No, that’s not the same. I’m saying when God slams a door on you it’s probably a shitstorm. You’ve going to end up in rubble. But it’s okay because without all that crap overhead, you’re standing in the daylight.’
“‘Without a roof over your head, it kind of feels like you might die.’
“‘Yeah, but you might not. For sure you won’t find your way out of the mess if you keep picking up bricks and stuffing them in your pockets. What you have to do is look for blue sky.'” (415)

“Unsheltered, I live in daylight. And like the wandering bird I rest in thee.” (453)

The EditorThe Editor by Steven Rowley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having loved Lily & the Octopus, I was excited to discover this on our library shelves and even more so to dive headlong into its pages. Rowley has an entertaining voice as a writer, original, creative, page-turning. In this novel, he presents us with a loving portrait of Jacqueline Onassis as an editor for a discouraged and lost first-time novelist. This is a beautiful book about self-discovery and the people who participate in shaping us to become better versions of ourselves.

“‘Saudade. It’s a word my grandmother used to say when she was missing home.’ Daniel’s grandmother was born in Brazil, and so every now and again some Portuguese pops up in conversation.
“‘What does it mean?’
“‘Oh. It doesn’t have an English translation….Not a direct translation, anyhow….It’s like a nostalgia or melancholy, but more than that. With a recognition that the something we’re longing for hasn’t happened, or isn’t returning. Or maybe never was.'” (199)

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book for the title, having no idea that it’s the story of how Harris learned to meditate. As a Christian, I call meditation “prayer” and the practice is a little different. I stuck with the book because all truth is God’s truth and I can always learn to be more compassionate, gentler with myself and the world, and–to the title–happier.

Once Upon a RiverOnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a magical tale, set in a Thames-side pub frequented by storytellers and story-lovers who become players and tellers both in another magical tale.

“They were collectors of words the same way so many of the gravel diggers were collectors of fossils. They kept an ear constantly alert for them, the rare, the unusual, the unique.” 31

“‘I saw her myself, I did. She ran down to the boathouse quick as could be, and when she come out in her rowing boat, the little old one of hers, off she went, haring up the river…I never seen a boat move like it.’
“‘Haring up the river?’ asked a farmhand.
“‘Aye, and just a little slip of a girl too! You wouldn’t think a woman could row so fast.’
“‘But…”haring,” you say?’
“‘That’s right. Quick as a hare, it means.’
“‘I know what it means, all right. But you can’t say she was “haring up the river.”‘
“‘Whyever not?’
“‘Have you ever seen a hare rowing a boat?’
“There was a burst of laughter that bewildered the gardener and made him flustered. ‘A hare in a boat? Don’t be daft!’
“‘That’s why you can’t say “she went haring up the river.” If a hare can’t hare up a river, how can Mrs. Vaughan?'” 202-203

You Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation UnstoppableYou Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation Unstoppable by Jen Sincero
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I ❤ this book! It’s not rocket science, but it gave me little shots of enthusiasm for my own life.

“…the excellent thing about success is that it always comes down to one simple thing: the decision to keep going until you’ve reached your goal.” 2

“Contrary to popular belief, it’s not as important to know exactly what you want to do with your life as it is to know what makes you feel good.” 39

“What comes out of your mouth comes into your life, so choose your words wisely.” 76

“Procrastination is just fear in the form of brakes, and fear is not the boss of you.” 125

“The Moment of Truth or Poof: when all our no-nonsense dedication to achieving our goals and all our excitement about the brand-new life we’re creating for ourselves either stays strong or goes poof…” 151

“Overwhelm is a mindset; it’s the choice to focus on everything all at once and stress yourself out. Instead, choose to take your life moment by moment and savor it…” 167

Just the Funny Parts: ... And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys' ClubJust the Funny Parts: … And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys’ Club by Nell Scovell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Scovell has made a consistent and interesting career in writing mostly for TV. This book was funny at times, but not as funny as I wanted it to be. She drops a lot of names because they mean something to her, and probably to others in the industry, but meant mostly nothing to me as a reader. I hung in there mainly because she occasionally drops some gems about how to hang in with the hard work of being a writer. It got better towards the end as she lives into her identity both as a woman and a writer and takes a stand on behalf of other women in male-dominated fields.

“Writing is not what you start. It’s not even what you finish. It’s what you start, finish, and put out there for the world to see. Sometimes we’re afraid to share our work because we know those twin jerks–criticism and rejection–are out there waiting to beat us up. Once the assault begins, there are three possible responses: (1) run away from the jerks; (2) defend yourself against the jerks; (3) assume the position and say, ‘Thank you, sir, may I have another.’ The third choice hurts like hell, but the jerks often have useful feedback.” 22

“It’s always better to like doing something that to be instantly good at it. If you’re successful but hate the process, you’ll stop doing it. If you suck, but the work intrigues you, you’ll keep at it and get better.” 45

“An episode, article, or book doesn’t flow out of a pen or keyboard fully formed. Each work is built concept by concept, beat by beat, word by word. It’s a process of discovery. You head down a path which leads to another and another and another until you hit a dead end. Then you backtrack to where you made a wrong turn and look for a better way through.
“When I write, I feel like an optometrist, constantly flipping between lenses and asking, “Is this better? Is this?’ Slowly, the work comes into focus.” 87

“…while work expands to fill the time, time expands to fill a mission.” 255

Thankful Thursday – Reading April-May 2017

Reading has always been one of my favorite recreational activities. I read to lose and find myself in stories of people like me in situations unlike any I’ve ever–or will ever–encounter. I read to explore the world, different cultures far and near. I read to find our common humanity, our shared emotion in vastly different experiences. I read to learn new intricacies and ways of being in the world. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Lily and the OctopusLily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A highly original man-and-dog love story. This book is funny and crazy and adventurous and oh so sad while also hopeful. I look forward to another book from this author.

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to ForgetBlackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Searingly honest, in parts painfully so. And therein lies the point: alcoholism is painful, a pain-inducing response to a painful set of inclinations based in biology, experience, and one’s personal psychological and physical response to it. This could have been fiction, and the tragedy is that it was not. And yet, thankfully, there is hope. There has to be hope. Always.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong PeopleAccidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I ❤ this book! I am not Lutheran nor high-church liturgical. I do not swear like a sailor and I do not have tattoos. Nor am I brave or vulnerable enough to write as she does in this gorgeous book about God’s grace showing up in very ordinary people (though I aspire to vulnerably write of grace in the ordinary).

Nadia is simultaneously irreverent and reverent. She is refreshingly honest, mostly about her own faults and mistakes and sins and how those are the very cracks through which God shows up with His soldering iron to repair and redeem and make something new and better. Again and again and again, she points to grace.

We don’t agree on every point. Her theology may be more progressive than mine. But she loves Jesus and she loves His church. And, without force, with grace, she continually directs people–and herself–to Jesus, who loves without bounds and forgives without reservation.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard about this book when I heard Oprah was involved in a movie version for HBO. The movie is out this week so I rushed to finish it (sadly, while I love Oprah, I didn’t love the movie). Although I am not a scientist (or even a scientist at heart), this book contains threads from so many genres: epic multi-generational family drama, sci fi, ethics, philosophy, biology, tragedy, quest, even coming-of-age. Skloot first heard about HeLa cells–and that they came from a black woman–when she was a 16yo non-traditional high school student taking a community college biology class. She devoted much of the next ten years to seeking out the whole story: of the cells and the woman from whom they came, their significance to scientific progress, and of her family over generations. The story kept me turning pages and the science, explained in a very readable way, didn’t sink me. For so many reasons, this is an important story. Read this book, and then read more about the Lacks family.

The MothersThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This might be putting it on a little strong, but here it is: if Shakespeare had been a contemporary young black woman from SoCal, he might have written this book. The Mothers, the old church women who gossip and pray in turn, function as Macbeth’s witches. They narrate the interweaving story of three young people, and see into their future and past with little to say about the present. Bennett portrays with aching accuracy love’s power to create, destroy, and significantly alter the course of life.

Dreams of Joy (Shanghai Girls #2)Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s been a long time since I read Shanghai Girls and this book didn’t adequately reacquaint me with the story fast enough. I spent too many early chapters guessing at Joy’s motivation for drastic actions. It picked up after awhile and then offered a storied picture of China under Mao Tse Tung that frankly terrified me for the world in which we currently live. It holds together as a mother-daughter story, the end satisfies, but I still didn’t love the book.

The Best of Adam SharpThe Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A radical departure from the Rosie books, this one is a long, melancholy song to lost love, chances, and youth. “Lost love belongs in a three-minute song [or, in this case, a book], pulling back feelings from a time when they came unbidden, recalling the infatuation, the walking on sunshine that cannot last and the pain of its loss, whether through parting or the passage of time, remind us that we are emotional beings” (287).

I didn’t love it. Too much IT-talk, and too many references to songs I don’t know. Yes, I could have looked them up but then I’d be reading this book for another month. And the week in France seemed to me like a big, crazy stretch though it did lead to some–at that point in the story–surprising psychological revelations.

Maybe my favorite detail came in learning that Adam’s dad referred to him as A sharp, the less-common musical name for B flat. And perhaps that uncommonness led to Adam’s willingness to take a leap that made me uncomfortable from its first suggestion.

SiracusaSiracusa by Delia Ephron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four adults and a 10-year-old girl vacation together in Italy. Bound by marriage and parenthood and the past, they don’t share much love for one another. Told by each adult in turn, the story reveals deep rifts, dysfunction, pain, evil.

Ephron gives full-bodied life to her characters and uses their different voices to subtly nuance each conversation, each situation. I think I know these people, but I don’t like any of them. I can imagine them in my social circles, even imagine shared vacations, and I never want to see them again. Siracusa itself–foreign, beautiful, run-down, winding-lose-your-way streets–works as a metaphor for the twisted and twisting relationships. The story feels like the careful steps of a woman in heels walking on ancient cobblestone: slow, unbalanced, tense, lovely, painful.

“Marriage. With whom do you want to take the journey?…Do you want to take it with someone who knows you, even intuits your secrets, or from whom you can remain hidden By that last standard, which choice did I make? I’m still unsure. And why do most of us want marriage? Crave it for status or for stability that is an illusion. Marriage can’t protect you from heartbreak or the random cruelties and unfairnesses life deals out. It’s as if we’re chicks pecking our way out of our shells, growing into big birds splendid with feathers, and then piece by piece, we put the shells back together, reencasing ourselves, leaving perhaps an eyehold, minimal exposure. Having pecked our way out to live, we work our way back to survive. Deluded, of course. Shells crack easily.” (81)

“…suppose you see the corner of a building at sunset and one side is beige and the other flamingo pink when both are in fact the same drab red brick? And a second later the vision is gone because the earth has moved infinitesimally. Was what you saw reality? Is there always more than one?” (189)

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