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

Summer Reading 2019

Hey, Friends, I just signed up as an Amazon Associate and I will earn from qualifying purchases. So go ahead, click the titles linked to Amazon, and purchase, please! All reviews continue to be my own.

Notes on the recent round-up…

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives RevealedMaybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book reads like a novel and cut me to the quick. So much insight! Since I read carefully and took notes, I don’t need to see a therapist anymore (hah! We ALL need to see a therapist…).

“…change and loss travel together.” (6)

“You’re going to have to feel pain–everyone feels pain at times–but you don’t have to suffer so much. You’re not choosing the pain, but you’re choosing the suffering” (62)
“…if I’m clinging to the suffering so tightly, I must be getting something out of it. It must be serving some purpose for me.” (63)

“Don’t judge your feelings; notice them. Use them as your map. Don’t be afraid of the truth.” (65)

“When the present falls apart, so does the future we had associated with it. And having the future taken away is the mother of all plot twists. But if we spend the present trying to fix the past or control the future, we remain stuck in place, in perpetual regret…. But if I live in the present, I’ll have to accept the loss of my future.” (66-67)

“…we talk to ourselves more than we’ll talk to any other person over the course of our lives but that our words aren’t always kind or true or helpful–or even respectful. Most of what we say to ourselves we’d never say to people we love or care about, like our friends or children….pay close attention to those voices in our heads so that we can learn a better way to communicate with ourselves.” (404-405)

“Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and experience something before its meaning becomes apparent.” (407)

Every Last WordEvery Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book paints
a loving portrait
of an adolescent
struggling with, dealing
with, living with
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It contains everything
I enjoy about
Young Adult Lit:
well-developed characters,
an important issue
handled with gentleness,
surprises and creativity.

Little Do We KnowLittle Do We Know by Tamara Ireland Stone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book tackles a lot of big issues–friendship, teen romance, child-parent relationships, life transitions, dis/loyalty, faith and abuse–and mostly does it well. It cut a little too close to home for me in certain regards which made it somewhat uncomfortable reading.

KitchenKitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
FREE Kindle edition for Amazon Prime members!

How is it I’d never heard of this book? It’s SO beautiful! To sum it up in a word, this book is about *embodiment.* Characters grieve for their loved ones who have passed from physical life, and find their way back to life and each other through the physical comforts of preparing and eating delicious food. The writing is at once spare and exquisite. She says so much in so few pages. My copy also included her prize-winning novella, Moonlight Shadow. I cried at the end of both.

Some of these quotes I included because of their imagery, others for their characterization or philosophy:

“Suspended in the dim light before the window overlooking the magnificent tenth-floor view, the plants breathed softly, resting.” (16)

“The conversation we just had was like a glimpse of stars through a chink in a cloudy sky–perhaps, over time, talks like this would lead to love.” (30)

“To the extent that I had come to understand that despair does not necessarily result in annihilation, that one can go on as usual in spite of it, I had become hardened. Was that what it means to be an adult, to live with ugly ambiguities?” (56)

“Why do I love everything that has to do with kitchens so much? It’s strange. Perhaps because to me a kitchen represents some distant longing engraved on my soul. As I stood there, I seemed to be making a new start; something was coming back.” (56)

“…although I couldn’t have put it into words, I came to understand something. If I try to say what it is now, it’s very simple: I realized that the world did not exist for my benefit. It followed that the ratio of pleasant and unpleasant things around me would not change. It wasn’t up to me. It was clear that the best thing to do was to adopt a sort of muddled cheerfulness.” (81)

“I knew it: the glittering crystal of all the good times we’d had, which had been sleeping in the depths of memory, was awakening and would keep us going. Like a blast of fresh wind, the richly perfumed breath of those days returned to my soul.” (100)

Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday PlacesGlory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places by Kaitlin B. Curtice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Curtice takes life’s simple moments and reveals their glory for those who have eyes to see. Sometimes the pace feels oh-so-slow, but I stuck with it, reading slowly over weeks as a way of remembering that my life, too, has glory written all over it. My favorite story came right at the end, #49: Hijab. Its beauty of connection had me in tears.

Speak.
Speak of the world to us.
You are the wildest and holiest experience.
You are the greatest adventure.
You are the best miracle-maker.
You are the trust lover.
Your voice echoes inside of us,
digs its way into our bones and veins,
our senses and brains,
into the most hollow corners,
into the darkest spaces.
Oh, you fill us.
Fill us again and again,
in every experience, glory abounding.
Amen. (32)

“…when we can’t see what’s ahead, a path is cleared, and we are no longer afraid, for glory lines the path at our feet, benedictions abounding.” (118)

O God of Mystery,
If I have tried to place you into a box,
break it.
No mold can hold you. (167)

“What matters and what is dust in the wind? Do our little moments of joy or pleasure, our pings of grief and stress, mean anything…?
Absolutely. Our moments matter because our humanity matters, and if we can’t find it in the chocolate aisle or by the assorted rice in the middle of our local marketplace, we will have a hard time finding it anywhere.” (180)

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jane Austen meets Bridget Jones set in contemporary Los Angeles… Love! I plowed through this smart, chock-full of book and pop culture references, laugh out loud funny book.

“She refueled during the day by grabbing moments of solitude and sometimes felt her life was a long-distance swim between islands of silence. She liked people–she really did–she just needed to take them in homeopathic doses; a little of the poison was the cure.” (17)

“Oh my God, she thought, it’s hard to be human sometimes, with the pressure to be civilized lying only very thinly over the brain of a nervous little mammal. Maybe other people’s layer of civilization was thicker than hers; hers was like a peel-off face mask after it had been peeled.” (29)

“Moms of a certain age know dozens and dozens of people through various channels, so they have to perform this human equivalent of canine butt sniffing all the goddamned time.” (37)

“Reading isn’t the only thing in the world, Nina.”
“It’s one of only five perfect things in the world.”
“And the other four are?”
“Cats, dogs, Honeycrisp apples, and coffee.”
“Nothing else?”
“Sure, there are other things, even good things, but those five are perfect.”
“In your opinion.”
“Yes, of course in my opinion. Everyone has a different five perfect things.” (180)

Silence: In the Age of NoiseSilence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“We live in the age of noise. Silence is almost extinct.” (37)

This short tome, simply and beautifully written, accessibly addresses an important and oft-overlooked topic: silence. The author is a fascinating subject in his own right, and his pursuit of silence is inspiring. He weaves in wilderness exploration, ancient and modern philosophers, innovators and entrepreneurs, poets and writers, musicians and performance artists to help us grasp the necessity of silence in our noisy age.

“Wonder is the very engine of life.” (2)

“Nature spoke to me in the guise of silence. The quieter I became, the more I heard.” (14)

“The silence around us may contain a lot, but the most interesting kind of silence is the one that lies within. A silence which each of us must create. I no longer try to create absolute silence around me. The silence that I am after is the silence within.” (25)

“…[silence is] about getting inside what you are doing. Experiencing rather than ovethinking. Allowing each moment to be big enough.” (51)

“To listen is to search for new opportunities, to seek fresh challenges. The most important book you can read is the one about yourself. It is open.” (125)

Women in SunlightWomen in Sunlight by Frances Mayes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slow, dreamlike descriptions of beautiful Italy. Too many characters (all the town folk), and sometimes the narrator changes without notice- I read paragraphs several times to understand who was speaking. Good book, but it won’t send me searching for other books by Mayes.

“I’ll puzzle out my own story, mapping constellations. Wish I may, wish I might.” (17)

“That’s travel: time expands and compresses in unexpected ways.” (201)

Summer Reading – Non-fiction

Sustain Summer!

That’s my theme over here. So what if school started Weeks Ago? So what if it’s Raining in Cali today (yippee! SO happy it’s raining, and yet, I still maintain… It. Is. Summertime)?

Fall officially begins September 23rd, which means No Matter What the activity calendars have decided, summer reigns until September 22nd.

And that means my reading still counts as Summer Reading.

I read ten books this summer, five fiction and five non-fiction. Last summer, our Costa Rica sabbatical summer, I read twelve books. HOW is it that I read only two books more? Last summer felt much more leisurely and book-indulgent. Does a heart good to know that I’m just as much a Book Nerd at home.

So here ya go, friends, my non-fiction book-miracle reads of Summer 2015!

Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of GodAwaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God by J. Brent Bill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been my ongoing spiritual retreat all year. As a contemplative, I live most naturally in my head and heart; this book grounds the spiritual experience in the five physical senses. With short essays and exercises to practice, I have looked forward to reading it when I have pockets of time to engage with God on a deeper level. I anticipate coming back to it again and again.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship ExpertThe Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John M. Gottman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are married, go right now and get this book! Easy to read and practical, including exercises, there is something to help every relationship. I’ve been married 20+ years (and still going strong!) and we had some fantastic discussions using the questions in this book.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt OutThe Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written 25 years old, this is an Important Book for those who would be Jesus-followers. While most Christians give lip service to grace, too many of us don’t live grace-fully. We act like what we do matters most rather than what God has done and continues to do. We try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, only to discover that we don’t even know what bootstraps are, or at best they’re torn and ineffective. God loves us anyway. He loved us first. His love is the defining characteristic of who we are and who we will become, by His grace.

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life UnarmedCarry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love! Life is *brutiful*, brutal and beautiful in turns not always graceful. But we can be grace-filled, living into and offering grace one to another.

“I’d found my thing: openness. I decided, based on firsthand experience, that it was more fun to say things that made other women feel hopeful about themselves and God than it was to say or omit things to make people feel jealous of me.” Yes! Openness is hard as most of us want people to think the best of us. But we’re not always our best, and pretense keeps people at arm’s length. Let’s drop the curtain, people, and just be real. And kind. Let’s always be kind.

And this: “The more fiercely I believe what Love says and the more boldly I live out her promises, the healthier and stronger and realer I become. So, for me, it’s not a question of better. It’s about a daily choice: the constant battle to listen to Love and silence Fear.” Listen to love and silence Fear. Let’s help one another get there.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern ParenthoodAll Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book after hearing Jennifer Senior on NPR’s TedRadio Hour during an episode on childhood. This fascinating sociological and historical look at parenting, or more accurately, how children affect their parents’ lives, makes so much sense. Page after page I had “aha” moments – “Others experience that, too?” or “Oh, that explains the stress I and my friends feel!” In the end, the act of parenting (“to parent” has only been a verb since the 1970’s) is qualitatively different than the experience of parenting, which explains the book’s title: being a parent creates joy, whereas doing the mundane acts of parenting is not so much fun. My only complaint is that not enough parents in the trenches will have the brainpower or time to read the book.