What I Read January - June, part 1 [from the book pile 2019]

Oh goodness, how have six+ months gone by without a reading update?!? Life’s been a bit upside down lately, and I’m especially grateful for the companionship of good books. Hope you enjoy the micro reviews + publisher blurbs! Let me know if you add anything from this list to your book pile!

Sharing books from my Madeleine L’Engle collection at our reading group this spring.

Sharing books from my Madeleine L’Engle collection at our reading group this spring.

You can see my 2018 reading list here. | You can see all my reading lists since 2006 here.

One other note: A couple years ago I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a horrible reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check! Brian and I've been delighted with the generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)


Novels

1. Children of God: A Novel (The Sparrow Series)
By Mary Doria Russell (Fawcett Books, 1999. 438 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"The only member of the original mission to the planet Rakhat to return to Earth, Father Emilio Sandoz has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Society of Jesus calls upon him for help in preparing for another mission to Alpha Centauri. Despite his objections and fear, he cannot escape his past or the future.

Old friends, new discoveries and difficult questions await Emilio as he struggles for inner peace and understanding in a moral universe whose boundaries now extend beyond the solar system and whose future lies with children born in a faraway place.

Strikingly original, richly plotted, replete with memorable characters and filled with humanity and humor, Children of God is an unforgettable and uplifting novel that is a potent successor to The Sparrow and a startlingly imaginative adventure for newcomers to Mary Doria Russell’s special literary magic.”

Micro Review: The first book in this two-part series, The Sparrow, was one of the best books I read in 2014, ending up on my top 15 life-changing books since I started keeping track on this blog in 2008. I’d heard that the follow-up, Children of God, was generally good but not enjoyed quite as much by fans of The Sparrow, and I’d agree with that consensus. The first book just about wrecked me -- in mostly good ways. Since it falls in the category of Sci-Fi, I'd probably not have picked it up on my own. But some dear friends shared how much they'd loved the story of -- well, a Jesuit priest in outer space. With only a little bit of experience reading science fiction, I've quickly learned that the power of the genre -- for me -- is the way a well-told story of an imaginary land and its inhabitants can help me reframe the powerful drama of my own land and species in the most surprising, touching ways. This was the case for me reading about the brave team of space explorers hoping to give and receive love on the planet Rakhat -- for some, even the love of the Gospel of Christ. The devastating results of offering pure, but misunderstood, love mirrors all the great tragedies we know since the beginning of man. And the beginning of my very own life on Earth. Children of God split the storyline between Earth and Rakhat and I found that the Rakhat story more compelling. Emilio Sandoz lost a little bit of his shine for me as he tries to recover from trauma and re-enter regular relationships on earth. I understood the trauma, but struggled more with his romantic choices and the results of his forced participation in a Rakhat rescue. The story arc was still compelling and one of the only books I’ve read that I can authentically attribute the over-used descriptor of “spellbinding.”

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read either of Mary Doria' Russell’s Sparrow books! How do you feel about them?

2. This Must Be the Place: A Novel
By Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf, 2016. 400 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"An irresistible love story, an unforgettable family. Best-selling author Maggie O’Farrell captures an extraordinary marriage with insight and laugh-out-loud humor in what Richard Russo calls “her breakout book.” Perfect for readers of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn, and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex–film star given to pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Claudette was once the most glamorous and infamous woman in cinema before she staged her own disappearance and retreated to blissful seclusion in an Irish farmhouse.

But the life Daniel and Claudette have so carefully constructed is about to be disrupted by an unexpected discovery about a woman Daniel lost touch with twenty years ago. This revelation will send him off-course, far away from wife, children, and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?”

Micro Review:

I first heard about this title on a One Great Book podcast with Modern Mrs. Darcy: Volume 1, Book 8 - “if you have a place in your heart and on your shelves for inventive, emotionally resonant literary fiction, that sometimes flouts convention but does it with purpose, whose characters you might love not in spite of, but because of, their flaws, This Must Be the Place may be the next great book you’re looking for.”

This was an enjoyable read with interesting characters, easy-to-follow timeline shifts in the narrative arc, and a satisfactory plot ending. My main disappointment is that while a large portion of the book was set in Ireland, we didn’t get much of a “feel” for the place outside of a few mentions here and there. If Ireland is a setting I want to FEEL IT!


Mysteries

3. The Cruelest Month: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Volume 3)
By Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2011. 320 pages)

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"Welcome to Three Pines, where the cruelest month is about to deliver on its threat.
It's spring in the tiny, forgotten village; buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth. But not everything is meant to return to life. . .
When some villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil---until one of their party dies of fright. Was this a natural death, or was the victim somehow helped along?
Brilliant, compassionate Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to investigate, in a case that will force him to face his own ghosts as well as those of a seemingly idyllic town where relationships are far more dangerous than they seem.”

Micro Review: This series has been a quiet little luxury during some difficult days. I read the books kind of like I eat a bowl of popcorn - mostly light and airy with an occasional kernel of buttery goodness. It’s the kind of series I can pick up whenever I need to just read without much brain work but still appreciate the redemptive story arc.

4. A Rule Against Murder: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Volume 4)
By Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2011. 336 pages)

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"What happened here last night isn't allowed," said Madame Dubois.
It was such an extraordinary thing to say it stopped the ravenous Inspector Beauvoir from taking another bite of his roast beef on baguette.

"You have a rule against murder?" he asked.

"I do. When my husband and I bought the Bellechasse we made a pact....Everything that stepped foot on this land would be safe."

It is the height of summer, and Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache are celebrating their wedding anniversary at Manoir Bellechasse, an isolated, luxurious inn not far from the village of Three Pines. But they're not alone. The Finney family—rich, cultured, and respectable—has also arrived for a celebration of their own.

The beautiful Manoir Bellechasse might be surrounded by nature, but there is something unnatural looming. As the heat rises and the humidity closes in, some surprising guests turn up at the family reunion, and a terrible summer storm leaves behind a dead body. It is up to Chief Inspector Gamache to unearth secrets long buried and hatreds hidden behind polite smiles. The chase takes him to Three Pines, into the dark corners of his own life, and finally to a harrowing climax.”

Micro Review: See above.

5. The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Volume 5)
By Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2017. 400 pages)

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"The wise and beleaguered Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns to Three Pines The Brutal Telling, the fifth book in Louise Penny's #1 New York Times bestselling series.

Chaos is coming, old son. 

With those words the peace of Three Pines is shattered. Everybody goes to Olivier's Bistro—including a stranger whose murdered body is found on the floor. When Chief Inspector Gamache is called to investigate, he is dismayed to discover that Olivier's story is full of holes. Why are his fingerprints all over the cabin that's uncovered deep in the wilderness, with priceless antiques and the dead man's blood? And what other secrets and layers of lies are buried in the seemingly idyllic village?

Gamache follows a trail of clues and treasures—from first editions of Charlotte's Web and Jane Eyre to a spiderweb with a word mysteriously woven in it—into the woods and across the continent, before returning to Three Pines to confront the truth and the final, brutal telling.”

Micro Review: See above. I’ll add that I found the mystery angle of this story especially compelling.

6. Bury Your Dead: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Volume 6)
By Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2011. 400 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"It is Winter Carnival in Quebec City, bitterly cold and surpassingly beautiful. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has come not to join the revels but to recover from an investigation gone hauntingly wrong. But violent death is inescapable, even in the apparent sanctuary of the Literary and Historical Society--where an obsessive historian's quest for the remains of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, ends in murder. Could a secret buried with Champlain for nearly four hundred years be so dreadful that someone would kill to protect it?

Meanwhile, Gamache is receiving disquieting letters from the village of Three Pines, where beloved Bistro owner Olivier was recently convicted of murder. "It doesn't make sense," Olivier's partner writes every day. "He didn't do it, you know."

As past and present collide in this astonishing novel, Gamache must relive a terrible event from his own past before he can begin to bury his dead.”

Micro Review: See above. I’ll add that I loved the opportunity to get out of the quirky, but loveable Three Pines community into the rich, historical setting of Quebec. Montreal is totally on our travel bucket list! I also appreciated the way the mysteries included the current crime and a revisit to an old, somewhat unresolved crime from a previous book.


Short Stories

7. Strange Pilgrims
By Gabriel García Márquez (Convergent Books, 2016. 224 pages)

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"In Barcelona, an aging Brazilian prostitute trains her dog to weep at the grave she has chosen for herself. In Vienna, a woman parlays her gift for seeing the future into a fortunetelling position with a wealthy family. In Geneva, an ambulance driver and his wife take in the lonely, apparently dying ex-President of a Caribbean country, only to discover that his political ambition is very much intact.

In these twelve masterly stories about the lives of Latin Americans in Europe, García Márquez conveys the peculiar amalgam of melancholy, tenacity, sorrow, and aspiration that is the émigré experience.”

Micro Review: My friend Ryan loaned me this book with the invitation to try reading Gabriel García Márquez again after I gave up on his acclaimed One Hundred Years of Solitude which I gave up on pretty quickly. He was right. The short story format was a better genre to get to know the author and I waded through them like a walk on the seashore - refreshing, beautiful, and occasionally, mesmerizing. I think more than anything plot-driven, I found the author’s ability to describe settings and characters in story after story affecting me like wave after wave (twelve stories in all) of sharp but alluring prose.

As an example, I could read this character description over and over just for the hypnotic quality of the combination of words (and this is the translation!):

“She was beautiful and lithe, with soft skin the color of bread and eyes like green almonds, and she had straight black hair that reached to her shoulders, and an aura of antiquity that could just as well have been Indonesian as Andean. She was dressed with subtle taste: a lynx jacket, a raw silk blouse with very delicate flowers, natural linen trousers, and shoes with a narrow stripe the color of bougainvillea. 'This is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen,' I thought, when I saw her pass by with the stealthy stride of a lioness, while I waited in the check-in line at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris for the plane to New York. ”
- Gabriel García Márquez, Strange Pilgrims


Apostles Reads Selections

8. Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
By Madeleine L’Engle (Convergent Books, 2016. 224 pages)

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"In this classic book, Madeleine L'Engle addresses the questions, What does it mean to be a Christian artist? and What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L'Engle's beautiful and insightful essay, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one's own art.”

Micro Review: I re-read this book with our church’s reading group for Epiphany and loved it every bit as much the second (third?) time around. The theme of invisible being made visible in the everyday world is perfect for Epiphany when we read through the accounts of Jesus’ being revealed as God in some of the most famous Gospel encounters.

It’s the perfect book to read with friends interested in the ways art and artists tell the story of truth, goodness, and beauty in this world.

9. Hinds’ Feet On High Places: An Engaging Visual Journey
By Hannah Hurnard, Illustrated By Jill de Haan and Rachel McNaughton (Tyndale House Publishers, 2017. 160 pages)

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"Journey with Much-Afraid to new heights of love, joy, and victory. For the first time, this beloved Christian allegory is a mixed-media special edition complete with charming watercolor paintings, antique tinted photography, meditative hand-lettered Scripture, journaling and doodling space, and designs to color. As you read and connect with the story of Much-Afraid and her trials, the pages of this book become a canvas on which to chronicle your own story, struggles, and personal triumphs.

Hinds' Feet on High Places, with more than 2,000,000 copies sold, is a story of endurance, persistence, and reliance on God. This book has inspired millions of people to become sure-footed in their faith even when facing the rockiest of life's terrain. The story of Much-Afraid is based on Psalm 18:33: "He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights."

The complete Hinds' Feet story is accented by 80 full-color paintings, photography, and hand-lettered Scripture.”

Micro Review: We read this beloved Christian allegory with our church’s reading group for Lent this year. I selected this beautiful mixed-media special edition complete with charming watercolor paintings, antique tinted photography, meditative hand-lettered Scripture, journaling and doodling space, and designs to color. I’ve lost track of the number of times since Easter that I’ve thought back to Much-Afraid’s challenging journey to her new identity of Grace and Glory. I’ll return to this devotional year after year.


Spirituality / Non-Fiction

10. Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace
By Christie Purifoy (Zondervan, 2019. 224 pages)

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"Images of comfortable kitchens and flower-filled gardens stir something deep within us--we instinctively long for home. In a world of chaos and conflict, we want a place of comfort and peace.

In Placemaker, Christie Purifoy invites us to notice our soul's desire for beauty, our need to create and to be created again and again. As she reflects on the joys and sorrows of two decades as a placemaker and her recent years living in and restoring a Pennsylvania farmhouse, Christie shows us that we are all gardeners. No matter our vocation, we spend much of our lives tending, keeping, and caring. In each act of creation, we reflect the image of God. In each moment of making beauty, we realize that beauty is a mystery to receive.

Weaving together her family's journey with stories of botanical marvels and the histories of the flawed yet inspiring placemakers who shaped the land generations ago, Christie calls us to cultivate orchards and communities, to clap our hands along with the trees of the fields. Placemaker is a timely yet timeless reminder that the cultivation of good and beautiful places is not a retreat from the real world but a holy pursuit of a world that is more real than we know. A call to tend the soul, the land, and the places we share with one another. A reminder that we are always headed home.”

Micro Review: I was able to review Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace by Christie Purifoy for Englewood Review of Books
A Flouring Tree, A Feature Review:

Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, encourages writers to remember Thoreau’s salient recommendation: “Circle round and round your life… Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.” If it’s possible to gnaw a bone elegantly, Christie Purifoy does just that in her newly-released second book, Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace. Like her debut, Roots & Sky, Purifoy continues to circle round and round the subject of finding, losing, and making home.

With regard to Thoreau, a more apt metaphor Placemaker might be sitting under the shade of a tree we didn’t plant. Purifoy provides a virtual grove of shade trees gathered from the landscapes of the places she’s lived throughout her life. Not unlike Annie Dillard (or Thoreau) in her diligence to wring wonder from the natural world, Christie Purifoy offers readers glimpses of the universe’s deepest truth, goodness, and beauty from the fauna and flora we encounter in the ordinary places we make our homes.”

You can read the rest of my review describing why I loved this book and some of the trees in my own story here.

11. The Sabbath (FSG Classics)
By Abraham Joshua Heschel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 144 pages)

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"Elegant, passionate, and filled with the love of God's creation, Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Sabbath has been hailed as a classic of Jewish spirituality ever since its original publication-and has been read by thousands of people seeking meaning in modern life. In this brief yet profound meditation on the meaning of the Seventh Day, Heschel introduced the idea of an "architecture of holiness" that appears not in space but in time Judaism, he argues, is a religion of time: it finds meaning not in space and the material things that fill it but in time and the eternity that imbues it, so that "the Sabbaths are our great cathedrals."

Micro Review: This was a re-read for me in order to follow along with Englewood Review of Books’ Lenten online reading group. I facilitated one of the sessions. You can see my questions for Chapters 7-9 here.

Here’s an excerpt from my reflection following the first time I read the book (back in 2015):

Even though I'd always meant to read it because Abraham Joshua Heschel is quoted by almost every author I've ever read (usually from this book), I'll admit it was seeing an image of the cover art that finally got me to purchase the book.  The prints of wood engravings by Ilya Schor on the cover and at the beginning of each chapter provide an elegance to Heschel's graceful words about the beauty of Sabbath time to Jewish faith and life.  Heschel's words are poetic (at times, even, mythical) which I found captivating enough, but especially so when paired with his daughter's prologue to the book which explained in more day-to-day (week-to-week, rather) terms of what a Sabbath practice looked like in her father's home.

Beautiful.”


Christian Perspective / Social Issues

12. Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness
By Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Foreword by Justin Welby (Brazos Press, 2015. 240 pages)

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"Where is God in the suffering of a mentally ill person? What happens to the soul when the mind is ill? How are Christians to respond to mental illness? In this brave and compassionate book, theologian and priest Kathryn Greene-McCreight confronts these difficult questions raised by her own mental illness--bipolar disorder. With brutal honesty, she tackles often avoided topics such as suicide, mental hospitals, and electroconvulsive therapy. Greene-McCreight offers the reader everything from poignant and raw glimpses into the mind of a mentally ill person to practical and forthright advice for their friends, family, and clergy.

The first edition has been recognized as one of the finest books on the subject. This thoroughly revised edition incorporates updated research and adds anecdotal and pastoral commentary. It also includes a new foreword by the current Archbishop of Canterbury and a new afterword by the author.”

Micro Review: We’re walking with a loved one suffering from severe depression. Friends loaned us Kathryn Greene-McCreight’s book and I’d recommend it to everyone wanting to be a good gift to mental illness. May our tribe increase.

13. Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible
By M. Daniel Carroll R. (Brazos Press, 2013. 170 pages)

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"Immigration is one of the most pressing issues on the national agenda. In this accessible book, an internationally recognized immigration expert helps readers think biblically about this divisive issue, offering accessible, nuanced, and sympathetic guidance for the church. As both a Guatemalan and an American, the author is able to empathize with both sides of the struggle and argues that each side has much to learn.

This updated and revised edition reflects changes from the past five years, responds to criticisms of the first edition, and expands sections that have raised questions for readers. It includes a foreword by Samuel Rodriguez and an afterword by Ronald Sider. This timely, clear, and compassionate resource will benefit all Christians who are thinking through the immigration issue..”

Micro Review: We had the privilege of hearing Danny Carroll speak at our diocesan convention last autumn on the biblical lens for immigration. Put this at the top of your reading and listening lists. You can see each of his three plenary talks from the weekend here. If you aren’t able to read the book right away, you can also hear the author in this series of brief videos.

The entire thread weaving through all of Scripture places priority on the foreigner and stranger. To think Christianly about immigration is actually pretty plain. Policies are complex and require good governance. The posture of anyone who lives within the Kingdom of Christ toward immigrants is straightforward. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.


Plough Book Reviews

14. Jean Vanier: Portrait of A Free Man
By Anne-Sophie Constant, Translated By Allen Page (Plough Publishing House, August 2019. 250 pages)

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"The life of Jean Vanier, founder of l’Arche, who changed the way the world views disability

It’s a crazy story. In August 1964 a thirty-six-year-old Canadian from a famous family – one who has already joined the navy during war at age thirteen, become an officer, earned a PhD, and taught ethics at the University of Toronto -- takes up residence in a little house he just bought in the village of Trosly, France, with two mentally disabled men he has removed from a care home. The house, which he calls l’Arche (the Ark), has neither water nor electricity. His plan? None. He is just convinced he has to do it, touched by the silent cry of these men shut up in the gloomy, violent institution where he found them. His example is contagious; within months the community has grown to over fifty.

Jean Vanier is known and loved around the world for having created L'Arche, those unique communities of people with disabilities and their volunteer caregivers in more than one hundred and fifty sites on five continents. But Vanier is also a philosopher, a spiritual master who touches believers and nonbelievers alike, a tireless messenger of peace and ecumenism, and an adventurer with life full of twists and turns. Anne-Sophie Constant's literary biography paints a rare portrait of this extraordinary man and the events and influences that shaped his destiny.

“The story of Jean Vanier is the story of a free man – a man who knew how to become himself, who knew how to free himself from restraints, opinions, and prejudices; from intellectual, religious or moral habits; from his epoch; from popular opinion. . . . Jean Vanier has transformed the lives of thousands and thousands of mentally disabled people. And he has transformed the understanding of thousands of people regarding the disabilities of their own children and of people with disabilities. Where we see only failure, disgrace, impossibility, limit, weakness, ugliness, and suffering, Jean Vanier sees beauty. And he knows how to open the eyes of others to see it..”

Micro Review: It’s a curious thing about us humans that we often delay our acquaintanceship with the work of remarkable humans until they die. For that reason, this August may be perfect timing for this new release from Plough Publishing House as the world mourns the loss of Jean Vanier, age 90, in May. For those like me who have circled around the writing and wisdom of the man who traded in a life of the political and academic elite to found L’Arche, an international federation of communities spread over 37 countries, for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. I find these kinds of biographies that provide background and context for the lives of those who so deeply influence the world helpful as a launch into the primary sources written by the figures themselves. I’m looking forward to reading deeply through Vanier’s writing and grateful to Anne-Sophie Constant and Plough for inviting me into the circle of those who knew the man firsthand.

More than anything I want to, in the words of the Apostle Paul, put on Jean Vanier as he put on Christ. I want to become more fully human in the process of companioning others to do the same. Thanks to this portrait of Vanier’s life I will always imagine the Kingdom of Christ like the crowd who gathered for L’Arche’s fiftieth-anniversary celebration. Here’s the description from the book’s epilogue:

“[The festival} took place on September 27 [2014]. To the surprise of the passersby, there was a gigantic parade of seven thousand people marching from the Hôtel de Ville to the Place de la République. The crowd shouted, sang, and danced in the streets as colorful balloons floated into the air. “What are you demonstrating against?” people asked. “Against nothing! We’re celebrating! Come dance and eat cake with us.”… So they danced on the Place de la République - marchers, wheelchairs, and pedestrians all mixed together.”

May each protest I offer against all that is inhuman and unlove have the air of the celebration that the Kingdom is here and now and through what Vanier described as the “sacrament of the poor” can be lived in the good company of Jesus who invites us all, like little children, into the belovedness of God.

15. At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl
By Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl, Edited by Inge Jens, Translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn (Plough Publishing House, 2017. 381 pages)

Amazon | Plough Publishing House | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Personal letters and diaries provide an intimate view into the hearts and minds of a brother and sister who became martyrs in the anti-Nazi resistance during World War II.

Idealistic, serious, and sensible, Hans and Sophie Scholl joined the Hitler Youth with youthful and romantic enthusiasm. But as Hitler’s grip throttled Germany and Nazi atrocities mounted, Hans and Sophie emerged from their adolescence with the conviction that at all costs they must raise their voices against the murderous Nazi regime.

In May of 1942, with Germany still winning the war, an improbable little band of students at Munich University began distributing the leaflets of the White Rose. In the very city where the Nazis got their start, they demanded resistance to Germany’s war efforts and confronted their readers with what they had learned of Hitler’s “final solution”: “Here we see the most terrible crime committed against the dignity of humankind, a crime that has no counterpart in human history.”

These broadsides were secretly drafted and printed in a Munich basement by Hans Scholl, by now a young medical student and military conscript, and a handful of young co-conspirators that included his twenty-one-year-old sister Sophie. The leaflets placed the Scholls and their friends in mortal danger, and it wasn’t long before they were captured and executed.

As their letters and diaries reveal, the Scholls were not primarily motivated by political beliefs, but rather came to their convictions through personal spiritual search that eventually led them to sacrifice their lives for what they believed was right. Interwoven with commentary on the progress of Hitler’s campaign, the letters and diary entries range from veiled messages about the course of a war they wanted their country to lose, to descriptions of hikes and skiing trips and meditations on Goethe, Dostoyevsky, Rilke, and Verlaine; from entreaties to their parents for books and sweets hard to get in wartime, to deeply humbled and troubled entreaties to God for an understanding of the presence of such great evil in the world. There are alarms when Hans is taken into military custody, when their father is jailed, and when their friends are wounded on the eastern front. But throughout―even to the end, when the Scholls’ sense of peril is most oppressive―there appear in their writings spontaneous outbursts of joy and gratitude for the gifts of nature, music, poetry, and art. In the midst of evil and degradation, theirs is a celebration of the spiritual and the humane.

Illustrated with photographs of Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends and co-conspirators..”

Micro Review: I’d never heard of Hans and Sophie Scholl or the White Rose before receiving this book from Plough Publishing. In one way I’m glad to be just learning their story now against the backdrop or our current political and cultural climate. I’m beginning to understand that the one-dimensional understanding of anyone loyal to Hitler’s Germany has created massive blind spots and harmful ignorance in our belief that we’re living on the “right side of history.” May God raise up many more Hans and Sophie Scholls in our day. May we, like these young, idealists be willing as their peer in the resistance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, allow all our wish-dreams to be shattered by Jesus.

And even then, in our zeal for Christ’s Kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven, may we like Sophie Scholl never lose sight of the beauty of our Father’s world who wrote during her final autumn - a few months before her execution by the Nazi government ruling her beloved Germany:

“Now I’m delighting once more in the last rays of the sun and marveling at the incredible beauty of all that wasn’t created by man: the red dahlias beside the white garden gate, the tall, solemn fir trees, the tremulous, gold-draped birches whose gleaming trunks stand out against all the green and russet foliage, and the golden sunshine that intensifies the colors of each individual object, unlike the blazing summer sun, which overpowers anything else that tries to stir. It’s all so wonderfully beautiful here that I’ve no idea what kind of emotion my speechless heart should develop for it, because it’s too immature to take pure pleasure in it. It merely marvels and contents itself with wonder and enchantment - isn’t it mysterious - and frightening, too, when one doesn’t know the reason - that everything should be so beautiful in spite of the terrible things that are happening? My sheer delight in all things beautiful has been invaded by a great unknown, an inkling of the creator whom his creatures glorify with their beauty. - That’s why mane alone can be ugly, because he has the free will to disassociate himself from this song of praise. Nowadays one is often tempted to believe that he’ll drown the song with gunfire and curses and blasphemy. But it dawned on me last spring that he can’t, and I’ll try to take the winning side.”

Read this book with a side of humble curiosity and then pass it on.

16. The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins: Selections from His Poems, Letters, Journals, and Spiritual Writings (The Gospel in Great Writers)
By Gerard Manley Hopkins and Margaret R. Ellsberg, Foreword by Dana Gioia (Plough Publishing House, 2017. 268 pages)

Amazon | Plough Publishing House | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"How did a Catholic priest who died a failure become one of the world’s greatest poets? Discover in his own words the struggle for faith that gave birth to some of the best spiritual poetry of all time.

Gerard Manley Hopkins deserves his place among the greatest poets in the English language. He ranks seventh among the most frequently reprinted English-language poets, surpassed only by Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Dickinson, Yeats, and Wordsworth.

Yet when the English Jesuit priest died of typhoid fever at age forty-four, he considered his life a failure. He never would have suspected that his poems, which would not be published for another twenty-nine years, would eventually change the course of modern poetry and influence such poets as W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Geoffrey Hill, and Seamus Heaney. Like his contemporaries Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, Hopkins revolutionized poetic language.

And yet we love Hopkins not only for his literary genius but for the hard-won faith that finds expression in his verse. Who else has captured the thunderous voice of God and the grandeur of his creation on the written page as Hopkins has? Seamlessly weaving together selections from Hopkins’s poems, letters, journals, and sermons, Peggy Ellsberg lets the poet tell the story of a life-long struggle with faith that gave birth to some of the best poetry of all time. Even readers who spurn religious language will find in Hopkins a refreshing, liberating way to see God’s hand at work in the world.”

Micro Review: I re-read this insightful book for a Selah assignment this spring to study a Christian mystic. I was delighted to discover that one of my favorites, Gerard Manley Hopkins, included in a list of English mystic poets on God in nature.

Here’s my mini-review from my first read back in 2017:

I'm grateful for any opportunity I have to learn an artist through his life story. There are drawbacks, of course. Sometimes it's hard to look a hero in the proverbial eye through their letters and journal entries. It's hard to hear the doubt, insecurity, and suffering of the people who've introduced so much beauty into the world. Oh my goodness, Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems are beautiful. And his suffering was real. My favorite part of the book is still the poems, which I guess I could read in his collected works, but I've learned that I often prefer to read and study artists' work within the context of their everyday lives. 

Here's my all-time favorite Hopkins line from The Wreck of the Deutschland: "Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east".

Yes, let it be so.


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2018 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

Linking up with another good reading resource: Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

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p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

7 Literary Books Our Church Read together in 2018 {Apostles Reads}

Our book discussion for Robert Farrar Capon’s  Supper of the Lamb  included a potluck feast of his recipes.

Our book discussion for Robert Farrar Capon’s Supper of the Lamb included a potluck feast of his recipes.

In 2016, when I read the wonderful Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Neighborhoods and Churches Flourish by C. Christopher Smith, I was at the same time preparing to move to a new state and minister within a new church family. Brian and I felt strongly that our role as the new Rector and wife needed to be first as guests in a place that, while new to us, was a community where, within and without Church of the Apostles, Christ's kingdom was alive and active. We wanted to enter with an appropriate curiosity to the stories of life, love, and loss in southwest Connecticut. At the same time, we knew we'd need to cultivate conversations that would help us find kindred spirits. It's this sort of solution that Reading for the Common Good helped me imagine. While reading and discussing a wide range of excellent books wasn't the only way I began to build relationships in Fairfield County, it certainly was one of the most delightful.

My husband gets a lot of credit for trusting my idea (as he's done so many times in the last 28 years). From the broad idea for churches to read good books together generated in Reading for the Common Good, I customized the details to fit our needs and context. For one thing, we've added a liturgical slant - reading one book per liturgical season informed by the broad themes of each season. Our very first book to read together for Advent 2016, we read Shusaku Endo's Silence (which prompted a somewhat unintentional group initiation!) and then swung to the verbose and jubilant essays and poems of G. K. Chesterton for Christmastide. That's a kind of intellectual athleticism (and maybe gracious response to the new Rector's wife) only the most open-minded readers embrace.

Another bonus has been getting to know each other better. On more than one occasion I've been astonished to hear the bits and pieces of life stories that intersect with our book themes - like the lovely woman who mentioned in a sort of "oh by the way" comment during last Lent’s discussion of MLK's Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? that she'd worked for the LBJ administration and witnessed first-hand the Poor People's March on Washington the same year as the assassination of Dr. King; another shared privately that she'd protested with the pacifist priest Daniel Berrigan. I'll admit to a bit of jaw-dropping since both of those scenarios are a long way from the conservative church circles in an area that includes some of the nation's top-earning zip codes

I'm happy to look back on our second year reading together and see that the Apostles Reads group has been up to the challenge. From the true and devastating accounts of one lawyer’s campaign to free the wrongfully imprisoned in Just Mercy to the bittersweet fictional tale of a lonely college rad roaming the streets of Chicago with a basketball and a fantastical pet dog in Chicago to the relentlessly shocking characters in Flannery O’Connor’s deep South and more, this little reading community has responded to each title with grace, humility, empathy, and intellectual curiosity. I’m honored to be among them.

In case you’re curious, here’s the general guidelines we follow in selecting the book titles:

  • Many of our titles will be selected from what's widely understood as classic books or authors, whether that's in a technical or colloquial sense.

  • Many of our titles will be selected from books and authors that have been awarded for their literary merit within the larger publishing arena.

  • While we love new books and encourage each other to be aware of good books that have been newly released, for the sake of growing in our understanding of the context in which we live, worship, and work we'll veer toward older, established works rather than newer releases.

  • All of our books will acknowledge the reality of common grace, most will carry implicit theological themes, a couple will be based on explicit theological themes.

  • We value all genres of literature and will work toward including a noticeable variety of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short story, biography, and essays each year.

  • We value reading outside of our tradition as a form of hospitality toward people, places, and customs different than our own experience.

  • We value literacy for all ages and will, once or twice a year, read something that is suitable for all ages.

I thought you might enjoy seeing the titles we chose and a few notes from our discussions. I'd also love to hear any suggestions you have for our future reading.

Reader’s theatre during our family discussion of  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Reader’s theatre during our family discussion of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever


All year - Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year by Malcolm Guite

I was excited to introduce our group to the work of one my favorite contemporary, liturgical poets, Malcolm Guite. In the collection Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, he turns 70 lectionary readings into beautiful, poignant spiritual reflections. We read through this book as a companion to all our reading during 2018, reading several aloud each time we gathered. As a bonus, we grew in our understanding and appreciation for the sonnet as a classic poetic form.

 

Advent & Christmastide - The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

For Advent and Christmastide, I chose a timeless favorite from my family: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. To judge the book by the cover only, one might think this title is for children alone. Don’t let this little 128-page treasure fool you. Like any well-told story, the story of a congregation making space for "the worst kids in the world" to join their annual Christmas pageant is powerful in its child-like simplicity. And such is the kingdom of Heaven, yes?

Our get-together was delightful. We ranged from preschooler to senior citizen, and pulled off our own little improv/reader’s theater of one of the scenes as well as some pretty great rounds of Pictionary using key words and phrases from Malcolm Guite’s sonnets. As always, the kids’ literary comprehension blew us away.

This is the rare kind of book that both adults and children find both hilarious and heartwarming. Recommended reading for everyone, every year!

 

Epiphany - Chicago: A Novel by Brian Doyle

I read this novel for the first time in 2017 after hearing that the Catholic author had died a premature death to brain cancer. For some reason, I hadn't heard of him before then and spent the next several months trying to rectify that error. The novel Chicago is sweet, imaginative, funny, and full of grace. During Epiphany we celebrate the Christ who came to live and work among us, or as in Eugene Peterson's paraphrase, “moved into the neighborhood”.

Also, I'm going to tell you right now: Edward is one of my favorite book characters of all time, and he's encouraged me to like our dog Leo a lot more than I actually do.

 

Lent - Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

We prayerfully began our next book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson during Lent. I first began hearing about this book a couple of years ago, and gave it to my daughter-in-law who was, at the time, studying criminal psychology and recidivism at her university. On her recommendation, I added the book to my to-read list but it was the encouragement of one of our group members that finally got me to begin reading this difficult subject.

After we read Dr. King's book together our first Lent (2017), Walter Wittwer handed me a book and said, "You should read this." He'd handed me his own underlined copy of Just Mercy, and because I respect his advice and am grateful for his experience ministering within the prison system, I finally started reading.  I was grateful to be able to read the difficult, but beautiful stories along with a community of friends.

 

Eastertide -The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon

The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon may be my all-time favorite food-related book. Certainly, it's my favorite food/theology book, as should be any reflection that turns chopping an ordinary onion into an act of worship. 

During the Great Fifty Days of Eastertide, we celebrate all the foretastes of the eternal kingdom that grace our lives right now. Nothing points us more to the jubilee of that day than the act of feasting and no one argues more passionately for that act than Capon. We enjoyed the discussion around a potluck feast of our own with recipes made from the book. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

 

Pentecost - Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy L. Sherman

Brian selected Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy L. Sherman. During Pentecost we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit to equip each one of us to live out the gospel. One key way we get to do this is through our work, and this book helps us explore the intersection of faith and work. 

 

Ordinary Time - The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

It took me two years to have the courage to assign Flannery O'Connor - which is a pretty big statement since we started our group with the novel Silence! It helped that a few of our group mentioned having already read some of O’Connor’s work and that they were looking forward to reading more.

I first read O'Connor's fiction after seeing her name mentioned over and over again by artists and theologians whose work I admired. I was not prepared for what I read, but I knew I wanted to better understand the perspective on faith that colors Flannery O'Connor's short stories with equal parts biting wit, naked observation of the depravity of humans, and tiny - sometimes minuscule - glimpses of a divine grace.

To be honest, I didn't really start appreciating her work until I read some of her non-fiction. I needed to understand a bit more about her own life to better understand what colored her fictional imagination. For this reason, I kept our reading selection somewhat open. I recommended the anthology of her short stories, The Complete Stories , so that group members could pick and choose the titles that most catch their attention. I also recommended The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor or Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose for those who wanted to supplement the short stories with some of O’Connor’s non-fiction.

Here's a brief review I shared after reading The Habit of Being that unpacks a bit more the tension of paradigm shifting I experienced from Flannery O'Connor's writing. 

Our Autumn read

Our Autumn read

Here's the list of books we've read so far this liturgical year, and the ones we're (tentatively) planning to read for 2019.

Advent and Christmastide- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Epiphany - Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle

Lent - Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard (or this delightful children’s illustrated version!)

Eastertide - The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis

Pentecost - One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love by John Perkins

Ordinary Time (summer) - a Dostoyevsky title to be determined

Ordinary Time (autumn) - Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

Advent - Joshua: A Parable for Today by Joseph F. Girzone

Christmastide: “Journey of the Magi” by T. S. Eliot


Any suggestions? Also, if you could invite your church to join you in reading one book for this year (with the above criteria), what would YOU choose?

p.s. This post contains affiliate links because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

What I Read June - September 2018

I had a great reading summer. Hope you enjoy the micro reviews + publisher blurbs! Let me know if you add anything from this list to your book pile!

We visited Yale's  Text and Textiles exhibit  at the Beinecke Library in July. This piece intrigued me (from an Austin artist!).

We visited Yale's Text and Textiles exhibit at the Beinecke Library in July. This piece intrigued me (from an Austin artist!).

You can see my 2017 reading list here. | You can see all my reading lists since 2006 here.

One other note: Last year I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a poor reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check! Brian and I've been delighted with the generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)


Novels

21. Behold the Dreamers: A Novel
By Imbolo Mbue (Random House, 2016. 382 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice."

Micro Review: Mbue balances plot movement with occasional contemplative reflection at just the right pace for my taste. It also ticked the box of characters I can sympathize with while simultaneously honoring their complexity and choices that are outside of my ability to imagine. I was also drawn to imagining the experience of the very wealthy and the very marginalized as the recession hit Wall Street. Mbue wrote characters who carry both good and horrible qualities - no pure villains, no pure heroes - and all worthy of attention and care. This is a good novel and I highly recommend. (I also loved that the author and I shared the same insight of young immigrant dreamers through the lens of a familiar Old Testament account.)

22. Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, 2014. 292 pages)

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" 'Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.' So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another."

Micro Review: I wish I could remember who recommended all my summer novels to me, but I've got it narrowed down to either Byron at Hearts & Minds Booksellers or Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Either way, it was an excellent recommendation. The pace of plot and character reflection was a good fit for my taste, and I enjoyed the 1970s setting. I felt disheartened by repeated decisions the parents made to require their children to operate out of pre-determined roles they had set for them. I know well this temptation and it grieved me to watch it play out to such disastrous results. I was grateful for the small touches of redemption at the close of the story. Lord, help us all.

23. Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel

By Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, 2017. 217 pages)

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"From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs. 

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster."

Micro Review: Another excellent story with characters that I cared about. This novel felt more mystery-driven than family-dynamic driven as Ng's previous novel. I enjoyed watching the story unfold and understanding the motivations for the crisis that plays out. There were a few plot twists that surprised me,  as well. A good read!

24. A Fatal Grace: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

By Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2011. 320 pages)

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"Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.
No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death. 

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Quebec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he's dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?

With his trademark compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find the dangerous secrets long buried there. For a Quebec winter is not only staggeringly beautiful but deadly, and the people of Three Pines know better than to reveal too much of themselves. But other dangers are becoming clear to Gamache. As a bitter wind blows into the village, something even more chilling is coming for Gamache himself."

Micro Review: Still loving this series (even though I inadvertently read out of order). Also: still wishing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation turns this into a televised series with a perfectly-casted Inspector Gamache.)

25. Olive Kitteridge

By Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2008. 320 pages)

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"In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love. 

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse. 

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires."

Micro Review: Elizabeth Strout’s skill in writing characters and setting kept me reading even through plots emphasizing despair. I’m glad I kept reading because by the end of the episodic novel (sometimes feeling more like a series of short stories, but always including in some part the titular character), I grew to love Olive Kitteridge. As much as she broke my heart, I wanted her to continue embracing life. Throughout the whole book, I kept hearing Thoreau’s (ironically, written from another New England town), “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. The repeated themes of marriage, parenting, family systems, midlife, and community all circle the themes I’ve devoted my life to learning and supporting and I so much wanted to reach into these quietly desperate lives and say “Stop hiding! There’s help!” Signs of good writing even if I left the book kind of like I leave a sad dream.


Memoir

26. An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us
By James Carroll (Mariner Books, 1997. 304 pages)

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"An American Requiem is the story of one man's coming of age. But more than that, it is a coming to terms with the conflicts that disrupted many families, inflicting personal wounds that were also social, political, and religious. Carroll grew up in a Catholic family that seemed blessed. His father had abandoned his own dream of becoming a priest to rise through the ranks of Hoover's FBI and then become one of the most powerful men in the Pentagon, the founder of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Young Jim lived the privileged life of a general's son, dating the daughter of a vice president and meeting the pope, all in the shadow of nuclear war, waiting for the red telephone to ring in his parents' house. He worshiped his father until Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights movement, turmoil in the Catholic Church, and then Vietnam combined to outweigh the bond between father and son. These were issues on which they would never agree. Only after Carroll left the priesthood to become a writer and husband with children of his own did he come to understand fully the struggles his father had faced. In this work of nonfiction, the best-selling novelist draws on the skills he honed with nine much-admired novels to tell the story he was, literally, born to tell. An American Requiem is a benediction on his father's life, his family's struggles, and the legacies of an entire generation."

Micro Review: As much as I try to limit my intake of the memoir genre, when I read a good one I always come back to the truth that it's my favorite. I am captivated not only by a story well told but also by the work a good memoirist does to connect the dots between all the influencers in their context: generations of family members, religious and educational backgrounds, word events and socio-economic factors. I'm fascinated to watch not only the facts of one person's life play out by also by their work in interpreting meaning. James Carroll has a good and hard story. I kept reading sections out loud to Brian. Much of the story felt especially timely, in the light of daily reports of conflict and scandal in both the political and religious spheres. I appreciate the way Carroll made meaning, grieved loss, and sought reconciliation with his ideals and his reality. Two thumbs way up.

27. Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes
By Elizabeth Bard (Back Bay Books, 2016. 384 pages)

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"Ten years ago, New Yorker Elizabeth Bard followed a handsome Frenchman up a spiral staircase to a love nest in the heart of Paris. Now, with a baby on the way, Elizabeth takes another leap of faith with her husband when they move to Provence and open an artisanal ice cream shop. Filled with enticing recipes such as stuffed zucchini flowers, fig tart, and honey-and-thyme ice cream, PICNIC IN PROVENCE is the story of everything that happens after the happily ever after. With wit, humor, and a scoop of wild strawberry sorbet, Bard reminds us that life-in and out of the kitchen-is a rendezvous with the unexpected.

Micro Review: Easy, enjoyable read! As much I liked the author and her community, I really read this book for the vicarious pleasure of food descriptions. Sentences like the introduction to a recipe for Stuffed Tomatoes and Zucchini (ala, Légumes d’Été Farçis in Provence) for example” “This dish instantly transports me back to Jean’s garden - big, bright beefsteak tomatoes and croquet-ball-size round zucchini stuffed and baked to sagging perfection. Lovely for a casual dinner in the garden.” Reading this kind of book is my little voyeuristic vice to compensate for what I don’t actually attain in my own kitchen!

28. Travels with Charley: In Search of America
By John Steinbeck (Penguin Books, 1980. 288 pages)

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"An intimate journey across America, as told by one of its most beloved writers
 
To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light—these were John Steinbeck's goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.

With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and  the unexpected kindness of strangers."

Micro Review: A bit uneven with some chapters reading like a quintessential man-on-a-journey book and then a few places just a bit rambly and somewhat forced. Still, a sweet read and Charley is a dear.


History / Non-Fiction

29. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
By Isabel Wilkerson (Random House, 2010. 640 pages)

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"In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
 
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.

Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic."

Micro Review: WOW. The work Isabel Wilkerson has done for us to understand not only the epic scale of the unrecognized great immigration in our nation’s history but also the nuance represented in the stories of individual lives is worthy of our collective, national gratitude. This is a history we need to know and understand at every level of our social infrastructure so that we can both honor the good and jettison the evil in our history. Read this book.

30. Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth

By A. O. Scott (Penguin Books, 2017. 304 pages)

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"The New York Times film critic shows why we need criticism now more than ever

Few could explain, let alone seek out, a career in criticism. Yet what A.O. Scott shows in Better Living Through Criticism is that we are, in fact, all critics: because critical thinking informs almost every aspect of artistic creation, of civil action, of interpersonal life. With penetrating insight and warm humor, Scott shows that while individual critics--himself included--can make mistakes and find flaws where they shouldn't, criticism as a discipline is one of the noblest, most creative, and urgent activities of modern existence.

Using his own film criticism as a starting point--everything from his infamous dismissal of the international blockbuster The Avengersto his intense affection for Pixar's animated Ratatouille--Scott expands outward, easily guiding readers through the complexities of Rilke and Shelley, the origins of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, the power of Marina Abramovich and 'Ode on a Grecian Urn.' Drawing on the long tradition of criticism from Aristotle to Susan Sontag, Scott shows that real criticism was and always will be the breath of fresh air that allows true creativity to thrive. "The time for criticism is always now," Scott explains, "because the imperative to think clearly, to insist on the necessary balance of reason and passion, never goes away.""

Micro Review: I’ve seen mixed reviews for this book but for this autodidactic student of the arts, I’m indebted to the work of critics to train me in discernment. I really enjoyed this book.

A favorite quotation:

“The origin of criticism lies in an innocent, heartfelt kind of question, one that is far from simple and that carries enormous risk: Did you feel that? Was it good for you? Tell the truth.” 
― A.O. Scott, Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth


Poetry

31. The Last Shift: Poems

By Philip Levine (Knopf, 2016. 96 pages)

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“The final collection of new poems from one of our finest and most beloved poets. 

The poems in this wonderful collection touch all of the events and places that meant the most to Philip Levine. There are lyrical poems about his family and childhood, the magic of nighttime and the power of dreaming; tough poems about the heavy shift work at Detroit's auto plants, the Nazis, and bosses of all kinds; telling poems about his heroes--jazz players, artists, and working people of every description, even children. Other poems celebrate places and things he loved: the gifts of winter, dawn, a wall in Naples, an English hilltop, Andalusia. And he makes peace with Detroit: "Slow learner that I am, it took me one night/to discover that rain in New York City/is just like rain in Detroit. It gets you wet." It is a peace that comes to full fruition in a moving goodbye to his home town in the final poem in the collection, "The Last Shift."

Micro Review: I wish I could remember where I heard this poet mentioned. His name was new to me, so it’s a bit ironic that I’m starting with his last book of poems, published posthumously after his death in 2015, to explore his work. I might make this a habit. There’s something crystallized in a writer’s words when they know they are reaching the end. There’s an essentialism that makes me take notice and wonder about my own. With much of his life spent working in Detroit factories, Philip Levine is often described as the poet of the working man. This slim collection of poems made the perfect companion to my own recent reflection on the nature of calling in one’s work.

Here’s a few favorite stanzas from “Office Hours” (p. 16):

Midnight on Grand River, and the car barns

are quiet, the last truck left hours ago.

The watchman dreams through his rounds.

If you entered the office now you’d find

all the old upright Smith Coronas sheathed

in their gowns, the pencils tucked in drawers,

the fountain pens dreaming of the epics

they’ll never write, the paper clips

holding together reports on nothing at all.

32. Take, Eat, Remember, and Believe

By Brett Alan Dewing (Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017. 88 pages)

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In this volume of poetry, Dewing explores liturgy, both common and cosmic, domestic and demonic. Words are actions. Nothing is spiritually neutral. How do we reconcile these truths in our lives?

Micro Review: Brett is a friend of mine and he is a fine poet and playwright. I’m a fan of Brett’s balance of liturgical themes, Scriptural phrases, and everyday references. This is a good collection. I recommend reading out loud for full enjoyment of cadence and language.

Here’s a favorite from the collection, “A Mary Heart”:

Your children are of vocal stock

One thing that they can do is talk

And fill their face with laughter lines

That overlap and intertwine

But I was born to stand apart

And ponder these within my heart

To wander in the yard and see

To dream, to get to know a tree

And so amid the word-filled air

You may not have known that I was there

But sight may be a thing we shared

And you indeed may not have cared

That I was somber, staid, and terse

And slow of tongue and filled with verse

You may have known something at least

About a heart that holds its peace

But in the end you had not choice

When sickness took away your voice

And I would sit beside your bed

And not regret the words not said

While all around were laughter peals

While words were whittled, wheels in wheels

But in that raucous holy place

A Martha practiced Mary grace

Within, your deep would call to deep

And you would blink and drift to sleep

And I would note the cherished depth

Of holy secrets that you kept.


Apostles Reads Selections

33. Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good

By Amy L. Sherman (IVP Books, 2011. 271 pages)

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"Imagine the scenarios:

  • a CEO successfully negotiates a corporate merger, avoiding hundreds of layoffs in the process

  • an artist completes a mosaic for public display at a bank, showcasing neighborhood heroes

  • a contractor creates a work-release program in cooperation with a local prison, growing the business and seeing countless former inmates turn their lives around

  • a high-school principal graduates 20 percent more students than the previous year, and the school's average scores go up by a similar percentage

Now imagine a parade in the streets for each event. That's the vision of Proverbs 11:10, in which the tsaddiqim--the people who see everything they have as gifts from God to be stewarded for his purposes--pursue their vocation with an eye to the greater good. Amy Sherman, director of the Center on Faith in Communities and scholar of vocational stewardship, uses the tsaddiqim as a springboard to explore how, through our faith-formed calling, we announce the kingdom of God to our everyday world. But cultural trends toward privatism and materialism threaten to dis-integrate our faith and our work. And the church, in ways large and small, has itself capitulated to those trends, while simultaneously elevating the "special calling" of professional ministry and neglecting the vocational formation of laypeople. In the process, we have, in ways large and small, subverted our kingdom mandate. God is on the move, and he calls each of us, from our various halls of power and privilege, to follow him. Here is your chance, keeping this kingdom calling in view, to steward your faith and work toward righteousness. In so doing, you will bless the world, and as you flourish, the world will celebrate."

Micro Review: We read this in our church’s reading group for the liturgical season of Pentecost. During Pentecost, we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit to equip each one of us to live out the gospel. One key way we get to do this is through our work, and this book helps us explore the intersection of faith and work. It’s a theologically-sound treatise on the goodness of work with inspiring examples of the ways Christians are working for the common good of their communities and workplaces. One glaring omission (as is the case for so much that’s written on the subject of faith and work) is the kingdom work in “blue collar” jobs. We need to continue more robust research and conversation on all forms of labor!

If for nothing else, read this book for the preview passages in which the author skillfully and eloquently integrates her research and premise with Tim Keller’s teaching that the “righteous” (Hebrew tsaddiqim) is the just, the people who follow God’s heart and ways and who see everything they have as gifts from God to be stewarded for his purposes. Sherman beautifully calls us to the Scriptural vision of a “rejoiced city” where the two, closely related features of the consummated kingdom: justice and shalom. I love that I am called to work in this kingdom!


Prayer / Spirituality / Spiritual Direction / Bible Study

34. The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence

By Henri Nouwen (Ballantine Books, 2003. 112 pages)

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"Since it was first published more than twenty years ago, The Way of the Heart has helped millions of men and women cast off the anger and greed that trouble the world–and find love, compassion, and peace in the heart of God.

Inspired by the ancient teachings of St. Anthony and the Desert Fathers, The Way of the Heart clears before us a spiritual path consisting of three stepping-stones: Solitude (learning not to be alone but to be alone with God); Silence (the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive); and Prayer (standing in the presence of God with the mind in the heart).

Distinguished theologian Henri Nouwen brilliantly illuminates each of these disciplines. In reflections that are beautifully clear and practical, as uplifting on the fourth reading as on the first, he helps us separate the wheat from the chaff in our spiritual lives–and reconnects us with what truly matters.

Within this one small book lies the most relevant and inspiring challenge that we shall ever face: to surrender the compulsive noise of the world for the way of the heart that leads us to God." 

Here's a favorite quotation:

"In the context of our verbose culture it is significant to hear the Desert Fathers discouraging us from using too many words: 'Abba Macarius was asked 'How should one pray?' The old man said, 'There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one's hand and say, 'Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.' And if the conflict grows fiercer say: 'Lord, help.' He knows very well what we need and shows us his mercy." (p. 80)

35. Spiritual Direction: Beyond the Beginnings

By Janet K. Ruffing, R.S.M. (Paulist Press, 2000. 183 pages)

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"Explores issues that arise in the advanced stages of spiritual direction from both a practical and theoretical perspective.”

Micro Review: I’m behind in reading for my certification work. I found this book uneven in its helpfulness to me, but the parts that were helpful were excellent and uniquely helpful to me particularly on the subject of making space for people’s experiences of God that differ from my own.

 Here's a favorite quotation:

"I find it is helpful (in my personal prayer and as a suggestion for directees) to pray for the desire to forgive or to pray for the desire to let go of the anger. The basic principle is emotional congruence. We uncover and express our honest desires. If we can want to release anger, for instance, we have become open to a possibility in grace that is not yet ours. Eventually, we can choose to release the anger. wE can only pray from our actual feelings, coming to prayer from that honest fundamental desire which leaves us open to an unpredictable outcome. Praying with this kind of emotional congruency gives great freedom. We can pray out of our anger, our weariness, our discouragement, our fear, our loss, our joy, and so on. We express those feelings to their conclusion or until we’re tired of them. When we’re finished, we wait for a response. Gradually, we discover changes in us." (p. 20)

36. The Stories We Live: Finding God’s Calling All around Us

By Kathleen A. Cahalan (Eerdman’s, 2017. 150 pages)

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"‘Christian vocation,’ says Kathleen Cahalan, ‘is about connecting our stories with God's story.’ In The Stories We Live Cahalan rejuvenates and transforms vocation from a static concept to a living, dynamic reality.

Incorporating biblical texts, her own experience, and the personal stories of others, Cahalan discusses how each of us is called byGod, to follow, as we are, from grief, for service, in suffering, through others, within God. Readers of this book will discover an exciting new vocabulary of vocation and find a fresh vision for God's calling in their lives.”

Micro Review: A slim but substantive read on the subject of what it means to know our calling in life. The author used individual stories skillfully to illustrate the wide scope this subject requires. I highly recommend.

Here's a favorite quotation:

"The work that you do is inherently good when it aligns with God’s purposes, when your work is a service given for the common good. You may experience a deep resonance between who you are and what you are able to do. Your competence and excellence in your work is a sign of God’s work in you." (p. 73)


Previews

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37. When Spring Comes to the DMZ

By Uk-Bae Lee (Plough Publishing House, 2019. 40 pages)

Coming March 2019

"Korea’s demilitarized zone has become an amazing accidental nature preserve that gives hope for a brighter future for a divided land.

This unique picture book invites young readers into the natural beauty of the DMZ, where salmon, spotted seals, and mountain goats freely follow the seasons and raise their families in this 2.5-mile-wide, 150-mile-long corridor where no human may tread. But the vivid seasonal flora and fauna are framed by ever-present rusty razor wire, warning signs, and locked gates—and regularly interrupted by military exercises that continue decades after a 1953 ceasefire in the Korean War established the DMZ.

Creator Uk-Bae Lee’s lively paintings juxtapose these realities, planting in children the dream of a peaceful world without war and barriers, where separated families meet again and live together happily in harmony with their environment. Lee shows the DMZ through the eyes of a grandfather who returns each year to look out over his beloved former lands, waiting for the day when he can return. In a surprise foldout panorama at the end of the book the grandfather, tired of waiting, dreams of taking his grandson by the hand, flinging back the locked gates, and walking again on the land he loves to find his long-lost friends.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ helps introduce children to the unfinished history of the Korean Peninsula playing out on the nightly news, and may well spark discussions about other walls, from Texas to Gaza.”

Micro Review: My parents and siblings lived and worked in Seoul for several years. I was not able to visit but through their experience have become more aware of the fractured Korean Peninsula. My sister-in-law’s own family has lived in that split, and the memory of it is a painful part of her family’s history. This book, When Spring Comes to the DMZ, is a simple but stunning opportunity to notice the way grace and beauty insist on interjecting even the most pervasive schisms of our world. I recommend this beautifully-told story to all ages.

 


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2017 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

Linking up with another good reading resource: Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

#

p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

What I Read January - May 2018

I'm waaayyy behind on sharing my reading on the blog this year. Here's the 20 titles I remember! I hope the publisher book blurbs and my micro reviews will be enough to help you find one or two books to add to your own summer reading list!

We visited Yale's  Sterling Memorial Library  in March. Wals and walls of catalog drawers - oh my....

We visited Yale's Sterling Memorial Library in March. Wals and walls of catalog drawers - oh my....

You can see my 2017 reading list here. | You can see all my reading lists since 2006 here.

One other note: Last year I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a poor reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check. Brian and I've been delighted with the prompt, generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)


Books I Reviewed for ERB

I had the privilege of writing a couple of reviews at Englewood Review of Books this spring. ERB is one of my all-time favorite book review sources, and I highly recommend signing up for their free email digest and their quarterly print issue (totally affordable, by the way!). You'll hear about books that may or may not be showcased in the mainstream "Christian market" book sites with reviews from people you may or may not know from the mainstream publications (people like me, for instance!)  As an added bonus, when you subscribe to their email digest you'll receive a free pdf of the excellent resource 101 Transformative Books for Churches to Read and Discuss.

1. Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts
by Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans, 2018. 208 pages)

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"From the ancient book of Numbers to the latest clickbait listicle, list-writing has been a routine feature of human experience. Shopping lists. To-do lists. Guest lists. Bucket lists. Lists are everywhere you look.

But what if our lists did more than just remind us to buy milk and take out the trash? What if the practice of list-making could help us discover who we truly are and even point us to our deepest joys, hopes, and desires?

In Make a List teacher, writer, and wordsmith Marilyn McEntyre shows readers how the simple act of writing a list can open doors to personal discovery and spiritual growth. Deepening her reflections with abundant writing prompts and real-life examples, McEntyre turns the humble list into a work of art—one that has the power to clear minds, open hearts, and change lives."

Micro Review

I jumped at the chance to review this new release for Englewood Review of Books. Marilyn McEntyre is a favorite author and her new book had me at the word "list". The review was published in ERB's print issue earlier this year, and I'll share it here in full sometime later this month. For now here's a quick blurb:

"Helping us pay attention to language, Scripture, relationships, and communities is what Marilyn McEntyre does best. In her newest book, she resurrects the lowly list as an instrument of personal discovery, relational growth, and spiritual peace. In a world hunting for life-changing tips and techniques, McEntyre offers, instead, a life-giving practice available to anyone willing to keep handy a scrap of paper and a pencil. I can imagine groups of friends going through the book together over a period of time as well as an individual reader like myself."

 

2. Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World
by Jon Huckin (IVP Books, 2017. 192 pages)

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"Conflict, hatred, and injustice seem to be the norm rather than the exception in our world, our nation, our communities, our homes. The fractures and fissures run so deep that we're paralyzed by our hopelessness, writing off peace as a far-fetched option for the afterlife.

Even if there was the possibility of peace, where would we begin?

Instead of disengaging, Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart invite us to move toward conflict and brokenness, but not simply for the sake of resolving tensions and ending wars. These modern-day peacemakers help us understand that because peacemaking is the mission of God, it should also be the vocation of his people. So peace is no longer understood as merely the absence of conflict―peace is when relationships once severed have been repaired and restored.

Using biblical and current-day illustrations of everyday peacemakers, Mending the Divides equips disciples of Jesus to move toward conflict and seek the restoration of our relationships, our communities, and our world, offering practical steps to engage in the kingdom-building work of waging peace."

Micro Review:

This review was published on ERB's website earlier this year, and I'll share it here in full sometime later this month. For now here's a quick blurb:

"To write a book that demonstrates both the church’s historical call to seek the peace in our communities and a persuasive pathway that turns toward the conflicts of our homes, communities, and world requires a certain balance of grace and truth. For the most part, Swigart and Huckins balance that tension with clarity, encouragement, and, most compelling, the powerful persuasion of a story well-told."

Novels

3. A Man Called Ove: A Novel
by Fredrik Backman (Washington Square Press; Reprint edition, 2015. 337 pages)

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"Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations."

Micro Review:

If you read novels regularly, you've certainly heard of Ove, Fredrick Backman's endearing curmudgeon. You've probably already the book! I was slow to the party because I tried another Backman novel first and was not a fan. While we visited our kids in Forth Worth this April, my daughter-in-law Bekah loaned me her copy and convinced me to give the author another chance. I'm so glad she did! I loved Ove (who, in my mind, is the old man in Pixar's "Up") and kept laughing out loud during the first part of the book. I'm a fan of quirky, beloved communities and that's Ove's neighborhood, for sure. I think Backman gets a bit sappy and wraps things up a bit too sappy-sweet at the end, but really the world could use a little bit more of that, don't you think?

4. The Shoemaker's Wife: A Novel
by Adriana Trigiani (Harper Paperbacks; 1 edition, 2012. 496 pages)

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"Beloved New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani returns with the most epic and ambitious novel of her career—a breathtaking multigenerational love story that spans two continents, two World Wars, and the quest of two star-crossed lovers to find each other again. The Shoemaker's Wife is replete with the all the page-turning adventure, sumptuous detail, and heart-stopping romance that has made Adriana Trigiani, “one of the reigning queens of women’s fiction” (USA Today). Fans of Trigiani’s sweeping family dramas like Big Stone Gap and Lucia, Lucia will love her latest masterpiece, a book Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, calls “totally new and completely wonderful: a rich, sweeping epic which tells the story of the women and men who built America dream by dream.”

Micro Review:

When I visited my friend Leah a couple of months ago, we got talking about our favorite books. She told me about her favorite novel and then sent me home with her own copy of The Shoemaker's Wife. I confess it took me a while to get in sync with the characters but pretty soon I was fully invested in their lives that span two continents and many decades. If the sign of a good book is that the characters and the story stay with you loving after you turn the final page, then this is certainly a good book.Thanks, Leah!

5. Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

By Louise Penny (Griffin, 2008. 312 pages)

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"Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it's a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods," and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter."

Micro Review:

 love this series, and in spite of dire warnings from friends to not read the series out of order I could never get the first book from my library so I've just read whatever was available. I finally broke down and purchased my own copy and it now proudly sits - thoroughly read and enjoyed - on my bookshelf. I'm currently planning a trip to Quebec to walk in the footsteps of the good man Inspector Gamache.


Memoir

6. When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi (Vintage, 2017. 225 pages)

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"At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both."

Micro Review

This is another book that most of the world seems to have read already. On a road trip between Boston and a Greek Orthodox retreat center in New Hampshire my friend Amy and I caught up on life. Mixed in with the stories she told me that I had to read the book she'd read on her flight from Austin, and then she gave me her own copy of the book! (There seems to be a theme here ?) I'd read some of the late author's writing online, but am so glad I read his book. What a beautiful demonstration of facing terminal illness and death. The book is a perfect  mix of heavy and light and a perfect reminder of how our awareness of our finite mortality allows us to value the sacredness of each day. For an interesting recent update on Paul's widow, read this post written by her twin sister.

7. Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage Paperback – April 3, 2018
by Dani Shapiro (Anchor, 2018. 160 pages)

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"Hourglass is an inquiry into how marriage is transformed by time--abraded, strengthened, shaped in miraculous and sometimes terrifying ways by accident and experience. With courage and relentless honesty, Dani Shapiro opens the door to her house, her marriage, and her heart, and invites us to witness her own marital reckoning--a reckoning in which she confronts both the life she dreamed of and the life she made, and struggles to reconcile the girl she was with the woman she has become. 

What are the forces that shape our most elemental bonds? How do we make lifelong commitments in the face of identities that are continuously shifting, and commit ourselves for all time when the self is so often in flux? What happens to love in the face of the unexpected, in the face of disappointment and compromise--how do we wrest beauty from imperfection, find grace in the ordinary, desire what we have rather than what we lack? Drawing on literature, poetry, philosophy, and theology, Shapiro writes gloriously of the joys and challenges of matrimonial life, in a luminous narrative that unfurls with urgent immediacy and sharp intelligence. Artful, intensely emotional work from one of our finest writers."

Micro Review

I heard Dani Shapiro speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2016, and appreciated the talk she gave. (You can listen to it here!) I wish I'd started reading her work with an earlier memoir because so much of this book references her earlier life, particularly the prayer practices she observed growing up with an Orthodox Jewish father. The book skims across the surface of the author's eighteen years (at that time) of marriage, dipping in deeper here and there to share harder parts of their story. Added bonus: the author lives in a charming part of Connecticut that we love to visit. It was fun to picture the area as she wrote about er life there with her husband and son.


Apostles Reads Selections

8. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

by Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau, 2015. 368 pages)

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"Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
 
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice."

Micro Review

A life-changing, unforgettable Lenten read for me and for our church's reading group. I'm still processing the stories and giving thanks for the work of Bryan Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative. If you live in America, you need to read this book. Our friend Walter, a prison chaplain and member of Church of the Apostles recommended the book. Here's his review at chainsgone.com: Just Mercy.

If you can't read the book right away, listen to a 25-minute Q Talk "Restoring the Justice System" with the author Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned.

 

9. The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (Modern Library Food) 
by Robert Farrar Capon (Modern Library, 2002. 320 pages)

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"From a passionate and talented chef who also happens to be an Episcopalian priest comes this surprising and thought-provoking treatise on everything from prayer to poetry to puff pastry. In The Supper of the Lamb, Capon talks about festal and ferial cooking, emerging as an inspirational voice extolling the benefits and wonders of old-fashioned home cooking in a world of fast food and prepackaged cuisine."

Micro Review

If you know me at all, you know I love this book. I took the opportunity of introducing it to our church's reading group to give myself a chance to read it through a third (Or is it fourth?) time. I did notice during this re-reading that some of Capon's admonitions have begun to feel dated rather than timeless. I think that, in part, our culture has begun to return to the "old-school" methods of eating real, honestly-prepared food. We definitely have a long way to go, and I'm not sure any of us should subscribe to the all-or-nothing recommendations of the author. For more on this observation, I recommend reading my friend Walter's thoughtful review here.


Poetry / Lyric Histories

10. American Ace
by Marilyn Nelson (Dial Books, 2016. 128 pages)

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"This riveting novel in verse, perfect for fans of Jacqueline Woodson and Toni Morrison, explores American history and race through the eyes of a teenage boy embracing his newfound identity.
 
Connor’s grandmother leaves his dad a letter when she dies, and the letter’s confession shakes their tight-knit Italian-American family: The man who raised Dad is not his birth father.
 
But the only clues to this birth father’s identity are a class ring and a pair of pilot’s wings. And so Connor takes it upon himself to investigate—a pursuit that becomes even more pressing when Dad is hospitalized after a stroke. What Connor discovers will lead him and his father to a new, richer understanding of race, identity, and each other."

Micro Review: I first learned about the former poet laureate of Connecticut, Marilyn Nelson, in an OnBeing podcast interview with Krista Tippett. Her desire to tell good stories with beautiful words compelled me to take out every one of her books carried by our library. (Why are they not all available in our library?!?)

Don't let the "YA" category keep you from enjoying this fascinating story, told in a series of free-verse poems and inspired by the author's father, one of the last class of Tuskegee Airmen.  

11. My Seneca Village
by Marilyn Nelson (Namelos, 2015. 98 pages)

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"Quiet for more than 135 years, the voices of Seneca Village are rising again. Angela Riddles ponders being free-but-not-free. The orphaned Donnelly brothers get gold fever. A conjurer sees past his era and into ours. Drawing upon history and her exquisite imagination, Newbery Honor medalist, two-time Coretta Scott King Honor medalist, and National Book Award nomineee Marilyn Nelson recreates the long lost community of Seneca Village. A multi-racial, multi-ethnic neighborhood in the center of Manhattan, it thrived in the middle years of the 19th century. Families prayed in its churches, children learned in its school, babies were born, and loved ones were laid to rest. Then work crews arrived to build Central Park, and Seneca Village disappeared. Illustrated in the poet's own words -- with brief prose descriptions of what she sees inside her poems -- this collection takes readers back in time and deep into the mind's eye of one of America's most gifted writers. Included as well is a foreword that outlines the history of Seneca Village and a guide to the variety of poetic forms she employs throughout this exceptional book. Marilyn Nelson is the author of numerous books including Carver: a life in poems, A Wreath for Emmet Till, and How I Discovered Poetry. Her honors include three National Book Award Finalist medals, the Frost Medal, The Poet’s Prize, and the Boston Globe/Hornbook Award. Nelson is an emerita professor at the University of Connecticut, the former poet Laureate of Connecticut, and founder and director of Soul Mountain Retreat."

Micro Review:

Another enjoyable series of Marilyn Nelson's imaginative and heartwarming verse (which I've just learned can be referenced as lyric histories. How delightful!) inspired by the real lives, work, and suffering of a community of people I'd never heard of before. I appreciated the brief description preceding each poem that served almost as a screenplay to help me imagine what the poem invited me to see. Now I want to visit Central Park with their stories in my heart and mind. I also want to know a whole lot more about the real-life New York City residents of Seneca Village.

12. Freedom Business: Including a Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa

By Marilyn Nelson, Deborah Muirhead (Illustrator)  (Front Street, 2008. 71 pages)

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Purchase a special edition featuring Connecticut landscape paintings

Micro Review:

Our library offered me a special edition of this book that appears to be only available for purchase through the Florence Griswold museum website. It pairs Marilyn Nelson's poems inspired by the slave narrative of Venture Smith with American paintings from the Florence Griswold Museum. 

This simply beautiful book of art and poetry inspired by Connecticut's historical landscape should be required reading for every one of our state's classrooms. The concept of blending quintessentially New England landscape artwork with the story of Venture Smith's pursuit of freedom is, honestly, stunning. At the same time, it's accessible for people of all ages to enjoy. In my mind, that makes the work ingenious. 

Here's an excerpt of an interview with the author, Marilyn Nelson, as she shares some background on the life of Venture Smith and one of the poems from the book:

"It’s about the life of Venture Smith, who was enslaved in Connecticut in the 18th century. He was captured as a boy in, I think, Ghana, brought to North America as a slave, served for about 30 years under several different masters in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York. And then he purchased his own freedom, and then he purchased his children and his wife, and then he went into the freedom business, saving up money and setting people — buying people so he could set them free. So this is from his life."
...
"So the narrative of Venture Smith’s life was published in, I think, 1795. It’s one of the rare stories in African-American history. This family, Venture Smith’s descendants, have been free for eight and nine generations. There is an annual Venture Smith Day in East Haddam, Connecticut at the Congregational Church he belonged to and is buried in the cemetery there.
Now, there are scholars who are coming to talk about new discoveries of his life, and his descendants come. Last year, or maybe the year before, Venture Smith’s descendants went to Ghana to the castle he remembered being shipped out of. They were there, nine generations free. It’s such a wonderful story. And it’s what American history could have been. It could have been that way. But this is a man who did this for himself."
...
“By the time I was thirty-six I had been sold / three times. I had spun money out of sweat. / I'd been cheated and beaten. I had paid an enormous sum / for my freedom. And ten years farther on I've come / out here to my garden at the first faint hint of light / to inventory the riches I now hold. / My potatoes look fine and my corn, my squash, my beans. / My tobacco is strutting, spreading its velvety wings. / My cabbages are almost as big as my head. / From labor and luck, I have much profited. / I wish I could remember those praise-songs / we used to dance to, with the sacred drums. / My rooster is calling my hens from my stone wall. / In my meadow, my horses and my cows look up, / then graze again. My orchard boasts green fruit. / Yes, everything I own is dearly bought, / but gratitude is a never-emptying cup, / my life equal measures pain and windfall. / My effigies to scare raccoons and crows / frown fiercely, wearing a clattering fringe of shells, / like dancers in the whatdidwecallit? dance. / My wife and two of my children stir in my house. / For one thirty years enslaved, I have done well. / I am free and clear; not one penny do I owe. / I own myself—a five-hundred-dollar man— / and two thousand dollars’ worth of family. / Of canoes and boats, right now I own twenty-nine. / Seventy acres of bountiful land is mine. / God or gods, thanks for raining these blessings on me. / I turn around slowly. I own everything I scan.”

13.  A Wreath for Emmett Till
By Marilyn Nelson, Philippe Lardy (Illustrator)  (Graphia Books, 2009. 48 pages)

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"In 1955 people all over the United States knew that Emmett Louis Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The brutality of his murder, the open-casket funeral held by his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, and the acquittal of the men tried for the crime drew wide media attention. In a profound and chilling poem, award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the boy whose fate helped spark the civil rights movement."

Micro Review:

With a subject as gruesome as the lynching of a young boy, who'd expect such a visually beautiful format? In The Wreath of Emmett Till, Marilyn Nelson writes the story in a series of sonnets written from the perspective of Emmett's mother. Each page is lavishly illustrated by Philippe Lardy, themed around lush and bleak botanical evoked by the eponymous memorial wreath. Devastatingly gorgeous.

To learn more about Marilyn Nelson and her work, I recommend the following interviews:

14.  A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim

By Abigail Carroll  (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017. 108 pages)

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"Who was Saint Francis? Today he is most often a sweet ceramic statue in a garden, a sentimentalized romantic figure. But A Gathering of Larks, containing forty personal letters from Abigail Carroll to Francis, reveals him to be a complex man who lived a fascinating life of radical faith.

These letters—part devotion, part historical biography, part contemporary engagement, and part inspiration—reveal Carroll's curiosity and wonder about Francis. She celebrates his whimsical idealism and impetuousness, explores his spirituality and commitment to poverty, and sometimes even questions him. She also uses Francis as a sounding board for larger questions about the world—and, through her own experience, explores how brokenness makes experiencing redemption possible.

As beautiful as it is insightful, alight with a pilgrim's growing sense of discovery, A Gathering of Larks has both range and depth that will uplift readers and challenge them to better understand this singular saint and how he might speak to and shape their way of living in today's world."

Micro Review

I'd had this title on my To Be Read list since seeing it featured by Englewood Review of Books as one of ten new poetry books to read in 2017. I was compelled also by the combination of Saint Francis as the subject, the concept of a modern-day poet writing letters to Francis, and the beautiful cover art. In a providential turn of events, my husband ended up in a small group of retreatants with the author, Abigail Carroll. This is how the book came into my possession, and it makes the reading all the sweeter.

I've loved getting to know the life and work of Saint Francis through Abigail Carroll's beautiful blend of humor and depth. Interwoven through the letters, we get a glimpse into the author's life and find ourselves there as well. Anyone who appreciates the warmth of friendship, and discovering the extraordinary love of God within the simple beauty and folly of our daily life (including, but not limited to, such things as busted shower heads and broken bones). This is a book I'll keep on my nightstand and return to regularly.


Prayer / Spirituality / Spiritual Direction

15. Seeking God Together: An Introduction to Group Spiritual Direction

By Alice Fryling (IVP Books, 2009. 152 pages)

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"The Spirit is speaking. Can you hear him? If you're longing to become more attentive to God -- to listen to him, know his voice and experience his love, spiritual direction can point the way. In Seeking God Together, experienced spiritual director Alice Fryling offers a unique introduction specifically for group spiritual direction: a place where individuals can experience what it means to be listened to and loved by others, so that they can learn to listen more attentively to God in their daily lives and be used by God. Out of her years of being both director and directee, Fryling offers practical, step-by-step guidance for those who would like to start, lead or participate in group spiritual direction. Her book will help you know what to expect and fully equip you for the different aspects of the group experience, including learning to listen to God, using Scripture in a group, navigating different personalities, setting group expectations and asking life-giving questions. She also provides an appendix with opening exercises for use in your meetings together. "The intentional goal of group spiritual direction," Alice writes, "is to help each participant become more aware of God in their lives, for the sake of others. Spiritual direction leads you to an awakening of the soul." The Spirit is speaking to you and to others. Here is a book to help you and a group of soul friends listen for and with each other as you seek God together."

Micro Review:

I read this book in preparation for my spring residency for my certification as a Spiritual Director. I've long been captivated by the unique work God's spirit does when small groups of people gather together for the purpose of listening to him. I look forward to being able to provide leadership to spiritual direction groups in our church in the future and will keep this warm, instructive guide by Alice Fryling. 

Here's a favorite quotation:

"The purpose of these groups is not counseling or therapy. Nor are they intended to be places where we can engage in aimless, self-absorbed conversations. The purpose of spiritual direction groups is formation. Spiritual formation is "a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others." The intentional goal of groups spiritual direction is to help each participant become more aware of God in their lives, for the sake of others. In other words, it leads to an awakening of the soul. This awakening then leads to a life which is purposeful and intentional. Group spiritual direction helps individuals grow in their faith, more fully and participate in the mission of the church more effectively." (p. 26-27)

16. Group Spiritual Direction: Community for Discernment

By Rose Mary Doughtery (Paulist Press, 1995. 122 pages)

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"Practical guidance for offering and participating in spiritual direction in a group setting."

Micro Review

Another good resource I read for my Spiritual Direction certification.

Here's a favorite excerpt:

"Spiritual direction is one expression of spiritual community. The dynamism of radical love that animates spiritual community also animates spiritual direction in any form. In spiritual direction two or more people gather in the power of love and for the sake of love. In the arena of love, one is brought face-to-face with the primary discernment of spiritual community: "Do you seek God?" And then, "What does this seeking mean for your life?"

17. The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ

By James Bryan Smith (Apprentice / IVP Books, 2010. 262 pages)

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"I have never met a person whose goal was to ruin his or her life. We all want to be happy, and we want it all of the time." So begins James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful Life. The problem is, he tells us, we have bought into false notions of happiness and success. These self-centered decisions lead us further into the vices that cause ruin: anger, lust, lying, worry and judging. Eventually we find ourselves living a beautifully packaged life of self-destruction. Following the Sermon on the Mount, this follow-up to The Good and Beautiful God guides us to look behind these character flaws and to replace our false beliefs with Jesus' narratives about life in the kingdom of God."

Micro Review

We read this together with our Sunday morning small group at church. It's the second title in a trilogy of "Good and Beautiful" books by James Bryan Smith. I continue to appreciate his balanced approach to embodying a healthy theology of God in daily spiritual practices. The Good and Beautiful Life approaches this conversation through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount.

18. A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary

By Brian Doyle (Sorin Books, 2014. 170pp.)

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"Acclaimed, award-winning essayist and novelist Brian Doyle--whose writing, in the words of Mary Oliver, is "a gift to us all"--presents one hundred new prayers that evoke his deep Catholic belief in the mystery and miracle of the ordinary (and the whimsical) in human life.

In Doyle's newest work, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary, which was named "A Best Spiritual Book of the Year" by Spirituality & Practice, his readers will find a series of prayers unlike any of the beautiful, formal, orthodox prayers of the Catholic tradition or the warm, extemporized prayers heard from pulpits and dinner tables. Doyle's often-dazzling, always-poignant prayers include eye-opening hymns to shoes and faith and family. In Doyle's words, "the world is crammed with miracles, so crammed and tumultuous that if we stop, see, savor, we are agog," and the pages of his newest book give voice and body to this credo. By focusing on experiences that may seem the most unprayerful (one prayer is titled "Prayer on Seeing Yet Another Egregious Parade of Muddy Paw Prints on the Floor"), he gives permission to discover the joys and treasures in what he often calls the muddle of everyday life."

Micro Review:

Read the book summary above and then go buy about five copies of this book. One for you to keep and the rest to give away as gifts to the people in your life you most want to bless. I need another copy because I've given mine away (originally a Christmas gift from Brian) - twice. While you're at it, read everything else by the gone-too-soon beloved Brian Doyle.


Non-Fiction

19. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery

By Ian Morgan Cron, Suzanne Stabile (IVP Books, 2016. 240 pages)

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"The Enneagram is an ancient personality type system with an uncanny accuracy in describing how human beings are wired, both positively and negatively. In The Road Back to You Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile forge a unique approach―a practical, comprehensive way of accessing Enneagram wisdom and exploring its connections with Christian spirituality for a deeper knowledge of God and of ourselves. 

Funny and filled with stories, this book allows you to understand more about each of the Enneagram types, keeping you turning the pages long after you have read the chapter about yourself. Beginning with changes you can start making today, the wisdom of the Enneagram can help you get on the road that will take you further along into who you really are―leading you into places of spiritual discovery you would never have found on your own, and paving the way to the wiser, more compassionate person you want to become."

Micro Review:

I'm way on the front end of studying this old-school-made-new method for better understanding the human personality. Some of that is because I tend to resist conversations that feel like they've become cliquish lingo for those "in the know", and the Enneagram has certainly inspired that kind of fandom in recent years. Probably that's more a vice of mine than a virtue, and when my Spiritual Director asked if I'd read anything on the Enneagram I resisted her for several months and then finally started reading a few weeks ago. The book by Cron and Stabile is on the lighter side of reading and perfect for reference when you're trying to understand all the people in your life. Oh, and also yourself.

20. The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge

By Beatrice Chestnut (She Writes Press, 2013. 494 pages)

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"The Enneagram―a universal symbol of human purpose and possibility―is an excellent tool for doing the hardest part of consciousness work: realizing, owning, and accepting your strengths and weaknesses. In this comprehensive handbook, Beatrice Chestnut, PhD, traces the development of the personality as it relates to the nine types of the Enneagram, the three different subtype forms each type can take, and the path each of us can take toward liberation. With her guidance, readers will learn to observe themselves, face their fears and disowned Shadow aspects, and work to manifest their highest potential."

Micro Review

This is the book I prefer of the two I've read so far, but it's denser and more analytical which makes it less accessible to pass around the dinner table. In case you're wondering, I'm a 5 wing 4, also known as the "iconoclast". This alone explains so much to me about my life it's worth the price of two books to learn it. Stay tuned for more potentially obnoxious personality-cataloguing lingo on the blog.


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2017 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

#

p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

What I Read (waaayyy back) in November & December

Saw these lovely fresh releases of some l'engle favorites at a bookstore in November. didn't buy them ... yet.

Saw these lovely fresh releases of some l'engle favorites at a bookstore in November. didn't buy them ... yet.

See what I read in JanuaryFebruary & March/AprilMay/JuneJuly, & August. September & October.

I'm way behind on book updates, so forgive me for cheating with publisher book blurbs and one-sentence micro reviews! I rely on the blog as my reading record so this will be better than nothing! 

40. An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus' Rhythm of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling (IVP Books, 2013. 199 pages)

"The 2014 Christianity Today Book Award of Merit Winner (Spirituality) "I am a recovering speed addict." Beginning with this confession, pastor and spiritual director Alan Fadling goes on to describe his journey out of the fast lane and into the rhythms of Jesus. Following the framework of Jesus' earthly life, Fadling shows how the work of "unhurrying" ourselves is central to our spiritual development in such pivotal areas as resisting temptation, caring for others, praying and making disciples. Here is a book that affirms that we are called to work and to do work. Productivity is not a sin―it is the attitudes behind our work that can be our undoing. So how do we find balance between our sense of calling and the call to rest? An Unhurried Life offers a way."

Micro Review: Ironically, I had to hurry through my reading of this book for a spiritual direction certification assignment (lack of planning on my part) and look forward to reading again the thoughtful, reflective invitation to enter into a life not given to the demands of striving. Highly recommend for individual or group reading!

41. Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom (Paulist Press, 1970. 128 pages)

"Beginning to Pray has established itself as a modern spiritual classic. Hailed by both Catholics and Protestants, it was written by an Orthodox archbishop for people who had never prayed before, and has been read and loved by persons at all levels of spiritual development.

'The realm of God is dangerous,' says the author. 'You must enter into it and not just seek information about it...The day when God is absent, when he is silent - that is the beginning of prayer.'"

Micro review: This is one of the most helpful books on prayer I've ever read, and one I plan to reference again and again. Highly recommend for individual or group reading!

42. Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting by Marva Dawn (Eerdmans, 1989. 217 pages)

"According to Dawn, the phrase “going to church” both reveals and promotes bad theology: it suggests that the church is a static place when in fact the church is the people of God. The regular gathering together of God’s people for worship is important—it enables them to be church in the world—but the act of worship is only a small part of observing the Sabbath.

This refreshing book invites the reader to experience the wholeness and joy that come from observing God’s order for life—a rhythm of working six days and setting apart one day for rest, worship, festivity, and relationships. Dawn develops a four-part pattern for keeping the Sabbath: (1)ceasing—not only from work but also from productivity, anxiety, worry, possessiveness, and so on; (2) resting— of the body as well as the mind, emotions, and spirit—a wholistic rest; (3) embracing—deliberately taking hold of Christian values, of our calling in life, of the wholeness God offers us; (4) feasting—celebrating God and his goodness in individual and corporate worship as well as feasting with beauty, music, food, affection, and social interaction. 

Combining sound biblical theology and research into Jewish traditions with many practical suggestions, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly offers a healthy balance between head and heart: the book shows how theological insights can undergird daily life and practice, and it gives the reader both motivation and methods for enjoying a special holy day. 

Dawn’s work— unpretentiously eloquent, refreshingly personal in tone, and rich with inspiring example—promotes the discipline of Sabbath-keeping not as a legalistic duty but as the way to freedom, delight, and joy. Christians and Jews, pastors and laypeople, individuals and small groups—all will benefit greatly from reading and discussing the book and putting its ideas into practice."

Micro review: The practice of attending church every week as a spiritual, Sabbath-keeping practice needs many champions now, and Dawn is a skilled, conscientious champion if not my favorite author on this particular subject (which feels like sacrilege to admit!) Recommend for individual or group reading.

43. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (Modern Literary Classics, 2002. 335 pages)

"Called a “magnificently crafted story . . . brimming with wisdom” by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage."

Micro review: I chose this novel after repeated recommendations from the savvy Modern Mrs. Darcy ("This gorgeous, graceful novel will appeal to fans of Wendell Berry and Marilynne Robinson.") and thoroughly enjoyed being absorbed into the ordinary accounts of an extraordinary friendship that spans forty years, and  that, in many ways, reminded me of some of my own. Recommend for readers of gentle but poignant literary fiction.

44. What the Land Already Knows: Winter's Sacred Days by Phyllis Tickle (Loyala Press, 2003. 128 pages)

via Goodreads: "In her three-book series that spans the liturgical year, renowned author Phyllis Tickle recalls simple stories from life on her family's farm in Lucy, Tennessee. In these spiritually uplifting and nostalgic memoirs, Tickle records the richness of faith in everyday life. What the Land Already Knows celebrates Advent, Christmas, and the Epiphany. Wisdom in the Waiting reflects on Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. The Graces We Remember provides tales from the end of Pentecost to the beginning of Advent." 

Micro review: Picking up where I left off in the Farm In Lucy short stories trilogy, I found this volume a wonderful introduction to the beginning days of winter. Highly recommend for those who enjoy true stories of family/farm/home life with a liturgical slant.

45. The Abundance: A Novel by Amit Majmudar (Picador, 2014. 272 pages)

"When Mala and Ronak learn that their mother has only a few months to live, they are reluctantly pulled back into the Midwestern world of their Indian immigrant parents. In the brief time between diagnosis and deterioration, busy, efficient Mala commits to mastering her mother's slow art of Indian cooking. Perfecting the raita and the rotli, the two begin not only to work together but also to talk, confronting their deepest divisions and failures. But when Ronak hits upon the idea of selling their cooking-as-healing experience as a high-concept memoir, immigrant and native-born must find a way to cross this last divide.

With grace, acuity, and wry compassion, in Abundance, Amit Majmudar has written anew the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignant, the tangled ties between generations."

Micro review: I read this enjoyable, satisfying novel after seeing it mentioned in Sarah Arthur's wonderful Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, and especially appreciated the insight into the lives of an immigrant Indian family making sense of their Hindu faith traditions within the context of the United States. Recommend!

46. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (HarperCollins, 2005. 128 pages)

"Laughs abound in this bestselling Christmas classic by Barbara Robinson! The Best Christmas Pageant Ever follows the outrageous shenanigans of the Herdman siblings, or “the worst kids in the history of the world.” The siblings take over the annual Christmas pageant in a hilarious yet heartwarming tale involving the Three Wise Men, a ham, scared shepherds, and six rowdy kids.

Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys Herdman are an awful bunch. They set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s toolshed, blackmailed Wanda Pierce to get her charm bracelet, and smacked Alice Wendelken across the head. And that’s just the start! When the Herdmans show up at church for the free snacks and suddenly take over the Christmas pageant, the other kids are shocked. It’s obvious that they’re up to no good. But Christmas magic is all around and the Herdmans, who have never heard the Christmas story before, start to reimagine it in their own way.

This year’s pageant is definitely like no other, but maybe that’s exactly what makes it so special."

Micro review: This was my selection for Advent for our church's reading group (Apostles Reads) because it's the rare kind of book that both adults and children find both hilarious and heartwarming. Recommended reading for everyone, every year!

47. Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler (Knopf, 1991. 352 pages)

"Ian Bedloe is the ideal teenage son, leading a cheery, apple-pie life with his family in Baltimore. That is, until a careless and vicious rumor leads to a devastating tragedy. Imploding from guilt, Ian believes he is the one responsibly for the tragedy. No longer a star athlete with a bright future, and desperately searching for salvation, he stumbles across a storefront with a neon sign that simply reads: CHURCH OF THE SECOND CHANCE.

Ian has always viewed his penance as a burden. But through the power of faith and the love of family, he begins to view it as a gift. After years spent trying to atone for his foolish mistakes, Ian finds forgiveness and peace in the life he builds for himself."

Micro review: Another Christmas-oriented novel mentioned by Sarah Arthur (and, I think, also in Eugene Peterson's Take & Read), I found the plot intriguing and the characters beautifully developed, but did not love several of the ways the plot played out over the several decades and left the book feeling disappointed. Still recommend as a well-written novel by a well-loved author.

48. The Good and Beautiful God: Falling In Love With the God Jesus Knows by James Bryan Smith (IVP Books, 2009. 232 pages)

"God wants me to try harder." "God blesses me when I'm good and punishes me when I'm bad." "God is angry with me." We all have ideas that we tell ourselves about God and how he works in our lives. Some are true--but many are false. James Bryan Smith believes those thoughts determine not only who we are, but how we live. In fact, Smith declares, the most important thing about a person is what they think about God. The path to spiritual transformation begins here. Turning to the Gospels, Smith invites you to put your ideas to the test to see if they match up with what Jesus himself reveals about God. Once you've discovered the truth in Scripture, Smith leads you through a process of spiritual formation that includes specific activities aimed at making these new narratives real in your body and soul as well as your mind. At the end of each chapter you'll find an opportunity for soul training, engaging in spiritual practices that reinforce the biblical messages on your mind and heart. Because the best way to make a complete and lasting change is to go through the material in community, small group discussion questions also accompany each chapter. Those who are leading apprentice groups will also find additional help and opportunities to interact with other leaders at the Apprentice website, www.apprenticeofjesus.com. This deep, loving and transformative book will help you discover the narratives that Jesus lived by--to know the Lord he knew and the kingdom he proclaimed--and to practice spiritual exercises that will help you grow in the knowledge of our good and beautiful God."

Micro review: We read this as a Sunday morning small group, and I was impressed not only with the author's substantive theological insight, but also with his gracious tone and impeccable recommendations for spiritual practices to make each theological truth about God's character root itself deeply in our hearts. Highly recommend - especially for group reading!


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2016 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

#

p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!