Weekend Daybook: lots of reading and some television recommendations thrown in

Until Advent (minus some vacation weeks this summer) I’ll share some of the things helping me to worship God, love people, and enjoy beauty each week for you to peruse during your weekend downtime.

(1) photo from this week

our little patch of springtime

our little patch of springtime


(2) more meaningful resources on the meaning of the Feast of the Ascension

  1. Ascensiontide Novena , What Are the Rogation Days? and Rogation Prayer Bunting via The Homely Hours (I’m so grateful to learn how to intentionally and devotionally prepare for Pentecost! I also printed out that bunting and there’s no small children in my home.)

  2. Saint Augustine’s Homily on the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord via Beliefnet (So profound in so few words.)


(3) new blog posts this week!

  1. Sixth Sunday in Eastertide: Going Away / Coming Down (I’m enthralled with “Sky Ladder”, Cai Guo Qiang’s pyrotechnic installation art. Video included on the blog post.)

  2. Practice Resurrection with Amanda McGill (Southwest Ohio) (Make sure you take a moment to listen to Amanda reading us the poem in the video at the top of the post, and please don’t miss the adorable poetry buffs who show up at the end!)

  3. Ascension Day! (I hope the collection I’ve curated for us this week will be meaningful for you, as well. You can see previous years' Ascension Day meditations here. )



(5) insights into the intersection of literacy and strong towns

  1. Librarians Are Trying to Encourage Children to Read—by Bringing Books Straight to the Laundromat by David Beard via Mother Jones (Several initiatives across the country are turning laundromats into libraries to front-load literacy.)

  2. The Secret Life of Libraries By Eric Klineberg via Slate (The children, readers, learners, neighbors, and karaoke singers who use one local library every day.)

  3. How a Local Bookstore Can Make Your Town Richer—In More Than One Way by Kea Wilson via Strong Towns

  4. 16 Incredible Libraries From Around the World by Jessica Miley via Interesting Engineering (These wonderful libraries both new and old might distract you from your reading. We’ve visited #14 several times!)

  5. Community and creativity in mundane retail spaces via Austin Kleon (In The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community, Ray Oldenburg praises “third places” where people can just get together and hang out as essential to healthy public life.)


(6) links inspiring us embrace the intersection of spring and summer!

  1. Bookish Spring Weekends: 10 Things To Do If You’re Feeling Bored via A Little Blue Book (Not sure how many of us have the luxury of boredom, but here’s a handy list just in case!)

  2. Liturgies for Springtime via Every Moment Holy (My friend texted me this week that she was praying for me while she planting flower seeds. Beautiful, right? )

  3. It’s BACK! Project Summer: Frugal Fun Guide plus your own FREE Printable Summer Planner via Cha-Ching on a Shoestring (Huge list of free and cheap stuff to do with your kids this summer from my brilliant sister!)

  4. 2019 Summer Reading Guide via Modern Mrs. Darcy (Any of you a Modern Mrs. Darcy groupie? I’m hoping to read at least 1 title from each cateogry this summer!)

  5. 10 Fiction Classics for Summer Reading! via Englewood Review of Books (Some of my favorites are included in this list. I’m adding #8 to my TBR for this summer.)

  6. How to Do Kids’ Discipleship in the Woods by Kelli B. Trujillo via CT Women (Creation care does more than conservation. It cultivates faith formation, says A Rocha.)


(7) blog posts from this week in the archives

  1. 2016 - Alex is a college grad! (A fun update during our Season of Fortunate Events).

  2. 2016 - We’re moving: A stream-of-consciousness reflection (It's these moments when God's love makes us appropriately small so that His presence can loom large that I most believe in His goodness + my Friends playlist!)

  3. 2013 - We are the Pentecost-ed (Before this epiphany I mostly felt a low-grade anger that God letting people die during Eastertide was wrecking my liturgical mojo.)

  4. 2013 - This one’s for you [Ryan] (I love you, Ryan Anthony Hill.  Happy Birthday, brother and friend.)

  5. 2012 - You don’t have to be a worship leader to worship God in a mall parking lot (Meditating the practice of everyday worship in honor of my aunt and because I lived in Austin at the time of this writing and was learning that sometimes dependent prayer is the only tool I had left to find decent parking.)

  6. 2011 - A new way to be human guest post: Forgiveness (I collect stories of radical forgiveness and this one from my friend is a good one.)

  7. 2009 - Confession: Part 1 and Part 2 (Disciplines of the Inner Life series)

  8. 2008 - Pick your own metaphor (How many times have we moved during the month of May?!?)

Alex grad.Brian.jpg

3 years ago

Father and son at Alex’s graduation from Rice University, Houston.


May your weekend include plenty of space to practice resurrection. Hallelujah! Christ is risen, friends!

p.s. This post may contain 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 October - December 2018

With the increased reading for my spiritual direction certification, my time for other types of reading is more limited. Still I managed to get through a few titles to finish up 2018. Hope you enjoy the micro reviews + publisher blurbs! Let me know if you add anything from this list to your book pile!

October work date with Brian at  Book Trader Cafe  in New Haven

October work date with Brian at Book Trader Cafe in New Haven

You can see my 2018 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

37. Virgil Wander
By Leif Enger (Grove House, 2018. 352 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander is an enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.

Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is “cruising along at medium altitude” when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals―from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man, to Tom, a journalist and Virgil’s oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.

With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a “formidably gifted” (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller."

Micro Review:

After a decade of no new work, I was eager to read anything Leif Enger’s written. I was delighted that it was this book. I’m not sure anything will ever match my love for Enger’s Peace Like A River, but Virgil Wander delivered a cast of characters I enjoyed meeting in a setting I loved. A few times I got caught imagining everyone as if they were the cast of The Majestic (starring Jim Carrey) because there are a couple of uncanny similarities in the plot. By the end of the story, though, I was fully living the kite-flying, beachcombing life on the shore of Lake Superior.


Apostles Reads Selections

38. The Complete Stories (FSG Classics)
By Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First edition, 1971. 576 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“The publication of this extraordinary volume firmly established Flannery O'Connor's monumental contribution to American fiction. There are thirty-one stories here in all, including twelve that do not appear in the only two story collections O'Connor put together in her short lifetime--Everything That Rises Must Converge and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

O'Connor published her first story, "The Geranium," in 1946, while she was working on her master's degree at the University of Iowa. Arranged chronologically, this collection shows that her last story, "Judgement Day"--sent to her publisher shortly before her death―is a brilliantly rewritten and transfigured version of "The Geranium." Taken together, these stories reveal a lively, penetrating talent that has given us some of the most powerful and disturbing fiction of the twentieth century. Also included is an introduction by O'Connor's longtime editor and friend, Robert Giroux.

Micro Review:

My loyalty to Ms. O’Connor has faltered a few times in the current revelations of white supremacy stubbornly cloistered in the Church. After assigning our church’s reading group read this title for Ordinary Time, Brian and I started re-reading the stories out loud to each other. The impact of hearing our own voices repeating the “N” word which takes up so much word count in Flannery O’Connor’s short stories felt something like hearing myself shout “Crucify Him!” in the public recitation of the Passion accounts during Holy Week each year. In that light, we found value in placing ourselves in the role of the shameless racism of so many of O’Connor’s characters. After all, “we and our fathers have sinned” and there’s a backwards kind of kindness in the relentless monstrosity of these characters and stories. After reading her work yet again, I still see the brilliance in her refusal to paint even a single sentence with sentimentality and pray for eyes to see within my own self the seeds of self-righteous monstrosity steering the truest so many antagonists written in her stories.

39. A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens, Narrated by Tim Curry (Released, 2010. 3 hours, 31 minutes)

Amazon Audible | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“This version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, masterfully narrated by Tim Curry, was available for a limited time last year, and now it's back. This one-of-a-kind performance puts a unique spin on a treasured classic, and served as the inspiration for the exciting new line of Audible Signature Classics, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Elijah Wood, and Heart of Darkness with Kenneth Branagh. Tim Curry performs this timeless holiday story in a deliciously dark tone, returning it to its Dickensian roots with a vivid imagining of Victorian London and just the right touch of outrageous fun.

A Christmas Carol has constantly been in print since its original publication in 1849, and has been adapted for stage, television, film, and opera. It has often been credited with returning the jovial and festive atmosphere to the holiday season in Britain and North America, following the somber period that emerged during the Industrial Revolution.

The story opens on a bleak and cold Christmas Eve as Ebenezer Scrooge is closing up his office for the day. As the story progresses and Christmas morning approaches, Scrooge encounters the unforgettable characters that make this story a classic: Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and, of course, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.”

Micro Review:

This was the Advent and Christmastide selection for Apostles Reads.

I have a book confession. I have never read a single one of Dickens' novels, including the classic-of-all-Christmas classics, A Christmas Carol. What better time to repent of my reading transgressions than the start of our third year reading together?

Further confession: Even though I've never read the actual book, I own several copies. I also watch several versions of the various film every December (while I'm on a confession roll, Kermit the Frog is my favorite Bob Cractchit!)

Brian and I “read” this title via audiobook on our drive to celebrate Christmas in Texas with our kids. We loved Tim Curry as our narrator! Highly recommend reading, listening, and watching this story as long as we live with Christmases Yet To Come.


Essays & Non-Fiction

40. Writings From The New Yorker, 1927 - 1976
By E. B. White (Harper Perennial; Reissue edition, 2006. 256 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“A delightful, witty, spirited collection of short pieces and essays by the inimitable E. B. White.”

Micro Review: E. B. White is one of my all-time favorites for both Charlotte’s Web and Trumpet of the Swan. I love his voice in his non-fiction as well. This collection of essays covers an unforgettable era in America’s history and while Mr. White often chooses a slight rose-colored hue in his perspective on the world, the overall affect of decades of his column is one of goodness and beauty. 

 

41. The Writing Life
By Ellen Gilchrist (University Press of Mississippi, 2005. 226 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Celebrated author Ellen Gilchrist has played many roles-writer and speaker, wife and lover, mother and grandmother. But she never tackled the role of teacher.

Offered the opportunity to teach creative writing at the University of Arkansas, she took up the challenge and ventured into unknown territory. In the process of teaching more than two hundred students since her first class in 2000, she has found inspiration in their lives and ambitions and in the challenge of conveying to them the lessons she has learned from living and writing.

The Writing Life brings together fifty essays and vignettes centered on the transforming magic of literature and the teaching and writing of it. A portion of the collection discusses the delicate balance between an artistic life and family commitments, especially the daily pressures and frequent compromises faced by a young mother. Gilchrist next focuses on the process of writing itself with essays ranging from "How I Wrote a Book of Short Stories in Three Months" to "Why Is Rewriting so Hard?"

Several essays discuss her appreciation of other writers, from Shakespeare to Larry McMurtry, and the lessons she learned from them. Eudora Welty made an indelible impact on Gilchrist's work. When Gilchrist takes on the task of teaching, her essays reveal an enriched understanding of the role writing plays in any life devoted to the craft. Humorous and insightful, she assesses her own abilities as an instructor and confronts the challenge of inspiring students to attain the discipline and courage to pursue the sullen art. Some of these pieces have been previously published in magazines, but most are unpublished and all appear here in book form for the first time.”

Micro Review: Simple, enjoyable essays on the life of a woman and a writer. I especially appreciated Ms. Gilchrist’s insights to what it means to look back on her life as a someone who was and still is both a mother and a writer.


Poetry

42. Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year
By Malcolm Guite (Canterbury Press Norwich, 2012. 108 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Poetry has always been a central element of Christian spirituality and is increasingly used in worship, in pastoral services and guided meditation. In Sounding the Seasons, Cambridge poet, priest and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite transforms seventy lectionary readings into lucid, inspiring poems, for use in regular worship, seasonal services, meditative reading or on retreat.

Already widely recognised, Malcolm's writing has been acclaimed by Rowan Williams and Luci Shaw, two leading contemporary religious poets. Seven Advent poems from this collection will appear in the next edition of Penguin's (US) Best Spiritual Writing edited by Philip Zaleski, alongside the work of writers such as Seamus Heaney and Annie Dillard.

A section of practical help and advice for using poetry creatively and effectively in worship is also included.

Micro Review: I refer to Malcolm Guite’s sonnets as closely as I do to any other theologian I read and was delighted to introduce his work to our church’s reading group last year. In the collection Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, Guite 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.


Prayer / Spirituality / Spiritual Direction / Bible Study

43. Go In Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions
By Julia Gatta & Martin L. Smith (Morehouse Publishing, 2012. 144 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Although the sacramental Rite of Reconciliation is included in many Anglican prayer books, nothing has been written expressly Anglicans since the 1980s that focuses on the pastoral skills required for this ministry.  This book combines and passes on the teaching, coaching, skill development, and accumulated pastoral wisdom that has not been widely accessible or well integrated into clergy training.

Realistic transcripts and "verbatims" of sample confessions and counseling sessions involving a wide range of people makes this a unique ministry resource for most seminaries and theological colleges, plus clergy in general-including Lutheran pastors who use the rite of "Individual Confession and Absolution" in the Lutheran Book of Worship.”

Micro Review: I read Go In Peace as part of my spiritual direction certification requirements. It will end up being in the top five of my favorites from the course. While various denominations practice giving and receiving confession in community in a variety of ways, Gatta and Smith provide theological insight and encouragement for all of us to embrace this means of grace for wholeness and intimacy with God, each other, and ourselves. If you care about participating in a healthy church, I recommend this book.

44. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
By Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 1999. 128 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“With wisdom, compassion, and gentle humor, Parker J. Palmer invites us to listen to the inner teacher and follow its leadings toward a sense of meaning and purpose. Telling stories from his own life and the lives of others who have made a difference, he shares insights gained from darkness and depression as well as fulfillment and joy, illuminating a pathway toward vocation for all who seek the true calling of their lives.”

Micro Review: I’d heard so often from people who enjoyed this book and finally read it during my Ordinary Time blog series, Work Stories. I inhaled the brief, but profound book. I need to buy my own copy since I’d borrowed the one I read from the library and couldn’t underline or bookmark anything. Highly recomend.

 

45. The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love (Apprentice Series)
By James Bryan Smith (IVP Books, 2010. 240 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“In this third book in the Apprentice Series, James Bryan Smith helps us know how to live in relationship with others as apprentices of Jesus. "Apprentices of Jesus are not part-time do-gooders," he writes. "They live in continuous contact with the kingdom of God, and are constantly men and women in whom Christ dwells. They do not sometimes tell the truth, sometimes live sacrificially or sometimes forgive. There are myriad opportunities for us to impact the world in which we live." Yet many times we've gotten it wrong, tending to emphasize personal faith over social justice or vice versa. In these pages Jim Smith shows us how to bring spiritual formation and community engagement together, and then once again offers spiritual practices that root new, true narratives about God and the world in our souls. His insight and humility as a fellow learner with us will lead us to live in authentic ways as a good and beautiful community of Christ-followers, shining the light of the Spirit into every relationship.”

Micro Review: Our small group at church finished this, the third and final title in James Bryan Smith’s Apprentice series. I’m still impressed not only with the author's substantive, but accessible, theological insight, but also with his gracious tone and impeccable recommendations for spiritual practices to make each theological truth about what it means to live in church community root itself deeply in our hearts. Highly recommend - especially for group reading!

46. Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony In A Complex World
By Richard J. Foster (HarperOne, 2005. 272 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“A revised and updated edition of the manifesto that shows how simplicity is not merely having less stress and more leisure but an essential spiritual discipline for the health of our soul.”

Micro Review: I borrowed this book from my friend Walter (hope he doesn’t mind I’ve had it so long!). During this cultural conversation about minimalism, I recommend reading Foster’s classic word on the subject guide your theology and practices.

 

47. The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self
By M. Robert Mulholland Jr. (IVP Books, 2016. 188 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“As you journey deeper in the Christian pilgrimage, you come to realize that the Christian life is more than merely replicating particular spiritual disciplines or practices. You begin to understand that at the core of Christian faith is the transformation of your very identity. M. Robert Mulholland Jr. exposes the false selves that you may be tempted to hide behind and helps you to instead discover the true self that comes from being hidden with Christ in God. If the goal of the Christian journey is Christlikeness, then you must reckon with the unhealthy ways that you root your sense of being in things other than God. Along the way, you will discover a growing sense of intimacy and abandonment to God. Not only will you encounter the joy of discovering your own self, you will also find a greater love for others and compassion for the world. The expanded edition includes a study guide for individual reflection or group discussion.”

Micro Review: Of the dozens of titles I’ve been assigned to read for my spiritual direction certification, The Deeper Journey is my favorite by a large margin. Those of you who know us, know that Brian and I have relentlessly pursued freedom and healing to live from our truest selves - that part of us imagined and designed by our Creator God. We’ve learned from many good teachers on the subject, but Mulholland seems to synthesize the essence of the theology of our human identity redeemed by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He writes with depth but not dryness, hope for all but not patronizing of the reader’s experience, and truth but not theological imprecision. Read this book.

48. The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality
By Belden C. Lane (Oxford University Press, 2007. 296 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“In the tradition of Kathleen Norris, Terry Tempest Williams, and Thomas Merton, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes explores the impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony to the healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference.

Interweaving a memoir of his mother's long struggle with Alzheimer's and cancer, meditations on his own wilderness experience, and illuminating commentary on the Christian via negativa--a mystical tradition that seeks God in the silence beyond language--Lane rejects the easy affirmations of pop spirituality for the harsher but more profound truths that wilderness can teach us. "There is an unaccountable solace that fierce landscapes offer to the soul. They heal, as well as mirror, the brokeness we find within." It is this apparent paradox that lies at the heart of this remarkable book: that inhuman landscapes should be the source of spiritual comfort. Lane shows that the very indifference of the wilderness can release us from the demands of the endlessly anxious ego, teach us to ignore the inessential in our own lives, and enable us to transcend the "false self" that is ever-obsessed with managing impressions. Drawing upon the wisdom of St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhardt, Simone Weil, Edward Abbey, and many other Christian and non-Christian writers, Lane also demonstrates how those of us cut off from the wilderness might "make some desert" in our lives.

Written with vivid intelligence, narrative ease, and a gracefulness that is itself a comfort, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes gives us not only a description but a "performance" of an ancient and increasingly relevant spiritual tradition”

Micro Review: In The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, author Belden C. Lane creates a physical setting of desert for the spiritual work that takes place when we seek a holy detachment from all of the distractions created by external circumstances of our everyday life. Lane repeatedly warns against the temptation to romanticize the monastic work done in silence and solitude. Referring to the desert as a “geography of abandonment”, sets the stage as the place “where one confronts one’s inevitable loss of control, the inadequacy of language, the spectre of one’s own demise.” Lane posits that only in the poverty that comes with an exchange of self-determination for a holy indifference can the seeker can find the “naked intent” of prayer. In that prayer, we know our truest desire only as we release it to the control of a God we may or may not be able to see or hear. The end result of this kind of surrender, according to Lane, is the prized fruit of love. I especially enjoyed this book since the author weaves throughout his experience visiting the Monastery of Christ in the Desert which Brian and I visited during our road trip to New Mexico back in our own desert season of 2015.


Christmas Reading

49. A Child’s Christmas In Wales
By Dylan Thomas (48 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“This nostalgic recollection of Christmas past by celebrated Welsh poet Dylan Thomas evokes the beauty and tradition of the season at every turn: the warmth of a family gathering; the loveliness of a mistletoe-decked home; the predictability of cats by the fire; the mischief and fun of children left to their own devices; and the sheer delight of gifts--be they Useful or Useless. 

Readers will cherish this beautiful hardcover edition of the classic A Child's Christmas in Wales complete with gold-foil stars, a debossed, glossy front picture, and sparkling snowflakes. Once inside, readers are rewarded with stunning, midnight-blue endpapers sprinkled with a flurry of more snowflakes. This book is a must-have gift for the season. 

Brilliantly illustrated by Caldecott medalist Trina Schart Hyman with a combination of more than 40 full-color and sepia-toned images, this beautiful edition of Thomas's beloved classic will enchant readers of all ages, year after year.”

Micro Review: Always and forever a must-read for me at Christmastime. If you visit me during Christmas, I’ll probably force you to listen to me read it out loud. Be warned.

50. The Thirteen Days of Christmas
By Jenny Overton (48 pages)

Amazon | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“This is the heart-warming story of how three of the Kitson children help the wealthy merchant woo their older sister Annaple with a different gift for each of the twelve days of Christmas - with hilarious results! But as the house groans at the seams with partridges, calling birds, swans,maids-a-milking, etc., will Annaple really succumb to the romance of it all, or will she just want the house returned to its normal, tidy state!”

Micro Review: A sweet, if silly, tale of the imagined origins of that now ubiquitous carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Suspend disbelief and enjoy the zealous courtship of the “true love” for a rather distracted, disinterested young woman. The best treat for the reader is the glimpse into 16th-century (?) England Christmas traditions, carols, and village life.


Previews

51. Mandela and the General
By John Carlin, Illustrated by Oriol Malet (Plough Publishing, 2018. 112 pages)

Amazon | Plough Publishing | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid hero and first leader of the new South Africa, is an international symbol of the power of a popular movement to fight structural racism. But that nonviolent struggle for equality and justice very nearly spiraled into an all-out race war that would have only ended in “the peace of graveyards.”

As the first post-apartheid elections approach in 1994, with blacks poised to take power, white South Africans fear reprisal. White nationalist militias claiming 50,000 well-armed former soldiers stand ready to fight to the death to save their white homeland. They need someone who can lead and unite them. That man was former general Constand Viljoen.

Mandela knows that he can’t avert a bloodbath on his own. He will have to count on his arch-enemy. Throughout those historic months, the two men meet in secret. Can they trust each other? Can they keep their followers and radical fringe elements from acts of violence? The mettle of these two men will determine the future of a nation.

The drama of this contest and the history that pivoted on it comes vividly to life in visual form. Veteran British journalist John Carlin teams up with Catalan artist Oriol Malet to create a historically and artistically rich graphic novel with obvious relevance to today’s polarized politics.”

Micro Review: A graphic novel may be the best format for me to dive into this story that I would otherwise know nothing. Yes, I’m generally aware of Mandela’s legacy and the evils of apartheid, but this story fleshes out in a fuller dimension a few of the historical figures and their opposing movements. Take a chance on the illustrated format and read this book. Then pass it along. We need these stories, and I’m so grateful to Plough Publishing for getting them into our hands.


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? 

#

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? 

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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!