It's been roughly forever since I did a book post, and I know at least one faithful reader has been asking for one, so here you go -- just in time for the holidays!
Interrupted: When Jesus Comes Along and Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity by Jen Hatmaker. I started reading Jen's blog in the last year or two, and I enjoy her folksiness and sense of humor as much as most people who read her. She and I disagree on a few key issues, but I like that although she comes from an evangelical background, her message is one of service, love, and inclusion. This book is the first of hers that I've read, and her style as an author is very much what you see of her on social media, but with a more incisive viewpoint. Her message in Interrupted is that Christians need to be out there doing more: serving more, helping more, reaching out more -- not because it gets us into heaven or puts us in Jesus's good graces, but because it's why we're here, and living the Gospel is more than just showing up in the pew on Sundays. We can't all drop what we're doing and go start a missional church, but we can find SOMEthing that's meaningful to us that puts us even a teeny bit outside our comfort zone. So if you are a little restless and feeling like you're not doing "enough," this book won't make you feel terrible about yourself or anything, but it will perhaps light a fire underneath you if that's what you need.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. According to the Internet, this is the BOOK OF THE YEAR. And I did like it a lot. It took me a little time to get into, but once I was in, I didn't want to put it down. It made me uneasy, as all post-apocalyptic stories do, but in a good way. I thought about it a lot after I had finished it, and some of the imagery has really stuck with me. Boy, I really hope that we're not all wiped out by a global flu epidemic.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Everyone has raved about this book, but I just could not get into it. I think it's an important story and I would have enjoyed like a New Yorker-length article about it, but it felt stretched into book length and seemed to go on and on. I skimmed a lot of it.
Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle. Man, I loved this book. If I'm ever in LA, I want to find Father Boyle and give him a hug. In short, he works in a community that is rife with gangs and he helps kids and young adults find jobs and get out of gang life. He has such profound love for humanity and the way he talks about God is just wonderful. People who are skeptical about Christianity and its message -- especially the way it gets butchered by self-righteous people and neoconservatives -- should read this book. Father Boyle writes that if Jesus walked into a room, he would be absolutely delighted by every single person in there. Every one of us is a treasure to God, in a way we can hardly fathom. God is thrilled with us, even in our broken, messy humanity -- nay, because of it. He's like Anne Lamott rolled up with Santa Claus. Just read this. You won't be sorry.
Lila by Marilynne Robinson. I tried to read Gilead years ago and couldn't really connect with it, but I liked this book, the third in her series about a minister in a small town in the Midwest. Her writing is beautiful and her characters nuanced and almost terrifyingly human. I did find the relationship that's central to the book odd and difficult to comprehend, but Lila's inner life was fascinating.
Longbourne by Jo Baker. This novel is always described as Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice. It's basically about the servants in the Bennett household. I thought I was going to like it more than I did, but I didn't dislike it, either. I wasn't totally swept away. Perhaps if I'd ever read some Jane Austen, I would have liked it better. (GASP! I know. I have never read any Austen. I am a flawed and incomplete person. There's just always something else I want to read MORE, you know?)
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simion. This was a bit of a rehash of The Rosie Project -- which is both good and bad. It was very cute and breezy but some parts seemed a bit of a stretch. Fun, though, and quick reading.
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. I bought this on Kindle because it was like a dollar, and it was sort of peculiar. It's about an old woman who wants to open a bookshop in a small English town. It's a bit Dickensian, but much more concise (it's quite short). I felt a little impatient at times, but then the very last paragraph was some knock-out writing.
The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. This is a self-help-type book that sounds like it's going to tell you to quit your boring job and go be whatever your PASSION is, but it's not quite that (I avoid such books like the plague). It's about finding your Zone of Genius, which is where you're operating at your best and making the most of the gifts you have in whatever it is you're doing. I think I liked it when I was reading it and I did underline a bunch of stuff, but I also seem to remember finding it a bit sales-y. Probably because of terminology like "Zone of Genius." It does hone in on some self-defeating behaviors that are worth recognizing in oneself, so that was worthwhile.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. OH HOW I LOVED THIS BOOK. Read Life after Life and then read this. Oh, how I LOVE the Todd family. Atkinson's writing is spectacular without being showy or tricky. This is what I want to read when I read fiction: an engrossing story about people who seem real and live in a time and place that the author either creates or conveys in a compelling, believable way. This book accomplishes all that in spades. I felt broken-hearted when I finished it.
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. SO good. I read this in about two days; it's a...graphic memoir, I guess? About the famous cartoonist and her parents as they enter old age and frailty and nursing homes. Oh, MAN, it was so sad and funny and made me think about how terribly we deal with elderly people and end-of-life in this society.
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. I read this without knowing a thing about it. I wasn't sure I was going to like it at first -- I can't really articulate why, though the first portion of it seemed to need some editing. But then it went in a totally different direction than I expected. It turned out to be poignant and sort of haunting, and the characters were absolutely real to me by midway through the book. I ended up loving it, but I should note it's not a particularly cheerful book.
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan. I stopped reading this about a third of the way through. I just wasn't buying any of it. I felt the same way about her novel Maine. Just one-dimensional and not that good.
Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman. This was another cheapie on Kindle and it was billed as a classic expose of public school teaching. It was written in the 60s by a woman who taught in the NYC public schools, and this book was supposed to be all ground-breaking and whatnot. Well, MEH. It got the point across in about ten pages: there's a lot of needless bureaucracy in public schools, and sometimes there are kids who slip through the cracks or don't get what they need, and the teachers are burnt out and frustrated. I am totally sympathetic to this problem, but it was like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer. I didn't finish this one, either.
Mislaid by Nell Zink. I returned this to the library without finishing it -- this was the end of my really bad streak with books. Some people would probably love it, but it failed to grab me and I greatly disliked the main character. I was also very worried about the children in the plot and I decided I just didn't need to trouble myself with these people and their irresponsibility any more.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. Sometimes I feel like a book of essays, and this was a good one. It didn't change my life or anything, but I enjoyed it and felt afterward like I'd had a cup of tea with Ann.
A Piece of Danish Happiness by Sharmi Albrechtsen. This might be the worst-written memoir-type book I've ever read. The author is an American who has lived in Denmark for many years and has been married to Danish men (three times, actually). I think much of the material had been written for a Danish website or perhaps a tourism blog. It's not well-edited and the writer is obnoxious. That said, I DID find some interesting tidbits about life in Denmark and why Danish people consistently rank as the "happiest" in the world. Hint: much of it is about lowered/managed expectations. I took many of these things to heart, and a lot of it shed light on my Danish grandmother's personality and ways of doing things. But there must be a book out there that conveys those subjects in a much better way.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This book is very long and not at all a light read, but I thought it was well worth the time and emotional commitment to read. Beautifully written and very atmospheric and suspenseful, it takes place in France and Germany during WWII. After reading it, I found myself wanting to read lots more about ordinary people during that time.
The New Neighbor by Leah Stewart. I have really loved everything I've read by this author before, but this wasn't my favorite of hers. One of the narrators is an elderly woman, and I didn't find her voice to be believable. It was hard to care about anyone in the book or get invested in their stories and secrets. It's weird, because her other novels have really connected with me, but this one kind of fell flat.
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. Oh, this was a FUN book, but it wasn't as fluffy as I thought it would be. I liked it a great deal. My only complaint is that I didn't completely understand why Nick fell so hard for Bex and was willing to put up with so much and fight for their relationship. I needed a little more connection between them, especially early on, to fully believe the rest of it.
For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. This book reads like it's straight from her blog, which is good (if you love her writing there, you'll enjoy this) and bad (why buy the book when you can get the blog for free, etc). It's readable in a day and has her familiar, refreshing tone and some good advice/lessons -- not going to blow you away, but a nice warm-blanket read.
Small Victories by Anne Lamott. I do love Anne Lamott so. Another fast read with lovely writing and a cup-of-tea feeling upon finishing. Sad, funny, keenly observant -- always worth a read.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I sure wanted to love this book, but I found it VERY SLOW. Look, I rowed in college so I love the sport and all the details about it, but man. I thought it would be a lot more fast-moving and a lot more about Hitler's rise and the tension leading into the Olympics. There was a bit of that but it was like crammed into the last 100 pages. I don't know, it was just dry for me. Those last 100 pages were good, though.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Ooooooh, I loved this. I am smack in the middle between extrovert and introvert (my Myers-Briggs type comes out as ESFJ, but I'm right on the line between E and I), and Felicity is right there with me, perhaps leaning more toward introversion. Joe is an avowed introvert. This book was SUPER insightful about introversion and offered so many positive observations and research points about what introverts bring to the table. And how to value introversion, which is considered so...anathema, almost, in American life.
I wish I'd read this when Felicity was a bit younger, but I'm glad I did now. Even before reading this, I think I've figured out for a while now how to support her in who SHE is and not try to push her to be like the kids who are better at birthday parties or whatever -- instead, I allow her to approach things her way and give her strategies to make herself comfortable in situations that are not her bag by nature. I also listen to what she wants and try to favor situations where she WILL be naturally at ease (smaller groups, less noisy places, plenty of down time, etc). But I also push her a little bit to get out of her comfort zone when the situation calls for it, and when I know she can handle it without being upset or overwhelmed. And much of the time she is SUPER sociable and chatty and joins in the fun; other times, she hangs back or finds a quiet corner with a book and THAT IS OKAY. This book also covers some marital sources of conflict (needing people/going-out time vs. wanting to just be at home, as well as expressing anger vs. suppressing feelings) in a really helpful way. I want MORE from her about all this. I know about her website and everything, so I will be going there for more resources but I hope she writes another book about the child/parent piece and the marriage and jobs issues.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Quick read, liked it MUCH better than Gone Girl (which I LOATHED). I didn't believe a lot of the characters and I thought it was going to have some dumb twist like Gone Girl but it didn't really. I did think the main narrator (Rachel) was well written (also a MESS) and it was the kind of book I was like, ooh, yay, I get to read some more of my book now! whenever I had a chance to get back to it.