2015 was a strange year. There were a lot of ups on the personal front: job good, marriage good, dog good, food good, trips good.
But the world was a mess. It seems like there was a new hashtag every two weeks, highlighting brutal police killings, protests, or terrorist bombings. All I could do was read, mourn, grieve, angrily re-tweet or share an article on social media hoping that something – ANYTHING – could help salve the wounds that were so constantly inflicted this year.
Somewhere around the summer, as I was reading/working my way through Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, I had a real strong gut/mind check. Now that I’ve been keeping track of what I’ve been reading for a couple years, I had the stark and deeply unsettling realization of the lack of diversity in the books I was reading. As a queer first generation Latina, why were most of the book I was reading written by straight white men? Did my stories not matter? Did my people not matter? It’s very strange to realize that my own personal hang-ups and internalized racism had taken residence in me, without my knowing. It was a harsh realization filled with shame and questioning my own reasoning and motives. But I’m grateful for the awakening, I am grateful to discover other writers that shared some of my stories, that welcomed me home.
You’ll find my story in the following posts. Some of the books I read were funny, others introspective, some fantastical, and then there are those that changed my DNA. I hope you enjoy seeing the world through the lens of these (mostly) fantastic authors. Thanks for reading.
- Yes Please by Amy Poehler
This is not the first book I started this year, (see more on that in the new segment below) but it IS the first one I finished. This was for quite a few reasons. 1) It’s pretty impossible to set this one down 2) I was on a 5 hour road trip.
Yes Please paired perfectly with my trip down to SoCal: fun breezy entertainment with unnecessarily glossy pages. If you know anything about Poehler, it’s pretty obvious that she’s hilarious. From SNL to Parks and Recreation, she’s impossible to dislike (and if you don’t like her whatiswrongwithyou). Her stories about being a woman in show business, growing up, being a mom, friendship, and career are well told and never dull. Though she writes over and over again that writing a book is hard, her stories come off effortlessly. Poehler’s storytelling is as spot on as her impressions. She may be improvising being an author, but damn she just makes it work (she should improvise for a living). Poehler’s stories are both strong and vulnerable, and she apologizes for neither. 2015 began on a much needed positive note. Yes Please was the perfect way to start!
- The Fidelity of Betrayal by Peter Rollins
I first came upon Rollins a few years ago thanks to my friends Dan and Ashley (Hi Dashley!). I was blown away by his short book on parables, The Orthodox Heretic. Rollins is a philosopher, first and foremost. Yet he writes creatively and at times, even poetically.I heard him on my favorite podcastYou Made it Weird with Pete Holmes so I just went over to Amazon to pick up what I could find. The Fidelity of Betrayal is quite the read and not for the faint of heart. He writes about a “Christian” church beyond belief.” Huh? Exactly. His main argument is that the Church has become a closed rigid (and rigged) system, with our fancy theologies and intransigent hierarchies. These systems, he argues, are directly opposed to the heart of Christianity for Christianity itself is a religion that constantly questions its own systems and rules, thereby Christianity is a religion with/out religion. “And so, in our desire to remain absolutely, totally, and resolutely faithful to the Word of God* we come face to face with the idea that we must be prepared to wrestle with, question, and even betray the words.” (p.62).
This betrayal, as Rollins puts it, is daunting and takes courage to ask the really hard (but necessary) questions. My favorite: “There is a sense in which we all dwell in the space of Black Saturday, that place of uncertainty, not a place between crucifixion and resurrection in which we wonder if Christ will return and death will be defeated, but in a place after Resurrection in which we wonder if Christ did return and if death was defeated.” (p. 98) BAM! I wanted to spike the book and walk away when I read that. Maybe even do a little dance. WHEW, that just blew me away. So much of Christian rhetoric lies within the timeframe in between death and Jesus’ resurrection. But what do we do after? What do we do when the bombs drop, the poor get massacred, the powerful abuse their power, when people of color are killed and no one cares? Are we so sure that Death was defeated then?
Rollins’ point is not to tell us the secret of Christianity, the clandestine elitist formula that is better and more useful than all those other formulas. Not at all, his whole point is that no formula can exist to point us to the the Truth of it all. No theological concept, intellectual matrix, or bible study tool could do that. The Bible is not something to be scientifically know or defend. “Defending” the Bible is missing the point of it all entirely. So, what then, do we do? If having exclusive churches and meeting in expensive buildings is essentially opposed to the message of Jesus, what now? Rollins argues for a space where “we can form collective that seek to invite, affirm, recall, and relay this deep truth, not to provide a space where we try to understand it. (p.174). These spaces can be filled with art, music, prayer, chanting, theatre, whatever. There are no pastors, but all are mutually dependent. Honestly, this sounds lovely and somewhat utopian. I’m not sure how this would look like in practice, but I love the idea. I think I need to read The Fidelity of Betrayal a couple more times. If you’re sick of the Christian church and want to look at it from another perspective, I highly suggest this one. You’ll be perplexed, but inspired. I look forward to reading more of his work.
*Rollins doesn’t use the Word of God to mean the Bible literally, but points to rather the Spirit and Source that is found in the text, in between the lines. The stuff that is transformative, the mystery of all that is and is not.
- The Horse and His Boy – C.S. Lewis
I was not looking forward to this one. Though the more I dug into The Fidelity of Betrayal, my gratitude for The Horse and His Boy increased. My brain needed a bit of a break. Anyway, I wasn’t stoked on this one. Why? Most boring title ever. Don’t care about horses, and care even less about their nameless boys. Ugh. But I marched on in my Narnian efforts. I was pleasantly delighted! Gee, can Lewis tell a freakin’ story or what? I was instantly mesmerized by Shasta (boy) and Bree (horse). Such simple characters in such a fun story. And we get to see Aslan again! #TeamAslan
4.Women Food and God by Geneen Roth
Okay, I’m not one for self help books. Though the title of this one doesn’t allude to it being a self help book, it kinda is. But I dug it anyway. I first borrowed this book from my friend Amy (Hi Amy!) about three years ago and loved it. I just bought my own copy and it was exactly what I needed to read again. Roth’s speaks about her experience in leading groups of compulsive eaters and techniques on how to break unhealthy eating habits (not unhealthy like “stop eating soft pretzels”, but unhealthy like “I don’t deserve love so I’m going to eat this jalapeno bacon cool ranch triple cheese burger”). Disclaimer: I can’t say that I completely identify with “compulsive eater.” Though I have had seasons of life where food is definitely a coping mechanism. It sucks. I don’t like that about myself. I tend to take out my anxiety and stress out on my body. It’s lame. Like, what did my body do to deserve this kind of neglect and mistreatment? It’s rude. Anyway, Roth has really great “food guidelines” that center on mindfulness, not dieting. She talks about deciphering different kinds of hunger and the like. It’s actually been super helpful. I truly think it’s a must read for any woman who struggles with self image and eating (I know, there’s probably only a few of us). Anyway, great and easy(ish) read.
I’m really excited to introduce a new section this month. I lovingly refer to it as “The White Flag Series.” These are books I started and did not complete for various reasons. I thought I’d include them because some I read quite a bit before surrendering. The following are my honorable mentions:
THE WHITE FLAG SERIES
- Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson
I was SO excited to pick this book up from the library. Overly excited, really. I love learning about the history of random things (oysters, for example) so the history of cooking and cooking utensils? Sign me up! I love love the concept, but man was it boring. I held on for awhile, even being more than intrigued on Wilson’s section on cauldrons. But once we got into 15 pages of sauce pans, I had to throw in the (dish?) towel.
- Narco Land: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathersby Anabel Hernández
I was truly disappointed I couldn’t get through this one. Hernández is a wildly intelligent and brave Mexican journalist that took an enormous amount of personal risk to publish this expose of the dangerous (to say the least) drug cartels and their links to past and current law enforcement and political leaders. She is not shy to name names and draws a vast web of police reports, interviews, investigative journalism, and the like to form this narrative of the truth behind the boom of Mexican cartels in the last few decades. The Mexican War on Drugs (why are these ever a good idea?) led to 80,000 people losing their lives between 2006 and 2012. 6 years. 80,000 THOUSAND PEOPLE. Moreover, 20,000 people disappeared, 200,000 displaced, and hundred of thousands injured and affected. These numbers are just mind boggling, I literally cannot fathom this happening. This is a systemized slaughtering of the Mexican people and the government is not only well aware, but at fault. “Powerful drug lords wouldn’’t be what they are if it wasn’t for the businessmen, politicians, and policemen who hide behind a ‘false halo of legality’. These are the true lords of the drug world.” (p.6) Hernández’s books is so important and so powerful. Her bravery is nothing short of inspiring. This book also made me realize I have zero real problems. So why stop? Honestly, I was so so confused. There are a gillion names. I actually started to take notes of all the names to keep them straight and was STILL confused. I felt like I needed charts, a whiteboard, and string to fully understand what she was talking about. I was consistently lost. I may try it again one day, but I just couldn’t pull it off.
I’m going to be transparent here. I barely got through 3 books this month. THE HORROR. I blame it on one thing: Parenthood. Many friends recommended the NBC family drama, Parenthood, over the years and I finally took heed. Anyway, I watched a lot of tv this month thanks to the Bravermans. I’m almost done with season 6 so I should be back on my regular scheduled reading. But then again, House of Cards starts today so who knows.
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
I fondly ran my thumb over the cover of this book after finding it at my local library. I felt slightly awkward as there were a bunch of kids around me browsing and mostly creating chaos throughout the children’s section. But there I was, on a tiny chair, pulling out a childhood classic, I was so excited to bask in L’Engle’s adventurous tale. The librarian, upon check out, told me “Ah, what a great book!” “Yes, I haven’t read it since I was a little girl,” I replied. It was only a bit later, when I was walking home and I opened the book to read the first few pages did I realize I had lied to one of my favorite people in the world: my librarian. (Sorry Leslie Knope, I for one, love those punk ass book jockeys).
“It was a dark and stormy night.” Possibly the best first sentence of any book ever. I read it warmly, with the familiarity of my childhood coming back to me like a favorite teddy bear. But at right around the third page, I panicked. This story didn’t ring a bell at all. Holy crap, had I really not read this book ever and did I just lie to the librarian?! Alas, that’s exactly what happened. I had never read A Wrinkle in Time before now. I surely would’ve remembered it. Now I know it’s impossible to forget. Though it took me a few pages to get into it, once I was in… I was all in. It’s a super weird book. I’m surprised it is so ubiquitous. A Wrinkle in Time is kind of like Coraline meets Pleasantville meets 1984 (especially during a super creepy section of the story where they go to a planet where everyone does the same thing at the exact same time. Haunting stuff). A Wrinkle in Time is the ultimate adventure. Is it even appropriate for kids? I have no idea. Probably not. But I absolutely loved it. If you haven’t read it (and apparently, it’s very possible to have believed you have when you haven’t), do yourself a favor and trek over to the kids section of your local library and check it out. And please don’t lie to your librarian.
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
“Nothing more exhilarating (he wrote) than saving yourself by the simple act of waking up.” (p.201)
I fell in love with Diaz’s work last year (or was it the year before?) when I stumbled upon his latest, This is How You Lose Her. I hadn’t come across his name at the time, but the cover looked compelling. I devoured it in just a few days. I loved Oscar Wao even more. WOW, Diaz can write. He’s the kind of writer that makes me not want to write because howcanyoubesogood. His talent is overwhelming. Diaz is a Dominican-American writer whose storytelling is deliciously.. creamy. That may sound strange, but it’s the word that came to mind. It’s full and luscious, curvy and complex. Filling and fattening. It’s thick. Diaz just does some kind of crazy to me. He’s as familiar as an old zarape, but he weaves stories in a beautiful intricate pattern, one that I’m not accustomed to.
His “nueba yor” is not my mother’s tongue, but the essence of his work seeps into me as recognizable as Abuelita’s hot chocolate (not my abuela of course. I barely know her. I’m talking about that delicious Mexican chocolate). Diaz and I may pronounce our spanish r’s differently, but I identified with this story so quickly. His characters carry the same weight at many immigrant families do, strangers in their own home – whether home is the States or the motherland. Strangers all the time. Too white for the motherland and too brown everywhere else. We are strangers carrying our heavy roots, stumps of trees, dragging them around like a cross. Our dark(er) skin and imperfect English like thorns, both colonized and in diaspora. This is why I loved Oscar so much. I felt such a strong connection with his story. The kid who never fit in, who held two worlds inside of him that no one allowed him to reconcile. His masculine Dominican expectations had very little to do with who he was: nerd of the nerds. Super nerd. I vibe with that. I love Harry Potter and Selena Quintanilla. Diaz creates a space in which to wrestle with these identities. I love that Diaz doesn’t bother italicizing spanish like so many other bilingual authors do. His languages flow between one and the other. There are no borders in his words, they dance and harmonize – they create. The fecundity of his prose is an offspring of unity, oneness. The very way he writes does not apologize for his spanish, english, spanglish, slang, and whatever else. Diaz doesn’t bother to explain why these seemingly polar opposite world belong together because it’s not necessary. They belong together because Oscar belongs together, all parts of him. This is a heartbreaking, at times infuriating, story of generations of a family whose luck and isolation were passed down, like a shitty inheritance. It’s written with heart, grace, and amazing characters that will make you wish the story never ended.
Diaz has written an instant classic, I am so excited to see what he does next.
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“Those who don’t build, must burn.” (p. 85)
This novel was captivating, eerie in its premonition of what the world was becoming. An all too important book to skip over. Give this classic work a read if you haven’t done so.
- So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan
I love me some Fitzgerald. To those who read my post from last year, this isn’t news. But MAN, I love the Jazz Age – ah, the melodrama, the thrill! So We Read On is a book lover’s dream. It’s all about the quintessential American classic: The Great Gatsby. Corrigan, NPR’s book critic, explores all thingsGatsby: Fitzgerald himself, the literary landscape of the time it was published, critical acclaim (or lack thereof), and the fall and rise of the novel in American popular culture. Corrigan is a fantastic writer, her passion for her subject seeps through the pages. Corrigan beautifully captures what a great book can do. She completely understands the sacred relationship between story and reader, which often transcends the relation between reader and author. Sometimes a text is so rich, so full of life and truth that it can very well end up reading you, rather than the other way around. Corrigan understands this divine phenomena perfectly. So We Read On celebrates the wonder of reading and good stories. It was a joy to read.
- Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist
“What is lost can always be found, no matter how many time it’s been lost.” (p.95)
Well, I’m real glad I finished Parenthood last month because I don’t think I could have watched the series and read this book in the same week. I don’t think I would have come out the other end. There’s no way. I would’ve been most definitely emotionally devastated, a mess of sweatpants, blotchy cheeks, and tissue. Complete destruction.
I read Niequist for the first time last year and fell in love with her style of writing: gutsy, vulnerable, beautiful. She makes me want to write and give up at the same time (but mostly the former, thankfully). I attempted to start Cold Tangerines, her first book, sometime late last year, but unfortunately just couldn’t get into it. Alas, in comes Bittersweet. Perfect title for this book. This collection of essays it filled with all the things that make up a good life: joy, pain, change, family, fear, food, grief. Niequist doesn’t sugarcoat her faith, marriage, church, or children. It’s all so raw and so lovely. I very much look forward to reading more of her. It’s fun to see an author grow so much between books. It’s nothing but inspiring. DEFINITELY pick this one up. There will be tears. I’m warning you.
- Drown by Junot Diaz
Sadly, Diaz’s first book was the only one I had yet to read. It was beautiful, as expected. And now I don’t have any Diaz left to read!! The world is a cruel dark place, let me tell ya. I don’t think I need to yammer on and on about Drown. Obviously, it was amazing. Go read everything Diaz has ever written. You’ll be a better person.
- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
NOT ANOTHER TEEN NOVEL. Okay, but kinda it really is. Niven is delightful.All the Bright Places is a story about a depressed boy named Finch and a grieving girl named Violet. Niven very much reminds me of John Green (in a good way) and the story has strong similarities to The Fault in Our Stars. Were there as many tears? Maybe. It’s a close one. (Copious amounts of tears this month.) Finch is an edgier Augustus Waters, but with all the same unreasonable amount of teenage boy arrogance. It’s very raw, like TFIOS, but in a different way. All the Bright Places tackles on mental illness in an earnest way, real without the melodrama. If you want a good cry, pick this one up. It’s pretty well written and quite engaging.
- A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
I’ve been holding back on Hemingway for awhile. As a Fitzgerald loyalist, it feels wrong reading Hemingway’s stuff. I tried starting A Farewell to Arms a few months ago and I simply could not get through it. Alas, I found A Moveable Feast in a used book store for a couple bucks so I picked it up. I’m glad I started with this one. Hemingway captures all the drama, glamour, starving artistry, and endless glasses of wine that encapsulate Paris in the 20’s. It’s a fascinating account really, and it’s difficult not to get swept up in the romance of it all. Hemingway is the ultimate frenemy. He’s the fun guy in your group of friends that makes everyone laugh, but you don’t trust him nor do you really like him all that much. He’s douchey and arrogant. But dammit, if he isn’t so interesting! You swear you don’t really care about him, but there you are picking up his drunk ass at 4am. And there you have it: Hemingway. Without a doubt, he’s an intoxicating writer and he’ll reel you right in if you let him.
- Disquiet Time edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani
Wow, what a time with this one. What a time. I realized that I hadn’t been to the main Oakland library down on 14th street, seeing that my local library is literally across the street. But it was a lovely Sunday, folks were out and about, so I decided to drag my sweet and obliging husband around the lake and through the slack liners to check it out. The library was quite overwhelming, but well worth the walk. Disquiet Time was in the new section and had a fun cover (always judge a book by its cover, people). It’s a collection of essays about faith and all that jazz. I picked it up along with a book about shipping garbage that Brad wanted me to check out for him (different strokes). I settled in for the evening with Disquiet Time and was immediately annoyed. I failed to see (as I often do, for I am terrible with details) that the essays were a reflection of not faith, but specifically, the bible. NooOoo!! There is little I wouldn’t do to avoid reading the bible. It gives me a headache every time. My undergrad was in biblical studies so I am no stranger to the holy writ, but I’ve avoided those divisive texts for a very very very long time. Disgruntled, I was about to toss it on my White Flag pile. But instead I read the short reviews that were printed on the first few pages. The very last one was by Pete Holmes. What? Pete Holmes is my favorite stand up of all time and I listen to his podcast every week. So pretty much, Petey is a close friend. Ugh, if he vouched for it maybe there was something to it. Fine. FINE! I started the introduction by Eugene Peterson (author of The Message Bible). A couple pages in, I wanted to toss it once again. I wanted to like this book so bad, but why would he write that reading the entire bible helps the reader interpret the bible correctly?! This sola scriptura thing is the kind of Protestant arrogance that gets under my skin. ANYWAY, I finished the annoying introduction and kept reading.
“A G-d who uses people to call each other out from their tombs.” (p.40).
Oh, I really liked that. The pattern was uncanny. I’d cry over the beautiful truth of one essay and cringe and want to tear my hair out at the next. Back and forth, on and on. There was one in particular that made my blood boil. I really almost gave up. This time, I looked to the back of the book in search of seeing if there was any diversity of authorship at all or was this another compilation of essays about faith only comprised of straight white people? Well, mostly it was. BUT THEN: Jay Emerson Johnson: one of the authors and my favorite professor in graduate school who sat on my thesis committee. WHAT?! And to my delight, there was an additional three of four authors who also identified as LGBT. Yay! Wow, maybe this book isn’t so bad after all. So I trudged on.
Obviously, Disquiet Time was just just that: disquiet. Much like my relationship with Christianity, the whole thing makes me want to chuck it into the Pacific Ocean, but I couldn’t. Because there are these people, a tiny light in the darkness, albeit faint (but sometimes faint is all you need.) These people, shards of stained glass that reflect light in a broken and gorgeous way, have the uncanny ability to point one home. I was so busy concluding my thoughts about this book well before I finished it, that it was distracting. Both my anger and adoration clouded my reading experience of just being, just being present to the text. I’m so quick to judge and I forget to let things be. I learned a lot from this collection: humility, perseverance. Both things I’m not usually a fan of. Tomorrow is Easter and the day weighs heavy, nostalgic for when this season mattered, for when it was everything to me. And now… I’m not sure anymore. And maybe I don’t have to decide what it all means quite yet.
White Flag Series:
- A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
I’ve had this one on my “Books to Read” list for quite some time. Then I watched the fantastic (albeit slow, but nonetheless charming) The Theory of Everything and it jump started my desire to get into A Brief History of Time. I was doing real well until about the 18th page. And by real well, I mean I had to read every paragraph at least twice to wrap my brain around what he was saying. It SEEMED so simple, but then it really wasn’t (at least for my brain). I had SO much desire to understand (and still do!), but I just couldn’t get through it. Time, you elusive sonabitch. I’ll get you one day. Maybe. Probably not.
- North Korea: State of Paranoia by Paul French
I actually got quite a bit into this one (about 150 pages out of 400). It was truly fascinating. I’d seen some documentaries about North Korea and their oppressive regime, but knew little about the Korean War and how North Korea became what it is today. French’s book was incredibly thorough. His chapter on the daily life in modern day Pyongyang was harrowing and eye-opening. However, I became bored with the details of their economy. Well, it was mildly interesting but not enough. I had already renewed the book from the library once so the clock was ticking on my time with it. I knew I didn’t have the urgency to finish it so I gave it up. I’m glad I did read what I could though, very interesting stuff.
- Prince Caspian by CS Lewis
“You have listened to your fears, child. Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”
- Cooked by Michael Pollan
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- Paper Towns by John Green
White Flag Series
- The Nazi’s Next Door by Erid Lichtblau
Getting past the first few pages of shock and horror, Lichtblau’s writing soon becomes boring and reads like a ledger. Name after name. This probably would make a fantastic documentary. That aside, horrifying accounts that would have to make one question any sense of justice in the world. So read this if you want your world left dark and shattered.
- Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
I was watching the Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies, when I chugged down the rest of my beer and heading over to catch an event some friends of mine were hosting. I hardly ever really know what they’re going to be like before going. I just buy a ticket and show up in support and solidarity with these people that I really like.
This month, I should’ve checked on the content. Definitely, should have checked.
I stepped into the space where the church I recently left held their services (where the event was taking place). It felt like a ton of bricks landing in the pit of my stomach; seeing your ex with their unbelievably fit hot new girlfriend. You’re never quite ready for it. I left the church in November after faithfully showing up for eight years. The decision to leave was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. They were my people, my family. But after the leadership’s refusal to fully accept and affirm LGBTQ folks in their midst, I had to leave. I myself identify as queer and this was a huge blow. I’m married to a wonderful man so I was not discriminated against in this way despite my identity. I always thought my church was a haven from the evils of Christianity – the judgmental, ancient thinking, mean Christians that protested Rob Bell on the streets. And mostly, they were. But all of the sudden, my safe haven wasn’t safe anymore. The rose tinted glasses were ripped off. And I was heartbroken. And I still am.
So I walk back into this building and I am floored. I am flooded with nostalgia – so many wonderful memories. That time I cried in the corner because I was dumped and my friends surrounded me and helped me take communion. That time, I was so caught up in joy while singing a song that I felt like I was dancing with G-d Herself. That other time, when the pastor was preaching justice and mercy and kindness and my soul sang and sang. That time when I held my friend in her heartbreak and begged for G-d to comfort her. That time I lit a candle for my best friend’s mom who was dying of cancer. These memories were all there, hanging and haunting. I wasn’t ready to be back.
I found my seat anyway and found myself surprised by the speaker. Some events in the past had been about art, music, creativity – very little to do with religion. But this one was different. It was all about that guy named Jesus. The “play” was really well done actually – poignant, sad, joyful. I wanted to hear none of it. It was too much. I was too raw. I left in tears. I just wasn’t ready.
I am super thankful that I am not the only one in this boat. The small wooden boat of folks that are not just angry at the church – but heartbroken over Her. Wanting to find a footing in faith that’s authentic and true, but not finding a lot of space to step into that. I have some great friends that are there with me. And though pain and heartbreak can be isolating and we’ll never quite understand each other’s experiences in all of this, it’s nice not to be completely alone.
So a few of us decided to read Rachel Held Evans’ recently released book, Searching for Sunday. Book clubs are so difficult sometimes, it’s hard to schedule and discussion guides can be the worst. But for some reason, this one worked. Maybe because we desperately needed it and each other. For the last couple months, this has been my church. I show up at my friend’s house in my silly pajamas with a bottle of wine. Someone else has arranged some kind of soft cheese with crackers on a plate. Someone else brought Indian take-out. Candles are lit, flowers arranged, and we discussed Searching for Sunday, our histories with the Church – the sometimes embarrassing devout Jesus Freak stage of our youth, or the constant pain of not quite belonging, or the devoid numbness of finding yourself so outside the Church that you’re not quite sure how to get back (or if you even want to).
Held’s book was everything I needed to read this month so I only read one book. I chewed it slowly, like the delicious veggie pizza from Arizmendi’s down the street. It was too good, too flavorful, and important to consume all at once. There’s too many things I highlighted so it’s hard to just choose a few excerpts. Held captured, in such a strong and unique way, what it’s like to be left in pain by the church – by people, by G-d. The ache I felt when World Vision saw 10,000 children cease to be sponsored because they chose to extend benefits to LGBTQ employees (and the ache that followed when they reversed the decision).
So much of the time, Christians say that they’re not perfect, we’re all in this together but we need to stick to it and stay around. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes it hurts way too much and that pain counts and it matters. The thing is that this Church, this giant “institution” is not something I can walk away from. This isn’t like deciding that yes, those slip on vans I’ve had since high school have probably run their course. For me, the Church just can’t run Her course. She’s in me, embedded – alive and defiant. Held’s chapter on healing kinda ruined me.
“Healing is a natural outcome of love. As we learn to love, we learn how to heal.”
I really really hope she’s right.
I’m still sad. I don’t really know what to do with this faith that has twisted up in and around me like a vine refusing to let me go. What to do with a love so big? I’m not so sure. But I am grateful. I am grateful for my friends who eat microwaved appetizers with me, console me, and let me console them. I am grateful for my patient spouse who puts up with my weekly existential crisis. I am grateful for the times I see the goodness. And ultimately, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because books like these exist – words that take on the doubt and the struggle head on. For these things I am grateful and I am hopeful.
And maybe that’s the only prayer I got.
Okay, it was my birthday month and the start of summer so….
- The Sellout by Paul Beatty
- If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkowski
It seems like I always feel too much: too much joy, too much outrage, too much hope, too much anxiety, too much desperation, too much anger. Too much, too much, too much. Tworkowski isn’t the best writer in the world, but his debut books is heartfelt and there were some wonderful gems throughout.
- Damaged Goods by Dianna E. Anderson
I wish I read this when I was 14. Now I wish all my friends would read this and that those with daughters particularly, will read this and then give to their daughters to read. Anderson’s work on Christian sexual ethics is entirely way too important for Christians to miss. In fact, you don’t even have to be a Christian – it’s just good practical, safe, reasonable ethics. Her history of the purity movement is exceptionally crafted. I very much look forward to more of her work.
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis
First of all, this book uses the word “poop” entirely way too many times and it’s incredibly hilariously distracting. Secondly, it was kind of boring. The end mostly made up for it, but still my least favorite in the series.
- Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow
When the world seems to be falling apart and you’re tired of chanting Psalms, wondering when justice will come… Wondering where G-d is…
There is comedy.
There’s a pocket of the universe that opens up and for a moment, the ache in your belly that was rooted in hunger and longing is replaced with an ache of laughter.
I’m grateful for those who can make up laugh in the face of the traumatic experience of being human. These moments of blissful joy, laughing and laughing. Apatow compiled a wonderful collage of comics telling their stories: some profound, others silly. I’m grateful for this collection and look forward to the next volume (which I hope includes more women and people of color).
- The Midadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
- The Underground Girls of Kabul : In Search of Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg
This was a pretty interesting read on the gender performance and the socio-political landscape in Afghanistan. Desperate for boys in the family, some mothers choose to dress and address their little baby girls as boys. Though some neighbors and family members know the assigned sex of the baby, most go along with it. Bacha posh, as their called, lead their lives as boys. They play with other boys outside, climb trees, accompany their mothers and sisters to the market (since women cannot do this on their own), and even hold jobs. While most bacha posh start living their lives as girls around puberty, some continue to live their lives as boys into young adulthood or even old age. Nordberg, a Swedish journalist, who lived in Afghanistan studying this social phenomenon asked around about sexual orientation, but was shut down quickly. Nordberg also includes a fantastic conversation around the need for so many western feminists to “liberate” Muslim women, particularly in Afghanistan. Azita, a local politician, and one of Nordberg’s friends/subjects says,”The foreigners think they are helping women in Afghanistan, but it is so corrupt. All this money coming in, but we still suffer. They think it’s all about the burka. I’m ready to wear two burkas inf my government can provide secirty and rule of law. That’s okay with me. If that is the only green I have to give up, I am ready.”
It was interesting to see gender seen as a performance in a country that takes gender roles so seriously.
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
This should be required reading for … life. Gay is a fantastic writer who captures the contradictions of being a feminist so clearly and concisely without the need to throw out the word entirely. I identify with the word feminist proudly and this comes with all kinds of problems sometimes. I know every single word to “Forgot About Dre” and listen to ridiculous misogynist music on pop forty radio regularly. I’m a football fan who has Raiders season tickets and I scream my bloody head off well knowing that the NFL has some serious issues with how the deal with domestic abuse among their players. I’m a walking contradiction and that’s okay. Gay’s essays are thoughtful engagements with pop culture and cover everything from Scrabble to the Hunger Games to Chris Brown. And throughout, she writes about the importance of story: of telling our stories, of hearing different kinds of stories, and immersing ourselves with diverse stories that might help us think a little more broadly, more critically.
“You lose your name because another one is forced on you. You think you are alone until you find book about girls like you. Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read… Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different ending and better possible worlds.”
Every essay was poignant and expertly crafted. Gay is also hilarious on Twitter and her clapbacks should win a Peabody.
- Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz Weber
Oh man. I like Bolz Weber for the most part, but I had some rough times with this one. You can read more of my critique here.
Here’s one of my favorite parts: “Maybe the really outrageous act of faith on Mary’s part was trusting that she had found favor with G-d. I may feel used to the idea that if I live a certain kind of life, I can make myself worthy of G-d. But what if G-d’s Word is so much more powerful than our ability to become worth of G0d? I mean, not for nothing, but if G-d can create the universe by speaking it into existence, then I think G-d can make us into G-d’s beloved by simply saying it is so.”
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates
I can barely put into words how extraordinary and wildly important this book is. Between the World and Me is a pretty short read, thin and unassuming. But it’s so heavy. The pages are thick thick thick with truth, with meaning, and (at times) with despair. Between the World and Me is Coates’ letter to his teenage son, about his own life and the black male experience in 21st century America. Coates’ writing is unmatched. It’s simultaneously elegant and devastating. It’s an atom bomb in the gut.
“You have to make peace with the chaos, but you cannot lie. You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.”
To understand the experience of so many people of color (particularly black men) who are being incarcerated and gunned down in exorbitant rates, you have to read this book. Black Lives Matter is a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement in this country and Coates’ work puts vital context around this conversation. Seriously, a must read.
- Smoke Get In Yours Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
I told everyone about this book. Seriously. It was fantastic. Doughty is a millennial mortician and her memoir follows the story of how she ended up in such a peculiar career at a young age. Most interestingly, Doughty weaves in death traditions from American history as well as other cultures that deal with death in a much more dignified way (according to Doughty). She imagines a death industry that actually embraces death, that honors the corpse. The embalming and parading of dead bodies in funeral homes has become a multi-million dollar industry that (literally) paints corpses and props them up with chemicals, shielding those left behind from the truth of decay and death.
I hate death. I don’t really like talking about it or thinking about it. As a matter of fact, reveling in my impending doom has triggered plenty of middle of the night panic attacks and has exponentially increased the overwhelming anxiety that paralyzes all my logical faculties as I worry about my family and every single friend I have because I have convinced myself that they’ve all been in a terrible car crash on the Bay Bridge and their cars were flung into the bay, never to be seen or heard from again.
So yeah, I have some issues with death. Doughty’s book didn’t really salve any of my fears, not that I thought it would. It just helped me think about death without losing my breath. I think the world could use more of that. Death is so foreign to so many Americans – those who haven’t been in a war, who live in relatively safe neighborhoods. So when it happens, we don’t know what to do, but to call the funeral home right away so they can wheel away our loved ones and the confrontation between the dead and alive doesn’t have to take place. Dought’s memoir is a really great place to start processing death and how we deal with our own mortality as well as the mortality of those we love.
- Selfish, Shallow, and Self Absorbed edited by Meghan Daum
SIGH. Probably one of the worst books I ever read. BUT ELBA, you say, WHY DIDNT YOU JUST GIVE UP. Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you way. The book is a collection of essays. So maybe one was terrible, but the next one might not be. But guess what? It was like 97% awful. As you may know from last year’s list, my spouse and I have (for now) decided that having children is not for us. I’m open to changing our minds in the future, but for now – we are happy with our decision and don’t particularly see that changing. I’m interested in why people choose not to have children and what life might look like decades from now if that decision stays the same. Last year’s Two is Enough was fantastic and gave me a lot of food for thought. However, this book (written exclusively by published writers) was frustrating, incredibly white, and ridiculously annoying. One of the worst essays I’ve ever read was found here and written by Lionel Shriver. There is a truly strange and seemingly misplaced conversation about race. While choosing to not have children, she maintains concern about “keeping the race” in the UK.
#1) She MUST assume that everyone reading this essay is white and shares her concern of racial “purity” and she also assumed that the (exclusively white) women she interviewed in her essay would only procreate with other white people.
#2) “Of course, that “wistfulness” of mine is political dynamite. yet maybe the immigration debate has sufficiently matured for us to concede that white folks are people, too. We encourage minorities of every stripe- Jamaicans, Muslims, Jews – to be proud of their heritage, as well they should be. We don’t assume that if immigrants from China cherish their roots and still make a mean moo shoo pork they are therefore bigoted toward every other ethnicity on the planet…. Indeed, the tacit PC consensus – that every minority from Australian aborigines to Romanies should be treasuring, preserving and promulgating their culture while whites should not – is producing a virulent, sometimes poisonous right wing backlash… Collectively, a long-dominant population is contracting (whites), and maybe by the time we’re minorities in our own countries we will have rights, too – among them at least, the right to feel a little sad.”
After I got done bleaching my eyes, I looked on the bright side. Shriver’s horrific essay made me wonder if the decision to not have any children was a “white decision.” Most couples that I’ve read about or know that choose to not have children are usually not people of color. I wonder how race and the decision to have children intersect.
Another thing that came up consistently was the binary of having children or having a fantastic mind blowing world traveling career. Does one have to have an immaculate and super impressive career to make up for their decision to not have children? Is living a quiet life enough? Or does one have to have the means to travel the world to compensate for not having children? What is the need for so many couples who refuse to have kids to glamorize their life? Most of the authors came off as snobby, elitist, and incredibly self important (as the title suggests). I don’t want to join their ranks. I tried to find myself in those pages and it just wan’t happening. It was frustrating and isolating. This book would have been SO much better with more diversity (and ditching the ridiculous Shriver essay).
One of the saving graces was towards the end, in a quote by Jeanne Safer. “There is no life without regrets.”
One of my biggest fears in regret, growing out of my fear of missing out. Regretting what I did, what I didn’t do. Safer’s quote was comforting. Maybe I’ll regret not having kids. Or maybe I will have them and regret it. Maybe I’ll regret not having them sooner. Or having them later. Life is filled with regrets, but there is no need to despair over them. “At a certain point in her life, she realizes it is not so much that she wants to have a child as that she does not want not to have a child, or not to have had a child.” – Lydia Davis, “A Double Negative.”
So at least, there was that.
- Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
“IN MEMORY OF MIKE BROWN
IN MEMORY OF ERIC GARNER
IN MEMORY OF SANDRA BLAND
Because white men can’t police their imagination
Black men are dying.”
Rankine’s latest shook me to the bone, a cold splash of water to the face of the realities of the ever increasing revelation of police brutality and systematic racism in American policing and politics. Read this. Read this now.
- The Silver Chair by CS Lewis
Okay, why did Peter, Susan, Edward, and Lucy have to go away? Eustace and Jill are a huge snore. Also, Lewis’ misogyny is tiring and boring.
- Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
My expectations were tempered by the latest by Kaling. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? was fine, but I was left unsatisfied. Why Not Me? is a much stronger effort and Kaling’s evolution as a writer and comedian are incredibly evident. Kaling is a household name, one of the first women of color (and specifically, Indian woman of color) that has had such a powerful presence in comedy and popular culture. Though still self-deprecating and silly, Kaling’s sense of confidence and security are the driving force behind her sophomore release.
- The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
Another classic book by John Green. All the regulars are there. The beautiful blonde girl with an attitude and a haunted past. The boring white male protagonist, in love with said blonde girl and learning how to “let loose” with her and his new found friends. And of course, the best friend with something to prove and the second string sidekick of color. It was formulaic, but Green has a way with dialogue that keeps me coming back for more.
- Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Mock’s memoir is beautifully written. As one of the more well known trans women of color today, Mock recalls what it was like to grow up a trans child and the struggles that trans women of color go through with lack of health care and very real concerns with security and safety. Mock’s story is truly inspiring and educational.
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Much like Doughty’s memoir, I told EVERYONE about Fangirl. I just love Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl tells the story of Cath, a freshman in college who doesn’t exactly embrace the opportunity of starting college and the new world that comes with it. Cath is introverted and prefers to stay in her dorm instead of going out with her always-down-to-get-turnt sister Wren or her April Ludgate-esque new roommate and her maybe-boyfriend Levi. Cath is an amazing writer and writes fanfiction for her favorite series, Simon Snow. Snow is a fictional series about a boy wizard that goes to magic school and has an arch nemesis named Baz. Sound familiar? As a 28 year old Harry Potter obsessed woman, I understood Cath immediately. The wizarding world is like a gillion times better than reality. I longed, along with Cath, to escape to this other world – one where you belonged, where you knew what to fight for, where you could be who you actually wanted to be. I jumped into Fangirl with Cath and we jumped right into Simon Snow together.
Rowell perfectly captures what it’s like to be in love with books that take you somewhere else, whose fandom is as expansive and real as anything in our dumb non magical world. Fangirl has some of the best character development I’ve ever seen in a novel – truly for all characters (except maybe Levi). It covers themes that are difficult to write about and so often not done very well. But Rowell’s depiction of abandonment and mental health challenges are so well written, respectfully and honestly depicted: the fallout and effect, the real fear of panic. It’s real without over dramatization.
“In justice. In courage. In defense of the weak. In the face of the mighty. Through magic and wisdom and good.”
I wished so badly that Simon Snow was a real book. And then I looked online for a sign of anything that might be coming up. And there was.
- Last Night by James Salter
I read short stories the I way I read poetry. Perplexed and humbled because I don’t understand or know anything.
It’s a good reminder.
Salter’s concluding story in his short collection is the strongest. “Last Night” broke my heart in a mere five pages. Beautiful work.
- Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
I kept hoping this would get better. It never did. None of the characters were likable and the plot was somewhat disturbing and bizarre. Pass.
- Blackout: Remembering the Nights I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
“What a powerful voodoo – to believe brilliance could be sipped or poured.”
“Yes to frustration, yes to failure, because it meant I was getting stronger. I refused to be the person who only played games she could win.”
Hepola’s raw (and humorous) memoir about her alcoholism was quite the read. In a culture and generation that venerates the mighty brown drink, the happy hour martinis, and local craft beers – Hepola’s voice is an act of resistance without being preachy. Her stories are harrowing and made me pause to think about my own drinking habits, which is a healthy and necessary evaluation that has made me much more thoughtful in the way I consume booze. Thanks to Mad Men and Ernest Hemingway, it’s easy to be seduced by the myth that creativity is loosened by a sip of gin. Blackout is an excellent reminder of the power of sobriety and the courage to take risks without a crutch made of whiskey.
- To All the Boys I Ever Loved Before by Jenny Han
YAY! A YA novel by a person of color with a protagonist of color! Oh the joy! Han’s novel about two sisters and evolving sibiling relationship is fun, cleverly written, and nuanced. Though I found the end to be kind of a giant let down, I look forward to reading more of Han’s work.
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them by Newt Scamander
Renown magizoologist, Newt Scamander’s classic work on beasts is just as important now as it was when it was first released, 51 editions ago. Though Eurocentric at time, Scamander’s 52nd edition offers a vital introduction, including a very important explanation (albeit woefully short) of wizard relations with merpeople and centaurs alike, specifically regarding the sometimes problematic classification of “beast.”
As a muggle myself (unfortunately), most of the beasts defined are beyond the scope of my dismal and mundane non-magical world. Though beasts such as leprechauns, unicorns, yetis, fairies, and of course kelpies (the largest of which is found in Scotland’s Lock Ness lake) are oft found or rumored to have been found by numerous muggle cryptozoologists, much of the fantastic beasts described are unknown to the muggle universe.
The book would be more useful with a proper index and illustrations (perhaps Jim Kay, who recently beautifully captured the Sorcerer’s Stone, might do the text some justice). I look forward to the 53rd edition and hope that these tools might be included for a more exhaustive understanding of the wonderful world Scamander has brought to our attention.
- Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
Margo Jefferson’s memoir is mind blowing. She weaves a gorgeous tapestry of history, race, and class. Below are some of my favorites passages. I present them without commentary (they truly don’t need it).
“The media wants to call them riots, but they’re uprisings. Why should black people behave well to get their rights? White people don’t behave and they get all the rights they want. That’s been our mistake as privileged Negroes. Believing all that ‘we have to be twice as good to be acknowledged as good. Everything we do must reflect well on the race.’”
“Notzake (Shage) said we had found god in ourselves and loved her fiercely. I hadn’t and I didn’t.”
“You don’t know what unrequited love is till you loved a culture that doesn’t love you back.”
- Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Carry on! Yes. This is the fan fiction that Cath wrote in FanGirl. Wishes do come true, people. It’s everything I could ever want it to be. Boy wizards, magical schools, a genius girl of color, queer protagonists, vampires. Gang’s all here! I wish we could have met Simon Snow when he was 11. I wish we could have gone with Penelope to America. I wish we could’ve spent more time with Baz. 500 pages simply wasn’t enough. I wish it were a series. I wish it were real. Carry On has me perpetually wishing for more.
- Landline by Rainbow Rowell
As the year began to wind down to an end, I wanted something light and guaranteed to be good. So I put some other books aside and fetched this one at the library. Figured I should stick with Rowell since she hadn’t disappointed. And success! Rowell continues to SPEAK to me. Landline isn’t a YA novel, but follows a woman whose marriage is in peril. The premise is a bit fantastical, but the characters remain true. I love that the protagonist, Georgie, is a comedy writer (my dream job!). Rowell does an excellent job at creating a realistic love story, with imperfect people making imperfect choices – often failing their marriage and themselves.
- The Last Battle by CS Lewis
THANK GOODNESS I’M DONE WITH THIS SERIES. Geez. The Last Battle was probably the most forgettable and the most preachy out of Lewis’ Narnia collection. My favorite is probably the first one (The Magician’s Nephew), though it’s closely tied with the second (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). And then it kinda all goes to hell. Though the story telling was pretty fantastic at times, Lewis’ writing is marred with misogyny and blatant racism throughout. I didn’t end the year with a bang here, but I’m glad my travels through Narnia are over. I’ll skip the wardrobe and head straight to Hogwarts next time.
These were my companions for the year 2014. I am and have always been an extrovert, I love being with people. Laughing with friends, cuddling with my husband and pup, goofing around with my family: these are my favorite things. However, reading has been a part of me for as long as I could remember. Books have been my companion, my confidante, my lifeline. For years, I’ve wandered through libraries and bookstores searching for answers to questions, some of which I consciously asked and some I haven’t. What you’ll find here is a collection and some reviews of where I’ve spent time this year. Notice that I mostly love them all since this year I finally have chosen to give up on books that make me not want to read. This is a new thing for me. I used to struggle through books, HARD. I felt committed to them, like I owed these books an entire reading. But no longer, those books depleted me. They were exhausting. It was just like being in a loveless relationship, but for some reason you couldn’t help but continue to text your boring and arduous boyfriend. So I’m done with those. How’s that for some healthy boundaries?! My therapist would be proud.
Some have been recommended, some I’ve stumbled across, others I found in my bookshelves dusty and waiting for years to be read. There’s really no agenda in this little project of mine. I’ve been honored to step into each one of this little worlds, escaping and dreaming in a different place. I hope you enjoy!
1. Magicians by Lev Grossman
I started the year with a new love. Not a silly “oh my gosh look at the cute new kid” stealthily-passed-note-in-geometry-class-love. No, everyone. I’m talking about the real thing. The REAL thing. The I-can’t-POSSIBLY-be-without-you-love. That’s right. It’s beyond love. It’s a creepy infatuation “I’ll Be Watching You” Police kinda love. I stumbled across this series by Lev Grossman because it was recommended by someone I didn’t know who was friends with someone I barely knew (Hi Natalie!) at the time. Alas, fate. The Magiciansis a gripping story about a high school senior named Quentin. Moodier and darker than Harry Potter, but with the same spark for adventure and an inability to follow any semblance of rules. Quentin is a prodigy super genius who was whisked away from his simple life in Brooklyn to Brakebills School of Magic. It’s the college Hogwarts, self aware of its own tropes, playfully being in on its own joke. Instead of potions gone awry into puffs of smoke (I’m lookin’ at you Finnigan!), The Magicians deals with growing into adulthood. The awkward in between adolescence and responsibility. Grossman explains (I’m paraphrasing): Harry Potter & Narnia were about good vs. evil. Kids discovering their magical ability to do good in the world because such distinctions are clear for children. The Magicians asks ‘what is magic for? and what will i do with it? Fantasy loves the fight between good vs. evil, dark vs. light. The Magicians deals with the gray in a beautiful way. This is the first in the trilogy. More on this later.
2. Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall
Confession: Brad & I got super into TLC’s Sister Wives for awhile. I know, it’s weird. If you’re not familiar with this riveting reality show, it’s about a Mormon fundamentalist named Cody Brown and his 4 wives: Mary, Janelle, and Christine, and Robyn. Polygamy has always been a fascinating subject for me, especially in the Mormon context. The show portrays a modern polygamist family and their droves of children as they try to live in a world that pretty much rejects everything about their family. The Browns lead seemingly nice lives, arguing like other families. The women, again seemingly, have freedom to work, wear jeans, and do whatever they want (and they got married after they were 19!). Of course, there’s another side to this fundamental way of living. Wanting to know more, I picked up Stolen Innocence, a memoir from a woman who grew up in Warren Jeff’s commune/cult. It’s a harrowing story of manipulation, abuse, and the danger of fundamental extremism. Wall was forced into being Jeffs’ child bride when she was barely a teenager. She details the horrific stories of her marriage and her escape from all she knew. Her account was eerily similar to Jenna Miscavige Hill’s memoir Beyond Belief, which details her upbringing in Scientology and her eventual escape.
Religion fascinates me. It can be practiced so horrifically and at other times, so beautifully. Stolen Innocence is one of those memoirs that really makes you think about power, leadership, and who “gets to speak for G-d.”
3. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Ah, the journey continues. The Magician King is the second book in Grossman’s trilogy. The magic continues! Albeit much darker this time. I regret having read this so quickly. I thought the last book was out already, but it wasn’t. I almost cried when I realized it wouldn’t be released until August. This is one I’m looking forward to re-reading next year.
4. Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
This is a pretty interesting read. Orenstein looks at some of the history behind the obsession so many western little girls have for Disney princesses. It’s a feminist take on what to do with such characters, particularly for feminist mothers (of which I am not. A mother, I mean), but it was a good read anyway. Quick, short, and informative. Growing up with the Disney princess boom in the 90’s, I found it insightful and smartly written.
5. Love Does by Bob Goff
Many of my friends were in disbelief that it took me so long to get around to reading Goff’s Love Does. It was one of those books I knew I’d read eventually and I’m glad I did. In this kinda memoir/spiritual formation book, Goff explores the idea of love taking action through the stories in his own very adventurous life. At times cheesy, you still cannot help but love Goff’s unfiltered enthusiasm for life and just plain joy at following the teachings of Jesus. It’s simultaneously inspiring and paralyzing. Goff has lived such an extravagant life that sometimes the moral of his story could easily be drowned out by the glamour of his adventures. Nonetheless, it’s a great book to give to a parent or friend with religious inklings. It’s sweet and heartwarming, you’ll leave it with a craving for hot chocolate (and probably the desire to buy one for a stranger too).
6. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
Damn Chabon. He’s an amazing writer, but he can be LLOOOONGG WINDDEED. I had to read this book for a book club and it took me quite some time to get through it. It was a solid 100 pages before I really started to like this noir murder mystery. The story takes place in the earlier part of twentieth century in a small Jewish community in Alaska. Yes, it’s a Jewish noir murder mystery that takes place in Alaska. Obviously, I laughed out loud quite a few times. Chabon is truly a genius, his writing concise and self aware. If you’re a fan of Chabon, then you’ll love this novel. Some of my friends loved it from the get go, so maybe it was just me that had a hard time with it at first.
7. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak
I’ve always enjoyed Novak’s work while he wrote for The Office (the American version) and his acting on the show as Ryan the Temp. This collection of short stories was so fun to read. The stories were a mix of funny, heartfelt, sad, depressing, and poignant. I look forward to his next book.
8. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
If you have a dog, don’t read this book. You’ll cry for days and torture your dog with ridiculous amounts of affection. I read it in two days, one of those novels you simply can’t put down.
9. Stitches by Anne Lamott
10. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
By far, my favorite in the Hunger Games series. I know a lot of HG fans may disagree with me, but Collins wrote an incredible ending to this young adult series that in all reality, is pretty messed up. Kids killing each other because of a totalitarian government? Holy shit. But once you get over the horror of it all, it’s a really fun read. I loved how Collin’s pointed to greater truths about government, censorship, and media’s role in all of it. It’s almost like 1984‘s eventual consequence. I’m really excited to see the movie. Woo J-Law!
11. Zealot by Reza Aslan
Okay, so April was not a good reading month for me. Brad and I had an awesome vacation! We traveled to DC and NY – ate so much delicious food, took in the sights, learned all kinds of good stuff, and visited with dear friends. Nevertheless, I was able to momentarily push all the mouth watering food, expertly crafted cocktails, and breathtaking views aside for a bit to dig into Zealot. It came to me at a recommendation by my boss and I had heard his name before so I thought I’d give it a try. Aslan is an amazing scholar, his work is thorough, in depth, and obviously expertly researched. His writing was fine, dull in his worst moments. But if you would like a refreshing perspective of the life of Jesus, then this book is well worth your time.
12. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Another book I’ve been dreading to read, but knew I needed to. I’m glad I did. Throughout, I was very detached from the characters, maybe because they didn’t have any names. I was detached, but I couldn’t let it go. It was like really strong bourbon, that you kinda hated, the kind that burns your throat harshly and without apology, but needed more to taste again and again. Much more sophisticated words have been written about this novel, books and essays dedicated to McCarthy’s arguably greatest work. All I’ll say is this: I didn’t care about these characters at all. I was looking forward to finishing it, just so I could get it over with. Then… the last 3 pages. I hurriedly opened The Road’s last few pages during my lunch break. Then it was like a ton of bricks fell on my gut. My face was wet, covered in tears. When did I learn to care about these people, this world that McCarthy expertly orchestrated to seep into my skin? It was as if I was smacked all at once with the importance of this work. I loved it and will probably never read it again.
13. Divergent by Veronica Roth
Ah, another teen dystopian trilogy. Such a favorite. It’s difficult to not compare Divergent with Hunger Games. Katniss from HG is your badass survivalist while Tris is much more tender and self reflective. Besides that, the setting is very similar: totalitarian government with dark secrets, controlling the masses, murdering citizens, yaddi yaddi yadda. Your usual teen dystopian stuff. There is nothing mind blowing about Divergent, but it is actually a fun read. I read it in only a few days, it’s quick and fun. If you’re into this genre, you’ll be very pleased.
14. The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
Held Evans is just downright delightful. If you’re familiar with AJ Jacobs’ “Year of Biblical Living,” you’ll be familiar with Held Evans’ project as well. She goes a year trying to follow “biblical womanhood” by the letter – emphasizing certain things every month. It’s a hilarious read. The gist of it all was how impossible and complex “biblical womanhood” truly is. Evangelicals oft make such claims so black and white, clean cut. Held Evans highlights what a fallacy and truly, irresponsible, such claims can be on the psyche of Christianity and particularly on Christian woman. She points out that not one size fits all and she does so with much grace and hilarity. Brava Held Evans!
15. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
16. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
What an end. Surprising, unsettling, and quite brave.
17. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
This is my favorite Vonnegut. I didn’t think anything could beat God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, which was my first exposure to Vonnegut. Cat’s Cradle is just another level of literary genius, poignancy, and silliness. Vonnegut wasn’t fearful of broaching enormous human concerns and issues with absurdity.Cat’s Cradle tackles religion, tradition, nationalism in the best of ways. I highly recommend this work of just plain sheer goodness.
18. Jesus Freak by Sara Miles
19. Two is Enough by Laura S. Scott
It seems that many of our friends are having kids or starting to wrestle with the question as to whether to have children or not. When my husband and I were dating, he told me he had zero desire for kids. It was totally fine with me since I didn’t really have any desire to have children either. Of course, we both decided it would be a continued conversation to make sure we’re still on the same page as the years go by. Having children is such a huge deal (obviously). Socially, it seems to be such a given. I know a very small amount of people that have chosen not to have children intentionally, so I thought I’d do some reading on the subject.
Scott’s Two is Enough explores life without children. She interviews mostly couples (not individuals) that have decided on not having children and reports her findings. It was really enlightening and really quite helpful. It’s nice to know (though I already know) that it is truly okay to choose not to have children. Solidarity does wonders. Though I don’t know where we’ll be in all of this in 8 years, I feel pretty good about our little family of three (dog included of course).
20. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Put this in the “Books I have No Desire to Read, But Know I Should” category. I was feeling really ambitious so I picked up the Spanish edition. Boy, that was a mistake. I speak Spanish fluently, but I’ve never taken a class. Well, this book was served up with a gigantic slice of humble pie. My Spanish is nowhere near good enough to appreciate Garcia Marquez’ prose. So in defeat, at around page 60 with about 120 definition searches in my app history, I went ahead and picked up the English version from the library. Was it still beautiful? Yes. Was I horribly disappointed in myself? Yes. Nonetheless, I was happy to finally be able to understand and appreciated the story so much more. Love in the Time of Cholera reminded me of a novela – such drama, such intensity! A gorgeous story. I was reading it around the time Garcia Marquez passed away. I was saddened to hear the news, but thankful for his astounding work.
21. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Oh Orwell. You never fail to depress me. But in a good way! It seems that everyone in high school read Animal Farm, but me. Such an incredible work of “fiction” – how can so much truth be packed in some a little book? If you haven’t read this, seriously, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It’s tiny and easy to read, but the story and characters resonate so effectively. Timeless truths about so much of what it means to be human. Orwell is on point.
22. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
It took me a long time to get around to reading this. It was all over the place and it felt like it was one of the books that I’ve already read without needing to read it, know what I mean? My co workers were passing it around so I thought I’d give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised. Gilbert is, at times, whiny and annoying. But her introspection and vulnerability shine through her journey in a way I cannot help but respect. After deciding to leave her husband, a nasty divorce ensues as well as a tumultuous relationship with a young actor. She decides to take a year long journey that would take her to Italy, India, and Bali. She feasts in Italy, writing at length about the pizza from Naples and delectable Italian wine (of course, this was my favorite part). Gilbert had some touching breakthroughs during her time in India, learning to forgive herself and has transformative friendships. It was a feel good bath time read. Definitely didn’t mind it. The movie, which I saw later, was absolutely terrible. Sorry Julia.
23. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Oh the tears! So. Many. Tears. I devoured this young adult novel in a day, sitting on my couch – unmoving except to wipe tears from my eyes. It’s the wildly popular story of two teens with cancer. I mean, guess the ending. The novel was adapted into film earlier this year, which I did catch after reading the book. Very good film adaptation. The story is just heartbreaking and masterfully written. It’s a story about the confrontation of pain and death. “Pain demands to be felt,” Green writes. His honest and raw characters give life to a story ultimately about death. This story will stick with you, and you’ll remember it with an ache. Our heroine, Hazel Grace, sums up how I felt about this novel, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
24. Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut
I was excited to get into Slaughter House Five after I had such a good time with Cat’s Cradle. Boy, I was so so wrong. Slaughter House Five is a different kind of beast. Where struggle was met with hilarity in Cat’s Cradle, Slaughter House Five’s struggle was met with despair. And then a bit more despair. The classic Vonnegut absurdity is evident within these pages, but it’s a bit more haunting, definitely darker. This was a hard one to get through, but I’m glad I did. Kinda.
25. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Obviously, I was super into ill-fated young adult romance this month. Was it the summer? Who knows. My heart continued to ache after finishing Fault in Our Stars so of course, I picked up another “oh this can’t possibly work out” novel. Eleanor & Park met my needs perfectly. Set in the 80’s, the story follows an awkward Korean teen who falls for the voluptuous red haired poor girl that he sits next to on the bus every day. The novel switches narration between Eleanor and Park seamlessly. It’ll simultaneously break and warm your heart. The film is being released next year (I think). If you’re into this kind of book, it’ll meet all your expectations.
26. Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Geez. This book. I want to say it’s beautifully written, but it’s kinda not. Not that it’s badly written, far from it. It’s just not beautiful. It’s really messy, crude, raw. Bolz-Weber’s memoir is a compilation of essays about a past filled with growing up in a conservative church, world shattering addictions, and finding faith (or vice versa). She writes with an enormous amount of honesty. Bolz-Weber has zero time for cheesy Christian cliches – sterile sayings meant to dull the heart. She pastors with transparency and writes about her journey from rehab to the pulpit. It’s not a particularly unique story, but her transparency and authenticity certainly are. I picked this up from the library, but I need to get a copy for myself. I probably need to read it ten more times.
27. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
This is everything I would ever want in a fantasy book: small villages, adventures in the woods, fairies, evil witches, a lovable hero who is in need of some growing up. Check, check, and check. It’s a truly heart warming story of all the goodies: coming of age, love, and home. If a book could be fuzzy slippers, a comfy throw, and a mug of steaming hot chocolate – this would be it.
28. Magicians Land by Lev Grossman
I met Lev Grossman on a beautifully warm summer evening in a backyard of a beautiful home in a quaint and wealthy suburb. To say I was nervous was an understatement. There he was (shorter than expected), the man that made me believe I could fall in love with a series of books, stories, and characters again. And that’s what I told him as he signed my book, the third and last installment of The Magicians series. Somewhat geekily, but nonetheless earnest, I told how after I finished the Potter series, I didn’t think another series could ever quite capture me like the wizarding world dreamt up by Rowling. And here I was, captured. It’s quite a thing to tell something like that to someone – to tell them that what they’ve created moved a mountain. The Magician’s Land was a perfectly tied bow to mark the end of this amazing series. Not to say the finale was neat and happily-ever-after, it was just… perfectly complete. Once I got through it, I feel as if I’ve lived so many other lifetimes. (And that’s why we read books, no?) But all good things must come to its end, and this book captured just that. The end of innocence, worlds, relationships, and yes, even book series’. Many fans would ask for more and more books (see the Harry Potter fandom). And though I’m tempted to want more of Quentin, I know it’s probably best we stop here. But damn, what an adventure it was. I thought I grew up with Harry Potter books, but The Magicians pointed out that I certainly still had a bit of more growing up to do. And these books were the perfect sidekick. Here here to Fillory!
29. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
There’s something so beautiful about being completely destroyed by a book. Ending The Magicians took quite the emotional toll on me, but holy crap. The Book Thief? I could barely sleep. First of all, this book is a commitment. It’s a big one, son. Clocking in at well over 500 pages, Zusak’s novel of a small German town in WWII packs an impossible amount of story. But it does and does so magnificently. It’s a grim read (see: taking place in WWII Germany). So it’s not particularly surprising that book is narrated by Death. Yes, that Death. Grim reaper guy. Nonetheless, Death is painfully both poetic and gentle. I truly have no idea how Zusak wrote any of this, I have to attribute it to some kind of divine grace. It’s that beautiful. The story follows Liesel and her adoptive family (I’ll give you one guess as to what happened to her mother and little brother) as they hide a Jewish man in their basement. I never saw the movie, and I probably won’t, so I cannot compare. Suffice to say, reading this is like watching the saddest and most haunting 5 hour movie. No matter the tragedy, you simply cannot look away. If not for the gritty realities of war and fascism, but because through it all (though narrated by Death), there is this terrible reminder of what it is to be human. Wars, bombs, genocides, and the like always erase our humanity – ours and theirs (however you designate that). This book didn’t let up on the fact, the gruesome truth, of our shared fragile and horrible humanity. If you can stand it, pick up this book. You will regret it all the time, but you’ll thank me for it.
30. Four by Veronica Roth
I just couldn’t leave this series alone. Four was released after the Divergenttrilogy. Not quite a prequel or a sequel, but the same story told from a different perspective. Roth originally began Divergent through Four’s point of view, but changed her mind in the midst of writing. This is a compilation of the stories Roth wrote before she switched the narrator to Tris. It was pretty well written, and I enjoyed the story told in this way. It was different enough to not be boring or redundant. Not a necessary read by any means, but if you dugDivergent, it’s worth the quick read.
31. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl. Okay, so I figure you’ve heard of this one. The book is gripping, sending you for loop after loops. It zigs when you think it’d zag. It zags when you think it’ll… okay, you get the point. I can barely write about this without giving it away. It’s a story of a marriage gone awry. Flynn captures the nuances of a failing marriage just right: the resentment, the unsaid expectations, the anger and hurt. Flynn’s psychological thriller was fiercely popular for good reason, it was an expertly crafted story in thought and execution. If you’re not a reader, at least watch the movie. The movie was probably one of my favorite film adaptations of a novel. You won’t be disappointed.
32. Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
33. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
Ironically, I couldn’t leave this book. It was glued to my hand. I heard that the book was being made into a movie and as you know by now, I had to read the book first since I knew I’d watch the movie (Tiny Fey! Ben Schwartz! I’m in). The novel centers around a dysfunctional family (are there any other kind?) that mourns the loss of their father. His wife and 4 children are left to sitshiva. To my understanding, shiva is a Jewish mourning tradition/ritual. The family sits (literally) in shiva usually for 3 or 7 days as family and neighbors come by to offer condolences and food. So 7 days in mourning with a dysfunctional family – hilarity ensues right? Indeed it does! The novel is impossibly funny and impossibly dark. Tropper’s portrait of grief is poignant and striking. There is nothing glamorous about grief. It will turn you inside out, eating away at your flesh and bones from the outside in and and from the inside out. Each in the family has their own way of dealing, some with anger, others with hilarity, and so on. Our narrator, Judd, is a sympathetic figure. At times, he’s your hero and at others, you want to punch him in the face just a tiny bit. I loved and hated the ending, but Tropper’s final scene is a realistic one, which reflects the rest of his work nicely.
34. Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist
Shauna should just be my best friend. Her essays are not only about the wonder that is food and a shared meal, but just about life – being a woman, a mom, and a Christian. Though her essays on her kids are a bit tiring at times (I am so not into the whole mommy blog thing), the rest of the book is warm. Niequist’s love of hospitality and her friends shines through, in a way that reminded me of myself and my own close group of friends. Her recipes also look pretty amazing, I have yet to try any, but I’m sure I will at some point. Niequist is vulnerable and strong all at the same time, quite the admirable quality. This would be a great gift for those in your life that love to eat, host, and probably for mothers too. It’s truly a charming read.
35.A Fighting Chance by Senator Elizabeth Warren
I realized that I haven’t read any political books in awhile. I saw this one in the new section of the library so I picked it up in a hurry. I knew a bit about Warren from her appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stuart and from her senate race in Massachusetts in 2012. In fact, I remember the emotional elation I felt when I heard she won, right before it was announced that President Obama was re-elected. That was a very good night. Warren’s story is a memoir, about her childhood in Oklahoma and the troubles of wanting a higher education as a woman in the mid-twentieth century. Her work with bankruptcy laws and consumer watchdog groups was incredibly intriguing. I know that to some, it may sound boring, but her work really highlighted the issues with the bank bailout in 2008 and the following consequences on American families. Politics aside, sometimes the book was a little too “See?! I’m just like you!” Warren doesn’t come from a wealthy family, but her need to identify with the reader came off a bit heavy handed at times. I’m curious to see where her political career goes from here. This book may not be for everyone, but if you’re in the least bit interested in political nuances, bankruptcy reform, and the like then you should pick this one up!
36. Night by Elie Wiesel
I met this book with dread. Strange that such a thin small book could be so intimidating. I figure if high school students could survive in on their curriculum, then I should just get through it. It was a book I hated not being able to put down. It hurt to read. I felt wave after wave of despair as a turned those pages, each heavier than the next. Night is the haunting true story of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany in the 40’s told by Holocaust survivor, Wiesel. As about 115 pages, this book doesn’t take long to read, but it sticks with you like sticky residue you can’t quite get off. A line that sticks with me is from the epilogue, which was Wiesel’s speech for his Noble Peace Prize Award, given to him in 1986. “Neutrality favors the side of the oppressor.” The oppressed can’t afford to do nothing. This line has followed me, much like Wiesel’s story. Everyone needs to read this masterpiece of darkness, despair, and humanity.
37. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve never read all of the Narnia series. I know, I know. Shame on me. After Night, I figured I could go for a bit of whimsy. And whimsy I received! I thoroughly enjoyed the first chapter of the Narnia canon. It played with the dreamy fantasy that I craved, but also had wonderfully executed parts of darkness which was pivotal to the growth of the story arc. The obvious biblical references were a bit over the top (WE GET IT LEWIS, ITS ABOUT JESUS), but I liked it nonetheless. I’m excited to continue on the journey with Peter, Susan, Edward, and Lucy. (I didn’t even look those up, pretty sure that’s right.)
38. My Life in France by Julia Child
Ah Paris. I fell in love with Paris, embarrassingly enough, after watchingMidnight in Paris. The movie dripped with gooey romance about the magical city of lights. The food, the wine, the clothes, the people! Ah, I love it all. Child’s memoir of her life there made me fall in love even more with a place that I’ve never had the chance to visit. The book follows her life in France for about a decade – the mid 1940’s to the mid 1950’s. Child lived a beautiful extravagant life. An upper middle class tale of long lunches, wine caves, and partying until the morning. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Child didn’t start her lessons at Cordon Bleu til she was 37. 37!! There’s still hope for me yet! It was also interesting to read about the McCarthy era from an expat perspective. This time of American history is endless fascinating. In any case, if you love food, France, or just beautifully written memoirs – I highly recommend this one. The peppering of francais throughout was thoroughly enjoyable as well, my two years of high school french finally came in handy (not really).
39. God, If You’re Not There, I’m F*cked by Darrell Hammond
I love Saturday Night Live. The idea of a weekly live sketch comedy show is amazing to me. 40 seasons in and though some seasons were obviously better than others, it remains. That’s what it is with comedy: it remains. I’m a big stand up fan, listening to the comedy station on Pandora more regularly than I do music. I picked up Hammond’s book on a whim. Of course, I was familiar with his work and hoped to get a backstage look at the wonder that is SNL. But wow. I was way off with this book. GIFNTIF is a memoir of Hammond’s traumatic childhood and his ensuing battles with mental health and addiction. SNL is mostly a background player in this one, not center stage.
The memoir is understandably dark as Hammond recounts the torture inflicted by his mother and the threats from his mostly absent father. Hammond is in and out of psychiatric units and ER rooms regularly. At times, I wanted to shake him. Not because mental health and addiction are foreign concepts to me, I know first hand that one cannot simply turn those things off. I wanted to shake him because I grew up watching him. What he did mattered and throughout his story, he questioned this endlessly. Those silly, but masterfully crafted impressions mattered. It is the saddest when someone does not know how much their craft means to this world. For him, impressions may have been silly, but laughter has a tendency to wake us up in a way few other things can. Hammond’s book is hard to read at times, but it’s worth checking out. He also offers SNL stories that fans want to hear about: when he had to break (meaning couldn’t help but visibly laugh on camera), which hosts were the worst and which were the kindest, and the hustle and bustle of what it means to be on SNL. It’s definitely worth a read.
40.Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
41. Julie & Julia by Julie Powell
Oh, this book. This damn book. I struggled with it. Usually, if I struggle to read a book I just quit it. That was my promise to myself this year. Like I said earlier, I was NOT going to waste time reading things that made me hate reading. Julie & Julia came SO close to this. But I kept picking it up before bed or lazily reading it on a Saturday morning. I knew there was something there. That something, er someone, was Julia Child. Ever since I read Child’s My Life in France (see #38), I’ve been fascinated with her. I wanted to read this because it was at least a little bit about Julia. You’d think it’d be, as the title suggests, at least half about Julia. BUT NOPE. It should have been titled Julie & Julie. Powell was insufferable. Maybe, I should back up and explain what this book was about. It was supposedly about Julie’s attempt at cooking through the entirety of Child’s seminal work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. This book is a spin off of the blog Julie kept recording her adventures with Julia in New York in 2002 (2003? I don’t know). I was hoping for a fun (and at times difficult) account of her cooking for a year. Well, there was some of that and whole lot of Powell’s other life (work, friends, etc…) that was so incredibly… annoying and needlessly theatrical.
Exhibit A: “Trussed chicken always look like sex crime victims, pale and flabby and hogtied.” Charming. I almost spit out my wine when I read that – who the hell writes shit like that? Horrible.
Why did I keep reading? Why? Because of that Julia woman! I wanted to see her peek out in this – and I simply loved the taste I got. I missed my adventures in France with her. And this seems like a bastardized way of remembering, but it’s what I had at the moment. So I trudged on, much like Powell did with her project. I struggled on like she did when dealing with all the recipes that required bone marrow, probably similar to how I felt as she wrote all about her friend’s phone sex with her married boss. I DON’T CARE, SHOW ME THE FOOD JULIE! Really, I may have not minded the stories about her life if I actually liked Powell. But it just wasn’t happening.
Another strange note about this book was that it was peppered with letters from Paul (Child’s husband) to Charlie (his twin brother living in the States). The letters barely even cover Child’s start at Le Cordon Bleu, most of them being about their meeting and courtship. While somewhat interesting, it had zero to do with food. At this point, I realized that, obviously, my expectations were way off.
Two more gripes: Powell talks about an “X men” special power symbol. What the hell is that? They are mutants! And there is no special power symbol. They are not the Power Rangers. (Okay I know that was nit picky and kind of nerdy, but it really annoyed me.) And the editors forgot to close a parenthesis midway through the book, so so so irritating.
Saving grace: the end was beautiful (partly because it was the end), and a lovely tribute to Child. I was incredibly glad it was over, probably how Powell felt about finishing her experiment. Funny how that worked out.
42. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Martin’s memoir is like no other. Born Standing Up documents his life as a stand up, covering his early childhood love for magic and performance and his ascension to comedic royalty. Martin is a shy and private man so I was wondering how his memoir would read. Though he gives some interesting (and painful) insights to his home life, particularly about his father, the memoir remains squarely in the sphere of his comedic life. Some relationships with several women are covered, but they’re mostly facts and anecdotes. There’s no Behind the Comedy: Steve Martin. Backstage: No entry allowed. While somewhat surprising and dismaying, I appreciated that Martin remained… well, himself. Many memoirs are transparent, opening wounds and leaving them uncovered for your own investigative pleasure. Martin doesn’t go there. He keeps his secrets close (like a true magician!)
The book ends right as he quits stand up for good and enters the world of feature films. This is where I know him best. I watched Father of the Brideendlessly. (Growing up in East Oakland, I didn’t know many white people so I figured they all had those huge houses like the Banks family. Oops!) Nonetheless, it was fascinating to learn about Martin’s early comedy career in San Francisco, how he helped set the foundation for modern stand up comedy. I truly love stand up and it was so fun to read about Martin’s journey creating that world. If you are super into stand up or comedy, I think you’d dig this one.
43. The Zimzum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell
Without even looking at the title, I order anything Rob Bell publishes. Bell’s writing has been my mentor (unbeknownst to him) for the better part of the last decade. His work is a huge factor in why I still identify as a Christian and didn’t give up on the whole messed thing all together. When I realized what I had pre-ordered online was that his new book was written with his wife and that it focused on marriage. What a delight! I have read MANY Christian marriage books thanks to my masters thesis and they all a) blinded me with rage 2) made me want to cry 3) made me laugh out loud until I ended up crying 4) vomit.
I figured Bell’s take on marriage would be refreshing, inspiring, and maybe even helpful. And what did I get? Just that. This book isn’t necessarily revolutionary, but oh what a breath of fresh air to read a marriage book that doesn’t fall into dull and overdone stereotypes (Women are from Pluto! Men are from Antarctica!). The Bells’ use non-gendered language (speaking of which, they also included a sweet and quick line about same sex marriage, affirming same sex couple’s equal place at the marriage table) and hone in on simple things: communication, responsiveness, and sacredness. The book is short and sweet, but plenty of substance to chew on. Great for the partner in your relationship that hates reading since it’s short (about 112 pages, with pictures!) Bell knocked it out of the park again. And fear not, there’s actually not that many overtly Christian-y things. So for folks who don’t vibe with religion, this book can still be right up your alley.
44. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
I wanted to like this book as badly as I want to like Lena Dunham. Unfortunately, I fell short on both accounts. It’s not that Dunham is particularly unlikeable, in fact, many millennial gals like myself are fans of both her politics and work. She is supposed to be relatable – that’s her big shtick. She is not a rail thin waifish actress, lacking knowledge of the conflict in Syria or thoughts on the latest Donna Tartt novel. Dunham is sharp and self aware. Maybe it was her privileged upbringing (daughter of artists in Tribeca) or her admittance of being way too self involved (which she was), that makes this book a chore to get through. I thought I’d fly right through it, as I do most memoirs, but Dunham’s desperation to be relatable proved to be a major turn off.
Then again, maybe she wasn’t trying to be relatable. She was just telling her story. And though, at times it was amusing, mostly it was just plain boring.
45. Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
46. Home by Toni Morrison
Confession: This is the first Toni Morrison book I’ve ever read. I always thought I’d start with one of her classics, but this one (more recently published) jumped out of me. Maybe it was the name or the stark and simple cover, but I was drawn to Home. I was not disappointed. Obviously, Ms. Morrison can write. Her words so rich and full, delicious. Home is about a Korean War veteran, homeless and wanting to find his little sister, a woman who’s had her own terribly rough journey while he was gone and experiencing the horror of war. It’s a stunning story. I loved it and am so excited to read more of her work.
47. Small Victories by Anne Lamott
48. Title Pending by Justin McRoberts
McRoberts’ second book, Title Pending, is about the creative process. How we create, why we create. It’s not a topic I’d usually read about, but I’m glad I did. It helped get the fire under me to write and get this thing you’re reading actually going. It’s a short and quick read, but filled with pragmatic advice. A highlighted portion: “Many of your efforts, especially early on, will miss. Don’t let that keep you from putting everything you have into your work.” (p.16) Man, this rung so loudly for me. I’ve tried to do so many times to write, to lead. And mostly it’s crashed and burned. I don’t take failure particularly well and it always set me back. It was crushing, debilitating. Those words mustered up some courage in me. And with courage comes fire. I am grateful for this book. If you need a kick in the ass to get something started that you’ve been avoiding, definitely pick this one up.
49. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Upon looking at my calendar for the end of December, I knew that fitting in 50 books this year would be rough. And here I am, December 30th and CURRENTLY reading the 50th. With New Year’s Eve plans raring to go and a cool 150 pages left, it is obvious that I won’t make my goal.
Enter sadness and disappointment.
Though frustrated, the lack of meeting my own set goal seemed fitting for the year. This year was hard. Really hard. Losses the size of mountains, grief snuck up in the middle of the night, wrapped in anxiety lurking in the shadows.
Good riddance to this year, I say! So I thought it would be fitting that I:
1) didn’t complete my goal and 2) end it on the up and up.
I’ve only read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe once years ago. Reading the Magicians series this year made me nostalgic for the Narnia series – though of course, I hadn’t read it. Funny how some of our strongest senses of nostalgia often sit on the shoulders of illusion. Anyway, I read the book over the course of a couple days while visiting my husband’s family in southern Washington. The gloom and cold, that irresistibly romantic fog of the pacific northwest was the perfect setting to jump into the cold endless winter of Narnia.
What can I say? Everything about it was perfect. Narnia is one of those places like Hogwarts, Fillory, the Shire. They are portals and sometimes they’re not always good, but they are always home. It was lovely to end my year with Peter, Susan, Edward, and Lucy. What a gift it is to know such characters. I look forward to their continued companionship in the new year.