books: of july and august.

I really like to read. When I’m not reading, I’m spending more time on social media and less time writing which is never a positive thing for me. Reading stories from other people, whether true or not helps me live out mine better.

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my reads from july and august.

So, if you are looking for a new read or just want to read about what a person who reads read in the last few months, continue on! If not, now would be a solid time to bail.

I have had a bit of extra reading time recently, so more ground (pages) have been covered than usual. Not mad about it.

(Note: my goal is not to be critical for the sake of being critical. This post is just to let you know my thoughts, but I’m fully aware that you might love books that I didn’t and vice versa. I’m  not claiming to be a pro-book reviewer by any means. I’ll also add that if you are sensitive to language or mature themes, then do your own research on the books. As a few of these cover hard topics like domestic abuse, addiction, and mental illness, there is some content that you might not be comfortable with.)

NONFICTION

First up, Still Writing by Dani Shapiro. I loved this book. It was almost a five star read, but I find that I tend to save five stars for the books that I can’t stop thinking or talking about. While I loved every moment I spent reading Still Writing, I haven’t found myself thinking about it since I did. This books also feels like it has a very specific audience. Individuals who are not writers probably would not find this book very relatable.

This is my first book by Dani Shapiro and I *thoroughly* enjoyed it. I am fairly picky about my non-fiction books, and I thought this one about the creative/writing life was brilliant. A perfect mix of inspiration, practical info, and empathy for us creatives. I will absolutely return to this again and again in moments of feeling lack luster creatively.

By the way, I am a multiple-book-reader-at-once person, and I always try to have one book about creativity, art, or writing in my rotation. It helps me feel less alone. 🙂

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. After loving Still Writing so much, I was not expecting to have another five star read on creativity/writing so soon. Usually the bookiverse does not work like that (anyone else feel like they have a one to ten five star read ratio!?), but I could not have been more taken by a book if I wanted to be.

I don’t know what took me so long to read Rilke’s work, but I can only think that if I had I might not have been able to appreciate it as much as I do currently.

This short book in particular is in the format of letters (as the title implies). A young man sent his own material to Rilke asking for advice and the “chapters” in the book are Rilke’s responses to the young man’s letters and work.

Philosophical, weighty, and a fantastic reminder of the necessity of creative work. Read *clap emoji* this *clap emoji* book* clap emoji*.

Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human by John Comer. Would recommend this to anyone!

No, it wasn’t the highest scoring book on my list but the information it contains is gold. I hope this explanation isn’t confusing, but some writers make you feel like you are having a conversation which propels you forward in the narrative and others move you along by the sole weight of their words. This book definitely lands in the “moves you with conversation” category. While it totally comes down to a matter of preference, I prefer more fluid writing which is why this won’t be on my favorites list. Comer’s short sentences were super quick to scan, but never stopped me in my (reading) tracks. Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

My favorite chapter was about Sabbath. It was brilliant and I think the book is worth buying for that chapter alone (although there is much more than that alone in the book worth reading!). Here’s a quote from the book that I loved–

“That’s why Sabbath is an expression of faith. Faith that there is a Creator and he’s good. We are his creation. This is his world. We live under his roof, drink his water, eat his food, breathe his oxygen. So on the Sabbath, we don’t just take a day off from work; we take a day off from toil. We give him all our fear and anxiety and stress and worry. We let go. We stop ruling and subduing, and we just be. We “remember” our place in the universe. So that we never forget…There is a God, and I’m not him.”

John Mark Comer, Garden City

Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight by Linda BaconThere’s a lot I could say about this book. If you are uncomfortable with your size (hand raised) or struggle with the cultural messages around weight (hand raised) or if you have never read about the marginalization of individuals in bigger bodies (my hand would previously have been raised), just read it. It’s eye opening and challenging and a must read for everyone.

It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa Terkhurst. If you are walking through disappointment, disillusionment, grief, pain, etc. etc. this book is comforting and challenging and a great companion for growth in those seasons. I could feel Lysa extending empathy to me through her words, and that is hard to do through black and white words on a page. I’m so thankful for this book!

I received it as a gift and would give it to my friends without hesitation.

Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best by Eugene Peterson and Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work  also by Eugene Peterson.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetEugene Peterson will forever and always be one of my favorite authors. My all time favorite (thus far) is still A Long Obedience in the Same Direction but both of these books closely trail that one.

However, I would say that the intended audience for Five Smooth Stones is geared towards individuals who are actively in  pastoral ministry within a Christian context. There are universally applicable truths, but I feel that individuals who are familiar with pastoral ministry will find this most impactful. I can’t wait to come back to this book in a few years and see how my perspective has changed and how differently I understand the concepts Peterson talks about after having more experience in ministry.

Run with the Horses is brilliant. Peterson dives into the life of Jeremiah to show what a life fully submersed, captivated, and empowered by God looks like.

“Long before we ever got around to asking questions about God, God had been questioning us. Long before we got interested in the subject of God, God subjected us to the most intensive and searching knowledge. Before it ever crossed our minds that God might be important, God singled us out as important. Before we were formed in the womb, God knew us. We are known before we know. This realization has a practical result: no longer do we run here and there, panicked and anxious, searching for the answers to life. Our lives are not puzzles to be figured out. Rather, we come to God, who knows us and reveals to us the truth of our lives. The fundamental mistake is to begin with ourselves and not God. God is the center from which all life develops. If we use our ego as the center from which to plot the geometry of our lives, we will live eccentrically.”

Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses

The Way of the Warrior: An Ancient Path to Inner Peace by Erwin McManus. I have recently discovered the greatness that is Erwin McManus. I bought this book a few weeks ago after hearing him preach an amazing message at my church. 

This book is worth buying for the information alone. His thoughts and revelation on peace are practical and important. On a technical note, I appreciated that his chapters were a super appropriate length for this type of book. I find that when spiritual/self help books have chapter that are longer that 15 pages, they start to drag, especially if there isn’t continuity in the information. They also can’t be too short though or it just feel choppy and I personally feel like I “snacked” my way through a book instead of having a meal. (Not always a bad thing, but I appreciate that this wasn’t the case with this book.)

(If you aren’t a reader, I would recommend listening the McManus’ teaching series based on this book available through the Mosaic podcast. It’s pretty much the same info in a message format. Brilliant.)

FICTION

And my first fiction read on the list–A History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I think this book had potential to be a 3.5 or even 4 star read if I would have been in the right headspace. However, this book takes an immense about of focus in order to follow the multiple (4 or 5, maybe 6?) story lines that are simultaneous occurring in different decades.

The writing is absolutely well done, and there were some one liners that I definitely jotted down, but this book never had my full attention–something that is important for me to love a book. The plot felt too scattered for me personally. There wasn’t enough momentum in the individual story lines to pull me along. If the reader is in the right headspace, they might love it. But this time, I wasn’t and didn’t!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

I loved this book. I’m not sure what I had expected from this book, but I wasn’t ready for what it gave me. Eleanor had me laughing with a few killer one liners and crying with her perspective of life. Eleanor also taught me about 30 new words, for which I am indebted (how great are the words rebarbative and sybaritic!) Haha.

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The mystery of what happened to Eleanor (and her mom) unfolds in the context of Eleanor’s normal life–her work, drunk weekends, and loneliness. I loved the character of Raymond (as most do), and felt like I could imagine the conversations they had.

Highly recommended for readers who need to love the characters they are reading about! I miss Eleanor, haha. (Note: If you are a reader who likes fast-paced, extremely interesting plots, this probably won’t be your favorite book.)

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. (To quickly reiterate my note from the beginning of this post–this is just my experience with the book, it does not mean that you will have the same experience!) I was really disappointed with this book. After seeing it on quite a few “best” lists, my hopes were high.

I did enjoy the setting–its not every day that you read about the inner working of a circus. I also thought that the changes in time were well done (we first read about Jacob, the main character, in a nursing home waiting for his family to take him to the circus, which launches us into the story of why the circus matters to him). If there wasn’t the changes in time, the book would have been a bust for me. My favorite parts of the book was about Jacob’s experience in the nursing home, not about the circus.

Overall, I did not connect with the characters, which I’m realizing is necessary for me to really love a story. I enjoyed some of the minor characters, but others, such as August, felt one dimensional and predictable.

Not my favorite book by a long shot. I was reading just to get it over with by the end (which I found to be totally unbelievable and kind of a cop out).

I would pass on this one!

The Veins of the Ocean  by Patricia Engel.

So, I probably shouldn’t review this book as I didn’t finish it. This is a book in which I think the timing is crucial. I’m shelving this one for now and will maybe pick it up again in the future. I made it about halfway through, but decided to stop as it felt like a chore to read.

The story starts out with an almost unbelievable incident–the kind that you see on the news every twenty or so years–before diving into the back story of the family involved. About a third of the way through it took a turn I was not expecting at all, which is when I realized that this was a much different book than I thought it was going to be.

Although Reina, the main character, and I have no shared life experiences, I felt like I could completely empathize with her isolation. The way the author wrote Reina’s dialogue made me feel as though I was actually in the room with her, observing her life. I felt that sense of quietness that you do when you sit alone without distraction in a room and I read Reina’s story.

However, it got too quiet for me. I can usually enjoy slower paced plots but this time it just did not do quite enough to  keep me engaged. I think I need “higher volume” stories at this point in my life to override the volume of my thoughts! Haha. (That leads me to the final book!)

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Why has it taken me so long to read Tolkien’s work!?

I recently curated a “master list” of books that I have wanted to read for years but never got around to and the Lord of the Rings series is pretty high on the list. For some reason, I was expecting this book to be a more challenging read because not only was it written nearly a century ago, but because it is set in an entirely made up world–Middle Earth. Sometimes I struggle with stories set in completely fictional places, but I did not at all with this one.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetBilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves made me laugh and think and seriously worry for their safety. I loved the pace of the plot, not slow but also not hurried. 

Tolkien is truly a master story teller. It was so interesting to me how the story was told from a narrator’s perspective yet I felt totally present in the events that were happening.

Would highly recommend if you like adventure stories that are also heavy with meaning.

(I bought this leather bound, almost pocket sized LOTR series and I’m obsessed!)

And that wraps up my book review! Congratulations if you made it to the end! Haha. I hope you found a book or two that you are interested in reading.

new ground.

At the beginning of the year, my hopes were soaring towards the new ground that I seemed to be stepping into.

Diploma? check.
Full time job? check.
Growing/moving into independence? check, check.

Surely this is it—my new ground.

It felt like the new I had been hoping for for so long. Unfamiliar and uncomfortable yet exciting and seemingly appointed.

Too many “coincidences” were lining up to be true coincidences. It felt like favor and it also felt intimidating.

Overall, I was hopeful. This is what new ground should be expected to feel like. I had asked for it, seen it coming, and was ready for it (or so I thought).

And then the new ground swallowed me whole and I found myself feeling like Alice from Wonderland when she was falling into Wonderland. Remember the part of the story when Alice chased down the white rabbit leading her to fall head-first into that mysterious black hole? That’s exactly what I felt like.

When I fell through my own black hole, so to speak, I landed in a place I never thought I would again** find myself in.

Honestly, it has felt like failure.

It has felt like shame, like solidification of my incapability and dysfunction. Evidence that even if there had been a call/purpose or whatever you want to call it for my life, I had clearly forfeited it, unequipped with the strength or will or substance to bear it.

It really is the visiting that place again** that breaks me. If I couldn’t conquer or even cross this certain terrain once, what makes me think I could do it this time?

In the midst of that shame fog, a question caught my attention like a light in a cave.

“What if this is the new ground?”

What if in order to move into that expected new ground , I have to first go back to the unclaimed ground that I had previously settled in my heart would never be mine?

What if claiming new ground is also about re-claiming the untilled, vacant ground that preceded it?

What if stepping into new ground isn’t only about claiming new beginnings but about reclaiming the old failures, watching them become pathways to the fullness of redemption?


If you feel that your hopes for the new have fallen down into that mysterious black hole and you’re discouraged—I get it, I feel it. But lets remember that we might just be stepping into a holy place. A holy place that is appointed to reveal a new wholeness in our lives. Holy wholeness.

No, we weren’t looking for it or even desiring it. (Or at least we didn’t think we were.)

We wanted to move on, to claim our new ground. To reach a new level, to move into the proverbial ultra modern yet minimalist and also homey penthouse. We were not wanting to face our crumbling foundations.

Yet, we stand with eyes wide open to the work that needs to be done in order for us to eventually move fully equipped into what waits in the future. Let’s do the work.

Remember the white rabbit that lead Alice into the black hole? He sang a song that said—“I’m late! I’m late for a very important date!” Doesn’t this capture how most of us feel? Like if we don’t “take our new ground” fast enough then we will be running hopelessly late.

I won’t speak for you, but I absolutely feel like I’m falling behind too much of the time.

As it turns out in Alice in Wonderland, the white rabbit’s rushing song is a song of fear. A song of the fear of being judged and punished and abandoned for his lateness to the party.

The rabbit analogy breaks down right about now, but I think you get the point. (Thanks for the help, Lewis Caroll.)

This song of fear, of being left behind might is the anthem of our culture, and there’s no doubt it’s tempting to join in the chorus. But whenever we decide to stand still and put in work when life invites us into the quiet moments of reclaiming, we are refusing to participate in that worn out song of fear and self-reliance.

As we stand still we find room to breathe, and we uncover life where we thought we’d never find it.

This won’t be for everyone, but for those of us who do have dry, overrun ground to re-claim, let’s see the opportunity to face the struggle as a gift—because it is. I mean, if we let it and lean into it, it can be.

Just being honest.