Decorating for Christmas is one of my favorite activities. I especially love putting ornaments up on the tree and reminiscing about travels and family activities.
Last year as a new home owner, I decided to add a little bit of extra holiday book-ish cheer to my new home. I purchased a set of 21 custom book cover ornaments from a lovely Etsy shop, Ink and Shrink Swag.
It was hard to narrow down my favorite books and also to select a little variety in the cover art. I appreciate that Kristina, the shop owner and artist, allows customers to send her images of specific covers for books with multiple options.
Friends and family who visited my home last year admired the book ornaments and wanted to purchase their own. However, Kristina closes her shop early in the season because of high demand. So if you are interested in purchasing your own custom book ornaments, make your selections quickly! Or be prepared to save this link until next Holiday season.
I ordered several clear glass ornaments filled with words from my favorite books. The vendor has a huge selection of ornaments to choose from. I opted for Moby Dick, Catcher in the Rye, and The Great Gatsby. These ornaments are almost like custom made because you can select a pre-made ornament with special meaning for the gift giver/receiver. The best part is that the inside of the ornament is filled with pages from books that were discarded or damaged and no longer suitable for reading. These ornaments give old books new life!
To fill in the tree a little bit, I added one of these paper rose balls. They are delicate and beautiful. The artist also has a variety of other paper flower art, like wreaths and garlands. Definitely worth taking a look at! Or if you are feeling especially crafty and patient, you might be able to give it a try creating your own.
I did a LOT of reading in August and finished 15 books including 2 children’s books. This was my second highest total number of books in one month. The highest month was March when I finished 20 books. Looking back, I don’t even know how I did that in March?!
Stay tuned for my September recap when I finish book #100 for the year!
August was a mix of quantity and quality. A few books really stood out and some were duds.
I’ll start with my five favorites that I read in August.
One of those wonderful books that received a lot of hype over the summer and it lived up to the hype, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. The author does a wonderful job creating dynamic characters who captivate the reader. There are some sad events that take place in the novel. Fortunately, the plot moves along and doesn’t linger too much in the sadness. Published in April 2022, it is a very impressive debut novel. This would be a great book club pick. Highly recommend reading!
Another favorite from the month of August was How to be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question by Michael Schur. I am a fan of the TV show The Good Place and when I saw that the writer and executive producer of the show had published a book, I was intrigued. I listened to the audio version of the book and was pleasantly surprised with the way notes were added into the primary text. The audio version also features short segments with the actors from The Good Place and I really enjoyed hearing their voices. If you enjoyed the tv show The Good Place or you are a major philosophy nerd, give this book a try.
August was filled with multiple audiobooks that made me laugh out loud while listening! I listened to the audiobook Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle while driving from CT to Washington DC around Labor Day Weekend. This was the perfect audiobook for a long drive. Father Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest who ministers to former gang members through Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California. Barking to the Choir is Boyle’s second book and tells more stories from Homeboy Industries. An excellent read on spirituality, compassion, and being a follower of Jesus.
A fun thing about reading so much in one year is the variety of books and how long it takes me to read them. Some books I finish in a day and others I read on and off for months. My Life with the Saints by Fr. James Martin was one of those that I read slowly over the course of several months. Each chapter is dedicated to the life of a saint. Father James Martin is a wonderful storyteller and I enjoyed reading about his personal connections to various saints. If you are interested in learning more about several saints, I recommend reading this book.
My friend Emily Bruce recommended Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard to me after she picked it up from the library earlier this year. I have been on a big kick of reading about trees so I quickly decided I would read it. Published in 2021, Simard’s research on the ways that trees communicate and support each other was fascinating. Simard has lived an interesting life and did a great job describing her friends and family in the book. Overall, it was somewhat heavy on science, compared to some other popular nature books, but still enjoyable.
Everything else I read in August:
The Maid by Nita Prose
The first book I finished in August was for book club. I am not a big fan of mysteries. I will say this book was a quick read, the plot didn’t drag on too slowly. And I enjoyed some of the twists and turns along the way. The Maid was selected as a Good Morning America book club pick and was optioned for film before it was published. If you enjoy mysteries, you will probably like this book!
Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr
I am always a fan of Richard Rohr’s writing and I read this book to help me prepare a sermon on St. Francis of Assisi. I learned a lot about the theology of Francis of Assisi through this book. I was a little bit frustrated by the disjointed chapters and lack of a good introduction to St. Francis’ biography. If you are interested in his biography, find another book. This book is good for those who want an easy theological read.
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
I almost gave up on this book at one point. Then I decided to recommit to finishing. Initially, I liked the idea of The Paper Palace because of the setting on Cape Cod. However, the alternating timelines were frustrating and the amount of trauma in the book was overwhelming. It felt like the author was just piling on everything she could imagine that could go wrong.
Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
Similar to the book I read about St. Francis, I picked up this book by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis in order to prepare for a sermon. Over the summer I was leading a worship series called “Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints” and Rev. Jacqui Lewis is profiled in the middle-grade children’s book. Maybe because I’m a minister, I really wanted more theology and links to Scripture in Fierce Love. I learned a lot about Lewis’ life and I would have loved a more robust spiritual reflection.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Kafka-esque is a phrase that can sometimes be overused and misused. However, Murata has created a character that reminded me a lot of The Metamorphosis. The main character Keiko is only truly herself when at work in the convenience store. This is a slim novel of about 160 pages. It was interesting to try something new with this book; it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For and Believeby Richard Rohr
Normally, I am a huge fan of Richard Rohr; this was not my favorite book of his. Published in 2019, I’ve had it sitting on my shelf for a while and I finally sat down to read it in August. I might have put this book on too high of a pedestal in my own mind because I wasn’t blown away while reading it. This might just have been bad timing. I will likely keep this book on my shelf and may return to it again someday.
Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To: Why Rigorous, Reasonable, and Real Religious Community Still Matters by Lillian Daniel
Another book where I am a big fan of the author, however the words didn’t captivate me. Lillian Daniel’s writing on church is good… maybe these ideas are more mainstream 6 years after this book was first released in 2016. One of the primary take-aways I have been wrestling with is thinking about how to share church with those who haven’t grown up in a faith tradition. Most of the current model around church life is sustained exclusively by those who already have a basic education of Christian faith. How can modern mainline church leaders today reach those outside of the church walls?
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Sometimes when I dive deeply into a topic… I hit the bottom of the pool. This was a fine book, but I overdid it a little bit on my reading about trees. The Hidden Life of Trees had many short chapters and gave a high level overview of several topics I had already learned about in other recent books. If you are looking for an enjoyable easy to read book about trees, this might be a good one to get you started. If you’ve already read a lot about the topic, you can probably skip this one.
I finished 10 books in July. I was on vacation for two weeks and packed 4 books with me. It felt like a major book nerd accomplishment not to overpack books on vacation and actually read everything I brought.
The first book I read in July was a fiction book to mentally transport me to Italy a few days before traveling, One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle. If you have been in any bookstore over the summer, you probably saw this book on a display table. It has a beautiful cover and has been getting a lot of buzz over the summer. This slim novel is only 272 pages which allowed me to easily read it in one day, while recovering from COVID. I struggled to form strong connections with any of the characters and I didn’t think the writing about Italy was very captivating.
My next book read in July was one that many Americans read while in high school, A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I had never read this book before and I selected it due to its setting in New Hampshire. Knowles is an excellent writer, he creates engaging characters and the plot moves at a good pace. First published in 1959, the novel shows its age with some content that might slightly ruffle modern readers’ feathers.
I started and stopped The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd several times before I finally finished it in July. It has a very slow start and took a while to get hooked on the story. The premise for those unfamiliar, Sue Monk Kidd imagines that Jesus had a wife and her name is Ana. I enjoyed reading the author’s imaginings. Sue Monk Kidd is a reliable author whose writing I usually enjoy.
The first book I packed for my Italy vacation was Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. I started reading the book on the plane and read more than half of the book before landing. I finished the rest of the book on the train from Rome to Cinque Terre. Doerr writes about a year spent in Rome through a writing fellowship with his wife and 6 month old twin boys. The book is partly reflections on his experience in the city and partly new parent reflections. Very enjoyable book. I recommend this book to anyone who has visited Rome or is planning to visit.
My next vacation read was The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Another book that begins with a slow burn. Miller is a great writer who paints a beautiful picture with her words. The reader can imagine the scenes very vividly. Again, most of my reading was on the train while on vacation. The Song of Achilles was published in 2011 and has excellent reviews on Goodreads. I also have a copy of Circe, Miller’s most recent novel, published in 2018. I will likely read Circe sometime in the next year.
The final book I finished while on vacation was Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall. This book was one that my mom had loaned me several years ago. The book is a memoir and I thought the author had sort of a strange relationship to herself, she was very self-critical. I wouldn’t really recommend this book, unless you love reading about gardening.
When I returned from vacation I finished reading The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. The author worked for The Motley Fool and I enjoyed reading the brief chapters on psychology and money. The chapters stand alone and the author is a good storyteller. While this book is not a traditional pool or beach read, it was in my pool bag for a good portion of the summer!
One of my favorite books in July was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. First published in 1961, I listened to the 2019 audiobook recording read by Rainn Wilson. Wilson does an excellent job conveying emotion while reading. I didn’t know much about the plot before beginning to read this book and I was pleasantly surprised by how captivating the story was. Listening to The Phantom Tollbooth was joyful and I highly recommend reading or re-reading this book.
Earlier in the summer, I read Emily Nagoski’s first book and I was very interested in following up with her most recent book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, co-written with her sister, Amelia Nagoski. The book is based on both qualitative and quantitative research. Both authors do a good job breaking down complicated scientific explanations. And I enjoyed the composite stories that also weave throughout the book.
The final book I finished reading in July was An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo. Harjo is one of my favorite poets and I enjoyed this collection of poems, first published in 2019. Similar to Amanda Gorman’s collection, there is a variety of styles of poetry in this collection. Harjo’s poetry is thought provoking and educational. I learned a lot about the Mvskoke people and their homeland through Harjo’s poems.
I finished 8 books in June, including 1 children’s book.
The best book that I finished in June was Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman. I read this poetry collection on and off for about ten weeks. Amanda Gorman is truly an amazing poet. She is incredibly creative, I was amazed by the variety of poem formats in the collection. If you enjoyed her spoken word poem at the Inauguration in 2021 and are interested in reading more poetry, I highly recommend this collection. Not only are the poems captivating, but the book itself is also high quality. It would be an excellent graduation gift or gift for a special occasion.
A book that surprised me
My Losing Season by Pat Conroy
My Losing Season was our book club pick for this month. I was apprehensive going into this book because it is all about sports and basketball. This was my first time reading any of Pat Conroy’s writing and I was amazed by his skills and craft as a writer. Even though I wasn’t invested in how Conroy’s basketball team performed, I was engaged with his story and enjoyed the book overall. Thank you Mark M. for your book club pick!
A book with a simple formula
The 2-Hour Cocktail Party: How to Build Big Relationships with Small Gatherings by Nick Gray
Published in June 2022, I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book, courtesy of the author, Nick Gray. I connected with Nick several years ago through Museum Hack, a tour company he founded in New York City. Nick is a prolific networker and has perfected a formula for a 2-hour cocktail party. This was a quick, easy read and the formula seems easy to follow. I thought a lot about this book over the summer. While reading the book, I was convinced that I should give his formula a try, however after more thought, I realized that I prefer smaller dinner party style gatherings. When I was living in Washington DC I was a big fan of networking events. But when I think about evenings that had a more significant impact, dinner parties are my personal preference. If someone is curious about hosting friends, I think this book is a good intro to help build confidence.
A book to consider
Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR by Lisa Napoli
This book was included with my Audible membership and I probably would have been frustrated if I had used a credit to listen/read it. I certainly learned a lot about the women in the title: Susan, Linda, Nina and Cokie. I went into this book with very limited knowledge of each woman and not a lot of awareness around NPR’s founding. I enjoyed the history aspect. My critique is it felt like the author kept her topic at arm’s length distance, the writing lacked passion and was missing a strong narrative thread to weave together the different profiles. If you are a big NPR nerd, you may enjoy this book.
A book for those who like a series
Anna K.: Away by Jenny Lee
Every so often I enjoy a good Young Adult (YA) book! The first book in the Anna K. series was published March 3, 2020 and I think it was my Book of the Month selection in March 2020. I quickly devoured the book in the early days of the pandemic and it provided a great distraction. I was excited in 2021 when the second book in the series was released. The series is Gossip Girl meets Crazy Rich Asians. I enjoyed reading about the glitz and glam of the ultra rich characters. I think it is necessary to read the first book in order to appreciate Anna K. Away. Since it had been over 2 years since I read the first book, I was a little confused trying to remember the characters. I had to look up recaps for book 1 so I could remember what had happened. If you enjoy YA, start with Anna K. and then follow up with Anna K. Away!
A book that disappointed
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman
Goodreads doesn’t usually steer me wrong, but this book did not live up to my expectations. It currently has a Goodreads rating of 4.22 stars (out of 5). But it was barely a 2 star read for me! The main character, Emilia, annoyed me from the beginning and she was intended to be fairly likable. The author gave her a scar and kept writing about her rubbing her scar, it felt silly. The title was a little misleading too because I thought that the story was going to be sort of mystical/fantasy. Instead, most of the characters were whiny and boring.
Some books are better than others
Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir by Joan Chittister
Overall, I am a big fan of Sister Joan Chittister. She is an inspiring social activist. Her 2019 book, The Time is Now, was one of my favorite reads of 2020. But as I said in the heading for this book “some books are better than others.” Called to Question was a compilation of journal entries with expanded reflections. Chittister expresses a lot of frustration about the role of women in the Catholic church. As an ordained female pastor in the UCC, it was difficult to read about her struggles. I had a hard time connecting with her writing in Called to Question, but I’m still a big fan of her work and look forward to reading some of her other books (she has published over a dozen books of spiritual writing).
May was a busy month for me at work and a lighter reading month. I finished 7 books, including one children’s book. Most of the books I read this month were in audio format. I enjoy listening to audiobooks while I drive, when I’m walking around my neighborhood, or doing chores at home. I also find that once I’m captivated by a book, I’ll come home and keep listening to the audiobook on the couch.
Normally, I have been organizing these reading recaps chronologically. I’m mixing things up a little bit this time and instead re-arranging. I’ll start this post with three books I enjoyed reading in May and would recommend. The second half of the post will be three books that didn’t work for me.
A highlight of my May reading was Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, published in 1987. This was my book club pick for May. It was my first time reading anything written by Wallace Stegner. Pacing and character development were excellent in this book. A lot of the action in the book takes place in Vermont; I felt like I was transported to the lake while reading. I have a used paperback copy of Angle of Repose on my shelves and will read more Stegner soon.
Another book I enjoyed in May was Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe by Dawn Tripp. Georgia O’Keeffe is one of my favorite artists. I realized while reading this book that I didn’t know much about her personal life. This book is historical fiction, focused primarily on her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz. O’Keeffe’s artwork is very influenced by nature and I thought the author did an excellent job describing the nature that inspired the painter.
The final book I enjoyed reading in May was Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski. While the book has some provocative cover art, the content in the book is expertly researched and well organized. The author does an excellent job blending scientific analysis with storytelling. Part of my interest in picking up this book was sparked by signing up for OWL training, Our Whole Lives, for the fall. OWL is a sexuality education program created by the UCC and UUA. When I was growing up there was very minimal sex education in schools. I think it is important to be informed as an adult and I found Nagoski’s book a great way to help me unpack old lessons I learned.
Those were the three books I really enjoyed reading in May, now to recap a few that missed the mark for me.
I have read a few books by Parker Palmer and I normally enjoy his reflections. However, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life was not my favorite. The audio version was available for free with my Audible subscription. I’m glad I didn’t use a credit on this book. The title didn’t match with the content of the book. The book was primarily an explanation of circles of trust, why the reader should attempt one, and what benefits Palmer has experienced from them. My frustration was that the book was not what I expected and didn’t feel as impactful as Palmer’s other books.
Another book that I was disappointed in was Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener. First published in early 2020, it had been on my radar since it was added to the NYTimes best books of the year at the end of 2020. I’ll quote from my Goodreads review to highlight my thoughts on this book: “Usually when reading a memoir, the reader becomes invested in the life of the memoirist. That’s often the purpose of reading about someone’s life. A look behind the curtain, cheer them on. From start to finish, I never cared what was going to happen in the life of the author, never developed an emotional connection. So why keep reading? Well it was a short enough book that once I was 30 minutes in, listening at 2x speed, I figured, ah I might as well just finish…”
Finally, one other book that I read this month was The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. This book was historical fiction around the story of Achilles, the Battle of Troy, and the women in the camps. I had this book on my radar for a while, along with The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Of the two recent retellings of the story of Achilles, The Song of Achilles was much better. Barker’s characters were not as captivating and the plot moved a little too slowly.
In May, I read historical fiction, nonfiction, literary fiction, and a memoir. What is your favorite genre to read?
Note: It is the end of July and I’ve finally finished up this reading recap, three months later!
I finished 13 books in April. I will recap 11 of them here. I read two children’s books and I’ll include them in a separate post.
I don’t do a lot of re-reading, but my first finished book in April 2022 was actually one I was reading for the 3rd time. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is an incredible book, first published in 2014. I was rereading this book in preparation for leading a workshop on the book during a Stephen Ministry retreat. Even on my third read, I was drawing new insights and helpful reminders from the book.
Usually I enjoy Anne Lamott’s writing, but I wasn’t a huge fan of Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. I was listening to the book on audio and the sound quality was terrible. It certainly detracted from the listening experience. I recently had the realization that Anne Lamott and Jerry Seinfeld actually have a lot in common. They both share noticings, small everyday reflections, which are best considered in small doses. Otherwise, they become somewhat whiny and annoying.
In my March recap, I mentioned a cover confusion when I read Grit by Angela Duckworth. So in April I listened to the audiobook, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink. I liked Drive much more than Grit. I also had a paperback copy at home and I skimmed it after finishing the audiobook. I was very impressed with the physical layout of Drive. The chapters were well organized and there were pictures mixed in. Either audio or print would be a good option for this book.
As we approached Easter, I finished reading the Lenten study book we were using at the church. Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week by Amy-Jill Levine was a wonderful Lenten study. The book was paired with weekly videos and there was also a printed leader’s guide. Amy-Jill Levine is a brilliant scholar and I enjoyed her reflections on the events of Holy Week and the final days of the life of Jesus. I hope to read more of her writing in the future.
I’m a big fan of @blackliturgies on Instagram so when I saw the creator, Cole Arthur Riley, had a book coming out, I preordered it right away. The chapter that will stick with me for a long time is chapter 8 on Lament. This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us by Cole Arthur Riley was a good book that I could see myself returning to for sermon illustrations.
During Holy Week, I had the opportunity to do a study retreat at Mercy by the Sea in Madison, CT. While I was doing a lot of work and planning on retreat, I used this book to guide some of my personal devotion time, Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus by Fr. James Martin. I love Fr. James Martin’s storytelling. This slim volume, only 144 pages, is perfect for someone who wants to scratch the surface on Good Friday.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith was a five star read for me. Smith does an amazing job reporting on historic sites and presenting their historical connections to the slave trade. The subject matter is challenging, it can be difficult to wrap your mind around the cruelty and horror. Smith doesn’t shy away from the tough parts. He expertly weaves a narrative thread through this nonfiction book. The two chapters I found most powerful were on Monticello and Angola Prison. Please read this important book!
My next read was a fun audiobook, The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher. Published in 2022, The Paris Bookseller is historical fiction focused on the famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. I didn’t know much about Sylvia Beach or James Joyce, the two main characters in the book. It was an enjoyable read, but not very memorable.
It seems like I end up reading one book per month inspired by my 50 states goal. For April, my selection was Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson. This comic book from 2014 is set in New Jersey. I really enjoyed exploring the Ms. Marvel world, even though I’m not usually a big superhero fan.
Some books I plan out when I’m going to read them and others I decide at the spur of the moment. While I first marked this book “Want to Read” in 2016, I finally listened to Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance on audio at the end of April. Elon Musk was in the headlines for his proposed acquisition of Twitter. I am glad I listened to this 2015 book about his life. It was interesting to learn some of his backstory and how he made his fortune.
I lost track of exactly when I started reading The Overstory by Richard Powers. I think I started listening to the audiobook back in February. I had listened to about 10% of the book and then took a long pause. Then in April I decided I would finally finish listening to this 23 hour audiobook. For some reason, The Overstory and Braiding Sweetgrass have always been connected in my mind. I think this is likely because they both have plants on the cover and are both long books. However, while Braiding Sweetgrass will likely be in my top ten books of the year, The Overstory missed the mark for me. I thought it was way too long and slow paced and never really connected with the characters.
April was a great month for reading! What have you been reading lately?
I’ve found it hard to give up reading time in order to write up these recaps. And I read a LOT of books in March and April so it felt a little overwhelming to go back over the details. I’m going to separate children’s books into their own recap for these two months.
The first book I finished in March was Red Rising by Pierce Brown. It was a book club selection. I am in a wonderful Zoom book club that has been meeting for almost 3 years. Thank you Conor for this selection. I don’t read a lot of science fiction. I enjoyed reading this book, but I don’t think I will continue with the series.
My second finished book this month was another book club selection, but for a different book group. I read Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding, along with my mom and Great Aunt Betty. We joined a quarterly book subscription from Riverstone Books in McCandless, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, this book was a miss for me – I found it way too depressing. If I hadn’t planned to discuss it with my family, I probably wouldn’t have finished reading Bright Burning Things.
I felt inspired to shift the mood and picked up two comedy selections in quick succession. I thoroughly enjoyed Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke. I don’t remember what put this book on my radar and I started reading with almost no expectations. All I knew was the premise that the entire book is written in Slack chat formatting. I laughed out loud many times while reading and really enjoyed the creativity in the author’s writing style. I don’t think this book is necessarily for everyone, but if the premise catches your attention, then I would recommend it.
After one comedy book, I decided to dive right into another, Hey Ladies!: The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year, and Way, Way Too Many Emails by Michelle Markowitz. This book was written in email form. However, the characters felt cliched and reading it sometimes felt like the drudgery of trying to clean out your email inbox.
A book that had been on my want to read list for way too long was Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I decided 2022 was finally going to be the year I read this book which had been recommended by many different friends. The writing was beautiful and thought provoking. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about indigenous teachings and spirituality. As a Christian, I enjoyed reading her reflections and considered them through the lens of my own faith. The book is a collection of short stories, essays, and reflections and her writing is like poetry. Highly recommended for nature lovers.
I mentioned in my January recap that I have a long-term goal of reading a book set in every state in the US. When I was researching books for that challenge, I found Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin. I listened to this book on audio and was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed Sandlin’s storytelling and the various narrative threads he wove together in his nonfiction account. I learned a lot about a specific part of American history. As is the case with many history topics, it made me want to continue to learn more.
Some books I finished this month I read in one day. And others I was slowly reading over several months. I started reading Winter Morning Walks: 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison by Ted Kooser in December 2021. The poems are all dated and I usually read a few poems each week. I read the final poem in the book on the first day of spring. Similar to Braiding Sweetgrass, this book of poems changed the way that I look at the world around me. Kooser has a keen eye and I loved the imaginative way he considered birds and trees.
I’m a mood reader. Which sometimes means if you give me a book recommendation, it might be a LONG time until I act upon that recommendation. And sometimes, I pick up a recommended book right away. I’m very glad I decided to read Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau on sort of a whim. This slim novel was recommended first to my parents by Mary Beth Harper. They both loved reading it and encouraged me to read it too. This book would be a great book club selection. My JCU book club will be discussing it in July!
I closed out the month of March with several audiobooks. I listened to Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren on a day off of church work, working on a jigsaw puzzle and cleaning around the house. This book first caught my eye when I was a full time student working part-time in the Yale Divinity School Library. I linked this book with Sara Miles’ Take this Bread, simply because both books have sandwiches on the cover. In reality, the two books don’t have a lot in common, aside from being faith based. In the years since Liturgy of the Ordinary was published in 2016, Tish Harrison Warren has gained a larger following as a New York Times Opinion writer. I knew that I didn’t align with her theologically, but I was still interested in reading her book. Overall, the spiritual practices she identified were good, but her commentary and storytelling was not very impactful.
Another case of the book cover confusion with my next audiobook, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. I thought I had this book on my shelf at home, but realized after finishing listening to the audio, that I actually had Drive by Daniel Pink. In April, I decided to follow Grit by listening to Drive. While I enjoyed listening to Grit, in the end, I didn’t agree with the author’s premise. She was focused on perseverance and not giving up, but I think there are also important lessons to learn from knowing when to call it quits. It can be equally challenging for students and adults to continue to fight and persevere in a difficult situation. Sometimes the best way to respond to a challenge is by pausing and reassessing instead of redoubling efforts.
The final book I finished in March was Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford. This book had been on my radar for about six months. Thank you to Deirdre Byrne who reviewed this book back in September 2021 and influenced me to add it to my Goodreads Want to Read list. Ford is a powerful writer. Her memoir tells a heartbreaking story of a young woman’s relationship to her complicated family. Somebody’s Daughter is Ford’s debut as a memoirist and I will certainly read more of her writing in the future.
I still can’t believe how many books I read in March… and then followed it in April with another 11+ books! I’m definitely ahead of schedule for my 2022 reading goal.
I finished 4 books in February! A long vacation in California led to many fun adventures outdoors and not as many days with my nose in a book.
I finished my first book of the month while I was on the plane to California, The Hermits of Big Sur by Paula Huston. I purchased this book at the end of 2021 in preparation for my visit to the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur. I didn’t know much about the book before starting it and I was pleasantly surprised by the captivating nonfiction writing. Huston covers a long period of history both local to the Big Sur region and also including relevant world events that influenced the founding of the hermitage. This was definitely a 5 star read for me, even though it might not be interesting for everyone. Reading this book helped me gain a deeper appreciation for my stay at the hermitage, truly one of the most beautiful places in the world!
When I was getting ready to pack for my vacation, I was looking through various bookshelves at my home and office. I put together a few stacks of books that I might want to read and a few days before the trip I finalized my selections. I had a copy of Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles on my shelf for a few years. I suddenly realized upon re-examining the book that my friend I would be visiting worked at the church where Miles had her “radical conversion” and where Miles began a food pantry ministry in San Francisco. Obviously, I knew I had to read this book during my California trip! Sara Miles’ storytelling reminded me a little bit of Nadia Bolz-Weber and Bolz-Weber’s early book, Pastrix. Take this Bread was published in 2007 and there were some sections that showed their age in the slightly insensitive way people in need were discussed. I can’t say I would recommend this book to everyone, but I am glad that I read it.
At the end of 2021, I listened to the audiobook of Willie James Jennings first book, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. While I struggled a little bit with the audio format for the dense theological arguments he presented in that book, overall I really enjoyed the book and appreciated Jennings’ groundbreaking theological reflections. I was determined to read/listen to The Christian Imagination before reading/listening to Jennings’ newest book, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging. The Christian Imagination is a dense 384 page book, contrasted with a slim 175 pages in After Whiteness. Both books serve a different purpose, but I am glad that I read them only a few months apart from each other. After Whiteness is heavy on personal storytelling from Jennings and focused primarily on the future of theological education. He is a brilliant scholar and I recommend his books for professional clergy or other faith leaders who want to dig into the history and future of race and the church.
My fourth and final read for February was a book that served as a companion during my retreat time at the hermitage. I started reading The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris while I was at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur. The chapters were short and perfect for devotional moments. I was introduced to Norris’ writing a few years ago when I read her 1993 book, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. I love her poetic writing style and especially enjoyed her reflections on Benedictine spirituality. I highly recommend both The Cloister Walk and Dakota for anyone looking for spiritual writing to inspire their own faith reflections.
I am still on track for my reading goal of finishing 100 books in 2022. Happy reading!
I decided to set a stretch goal for my reading life in 2022. I am hoping to read 100 books this year!
I’m off to a great start with 14 books finished in January, well technically 13 read and 1 DNF (Did not finish). I debated about whether to count DNF books; for now I will be including them in my goal to 100. Every year there are many books I start reading, get a few chapters in and then not pick up again. Sometimes I get a few chapters in and I will save a book for later to possibly return to in the future, even months down the road. However, for me, a DNF is a decision that I generally won’t pick the book up again. There isn’t a lot of rhyme or reason, it can just depend on how I’m feeling about the book.
Below, I’ve compiled a few sentences about each of the books that I read this month. Fair warning, it is a long post. I have written this mostly just for myself and my own records. I want to be able to remember my reading year.
As the New Year was approaching, I picked Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh off of my shelf and decided it would be the perfect book to start 2022. I began reading it in the morning on January 1, 2022 and finished just before going to bed. First published in 1955, it was pleasantly surprising how the writing has aged very well. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s creative reflections on shells and life provided much fruit for reflection for me. I am grateful to my friend Logan who mentioned Gift from the Sea to me in the fall of 2021 and encouraged me to pick up this book which had been on my radar for a while.
My next read was also started on January 1, 2022 and finished listening on January 2, 2022. I enjoyed listening to the audio version of The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. At the beginning of 2020 I decided I wanted to try to read a book set in every state in the United States of America. This is kind of a background goal to inspire me to pick up different books that I might not otherwise read. Most of the events in The Other Wes Moore take place in Baltimore, Maryland and the surrounding area, so it crossed Maryland off of my list.
Here is a snippet from the book description, “Two kids with the same name lived in the same decaying city. One went on to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison. Here is the story of two boys and the journey of a generation.”
The third book I finished in 2022 I had actually started reading back in December. How the Bible Actually Works by Peter Enns was another enjoyable audiobook. I’m not quite sure how this book ended up on my radar, possibly because the audio version was available to borrow from the library through Libby. I borrow most of my audiobooks from the library using Libby app on my phone. I went into this book with almost no expectations or preconceptions. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned. I enjoyed Peter Enns writing style and found his chapters well organized and concise.
My next read was called by the New York Times, “an ‘Instant American Classic’ about our abiding sin.” I first purchased a physical copy of Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson through Book of the Month in September 2020, a few weeks after it was published. My lovely hardback copy sat on my shelf unread until I finally borrowed the audio version from the library. Once I started listening, I read the whole book in two days, January 2-4, 2022. Wilkerson is an excellent writer and researcher. She presents a compelling argument for the ways America has an ongoing caste system. I thought Wilkerson’s first book, The Warmth of Others Suns, was better, especially the narrative storytelling in her first book. But both books are important reading and don’t need to be read in a particular order.
I’m a huge fan of Traci Smith’s writing and had the wonderful pleasure of serving on the launch team for her newest book, Faithful Families for Lent, Easter, and Resurrection. Physical copies were slightly delayed for the launch team so she shared a pdf advance copy. I set aside a few hours on January 5, 2022 and read the whole book in one day. The book is really meant to be used as a resource for families throughout the season of Lent and Easter. I wanted to read it quickly in order to promote it and share with others.
There were three chapters in the book that really stood out for me. Traci presents and reframes the three pillars of Lent which are traditionally prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In Chapter 3, Traci provides wonderful prayers that I would feel comfortable sharing or leading with church families. Traci has adapted fasting to simplifying in Chapter 4. And in Chapter 5, she provides a wonderful reflection and prompts on giving, as well as the importance of receiving. Traci Smith has woven thoughtful theology throughout an incredibly practical book.
I usually try to read a mix of fiction and nonfiction and my first fiction read of 2022 was highly anticipated. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern was first published in 2019. In 2021, I finally read Morgenstern’s first novel, The Night Circus, published in 2011. She is an incredible author who crafts beautiful worlds with her words. Books and reading serve as an important plot point in The Starless Sea and I enjoyed that theme throughout the book. However, I was a little disappointed in the pacing of the book, especially the ending felt like it was too slow, yet also rushed and confusing. Overall, it was only a three star read for me, but still enjoyable.
Probably the book that I have already recommended the most so far this year is Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. I think I first heard of this book from Austin Kleon and his blog/newsletter. Kleon wrote a blog post in November 2021 highlighting a few of the ideas that stood out to him from the book.
If I were to summarize Burkeman’s book in one word it would be: Finitude. The author wants us to remember that we are finite humans – with a finite amount of time on Earth. Kind of in the spirit of Memento Mori, everyone will die. And also kind of in the spirit of Mary Oliver-esque, “What do you plan to do with this wild and precious life?” Rather than productivity hacks, the author encourages honest reflection and assessment. What is truly most important. Focus on those three things and shape your life around them. Or try to do one thing well, rather than do five things not so well. Four Thousand Weeks was a quick, easy audio listen.
My next read was not quick or easy, but definitely a powerful listen. First published in 2017, My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem came on my radar in 2020 following an interview the author did with Krista Tippett for On Being. Menakem’s perspective on racialized trauma is very unique and I greatly appreciated the research he presents on embodied trauma, as well as his suggested breath practices and other body work. I’m glad I listened to this book so I was able to absorb some of the information; it is such a powerful book that I will probably get a physical copy to return to again in the future.
About halfway through the month I had my first DNF of the year. I was really looking forward to reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I had seen a lot of people including this book on their year end wrap ups at the end of 2021. In particular, I remember that Bill Gates included it on his favorite books of the year list. However, I just didn’t connect with the book. My normal rule for an audio book is that if I’m not enjoying it one hour in, I will give up. I gave this book an extra thirty minutes beyond my normal limit if I’m not enjoying something. I think the pacing was too slow for me and the writing style felt too distant.
Once I stopped listening to Hamnet, I decided to pick up my next audiobook, Dear White Peacemakers by Osheta Moore. This book was recommended to me through a board that I recently joined, YCWI (Young Clergy Women International). The board members had read the book last year and several mentioned at a recent meeting how the book had deeply impacted them. The audiobook was wonderful because Moore reads the text herself. I loved her storytelling and the ways she wove together Scriptural analysis and personal reflections. Highly recommend this book for people of faith and those committed to anti-racism work.
My next read in January was one that I nearly DNF’d back in 2021. I borrowed Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro from the library and my copy sat around my house for far too long. The book was WAY overdue back to the library. So on a snowy day, I finally sat down and finished reading it. Klara and the Sun was another book that I highly anticipated after seeing it on so many year end recap lists. However, the writing felt too distant for me to really connect to the characters. I understand the writing style was conveying artificial intelligence, but the premise of it just didn’t live up to my expectations.
As the end of the month was approaching, I was looking for an audiobook that wasn’t too long and I could finish before February. I recently discovered that Holy Disunity by Layton Williams was available for no charge through my Audible subscription. I met Layton in spring 2019 at a friend’s wedding and when her book was released in late 2019 she shared an advance copy via PDF with me. Confession time: for 2+ years, I have felt guilty about not reading the advance copy I received! I was eager to remedy this situation and finally read Holy Disunity. My favorite sections of the book were where Layton analyzes Scripture. I found her theological commentary to be well organized and I agreed with her on many faith and justice issues.
As I was writing up these reflections and compiling my notes on all the books I read in January 2022, I realized that I had 5 days in the month where I read a full book in one day. Part of this was due to several snow days. One of my snow day reads was The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. First published in 2008, I had never seen the video or read the book before. It was a book that had been on my radar for a long time though. It is a slim volume, easily read in a few hours, part self-help, part memoir, filled with lots of advice. Here was one of my favorite quotes, “I quote my father to people almost every day. Part of that is because if you dispense your own wisdom, others often dismiss it; if you offer wisdom from a third party, it seems less arrogant and more acceptable.”
The last book I finished in January was another one that I had picked up and put down a few times before. I was determined to finally finish reading Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren F. Winner so that I could move on to other books. First published in 2003, I felt like the writing didn’t age well and contributed to my lack of enjoyment in reading. The style was overly simplistic and I thought it would have benefitted from more footnotes and citations. I have a small collection of books on the Sabbath and there are other books I would recommend instead of this one.
Part of my motivation in devouring as many books as possible in January is to give myself a buffer for future months where I may not read as much. The cold weather is conducive to staying inside and reading! I also knew that I would be traveling for a good portion of February and probably wouldn’t finish many books. I know that for many people, finishing 14 books in a year would be a great goal. I don’t share this reading recap for comparison. Reading is truly my favorite hobby. Have you read any of the books I finished this month? Please let me know!
With only a few weeks left in the year, I will likely read more books this year than any previous year. I’ve currently listened to about 50 audiobooks, read 7 work-related children’s books, and read about a dozen physical books this year. It still amazes me that I listened to my first audiobook only a few years ago and now I have transitioned primarily to reading audiobooks. Many of the books I read would make good gifts, so if you are looking for gift ideas for someone who likes to read, scroll along for several ideas. Here are some of my favorite books that I read in 2021. (PS please forgive any typos! As I was writing, this post took on a life of its own and became much longer than I expected.)
The best book I read in January was Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times by Michael B. Curry. I listened to the audio version of this book which the author reads himself. Bishop Curry is an incredible storyteller. I highly recommend this book for all Christians. He does an excellent job weaving personal narrative and biblical commentary, all in a prophetic voice.
I only finished two books in February and one of them still stands out as a top book I read this year. I was very impressed by Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. This book has some mind blowing science about mouth breathing versus nose breathing and the impact our breathing has on our full body health. Much of the book is reporting on some experiments the author does himself. Sometimes I was left feeling a little mystified by some of the science the author discusses and I’m not sure if it would have been more clear or better cited in a physical copy of the book. It was a little difficult to follow some of the citations in audio format. But I don’t think you should let that keep you from reading this book.
One of my most highly anticipated reads of 2021 was How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates. While I can’t really say I always enjoyed listening to it (it definitely got a little dry and overly scientific at times), it is a very important book and I’m glad I read it. For the casual reader, I wouldn’t really recommend it, but for someone looking to deepen their knowledge of the climate crisis, I would suggest reading.
I was most surprised by a book I had ordered at the end of 2020 and finally got around to reading in March 2021, Spiritual Conversations with Children by Lacy Finn Borgo. I had seen this book recommended in a ministry Facebook group and ordered it on a whim. This book truly impacted my ministry and the way I view children’s spirituality. I went on to take a 12 week online course with the author through the Companioning Center focused on Children’s Spirituality.
A stand out book this month was a wonderful collection of essays, poems, and reflections – All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. I read this book as part of a 4 week book group organized by the BTS Center. I particularly enjoyed the narration of this book which had several different female voices. The entire collection is written by women. This would be a great book club book or would make a great gift. The essays were a wide assortment of perspectives on the climate crisis, some were scientific, but many featured personal narrative, with a few even managing to use humor to navigate a serious subject.
At some point prior to May, I had a conversation about testimony with Ron, senior pastor at FCC Southington. He loaned me his copy of this book by Lillian Daniel, Tell it like it is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony. The book had been sitting on my desk for a few months before I finally opened it up and read it almost entirely in one sitting. Lillian Daniel’s writing is easy to read and well organized. She is a very good storyteller and researcher. My own interest in this book extended beyond the general subject matter of testimony. The congregation Daniel is writing about is Church of the Redeemer, which I had the opportunity to get to know in their final year of existence as an independent congregation before transplanting to other faith communities in New Haven/Hamden. Originally published in 2005, the content of this book is still very valuable today for church leaders interested in incorporating a practice of testimony.
I don’t read many new releases. I tend to be a mood reader and simply pick up whatever is easily accessible. I’m generally too impatient to wait for months on library wait lists. However, a friend was hyping a new release so much that I had to pick it up. Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe was worth all of the hype! Thanks to Deirdre Byrne for hyping this book up and getting me to read it sooner rather than later. This was also a book club pick for my unofficial JCU Alumni Book Club. I was a little intimidated at first by the heft of this book, in real life it is 535 pages according to Goodreads. I gladly listened to the author read his book instead of lugging around a heavy book during the summer.
During summer 2021, we did a special series at our church on Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints. Kaitlin Curtice was featured in this series and so I listened to her book, Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God. She did a good job balancing personal narrative with theological reflection. Curice covers some complex faith related topics and doesn’t oversimplify. I listen to a lot of faith related memoirs and this was an excellent read.
My reading life started to really pick up in July. I listened to lots of audiobooks and two of them really stood out.
I have followed Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing for a little while and this year I finally listened to The Poet X, published in 2018. Acevedo’s writing is lyrical and the poetry is so beautiful. I love her writing and even though her books are marketed as YA (Young Adult) I think they are good for readers of any age. With the Fire on High is on my TBR list for 2022!
Another book that surprised me – The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love by Sonya Renee Taylor. I think I first heard of this book from Brené Brown’s podcast. I started listening to the audiobook not really knowing what to expect. The author reads the audiobook herself and guides the reader/listener through her radical self love manifesto. I could see myself returning to this book and rereading it in order to really let the ideas and imagery sink in.
This fall I listened to three of Barbara Brown Taylor’s books. My favorite of the three I most recently read was, An Altar in the World. I recommend this book to anyone whose spiritual life is feeling stale and who is looking for new ways to connect to their faith. Having Barbara Brown Taylor read the audio version herself made it feel like I was just having a conversation with a friend. I also enjoyed Holy Envy and Learning to Walk in the Dark. Barbara did not read Holy Envy and I didn’t really care for the narrator’s voice.
I had the opportunity to serve on the launch team for a few wonderful prayer and spirituality books this fall. The first one was, To Light Their Way: A Collection of Prayers and Liturgies for Parents by Kayla Craig. I first found Kalya’s writing through her Instagram handle, @liturgiesforparents. The prayers and litanies included in the collection are beautifully written. She has done an incredible job conveying a wide range of emotions and forming them into relatively simple prayers. This would be a perfect gift to give a parent for Christmas!
One of my few re-reads of 2021 was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Originally published in 1967, I remember first reading this book when I was about the age of Claudia. She is twelve years old when she decides to run away from home because her parents do not appreciate her. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Claudia and Jamie and their adventures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Another author I ended up reading/listening to several books of this year is Brené Brown. In a few short months I listened to four of her books on audio. My favorite was Dare to Lead, which is Brené’s workplace book. Brené is an incredible storyteller and I loved the way she wove her research into real life situations in a workplace setting. This book builds on many of her previous publications and I think she has done an excellent job focusing the reader.
I try to mix in different genres and grade levels into my reading life. I especially enjoyed a middle grade children’s book, Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. Book Scavenger is set in San Francisco and combines books and word puzzles, so of course it is adorable. The book is perfect for a middle school reader, but also could work for an adult to read at bed time with a younger child. One other terrific middle grade book I read this fall was See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng. I particularly enjoyed the audio version which had a full cast and the chapters were like audio recordings made on an iPod (with better sound quality, it was a plot point in the story).
We are only a few days into December, still time to squeeze in a few more end of the year reads. But I just finished listening to Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci and I knew I had to add it to this year end recap. It is one of the best food memoirs that I have ever read. I had no idea how funny Stanley Tucci was, there were several moments that made me laugh out loud. He is clearly a devoted food lover and does a delectable job describing special meals and restaurants. This book would be a perfect Christmas gift for a food lover!
If you made it all the way to the end of this reading life recap, I’m impressed. What was your favorite book that you read this year? Please let me know! I’m always looking for more books to read and enjoy talking about books whenever possible. Happy reading!