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!
The following sermon was preached at First Congregational Church of Southington on February 14, 2021. Atthe time our worship service was pre-recorded and streamed on Sunday morning.
A Princess, A Makeover, and the Transfiguration
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
Transfiguration. Maybe that word makes you think of Harry Potter and something magical taking place? In the Harry Potter books and movies, Professor McGonagall taught a class on Transfiguration at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The account from the Gospel of Mark does seem kind of magical. But the kind of Transfiguration we are celebrating today is not the magical Harry Potter kind.
I know you don’t come to church each Sunday to learn a new vocabulary word, but I think it is important to ground ourselves in what it really means to be transfigured. Merriam-Webster defines transfigure as, “to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance to; transform outwardly and usually for the better.” I think this definition might help us to understand what is taking place during the Transfiguration of Jesus. In the story of the Transfiguration in the Gospels, we read of Jesus who appears in a new way.
Jesus goes up on a mountaintop with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John. Jesus was transfigured before them. This transfiguration can be seen as a miracle. It is a little different from the healing miracles or the feeding miracles Jesus performs. Instead, in the transfiguration, it almost seems like God performs the miracle for Jesus.
During the miraculous time when Jesus is brilliantly shining with a great light, he is visited by Moses and Elijah. Jesus’ disciples can also see Moses and Elijah with Jesus. Peter, recognizing the significance of what is taking place, tells Jesus that they should make three dwelling places on this mountaintop. Possibly to honor Moses and Elijah or maybe to try to preserve the amazing thing they are witnessing. It is likely that Moses and Elijah appear at Jesus’ transfiguration because they were the voices regularly calling Israel back to who they were meant to be as people of God. Moses and Elijah challenged authorities that were leading astray and meeting directly with God. Jesus also will continue to challenge the authorities and it will ultimately lead to his death on a cross.
The Gospel of Mark tells us that Peter didn’t know what to say and that they were all terrified. The disciples were terrified even BEFORE a cloud overshadowed them and the voice of God calls out, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
The voice of God seems to mark the end the physical act of Transfiguration. The disciples are left standing with Jesus. As they make their way down the mountain, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone about what happened until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Our lectionary assigned reading ends there, but I think it is valuable to look at the next verse. Verse 10 reads, “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.”
I like how human the disciples are in this story. They are terrified, they say and do the wrong things, they have questions, but Jesus doesn’t get frustrated with them. Peter refers to Jesus as Rabbi, Teacher. A few weeks ago, Karlene asked the congregation in a Holy Surprise to think about the best teacher they ever had. Our Gospel reading today gives another example of Jesus as Great Teacher. Jesus doesn’t lecture the disciples about what is taking place. He recognizes that sometimes we learn best by sight and he gives the disciples time to process all they had seen.
Let’s go back to that definition I shared earlier for transfiguration. As I said before, according to Merriam Webster transfigure is “to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance to; transform outwardly and usually for the better.” Some synonyms for transfigure are transform, metamorphose, or make over. There are many different movies and tv shows with makeover scenes. I want to briefly reflect on one particular movie with a famous makeover scene that I think is worth examining because of some of the similar lessons we might draw from the Gospel story.
The 2001 movie, The Princess Diaries stars Anne Hathaway as high schooler Mia Thermopolis and Julie Andrews as Queen Clarisse Renaldi. Mia Thermopolis at the beginning of the movie is an awkward high school girl with glasses and wild curly hair. Although she has a good heart, she is severely lacking in refinement. Queen Clarisse Renaldi is Mia’s grandmother who informs Mia she is actually a princess and heir to a throne in Genovia. Julie Andrews is the perfect actress for this role with her posh British voice and seemingly natural poise and elegance. After the revelation that Mia is a princess, Queen Clarisse Renaldi instructs her granddaughter on etiquette with various lessons and also helps her get a makeover. Mia Thermopolis post-makeover is nearly unrecognizable. Her wild curls are tamed, contacts replace glasses, and other style enhancements transform the awkward teenage girl into someone who really LOOKS like a princess.
Similar to the disciples who are confused and terrified at Jesus’ transfiguration, Mia’s friends are very confused and maybe even a little frightened. What happened to their best friend? When her outside was changed, did her inner character remain the same?
As we see in most movies with a major makeover or transformation story, outside appearances only tell part of the story. What makes Mia a good princess at the end of the movie is not the fact that she looks the part, but her inner goodness, her sense of humor, and her character, which was always there. For the disciples, the transfiguration is a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus. The voice of God reminds them that Jesus is the Beloved Son of God and instructs them to listen to Jesus. The disciples saw the physical transfiguration of Jesus, but they also knew that there was more than meets the eye with Jesus. Jesus was their Teacher, Leader and Friend. And Jesus knows that when the disciples no longer have him physically present with them, they will need to rely on what lies within, their experiences and memories which are stronger than just physical representation.
Transfiguration Sunday is a transition point in our church year. This Wednesday we will begin the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday is when we remember our mortality. The idea of remembering our mortality might not sit very well this year. We have all been constantly reminded of our mortality during this pandemic.
During the Transfiguration, the voice from the cloud, the voice of God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” This instruction from God is very fitting for our Lenten series called “Listen” which will begin on Wednesday. Each week during Lent Pastor Ron and I will invite you to Listen for God’s still small voice and listen to your own True Self. Listening through prayer as well as meditation on holy texts is an ancient Lenten practice. We will listen to the Scriptures as they lead us on the journey to the cross.
So before we get into the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” we have the opportunity today to celebrate the transfiguration. To remember the glory and majesty of Jesus. Hopefully this mountaintop story can carry us through the valleys of the Lenten season ahead.
When the disciples walked down from the mountaintop after the transfiguration, they were changed. Maybe not physically any different. But they had been changed by what they saw. May the glory of Jesus also be revealed to us and may we be open to the ways God will be at work among us. Amen.
As I sit in my apartment on the last day of 2020, reflecting on the many changes of the past 12 months, I feel overwhelming gratitude for all of the unexpected blessings this year held. I realize many faced incredible challenges and hardships due to COVID-19. I personally confronted loss, loneliness, and difficult changes. But when I think about the year as a whole, I am filled with love for the many new people in my life, as well as time spent with good friends and family. I am excited for the year ahead. I anticipate continuing to settle into my apartment in Middletown and the church community in Southington in 2021. For my own enjoyment and to celebrate the joy of those with whom I spent the year, I’ve compiled a brief recap of 2020.
January 2020 A highlight of January was leading my third Andover Newton Retreat. These retreats were highlights of my experience at Yale Divinity School. Time on retreat always nourishes my relationships with friends and with God.
February 2020 I had two opportunities to guest preach in February. I traveled home to Ohio and preached at First Congregational Church of Hudson on February 16, 2020. (Little did I know I would be returning to Ohio again only one month later and end up spending almost five months of the year in Ohio?) I also provided pulpit supply for my friend Rev. Katrina Manzi at the church where she serves, Middlebury Congregational Church.
March 2020 Before lockdown, I traveled with a group of Andover Newton and Yale Divinity School classmates to Arizona and Mexico. I was inspired to organize this trip after Rev. Dr. Randy Mayer spoke at Andover Newton’s Convocation in October 2019. I wrote a brief reflection based on our trip here. There is so much I could say about this trip, but the thing I carried with me for most of the year was how special it was to spend those few extra days with some of my closest friends from Divinity School before we all went our separate ways due to the pandemic.
In the midst of the uncertainty of the early pandemic, I returned home to Ohio to visit with my parents indefinitely. With the anxiety producing news each night, I was grateful to spend the time with my parents. While still finishing graduate school, there was plenty of time for exploring local parks, puzzles, and cooking good food.
April 2020 I finished CPE! I began Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Griffin Hospital in October 2019. The first five months of my internship were filled with many hours visiting patients in the hospital. But when COVID-19 arrived, I shifted to telephone calls and other ways of visiting and caring for people during the pandemic.
I continued to spend a lot of time outside, cooking and doing puzzles!
May 2020 I graduated from Yale Divinity School! After three years of full time study, it felt so good to turn in my final papers. Another highlight, on the last day of May, I became an Aunt! My brother and his wife had a beautiful baby boy, Cole. I didn’t get to meet him in person until July.
June 2020 After 10+ weeks “visiting” my parents in Ohio, I drove back to Connecticut to move out of my New Haven apartment. This was a bittersweet move. I loved my cozy little apartment, Fisher Hall #504, especially the bookshelves! Leaving a place you love is especially hard when you don’t quite know where you are going next… however, by the end of the month I did!
Amidst the packing, I enjoyed getting to socially distanced visit with friends who I hadn’t seen in-person for a few months. One of my favorite things of the year was a walking tour I led! A few friends and I each read The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. The book is set in New Haven and draws on the Yale Secret Societies for inspiration and magical storytelling. I led a walking tour around New Haven visiting the spots mentioned in the book.
July 2020 My original summer plan had been working with several UCC congregations in Northeast Vermont. I wasn’t able to physically work in Vermont due to the pandemic, but I was able to craft a very meaningful project to work on remotely from Ohio. I interviewed 23 individuals representing congregations across the state of Vermont, primarily focusing on the Northeast Kingdom. I worked very closely with three clergy in particular (Ed, Elisa, and Alyssa) and it is hard to believe I haven’t met them in person yet!
August 2020 August was a time for new beginnings! I moved into a new apartment in Middletown, CT. With help from my parents, it felt like home very quickly.
After a brief search and call process earlier in the summer, I had accepted my first call, Associate Pastor at First Congregational Church of Southington. My first day was August 17, 2020. Getting to know the congregation has been a highlight of the year!
Heaven gained a special angel in August. Helen Holmes was my Grandpa’s partner for the past few years. She enlivened our family gatherings and is greatly missed by all who knew her. One of the last times I saw Helen we were enjoying Handel’s ice cream together. Helen loved gift giving and God. I am grateful for the many scripture inspired gifts I received from her and I will always think of her when I see them in my apartment or in my office at church.
September 2020 I enjoyed exploring my new home base. A dear friend from Yale Divinity School, Rev. Helena Martin, is serving the Episcopal church in Southington. Having someone to walk and grab coffee with in my new town is great! Elizabeth Park Rose Garden had been on my Connecticut Bucket List since 2019. I finally had a chance to go in September. I look forward to visiting again in the spring! I also had the pleasure of speaking at a John Carroll University alumni event, “God in All Things: A Reflection and Connection Program.”
October 2020 This was a big month for me professionally – I was ordained! And installed! These two big events happened one week apart, thanks to the grace of God and the support of many clergy, friends, and family.
Another highlight of October (and probably the year) was visiting the Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, MA, and Mass MOCA, in North Adams, MA. After not visiting any museums for seven months, the day I spent viewing art at the Clark and Mass MOCA were incredible. Plus the fall foliage was stunning!
November 2020 At the end of November, we said goodbye to our family dog, Marley, who brought us joy every day of his nearly 13 years. I feel like I have seen more friends lose a pet this year than any year before. I am grateful I got to be with my family and Marley for his last days on Earth. He was the best dog!
I enjoyed another art excursion visiting Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, NY. The day I visited was a little gray and rainy, but I didn’t let that dampen my spirits. I wandered around the large art installations and the grounds for nearly three hours and then stopped for lunch in Newburgh, NY. I hope to return to Storm King again next spring or summer.
December 2020 A pandemic birthday was celebrated with lunch outside and a walk with a friend!
Advent is my favorite season in church life and this Advent was filled with many blessings at First Congregational Church of Southington. One highlight was organizing my first Christmas pageant, “Mary, You’re On Mute,” which took place via Zoom.
This was my first year co-leading worship on Christmas Eve and it was certainly a year to remember. We had a lovely outdoor service at 2 PM. The 5 PM service might have been rainy, but the Holy Spirit came through as we cracked our glowsticks for “Silent Night.”
Even though I was technically on my own on Christmas Day, I didn’t feel lonely with multiple Zoom calls and Facetime sessions with family in Ohio. In the morning, we all made a cocktail/mocktail mimosas together!
Looking ahead to 2021 As I said at the beginning, I am so grateful for those who I shared this year with (whether we connected in person or online). I dream of safely visiting those near and dear to me and I hope that will be possible in 2021. Whatever the New Year has in store, I’ll be ready with a book and a puzzle!
It doesn’t really need to be said again… but wowza! 2020 was a YEAR. Even with all of the emotional ups and downs of the pandemic year (plus finishing graduate school remotely, virtual graduation, moving to a new town, and starting a new job), I still managed to read some great books.
In fact, I read more books this year than ever before! According to my Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge, I have finished 81 books.
This was the year of audiobooks for me – I read/listened to about 35 audiobooks. Thanks to the Libby app and library cards, I borrowed many audiobooks each month. I tend to listen to audiobooks when I am driving (anything more than 10 minutes), cleaning, cooking, or doing dishes. In the fall, I listened to many while walking around my new neighborhood.
About half of the books I read this year were physical copy and, unlike other years, I read fewer than 10 books on my Kindle. I didn’t actually finish many Kindle books, as I tended to use my Kindle for a lot of reading for school. I like the highlighting and note taking feature on Kindle books and it helped when writing papers for graduate school. Most of my school reading isn’t counted in my books read tally because I didn’t usually read a book cover to cover (no cheating for me!).
Here are my favorite books I read in 2020, organized by date read.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett Dates read: January 22-29, 2020 Originally published September 2019, The Dutch House was all over Bookstagram (Instagram accounts dedicated to reading) at the close of 2019. Prior to The Dutch House, I had only read one other book by Ann Patchett, Commonwealth. Patchett is a wonderful storyteller. The Dutch House became one of my most recommended books of the year, anytime someone wanted to read or listen to a fiction book. The audiobook is read by Tom Hanks, and it is lovely.
The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage by Joan Chittister Dates read: March 17-19, 2020 I wanted to read this book after it was mentioned on my syllabus for the introductory preaching course I took in the fall of 2019 at Yale Divinity School with Prof. Carolyn Sharp. I read The Time is Now in the early days of the pandemic. The chapters are very short and easy to read, almost like blog posts. It was my first introduction to Sister Joan Chittister’s writing, and I have since added several of her books to my to-read list. Sr. Joan writes in an easy to read style; this book would be great for a small group book study and discussion.
The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen Dates read: March 20 – May 23, 2020 Another early pandemic read, I savored The Genesee Diary, reading a few pages each day. From my mid-year write up: “It was a wonderful book to savor. It really is a diary of Nouwen’s seven-month sabbatical at Abbey of the Genesee in upstate New York. Nouwen is self-reflective, without being too self-conscious, and examines the busyness of his normal daily life as an academic.” I do recommend this book, but not for those who haven’t read anything else by Henri Nouwen. I think this book would be best appreciated after some familiarity of his other writings. Life of the Beloved or The Wounded Healer are two of his more popular books.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger First read in 2006 Dates re-read: June 9-12, 2020 I don’t know what it was… early in 2020 I started thinking about The Catcher in the Rye, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Holden Caulfield. I don’t think I had ever re-read a book before and now I am curious what else I should re-read. I hardly remembered any of the book from my initial reading while in high school. In re-reading, I was surprised at the prevalence of mental health issues apparent in Holden’s behavior and those he interacts with. I think when I first read The Catcher in the Rye as a young teenager I probably skimmed over the death of Holden’s brother and the suicide of his classmate. Re-reading The Catcher in the Rye gave me a lot to think about.
Franny & Zooey by J. D. Salinger Dates read: October 9-10, 2020 As soon I read The Catcher in the Rye, I knew I would soon follow it with Franny & Zooey. I received a lovely used copy of this book a few years ago. I felt like it was just waiting on my shelf for this year. Franny & Zooey was a wonderful follow-up to re-reading The Catcher in the Rye over the summer. Franny is a short story and Zooey is a novella. I think that both were originally published in The New Yorker, in 1955 and 1957, respectively.
From my Goodreads review: “I love the way Salinger writes dialogue. As a reader you are drawn into monologues and quips and so many other verbal spars. The Glass family is easy to imagine. If you liked Catcher in the Rye, I think you will like this. Religion plays an interesting role in the essays. Poor Franny. All the men in her life are constantly mansplaining her. Just let the poor girl have a quarter life crisis. And don’t even get me started on the relationship between Bessie and her children. So strange.”
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris Dates read: July 18-25, 2020 I saw a friend post about this book in 2019, and it had been on my radar ever since. Kathleen Norris has written a beautiful ode to the prairie lands of America. Her words paint brushstrokes of the natural environment and human isolation. I felt like the week I spent reading this book was actually a full year soaking in the seasons of the Plains. She does an incredible job detailing the weather and landscapes. This was my first time reading a book by Kathleen Norris, but I’ve already added another book of hers to my to-read list. In a year of limited travel due to the pandemic, I felt like I was transported to the Dakotas thanks to Kathleen Norris’ writing.
Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett Dates read: October 27-30, 2020 I am not a regular podcast listener, but I do enjoy occasionally listening to episodes of On Being, a public radio conversation and podcast, hosted by Krista Tippett. Many of the people she interviews on the podcast and the topics she discusses are both of personal and professional interest. I was very glad to be able to borrow this audiobook through Libby. I enjoyed the audiobook because it was read by the author and included snippets from the podcast. However, one bookish friend of mine commented that it was too much to take in and hard to listen to. Whichever way you read this book, I do recommend Becoming Wise. There is so much wisdom and life experience shared by those she interviews. Those who are already fans of Krista Tippett may also appreciate the personal life stories she shares scattered throughout.
Barack Obama Book Club In November, I did a deep dive into the world of Barack Obama. I knew that his newest memoir was being released in November, 2020. I decided spur of the moment to read/listen to his two previous memoirs before reading A Promised Land. All three books were favorites for the year.
Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance Dates read: November 11-13, 2020 Originally published in 1995 and re-released in 2004, this book had been on my radar for a while. Barack Obama is a great storyteller, and he doesn’t linger in one place too long when describing things for the reader. I thought Dreams from My Father had a great flow and enjoyed listening to it. Obviously, listening in 2020 was interesting because Obama’s commentary on race is actually very mild. Don’t expect to hear the phrase Black Lives Matter. Context is also important. This book was written “pre-politics” and he doesn’t write about his graduate studies at Harvard or anything beyond that time.
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream Date read: November 17, 2020 Again publication date is important when reading Barack Obama’s work. The Audacity of Hope was first published in fall 2006. I continued to be impressed by Obama’s concise storytelling. He doesn’t repeat much between any three of these books.
From my review on Goodreads: “This is not Barack Obama running for President, or at least that’s not exactly what he thinks. At the time he wrote this book as a way to “finance” his campaign for US Senate. I put finance in quotes because he already won the campaign. He says that it was just part of his pitch to Michelle for how he could help their family financially after running a big campaign. Before he realized that the BIGGEST campaign lay ahead. The Audacity of Hope is idealistic first term Senator Obama. He writes about his respect for President George W. Bush. Obama the optimist writes a lot about values. The values of the Founding Fathers, shared values, values that were instilled in him by his mother, etc. All sorts of values. The optimistic Obama sees the government as the place where people can work together for good. He also talks about how President Bush and the people around him were just everyday people trying to make the best decisions they knew how.”
A Promised Land Dates read: November 17-27, 2020 After so many hours of listening to Barack Obama read his work, I never grew tired of his voice and his storytelling. My own political coming of age coincided with Barack Obama’s presidency. I was aware of many of the events that he talked about, but obviously learned a lot from the level of detail he provided with his reflections. I especially enjoyed the beginning of the book where Obama explains just how improbable his quick ascension to running for the highest office in our country was. I was captivated and very interested through the election and his first days in office. I’m not a policy wonk though so the intricate details on Affordable Healthcare and some of the energy policy were not as interesting. His choice to split this memoir into two parts was smart. He keeps a good balance of storytelling, nothing too long and doesn’t try to cover too much ground.
I hope that my reading recap inspires you and your reading life in the year ahead! Do we share any favorites? Please let me know.
“God when you created the world, you breathed new life into creation. As students return to school this week, be with them through their breath. If the school day feels overwhelming or confusing, remind each of us that we can focus on our breath.”
I shared those words of prayer on Sunday at Camp Sloper during the Blessing of the Backpack tags and stickers. Focusing on our breathing is an ancient practice to connect with God.
Recently, I switched over to an Apple watch after using a more traditional Fitbit fitness tracker for many years. One of the new (to me) features I appreciate on the Apple watch are the Breath/Mindfulness reminders.
Throughout the day, I easily become lost in a flurry of emails. Hours can quickly pass staring at a computer screen and, suddenly, my watch will buzz with a reminder to breathe. There is a small notification asking me if I want to focus on my breath for one minute. Even if I am completely interrupted from my work, more often than not, I will click begin and focus on my breath for one minute. I reason to myself that most things can wait one more minute. And I almost always feel better after that one quick break to clear my mind.
Do you have a reminder for yourself to breathe? Maybe every time you walk by the front door, or each time you take the dog out for a walk? Or maybe you don’t even stop whatever you are doing, just focus on your breathing while making breakfast or doing dishes?
God is always with us! If we feel overwhelmed, we can turn inward and call forth God’s presence.
If you are interested in more breath prayers, there is a creative account on Instagram called Liturgies for Parents which regularly posts breath prayers. Usually they share different mantras which you can mentally repeat as you inhale and exhale.
I invite you today to: Inhale – God’s Peace Exhale – God’s Love
This devotion was first shared via email to members of First Congregational Church of Southington on September 10, 2020.