Nov. & Dec. 2022 Reading Recap

I’m not sure if I will do a separate full year reflection post, but I am proud of the fact that I stuck with these monthly reading recaps for 2022. I had never blogged very consistently before this year. I quickly realized that the reading recaps took quite a bit of time, which meant time away from the thing I love, reading. I was committed to writing them to track my progress toward 100 books read in one year! I ended the year with 110 books read.

I finished 3 books each month in November and December. I didn’t have any 5 star reads either month. It felt kind of like a quiet/sad way to end my reading year for 2022. Fortunately, things picked up in January 2023 and I have enjoyed several great books in early 2023.

The Edge of Winter by Luanne Rice

This book was on my radar since 2020 when I started working on my goal to read a book set in every US state. The book takes place in Rhode Island and the natural landscape is important to the book. Of all the books I read in November, this was probably my favorite. The themes were similar to many Elin Hilderbrand novels: family drama, relationships, a little bit of a mystery. Some of the main characters are high school students so the book felt a little bit like Young Adult at times. One other interesting part of the storyline of this book was birding.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I listened to this book on audio and I’m glad that I did because it was LONG, 512 pages in print. It took me a while to get hooked on the story and I almost gave up a few times early on. I’m glad I kept reading because the characters were interesting. I was a little surprised that I enjoyed the baseball parts of the book. The writing reminded me a little bit of Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. Overall, I have mixed feelings about this book. Hopefully not too much of a spoiler, one of the main characters has an affair with a high level university administrator. I was uncomfortable with the implications of this affair. The power dynamics were inappropriate and I felt like the author writes this affair as true love.

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger

In a month where I only read three books, it is funny that two of them feature school as an important part of the book. I had The Gifted School on my radar since it was published in 2019. I finally read the book quickly over two days in November. The quick reading pace was not an indication of adoring the book. I nearly stopped reading several times. I generally don’t like books told from multiple perspectives and I had not realized The Gifted School was that format. I also usually struggle with unlikeable characters and almost everyone in this book was a bad person.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Mystery and horror are not my genres of choice, but this was a book club selection so I persevered and finished this slim volume. Considering the book is only 252 pages, it took me a while to get through it because I never became invested in the characters. It seemed like an unreliable narrator so I was apprehensive while reading. Our book club was originally meant to read this around Halloween in the spooky season. I think the rest of our book group enjoyed this book more than I did.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

Continuing my off-season spooky reads, I finally read this YA book from my shelves. I heard that the storyline was based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, transported to 1920’s flapper era and set in Shanghai, China. While I really enjoyed the premise, I felt like the pacing was off and the book moved way too slowly. 

Migrations: a novel by Charlotte McConaghy

The final book I read in 2022 was basically a case of mistaken identity. I had a memory of a friend who had a book with a similar cover to the cool blue icebergs on the cover of Migrations. It turns out the book I was remembering is Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez. I thought that Migrations was a book of nature writing. It was actually more of a mystery/post-apocalyptic novel. Another unreliable narrator and it was a trifecta of mediocre books for December!

The day I finished reading Migrations, I resolved my cover confusion dilemma and purchased a copy of Arctic Dreams from my favorite independent bookstore. I’m reading it now and love the descriptive writing about the beauty in nature.

October 2022 Reading Recap

I had no idea that I could get burned out on reading, but that is exactly what happened after I read 100 books in 9 months. I took it easy the rest of 2022 and only finished a few books each month.

Here is what I read in October 2022:

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck

I originally started reading this book several years ago. I read about halfway before setting it aside. I picked this book back up and listened to the audio version.

Growing up I loved playing the Oregon Trail computer game. This book tells the story of a modern crossing of the Oregon Trail, paired with mini-history lessons along the way. Rinker Buck is a good writer who draws the reader in and brings them along on the adventure. I especially liked the storytelling around the logistics of the Oregon Trail experience, how they fed themselves and the animals, maintained the equipment along the journey, etc. If you are interested in the Oregon Trail, this was an enjoyable read.

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah

Published in 2013, this book had been on my radar for a while. It was a fun, easy read/listen. It is a great book for anyone who loves to cook and especially for those who like France. I liked how the different chapters were focused one particular dish. I learned a lot about different cooking styles and food movements. I did skip one chapter on sausage, as someone who prefers not to eat meat, it grossed me out too much to listen to that chapter. 

Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference by William MacAskill

When I was at Yale Divinity School, I first learned about effective altruism. William MacAskill is a leader in that movement. Earlier in the year when I read How to Be Perfect by Michael Schur, I think Schur mentioned MacAskill’s work. Doing Good Better was a great introduction to the effective altruism movement. The philosophy gave me a lot to think about and reflect on.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

The protests in Iran began in mid-September 2022 and a friend finished this book around the same time. I had a copy that had been collecting dust on my shelf for a while. I finally picked it up. It was not really what I expected. I struggled with the author’s jumping around in time. This book was a best-seller when it was first published in 2003. I felt like the book showed its age. Popular non-fiction has shifted a lot in the past 20 years. I’m glad that I finally read this book, but it wasn’t a favorite.

September 2022 Reading Recap

As I approached the end of August, I was fairly sure that I would reach my goal of 100 books by the end of September. I finished 10 books in September. After finishing book #100 on September 19, I fell into a bit of a reading slump. Most of the year had been such a big push to get to that point and I enjoyed a few weeks off from most reading.

Of the ten books I finished in September, 4 of them were audio books (An Ugly Truth, Plainsong, The 1619 Project, and One Hundred Years of Solitude). I read two books on my Kindle: Search and Shadow and Bone. And the remaining 4 books were hardcopy (including 1 loaned from a family member, 1 new purchase, and 2 books from my shelves).

Book #92 for 2022 

An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang

I listened to this audiobook while traveling around Labor Day Weekend. My friend Deirdre Byrne recommended this book to me. I enjoyed learning more about Facebook and the power players in leadership. The authors are New York Times reporters and I think they did an excellent job on their research and reporting. A big focus of the book is Facebook’s role in the 2016 election. I want to keep learning more about social media and online privacy. Tech companies are so big and it seems like our government is not currently prepared to have adequate oversight to protect the safety of individual citizens. My one complaint with this book was that I would have liked more action steps presented at the conclusion of the book. How can the average person protect their privacy online?

#93 Plainsong by Kent Haruf

This book was a complete surprise! I didn’t know much about it going into it. The title was on my radar from my goal to read a book set in every US state. I also listened to this book while traveling around Labor Day Weekend. The writing was captivating. I could vividly picture the characters and the events taking place in Holt, Colorado. This was my first time reading any writing by Kent Haruf and I would definitely read more of his work. I especially recommend this book for fans of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

#94 Search: a novel by Michelle Huneven

I had a few different people recommend this book to me because the focus of the novel is a church searching for a pastor and it is written from the perspective of someone on a search committee. The fictional account is focused on a Unitarian Universalist congregation, but the basics of the storyline would fit in many UCC congregations too. I laughed out loud several times while reading this book. I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but I will say that I was frustrated by the ending of the book. One other detail that stood out were the fun themed cocktail names/recipes included throughout. It was a fun creative addition which I enjoyed, even as someone who doesn’t drink alcohol anymore.

#95 A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice by Rebecca Connolly

The superlative I would probably give to this book is “least memorable.” My mom loaned me a copy of this book because one of her book clubs had read it. It is told from two different perspectives and I didn’t connect with either character. It was fairly fast paced so I kept reading and finished the book, but the book felt very sad and depressing.

#96 Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the author of one of my favorite books, Ninth House. Some of my friends are also fans of Leigh Bardugo and encouraged me to enter into the Grishaverse by reading Shadow and Bone. Personally, I had a hard time connecting with the characters and I didn’t think her writing was as strong as Ninth House. I’ve also recognized this year that I am only an occasional fantasy fan. I am looking forward to the second book in the Ninth House series, Hell Bent, which will be released in January 2023!

#96 The 1619 Project, edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones

I remember reading the initial publications around the 1619 project from the New York Times when it was first launched in 2019. The creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, adapted her original writing for this book project. The book is a compilation of essays and poetry on various themes related to the 1619 project. My favorite parts of this book were the poetry. I loved the creativity and the various forms the poetry took. The essays were well written and researched, Hannah-Jones contributions are stand-out. The whole collection was a bit overwhelming in size and 18 total essays felt like a few too many for the average reader. I listened to this book on audio and enjoyed it.

#97 The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

My September reading life was a wide range of genres all in one month. Ali Hazelwood has quickly become a favorite Romance author among many readers. The Love Hypothesis was published in 2021 and I had noticed many friends add it on Goodreads. I really enjoyed reading this contemporary romance novel. It was a quick read for me, started and finished in one day. Hazelwood has excellent character development. I already ordered book #2 in the series, Love on the Brain, and I look forward to reading it soon!

#98 The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

Published in October 2019, I selected this book through my membership with Book of the Month. It sat on my shelf for a while until I finally decided to read it in September. It was a slow read for me and I struggled to connect with the characters. It is considered a YA (Young Adult) book and I thought it was way too long at 512 pages. I’d only recommend this if you are a huge fan of historical fiction.

#99 The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Continuing to work through my Book of the Month backlog, I read this book in two days. I don’t think I realized that there were alternating timelines when I ordered the book. I normally don’t like this feature in novels and it didn’t do much to improve the storyline here. I had expected that this book was going to be mystical or fantasy, but the apothecary was basic herbs, not magic. Unfortunately, another not very memorable read for September 2022.

#100 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

As I approached my goal of reading one hundred books, I considered what should be book #100. I considered a few different options, but quickly decided that One Hundred Years of Solitude would be fitting. I made this selection knowing that the book is one of the best examples of magical realism, one of my least favorite genres. I listened to the book on audio and it was entertaining to hear the narrator read the names over and over again. I probably had a bit more patience with the winding roads the characters take because of listening on audio. The one thing that I couldn’t get past was the child sexual abuse that takes place and the incest. I was not aware of those things before reading and haven’t seen many people talk about them in their reviews. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a best-selling and world famous book, but it just wasn’t an enjoyable read for me.

At the end of September 2022, I reached my goal of reading 100 books. But I was very burnt out on reading after this. I read 4 books in October, 3 in November and 3 in December. There are always more books to read!

August 2022 Reading Recap

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 Believe by 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.

July 2022 Reading Recap

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.

June 2022 Reading Recap

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 2022 Reading Recap

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?

April 2022 Reading Recap

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?

March 2022 Reading Recap

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.

February 2022 Reading Recap

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!