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It’s been…a year. Somehow, amid all the upheaval, I have read more than 150 books, and as usual, I’m highlighting a few of the best to share with you. Here are my faves:

Most Honest, Insightful Book on Women Entering Midlife: Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun. This one comes out next month and if you are, or if you love, a woman in her 30s or 40s, please go get yourself (or her) a copy. I will be talking about this one with lots of my girlfriends.

Most Eye-Opening, Validating Book About Sexuality: Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. I was late to the party on this one and I am still so glad I read it. Smart, funny, packed with valuable information and absolutely fantastic.

Best Reread: either I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos or The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice. The latter is charming and British and lovely, and the former felt like a friend holding my hand through a rough time.

Most Inventive WWII Love Story: Lovely War by Julie Berry, narrated largely by Aphrodite as she stands trial (after a fashion) in a Manhattan hotel room. It’s wonderful.

Truest Novel About Friendship and Faith: The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall, about which I have already gushed. So good.

Best Celebration of Joy: The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, which is full of robust, irreverent, real delight.

Most Powerful Memoir of Making Change: The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power. Thoughtful, wise, fascinating, so interesting.

What were your favorite books this year?

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We’re halfway through November and suddenly, it feels like winter out there. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott
Everyone’s been talking about this new novel – inspired by the CIA’s real-life campaign to distribute Doctor Zhivago in the USSR. I liked the multiple points of view, especially the typists who spoke in second person plural, and the plot was intriguing. But the ending(s) fell flat for me.

The Carrying, Ada Limón
My friend Roxani recommended Limón’s poetry (I’d discovered one of her poems last spring). These poems are often sad and difficult, but shot through with flashes of light. I keep coming back to the one about goldfinches.

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, Emily Nagoski
This book was all over the Internet when it came out a few years ago – but this fall was the right time for me to read it. I’ve absorbed a lot of myths about sexuality (my own and other people’s), and this is a frank, informative, fascinating guide to so many facets of women’s sexuality. Nagoski is straightforward, smart and often funny, and her research is illuminating and validating. I especially loved the stories about real women.

The Mistletoe Matchmaker, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Christmas is coming in Finfarran, in western Ireland, and the townspeople are gearing up for family dinners and a holiday festival. Cassie Fitzgerald, visiting from Canada, makes new friends and connects with her grandparents, and the characters from Hayes-McCoy’s previous Finfarran novels have their own struggles. Light, witty and sweet.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
I fell in love with this charming novel back in my Oxford days, and it was time for a reread. I’ve been savoring it slowly and was utterly beguiled, as always, by the story of Penelope, her friends Charlotte and Harry, pop music and family and love in 1950s England. So wonderful.

Lovely War, Julie Berry
This book starts in a Manhattan hotel room, where Aphrodite – on trial for infidelity – spins a tale of two pairs of young lovers during World War I, to her skeptical audience (Hephaestus and Ares). Vivid, heartbreaking, often witty, and full of wonderful characters. I loved it. Recommended by Anne.

The Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power
Power, a former UN ambassador, cabinet official and war correspondent, is a fascinating figure. (She’s also a faculty member at my former workplace, HKS – we don’t know each other, but our worlds overlap.) This memoir is a compelling, thoughtful, honest account of her life and career, and the challenges she faced in government. I loved her voice and couldn’t stop reading (which was handy in almost meeting the library deadline).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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Today’s quote from Lauren Winner, distinguished author and speaker:

“If you want a neighbor to love, get married. If you want to welcome a stranger, have a kid.”

This actually came in the middle of a fascinating and very insightful discussion of marriage as a way to love one’s neighbor, and how to create community (other than with one’s spouse) as a married person. Lauren Winner has been on campus at ACU for the past two days, and I’ve heard her speak four times in the past thirty-six hours: at chapel on Thursday, in a forum Thursday night, in a class this morning (where the above comment came from), and at a luncheon for female faculty/staff members today. According to my roommate, Bethany, I’m becoming an addict – though I think I already qualified as one, since I’ve read all three of Lauren’s books and have been talking them up to people for the past year.

Lauren has a fascinating story – in terms of faith, sexuality, personhood and social consciousness. She was raised by divorced parents, a Jewish father and a “lapsed” (her word) Baptist mother, and became an Orthodox Jew in college when she was attending Columbia University in New York. She became a Christian when she moved to Cambridge, England, for graduate school, and has since written three books. Girl Meets God is her first book, a memoir of her personal and spiritual journey; Mudhouse Sabbath is a meditation on eleven spiritual practices that Jews “do better” than Christians, as she says, although both Jews and Christians practice the discplines described, such as Sabbath, prayer, candle-lighting, fasting and mourning. Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity is a deeply insightful, thought-provoking work on sexuality and how we (as Christians and as people) should think more intentionally about being embodied and sexual people. In it, she dissects lies the church and our culture tell about sexuality and chastity, and shares some of her own sexual struggles and mistakes (she had a lot of premarital sex before she married her husband, Griff, and is candid about the realities and consequences thereof).

Lauren is striking to me in that she is never only thinking about the issue at hand. She’s never just thinking about sex, or just talking about spiritual practices, or just telling her life story. There’s always a larger aim, a bigger story, a deeper context behind her words. She is interested in how people are formed spiritually and how we form our children, our spouses, the people in our churches, and generally each other – by the ways we think about sex and money and spirituality and all those things.

Hearing an author speak in person is also a quite different experience from reading his or her books. Now that I’ve heard Lauren’s voice, seen her constant, almost nervous hand gestures (though she’s very collected onstage) and her ornately decorated cat’s-eye glasses (which somehow work on her), and laughed at her dry, hilarious humor, I will see her books in a different light. I’ll still respect them and learn from them, no doubt – but it will be richer because I now know a little more of the person she is.

More about her books may come later. For now, you can read about them on her website here.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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