Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’


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So far this month, I’ve been flipping through old favorites and diving deep into new books. Here’s the latest roundup:

I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends, Kelsey Miller
I’m a longtime Friends fan, though I came to it late. I blew through this smart, well-researched, loving look at the origin, history and cultural impact of one of my favorite shows. Miller adores the show, but she’s not afraid to question its more difficult parts. Fascinating and so much fun.

Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength, April Yamasaki
Sarah Bessey chose this book to kick off a yearlong challenge to read spiritual formation books by people of color. My go-tos in this genre are all white women, so I appreciated the nudge. Yamasaki is wise and thoughtful. Lots of her advice is common sense – but we all need a reminder sometimes.

What Now?, Ann Patchett
I love Patchett’s essays and some of her novels (and Parnassus, the Nashville bookstore she founded). This quick read is based on her commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College. Warmhearted, wise advice for college grads and anyone who’s ever wondered about their winding path (which I bet is most of us).

Wishtree, Katherine Applegate
I picked up this slim middle-grade novel at Porter Square Books. It’s narrated by Red, a red oak tree who serves as the neighborhood “wishtree” – people tie wishes to its branches. When a young, lonely girl moves in next door, Red becomes determined to help her find a friend. A sweet story with gorgeous illustrations (and I loved Bongo the crow).

Belong to Me, Marisa de los Santos
After rereading Love Walked In last month, I turned back to this sequel-of-sorts, which finds Cornelia in the suburbs, struggling with new challenges. This book is full of warmth and vivid detail and characters I want to be friends with – even Piper, Cornelia’s neighbor, who is hard to like at first, but I’ve come to adore her. So many good and true lines.

Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, Sarah Bessey
Reading Four Gifts (see above) spurred me to (finally) pick up Sarah’s second book, on her struggles with church and faith and how she found her way back. I love the sorting metaphor, and it feels particularly apt right now as I am between churches. Her words on community and grief and calling are so good.

The Golden Tresses of the Dead, Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce is back for a 10th adventure, involving a human finger found in her sister’s wedding cake and a couple of mysterious deaths (naturally). I like this series, though I think it’s struggling a bit lately. Really fun escapist British mystery.

Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace, Christie Purifoy
Christie is a gardener, a writer and an Internet friend of mine. This, her second book, examines the places she’s lived and loved (each chapter has a different tree motif) and her efforts to care for them. So much here about loss, grief, joy, transition, community and how we shape and are shaped by our places. I loved it. To review for Shelf Awareness(out March 12).

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

What are you reading?


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The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics, John Pollack
I love a good pun, and this book presents the history of punning while slipping dozens of puns into the text. Pollack has competed in (and won) pun championships, so he’s the perfect person to wax eloquent on the joys of punning. As one review said, this little book was “punderful.” Funny, punny and quite informative.

Helen Keller in Love, Rosie Sultan
I’ve long been fascinated by Helen Keller, but didn’t know she’d ever had a love affair. Rosie Sultan takes that one known fact and spins a tale of several breathless months in 1916, when Helen’s finances and Annie Sullivan’s health were both teetering, and her new secretary, Peter Fagan, proved captivating. Helen and Annie were both well drawn, but Peter’s character felt rather two-dimensional. But Sultan pulled me into Helen’s world through her experience of scents, touch and taste – the only three senses available to her.

Miracles on Maple Hill, Virginia Sorensen
Mitali reminded me of this book recently, so I picked it up again, and discovered all the delights of a New England spring (especially making maple syrup) along with Marly and her family. Sorensen’s writing is quiet and lyrical, and each new miracle is a pleasure, from spring flowers to autumn leaves to foxes in the fields. The greatest miracle is Marly’s father: deeply scarred by his time in a prison camp during World War II, he is able to heal, slowly and steadily, at Maple Hill.

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Lauren F. Winner
I love Winner’s work, and I savored her new collection of reflections on the middle of the spiritual life. This book is quieter, slower, less declarative than Winner’s earlier memoirs (she wrote it in the wake of her mother’s death and her divorce). She is fumbling her way through grief and emptiness and deep weariness, and yet she is not quite willing to walk away from the God she once knew. Her words resonate deeply with where I am right now: lots of questions, few answers, reliance on friends and ritual and the deep-down knowing that defies reason. Spare and quiet and beautiful.

Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes, Lisa Greenwald
I enjoyed Greenwald’s debut, My Life in Pink & Green, and her second middle-grade novel made perfect fluffy, before-bed reading. It follows three seventh-grade girls in Brooklyn who decide to make fortune cookies and distribute them to all their neighbors on a snow day. The teenage angst, drama and silliness were all totally believable, and it was a cute premise. Good fun.

The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food, Adam Gopnik
I love Gopnik’s work – Paris to the Moon and his book on winter are both lovely, witty, thoughtful and well written. This book has those attributes, but is much longer and more complicated, and it bogged down at times in long discussions of specific aspects of French food and/or “foodie” cuisine. It was still interesting, and I appreciate his point that most of our tightly held doctrines about food stem from trends, which change with the generations. He does sometimes laugh at his own rarefied tastes (his two children help keep him honest). And I certainly learned a lot about the origins of French (and thus Western) foodie culture.

The Expats, Chris Pavone
Ex-CIA agent Kate Moore moves to Luxembourg with her husband and kids, and quickly realizes that a) she is bored with being an expat housewife, and b) her tech-geek husband isn’t just working in banking security. The plot zooms from Washington, D.C. to Central America and back to Luxembourg again. The two narratives – one happening “today” and one beginning two years back – twine and twist toward one another till they meld in the last few chapters. Really fun.

Breadcrumbs, Anne Ursu
Based in part on The Snow Queen and set in modern-day Minnesota, this is half fairy tale, half contemporary middle-grade story. The fairy-tale parts were a bit of a stretch for me – as Felicity noted recently, I like fictional worlds to follow their own rules, and this felt like a random hodgepodge of various stories. But I loved the relationship between Hazel and Jack, who are best friends – so much so that when Jack disappears, Hazel plunges into the woods to bring him back.

Shooting Kabul, N.H. Senzai
I read about this book on the NPR website. It’s the story of an Afghan family who immigrate to San Francisco in the summer of 2001, but lose their youngest daughter as they leave Jalalabad. Eleven-year-old Fadi blames himself, and enters a photo contest to try and win a trip back overseas to search for his sister. A fascinating perspective on 9/11, and a family story with lots of heart. Wonderful.

Way Down Deep, Ruth White
A fun, folksy middle-grade story set in West Virginia in the 1950s. Ruby June, who showed up in the town of Way Down Deep as a toddler, has always wondered who and where her parents are – and when a new family moves to town, they might have the answers. Full of quirky, lovable characters and entertaining details.

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, Madeleine Albright
Albright examines the 1930s and World War II from the Czech perspective, weaving her family’s story and her own childhood memories together with the story of her home country. This is a fascinating, complicated book: part history, part biography, part memoir. She explores the difficult choices faced by many Czech and Slovak leaders (including her own father) in the years before, during and after the war, and the compromises inherent in being a small, landlocked nation surrounded by more powerful nations. Fascinating.

(NB: I am an IndieBound affiliate. This post contains affiliate links, and I make a small commission if you purchase a book through one of them.)

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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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