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The Bookshelf, August 2019

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Elaine Aron.Any HSPs out there? Pretty sure there’s one right here.

The Blue Jay’s Dance: a memoir of early motherhood, by Louise Erdrich

The Butterfly Mosque,by G. Willow Wilson, a young American woman converts (reverts) to Islam, moves to Egypt, and falls in love with an Egyptian. I appreciated hearing her story of faith and her story of adjusting to all that she gained and lost, by embracing Egypt.

I confess, that’s it.

I’m in the USA, land of no peace or quiet, land of breakneck pace of life, land of no end of things to do or people to talk to, land of just one more person I want to get coffee with, land of no darn time to read. This, for an HSP, is stressful, but I know a breather is coming. We’ll go back to Djibouti and then I’ll complain about nothing interesting to do and feeling lonely. #expatlifetruth

 

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Help, Thanks, Wow, by Anne Lamott

Blue Nights, by Joan Didion

Two powerhouse female writers, right there. I loved both of these books.

What are you reading?

The Bookshelf, August 2019. Doing Good, Adoption, Somali poetry

 

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, by Warsan Shire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll let her words speak for themselves, here is some of her poetry:

Home, by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.

your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay…

Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help, by Larissa Macfarquhar

I loved this book. As a person who often feels the urge to help and who makes what others see as drastic choices (though not even close to as drastic as the people in this book!), I was curious. She writes about the lives of people who are not widely known and who have made incredible, sometimes questionable, choices in the name of doing good. And, she examines the entire enterprise of do-gooding (doing good?) and explores the idea of it being harmful, instead of helpful. The book goes beyond a critique of things like the White Savior Complex or Helping Without Hurting into WHY some are compelled to do good and WHY that might be problematic. The title is based off a philosophical question along the lines of: if your child were drowning and five strangers were drowning, which are you morally obligated to save? The one or the many? And what does your answer say about you and your values and way of being in the world? Fascinating.

 

The Faith of Other Men, by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, published in 1963

This book explores several different faiths and makes a valiant attempt at seeing them from their own perspective. Which of course is ultimately impossible, both for an outsider and to try and impose one perspective on things that have such wide interpretations even from insiders. But, it is fascinating and I enjoyed his respectful position.

Many Thorns, Yet Still Roses, by Jessie Gallaher

This is about a couple who adopted a sibling set of five, each of whom came into their family with significant development, health, and trauma issues. It is a book to read if you or someone you love has made a similar choice. It isn’t a book to read if you’re looking for a well-written book. For one thing, she uses too many exclamation points(!). Also, I find the cheeriness a bit grating, but I’m learning that I like dark more than I’d like to admit. Also, it is just plain too long. As a book. But, that said, I still highly recommend this book if, like I said, you or someone you love has made a similar choice. I have kids like this in my life and because I love them and the family they are in, I want to be educated, informed, compassionate, empathetic, and not a burden or a pain or a snooty know-it-all.

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What are you reading?

The Bookshelf July 2019

The Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala. This book just destroyed me. It was on the list of 50 best memoirs that the New York Times put out and I read it in a day. It is the shattering story of when Sonali lost her entire family in a tsunami. Husband. Two children. Mother. Father. She writes of the tsunami, of the aftermath, of trying to breathe and trying to live. The writing is sharp and piercing and it is impossible to read and impossible to stop reading.

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chodron. A lovely book about learning to live with struggle and pain and how to hold it all. It comes from Buddhist ideas and if that’s not your jam, there are still plenty of rich insights to glean, which is how I read it. There is a lot of of uncertainty and change in my life, in all of our lives, and it was good for me to think about how I respond to these things and how I can improve those responses.

H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. I wanted to love this book, it was also on the list of 50 best memoirs. And some parts of it, I adored. The way she writes about hawks is powerful and descriptive and moves beyond birds into the realm of life. But at the same time, I have a lot of books to read and things to do and it moved a bit slowly. But I’m also super impatient. If you like a slow, moving, beautiful read, this is a great book.

A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk about Their Craft, Lives, and Imagination, by Michael Shapiro. Loved this. Interview style, and all kinds of insights into identity, writing, travel, and humanity. Really fun for anyone who wants to write about travel especially.

What are you reading?

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The Bookshelf, June 2019

The Parade, by Dave Eggers My list this month starts with a novel. This means I really enjoyed this book. Its a quick read, but dark and twisty. I like me some dark and twisty in novels. For anyone who has lived abroad, especially in slightly dangerous or off the beaten trail places, you’ll love this book. It captures several extremes in terms of how expats respond to the challenges of being foreign.

Braving the Wilderness, by Brene Brown. Of course this is a great read, its Brene Brown. I’d already read it but was looking for some ideas about community and relationships and she explores the deep need and longing we have for belonging. As a an expatriate, this resonates so much with me.

Running Home, by Katie Arnold. I loved parts of this book and honestly, skimmed a few parts. Katie’s relationship with her dad is complicated and she deftly captures the love/grief connection. Reading parts of this made me really, really want to destroy my journals. I only journal the bad stuff, so if one of my kids later tries to figure me out, and expose me by writing about me, after I die by reading my journals, they will totally miss my reality and only see my anger or sorrow. The parts I loved were when she talked about running, ultras and marathons and loved it.

Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, by Karen Armstrong It is hard to read about religious violence over the course of history, but also important. This book puts things like the Crusades and jihad into perspective and context.

Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship, by Al Ghazali. Super interesting, to read about more contemplative ways of looking at spiritual practice within Islam.

If the Oceans Were Ink: an Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran, by Carla Powers. An interesting take on moderate Islam through the exploration and friendship of a non-Muslim. I wanted to love this book but found myself liking it, parts felt a bit slow and limited in perspective but I also really appreciated Carla’s willingness to evaluate her own religious convictions and to question her friend, a sheikh, on hard topics.

 

What are you reading lately?

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June Bookshelf

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Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, in the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, by Eboo Patel I loved this book. I appreciate Eboo’s perspective on interfaith relationships. He doesn’t pretend all faiths are the same, he doesn’t try to smooth over differences or force a stilted and dulling pretense of agreement. He challenges us to live with the spacious of faith that loves and believes what we love and believe, while fully respecting another to love and believe what they do. Even, he exhorts us, we can learn from one another. Much like I have learned about the power of posture in prayer from my Muslim friends, while not insisting we pray alike. This is lovely memoir by a man who practices what he preaches.

Homing Instincts, by Sarah Menkedick I loved this book, too! So beautiful. I heard a podcast interview with Sarah in which she talked about the lack of serious writing about motherhood and I totally agreed. This is a deep exploration of the body, identity, and home, through the nine months of her pregnancy. She had previously spent a lot of time abroad so I particularly resonated with that aspect of her transition to motherhood.

Paris, I Love You, but You’re Getting Me Down, by Rosecrans Baldwin. Liked it, didn’t love it. It’s a bit crass, so you’ve been warned. Super funny, especially as a person who has studied French and spent some time in Paris. I will always love reading how other people navigate cross cultural work and relationships.

A Sinner in Mecca: a Gay Muslim’s Hajj of Defiance, by Parvez Sharma. Gay. Muslim. Pilgrimage. This is a loaded book and it includes an extensive exploration of the violent aspects of jihad as the author goes deep into Saudi Wahhabi teachings. Like Paris, I Love You, this book is a bit crass. I didn’t need to read about all the author’s sexual exploits in the underground gay bars of Beirut or Cairo. But I was fascinated by his writing about the hajj. Okay, I’m fascinated by almost all writing about the hajj, as it is the most mysterious of the Islamic Pillars, to an outsider. I watch people pray, hear them say the Shahadah, join in fasting, and we all give to the poor. But the hajj is behind a shroud, so reading this was like peeking behind the curtain. I’m sure more conservative Muslims take deep offense at some of what he writes, but I’m trying to read widely as I learn. I have to admit that I love his sort of ‘inside jokes’ as a Muslim. I’ve been a Christian all my life and there are things other Christians just get that are funny, jokes about Chubby Bunny or when on road trips and someone says, “Matthew 4:19a” and everyone gets in their cars because they know the reference (“Come, follow me.”). For example, Parvez’s friend texts him, “Come on over, the beer is flowing like the water of Zamzam.” I enjoy when people can make light of their faith, even while they love it and hold to it fiercely. Its human.

In the Land of Invisible Women: a Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom, by Qanta Ahmed. I have loved lately reading spiritual memoirs by Muslims. They’ve been harder to dig up, but its been a pleasure to find some in my Kindle library or on sale. This is by an Indian Muslim doctor, trained in the US, who takes a job at a hospital in Saudi Arabia. While there, she goes on the pilgrimage, hajj, to Mecca. What I appreciated most about this book is that she is not a religious outsider, looking in, aghast, at Saudis. As a Muslim, she has a unique perspective.

Newsletter Ninja: How to Become an Author Mailing List Expert, by Tammi Labrecque. Hopefully this book will help me serve you guys all better. And if you’re a writer or creative who also has a newsletter, get this book! Super practical and helpful. And inexpensive.

New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton. I’ll share a quote, to let you know what this book is about. “It should be accepted as a most elementary and moral truth that no man can live a fully sane and decent life unless he is able to say “no” on occasion to his natural bodily appetites.” Not an easy lesson for so many of us in this age. He also suggests we avoid radios and advertisements. If Merton only knew…