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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

(all links go to my Amazon Storefront page, from which I earn a small commission, at no increased cost to you.)

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…

The Bookshelf, May 2019

Here’s what I’ve been reading and some Kindle Deals (prices valid as of the day this is posted). The links take you to my Amazon Storefront and when you click through to purchase a book, I earn a small percentage (at no increased cost to you).

My favorite book of this month, of even the past few months, is No More Faking Fine, by Esther Fleece. (also on sale for $2.99!) I could post so many quotes here. I loved how she pieced together verses that cut straight to our pain and that demonstrate how the people the Bible did not run from their pain, but took it straight to God and expected to be met in their sorrow. No More Faking Fine demonstrates how it is not only ok to grieve, but that doing so and inviting God into our pain, allows God to minister, heal, and love.

“Even as we cry, “How long, Lord?” we can trust the process that in the waiting, we are being strengthened, sanctified, and transformed. Even in the waiting, God is powerfully present, and that can be our source of deep, unshakeable joy.”

(audiobook) Deep Work: Rules for Focused Work in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport. So good, and challenging. I’ve been pushed to limit my digital use. I already didn’t have social media notifications on my phone and don’t watch much TV. But I do love me a good podcast and there are so many good ones out there. But, as a writer and simply to be a healthy person in today’s world, I need to limit that input and get some quiet time in order to do deep, focused work. I highly recommend this book.

Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man, by Anne-Sophie Constant (published by my publishing house, Plough, yay!) Jean Vanier passed away this month and he left a legacy of mercy, love, and tenderness. This is a lovely biography of the man who founded L’Arche and changed the way people view disability. It releases in August, 2019 but is available now for pre-order. Here is from the back cover copy:

“The story of Jean Vanier is the story of a free man – a man who knew how to become himself, who knew how to free himself from restraints, opinions, and prejudices; from intellectual, religious or moral habits; from his epoch; from popular opinion. … Jean Vanier has transformed the lives of thousands and thousands of mentally disabled people. And he has transformed the understanding of thousands of people regarding the disabilities of their own children and of people with disabilities. Where we see only failure, disgrace, impossibility, limit, weakness, ugliness, and suffering, Jean Vanier sees beauty. And he knows how to open the eyes of others to see it.”

 

I’ve been reading a lot of spiritual memoir lately and these are ones I’ve returned to over and over:

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Girl Meets God, by Lauren F. Winner Lauren is smart and funny, a Jewish convert to Christianity (and if you read her later books, a person who continues to wrestle deeply with faith). She writes with refreshing vulnerability combined with surprising heft and depth, something often lacking in current books, especially spiritual memoir. I love this book.

A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue, by Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk This book is unique in that it is balanced from both sides. Often I read books like these and one side wants to dominate, even as the book gives off the idea that it is a dialogue – it comes down to an argument. But this truly is two men who love their religion, and present it.

Leaving Church, by Barbara Brown Taylor I mean, BBT. So good. She is another woman who loves God, loves the church, loves wrestling with matters of faith and who is so, so smart and such a pleasure to read.

And a new one, Finding Jesus Among Muslims: How Islam Makes Me a Better Catholic, by Jordan Duffner. My publisher suggested this one to me, and I’m so glad they did. Jordan writes respectfully and beautifully about how specific aspects of Islam have encouraged her faith. An example is of how the Quran repeatedly urges people to pay attention, look for ayat, or signs, of how God is at work in the world.

 

What are you reading lately?

 

By |May 23rd, 2019|Categories: the bookshelf|Tags: |0 Comments