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The Bookshelf, May 2019

(I traveled to Kenya this month and since I followed Cal Newport’s advice in Digital Minimalism which I read last month, I deleted all games from my phone. I only played one anyway, but still. Gone. Also, I never had social media apps installed on my phone to begin with. So, I had loads of time to read on the plane. Plus, I skimmed Threading My Prayer Rug and It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, read more below).

Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up, by Kathy Khang (listened to the audiobook) Such an important book, Kathy raises her voice about race and more, and challenges us to raise our own voices, alongside hers. Timely, well-written.

“Race and reconciliation can no longer be framed solely as a justice issue but rather as core to the gospel, theologically grounded in the imago Dei (the image of God). As Christians, if we truly believe we are all created in God’s image, and that God the Creator had a hand in developing, creating and shaping not just our embodied souls but also the places and spaces we steward and have dominion over, then reconciliation with one another is not merely an option – it’s part of God’s mandate. It requires us to speak up and speak out.”

Running Man, by Charlie Engle, recommended by Kelly H. A drug addict turned ultra marathoner, telling a gripping story of pushing his body to all kinds of intense and exhausting extremes. He writes with humor and honesty and his descriptions of running across the Sahara are unreal. This is a book that will take you from your chair around the world and back again, urging you to push beyond what you perceive as your own limitations.

This is Marketing, by Seth Godin. Typical Godin, short and pithy and practical, a fun read. He says marketing is basically being generous.

“Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem.”

If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland This book felt a bit dated, because it is, but I loved her perspective on the value of silence and solitude. She is clear about the importance of writing and about why it needs to be treated as work. Here’s my favorite quote:

“But if it is the dreamy idleness that children have, an idleness, when you walk alone for a long, long time, or take a long, dreamy time at dressing, or lie in bed at night and thoughts come and go, or dig in a garden, or drive a car for many hours alone, or play the piano or sew or paint alone or an idleness where you sit with a pencil and paper quietly putting down what you happen to be thinking, that is creative idleness. With all my heart I tell you and reassure you: at such times you are being slowly filled and re-charged with warm imagination, with wonderful, living thoughts.”

Threading My Prayer Rug: From Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim, by Sabeeha Rehman. To be honest, I skimmed this. But I’m kind of in a skimming stage of reading and life. The book is lovely and I so appreciate hearing the story of an immigrant Muslim woman.

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered, by Lysa TerKeurst. Lysa faced the near devastation of her marriage, cancer, and more and through vulnerability and courage writes a book that encourages faith in the midst of brokenness.

Born With Wings: The Spiritual Journey of a Modern Muslim Woman, by Daisy Khan. I really enjoyed this book, if you can only read one, between this and Threading My Prayer Rug, read Born With Wings. This is the story of a Muslim woman’s faith journey through doubt and questions and I resonated in so many ways with her story. For anyone who sometimes doubts God but also loves their spiritual heritage, this is a great book.

“But if I had lost something in America, I had gained something else – the ability to discern for myself my own path. I did not want to follow blindly.”

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. Um…LOVE. I love food and cooking and haven’t seen anyone take so much evident delight in both as I’ve seen in Samin. This is more than a cookbook, it is a cooking class. Super recommended.

What are you reading?

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The Bookshelf, April 2019, part 2

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newport. Is it wrong that I read this on my iPhone? This book is really good. It mostly says what I already thought and felt, but with research and tips and some hard, hard truths. Like: its okay for people on the fringes of your life to fall off the radar when you stop clicking “like” on their posts. Better to have real life conversations than little shots of dopamine from hearts on Instagram posts. I’m working on adapting a lot of what he writes about.

Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints, by Christiana N. Peterson. This book gives a good overview of the lives of the saints, through Christiana’s personal life and family journey. I skimmed some parts, but still found it an uplifting book. I especially appreciated her reflections on being a “stayer” while people came and went from their intentional living community. We feel that, as long-term expatriates, and the fulfillment and losses that are inherent in staying resonated with me.

Inheritance: a Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro. This was lovely, as is everything Dani Shapiro writes. It brought up fascinating conversations with my family about the difference between genetic connection and family culture. How would you feel if you found out in your 50s that your parents are not your parents? Or, one of them isn’t? And they are gone, so you can’t ask what they knew?

Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedom, by Arsalan Iftikhar. I finished reading this on Easter evening, the day 290 Sri Lankans were slaughtered in horrible terrorist attacks, and just weeks after the equally horrible attacks in New Zealand. There is a deep, deep problem in the world with people turning to violence, playing god with bombs and guns, and it is heartbreaking and infuriating. And never okay. This book will be a challenging read if you’ve bought into the lie that only Muslims are terrorists. Iftikhar meticulously breaks down that facade and presents a far more accurate picture. Hard to read, because of all the pain caused by violence, but really, really important.

Atomic Habits: an Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear. This is an easy read (haven’t finished it yet, but almost), really practical and helpful. Kind of in the same genre as Digital Minimalism. As a staff team in Djibouti, we are discussing goal setting and planning for the coming school year, and the way James writes about the differences between goal setting and system development was especially useful.

Man. I need to read some fiction or something light. My goodness, I read a lot of serious books. Any fun, but not-put-downable book recommendations for me? I need some levity in my life these days.

What are you reading?

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The Bookshelf, March 2019

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres Gripping, horrifying, infuriating. This was a quick read that made my blood boil at the things she experienced – abuse at the hands of “Christian” parents and a “Christian” reform school. Racism that her brothers faced. The ignorance of the impact and struggles adopted kids face. Julia is a lovely writer, this is a haunting and dark book. Fitting in the #metoo era and especially with the New Tribes, Southern Baptist, and Catholic Church scandals.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung What a gift. This book is written from the perspective of an adopted child, now an adult. So many stories of adoption are written from the POV of the parents who adopted the child, and are written while that child is just coming home, or still young. But what impact does adoption have on the child? Nicole provided a nuanced, thoughtful look into her own experience and it is an important opener for a really important topic.

A Country Between: making a home where both sides of Jerusalem collide by Stephanie Saldana This book was, quite simply, gorgeous. I went to bed early every night the last week just to spend more time with the gentle prose and the imagery and the wisdom. Stephanie is an American, married to a Frenchman. They met in Syria where he chose love for a woman over love for his life as a monk. In this book, they live in Israel, between two worlds. I loved this book. See also her book Bread of Angels: a journey to faith and love, about reading the Bible and the Quran and finding Jesus and falling in love with a monk.

Walking in Wonder: eternal wisdom for the modern world by John O’Donohue Can I say this book was gorgeous, too? Well, it was. I took my time through this one and reread some chapters several times, through tears. I am a massive John O’Donohue fan, if you haven’t yet noticed. His words remind me of all that is beautiful and good, even in darkness and sorrow.

The 21: a journey into the land of coptic martyrs by Martin Mosebach (published by Plough, my publisher, yay!) Another book of trauma, except it isn’t. It could be. The 21 refers to the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were beheaded by ISIS. Martin explores each of these men’s lives and legacies and what could be a story of horror becomes in his skillful hands, one of hope and life.

 

Kindle Deals – so many great books!

South and West, by Joan Didion $2.99. Um, Joan Didion for under 3$?! Yes, please.

The Color of Water, by James McBride, $1.99. A really important read in the racial relationships conversation.

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah $2.99

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy, $1.99

The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, $1.99

Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans, $0.99 (this is probably my favorite of Rachel’s books, I read it while on the voting panel for Christianity Today’s book awards)

What are you reading lately?

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The Bookshelf, January 2019

The holidays, my brother’s wedding, and family in town meant I did not read much in December.

But cancer and isolation in January meant I had loads of time to read. Plus, I received two gift cards for places where the only thing I could purchase was books. Awesome! I couldn’t repurpose the gifts to buy socks for my kids or groceries. I had to buy books, which I did with great delight.

A Tree Full of Angels, by Macrina Wiederkehr. Beautiful. This quote says it all, “You live in a world of theophanies. Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure.”

The Coddling of the American Mind. This book was fascinating. As a parent of two college students, a person involved in education, and an expatriate observing America from afar, I appreciated this balanced perspective on rage culture, “safetyism,” and changing ideas of what is violent or offensive. I admit to be slightly confused as to why a person feels unsafe because they are assigned a reading by someone they disagree with. Especially when in my world, I feel unsafe when people throw stones at me or grab my butt when I walk in the street. The dichotomy made it hard to understand aspects of American news. This book also brought about really great conversations with my college kids about campus culture, and mental health.

The Incendiaries, by R.O. Kwon. I read another novel, you guys! Must be the radioactivity going to my brain. I enjoyed it. Campus life, politics, religion…it was a quick and interesting read. According to NPR, “In The Incendiaries Kwon has created a singular version of the campus novel; it turns out to be a story about spiritual uncertainty and about the fierce and undisciplined desire of her young characters to find something luminous to light their way through their lives.”

Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton. This was a gentle, sweet read to guide me into my days of nuclear-treatment and isolation for my cancer. If you are considering a few days of retreat, consider reading this ahead of time or bring it along.

Proud by Ibtihaj Muhammed. I love reading about women and sports, especially Muslim women and sports because there aren’t many stories in print (yet). And the story is a good one. My one complaint is that I found it a bit slow going.

Louder than Words: harness the power of your authentic voice, by Todd Henry. A lot of this book is geared toward writers, or creatives, but it is for more than just us. Its for for anyone trying to find their vocation, or passion, or obsession. The highlight for me was how Henry takes the reader through practical exercises to help develop a “manifesto” that can guide our decisions about work, creative or not.

Fear and Faith: finding the peace your heart craves, by Trillia Newbell. I read this in basically one sitting, while waiting in the waiting room and then the nuclear medicine room as I waited for my radioactive iodine treatment. They had to take a required pregnancy test, which meant I had a long time to wait. I love the title and there were plenty of wise words in this book. I appreciated her vulnerability about her own fears and losses. Sometimes, I find Christian books like this to be basically some nice stories and then some Bible verses. I wanted her to dig deeper. That could be a reaction stemming from my 16 years abroad – culture shock or culture shift or something. Like when she writes, like so many other American Christians, “For now, know what God wants to remind us that he will take care of all our needs…” and goes on to say how our basic needs like food and shelter will be met. And I want to shout, “But what about when they aren’t?!” Because that is what I see in the Horn of Africa and can’t yet find a book that is honest about how sometimes God doesn’t meet those needs we consider ‘basic human rights.’ Who is God then, and what is his plan? I believe he is still good and present, but let’s talk about that.

The Plot Whisperer: secrets of story structure any writer can master, by Martha Alderson. This book also comes with a workbook. For anyone working on a novel, screenplay, even a memoir, this book is incredibly practical and useful. Using the Universal Story as a guideline (ala Story, by Robert McKee), she breaks down what needs to happen over the course of a story, and when.

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. A memoir of near-death experiences. This book was scary and hopeful and brave and interesting. Every chapter is about one of the author’s near-death experiences. It made me think about when or if I’ve had experiences like that and how I’ve responded.

 

By |January 14th, 2019|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |0 Comments

Human Dignity in a Broken World, Two Book Reviews

Shalom Sistas, by Osheta Moore

I read this book on Saturday evening (if you want to read a lot, have surgery and have friends who bring you books, that really helps). Loved it.

I don’t know that Osheta would use the words human dignity, but that’s what shalom is about – peacemaking, peace building, relationships of healing and hope. And the only way to do that is to offer one another dignity. Her book is an honest and brave siren call to live in our neighborhoods and schools and workplaces with courage. I heard Osheta speak recently and loved her combination of passion for the hard work of pursuing justice with the freedom to enjoy simplicity, like an afternoon at the dog park. She offers 12 ways for women to actively and intentionally be peacemakers in our communities.

I love this quote, especially because I have experienced the truth of it. Peace is not passive and it is not an end goal, it is a way of life. “Peace is fierce—it has to be, because violence and discord won’t go down without a fight. Those who wield peace in the face of the world’s violence do it fiercely.”

 

Perfectly Human, nine months with Cerian, by Sarah C. Williams, PhD in philosophy and a professor at Regent College.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Plough Publishing.

I read this book in one weepy afternoon post-surgery. (Books make great post-surgery gifts, in case you have someone heading in for a procedure). My publisher gave me this one while I was at their offices last week. It is heartbreaking and beautiful, a mother’s love story and ringing testimony to the value of every single human life.

After a devastating diagnosis declared her unborn baby would not survive, Sarah and her husband choose to carry the pregnancy to term anyway. This has a terrifying and painful impact on her body and their family, but it also profoundly changes them for good as they declare with her body and with their baby, the worth of a life. What makes up a human life? How is worth determined?

Not everyone will agree with their choice, but that doesn’t matter. Few of us agree with each other about almost anything (American political situation, anyway?). What matters, is this is one family’s story and testament to beauty and life, and it is stunning.

Here is another review in Christianity Today.

And Sarah also wrote in the Huffington Post about her experience.