Category Archives: Interrupted by books

Interrupted by the books of 2017

I cannot resist joining in the list making. I kept a list of books I read in 2017. I read 101 books. Here’s the best of the bunch! But not in any order.

*Today will be Different by Maria Semple. I just loved this book. I liked the surprise that while there were memory scenes it basically took place in the course of a day. I liked that the narrator deliberately starts off being obnoxious, so you know if you don’t like me and don’t want to read me, fine don’t then. Who hasn’t done exactly that? I loved the surprise twist at the end. It isn’t just another spoiled rich white woman story with crumples in her rose petal life — or maybe it is — but for me was so much more. And it was so full of laughter and hope. Today was different!

*The Painted Drum by Louise Erditch. This is beautiful writing, rich in details and atmosphere and nuance and absolutely luminous. These people truly seem completely real. And the story was engrossing.

*The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch. This is top-notch urban fantasy — this is not the first book in the series so start with the first book, but the series is getting stronger I think. Peter is our smart, funny, plucky hero, his boss is the dapper and mysterious Nightingale and they are the chaps who have to solve London’s supernatural problems. It’s excellently written, the world-building is perfect, the characters are great (special shout-out to Peter’s mum). And it is a fantasy with a POC front and center.

*Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger. Again beautifully written. Another boy-coming-of-age novel on the surface but the mystery, the delicious writing, the evocation of a summer in 1962, Frank the boy — everything comes together to make it a lovely beautiful read. And an appreciation of the daily joys of living is always welcome, lest we forget.

*Company Town by Madeline Ashby. A good solid science fiction book, with a well-built world, great characters, interesting plot. I truly enjoyed it.

*The Last Policeman, all three books, by Ben Winters. Just the best to discover a trilogy after all the parts are published so you can read it in one big gulp. Well-written, with an untrustworthy narrator who I truly liked. I wanted to find him and bake him cookies and take care of the poor clueless guy. Here’s the plot: what would happen if the astronomers suddenly realized that the killer asteroid was coming for us, the Earth was going to be destroyed beyond the dinosaurs. There is not a shred of hope. Do you keep doing what you are doing? Do you start on your bucket list? Do you stock up on water and guns? Do you reach out as a community and embrace the end in joy with your best angel self ascendant? The last policeman just wants to solve the last murder, just wants to do his job. From simple things much trouble and unforgettable characters evolve.

*The Trespasser by Tana French. I love the Dublin murder squad! I love French’s wonderful writing and somehow with her books I just fall into them, I just forget the real world, like being inside a movie. This is one of her best.

*Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller. This is a memoir — surprise! This was absolutely heartbreaking and very funny and filled with love and anguish. Miller’s parents are/were hoarders and her childhood was hell. Yet her love, anger, compassion for her parents just shines and inspires. And my house is definitely cleaner.

*The Tree of Myth by Michael Sullivan — I love all his books, every single one. He has humor, adventure, love, magic, swords — do I need to keep going? Just start reading. Well-written, well-crafted, wonderful plots and twists. Fantasy done right. Fantasy done with so much thought that at times I wondered if it was really science fiction….

I read a lot of mysteries this past year, for example the Sigrid Harald police series by Margaret Maron which was especially historically interesting, especially in light of #metoo — the world has come a long long good way from the 1960s. Thank God. Some Travis McGee, always fun in a don’t look at the gross stuff too late sort of way. MacDonald was far ahead of his time in terms of environmental concerns and the trap of consumerism. A lot of  mysteries many of which were just terrible but justice is always served. A lot of old favorites too, from the Liaden books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller to Anne of Green Gables.





Interrupted by books — The Boss

The book “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen is lyrical and honest and beautiful and hauntingly sad and human. Obviously he is a world-class musician, songwriter, performer! He took about seven years and just wrote about his life privately and this is the result. His childhood was brutal but he is looking back with forgiveness and grace and understanding. He is interested in expressing what it is like to live as an artist, what it is like to perform, how you can love, completely and totally, performing for crowds of ten’s of thousands and yet still be intensely private as a person. The first song of his that I remember hearing is “Hungry Heart” and oddly he says that that was the song that brought girls into the club. {{grins}} His entire album of The Rising helped me cope with 9/11. So much of his music is the soundtrack of my life; our lives. It is a gift to read his own words about himself and his experience.

In reading memoir/autobiography good writing is hard to find, in my experience. This is excellent writing, even when the topic is mental health and his searingly honest and deeply personal struggles with it. It is even more amazing how he is able to share the experience of songwriting and performing and so on.

This took hours and hours to read, I’ve ignored my family a lot the last week. Also I was reading on a Kindle and note that at the very there are pictures. Easy to miss, I almost missed them.


Interrupted by Books: Today will be different

Today will be Different, by Maria Semple, is a wonderful book! I have to interrupt going on more about Simeon and Anna and baby Jesus at the temple to praise this book. I thought it was just going to be another modern family story: Eleanor and Joe had a perfect life, with their son Timby, when …..mental trouble, physical trouble, emotional trouble, you  name it, one of the “troubles” would descend and mess things up. Instead something else entirely happens, a whole new future is suddenly there. To say too much would be to entirely spoil the story.

It is funny. It is heartbreaking. It is so true to life in spots! Eleanor, mostly our narrator, seems both so real and so awful and so cool. I liked her more and more as the story rolls on. While in a way the action of the story takes place in just one day — a day she wakes up determined to be different (she wants to be the perfect wife and mother and she doesn’t want the mess and stress of an ordinary day) — in another way the action travels to the past in memory to explain how this day came to be about. And the more she tries to be perfect, well, the more hilariously things unspool. She is definitely in “firstworldproblems” territory at first, but then, so many surprises.

Parts are told with graphics and other clever things — normally I just want my stories immersive and don’t want clever things but this totally works. It is completely integral to the story.

Absolutely a unique and delightful voice, a great story, a fast read, a surprise.

Interrupted by Books

So many many books…..

Let me mention and praise Wendell Barry’s Hannah Coulter, it is so beautifully crafted, so beautifully written, but of course it is by Wendell Barry. It also struck me deep in the heart. The passing of the “family farm” is, perhaps, the main loss in the story’s plot. The characters are so alive, they live and breathe and I feel as if I know Hannah and feel the suffering that a way of life has passed or changed so completely. So often this story would be told romanticized or with nostalgia and, of course, both of those perhaps are elements. And there are other truths about country life and country living that were only in the very very outer margins of the story. Different stories about farming life and country life will be told by different authors and in different books. Berry has given us a gift of meeting Hannah, and the people she loves, and learning about the life she and they have lived, and how much they loved “having membership” in that community. It is so real that I feel as if I was there. It was beautiful.

Because for all the sorrow, this is at some core level a novel about a happy life and happy and loving marriage; a network of family and friends. It is about good people, who might have their little ways, but they are decent, loving, kind, hardworking, skilled at what life has caused them to be skilled at.

“The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together.”

or maybe

“Suppose your stories, instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, say that everything should have been different.”

Seriously, you can pick out pretty every sentence…. beautiful, transparent, proper, fitting, wonderful writing.

While they mention going to church, other than one small scene, church and religious life isn’t part of the story, but it is part of the lyrical language, part of the richness of the language. Faith is in the iron and bones of the very structure of the lives these characters live, breathed in the very air. Port William may in fact be heaven or a vision of the new earth that is to come.

Oddly, I’ve also read recently the two-book autobiography by Beverly Cleary, the wonderful children’s author. A Girl from Yamhill and  On My Own Two Feet these are engrossing stories of how she got her education and because a writer, when both of those things were hard to do for anyone much less a girl. It, too, takes place in the depression and then WWII and brings that whole era vividly to life. I think at times she was trying to be funny in telling her story, and all I can think is how amazing and strong she was. Really interesting.



Interrupted by books

Having just finished reading Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton I can’t get it out of my head. There is some beautiful writing here — she exactly perfectly captures that terrifying-on-every-level ride home from the hospital with the newborn first baby. She beautifully writes about true love that is annual and love that is perennial and that all love means something: love cannot be judged by the end. Or perhaps it is up to our us to end a love with love and grace. She definitely describes how troubling church can be, how church is so much harder than loving Jesus.

Yet there is so much that troubles me. While clearly a spiritual memoir and clearly Christian-flavored, it is more a memoir than spiritual to me. And as such it is of course innate to the format that it seems full of the author. And since I’m much older than Glennon, although I remember a lot of what she writes about (she didn’t invent food and alcohol issues), it seems like far country, long ago, and she’s maybe mixing up outsides and with insides a lot. Life isn’t a competition to be the worse sinner ever so that God will love you the most; Jesus will love and save us all. It isn’t a matter of looking like the worse sinner of the world ever. It was so sad, and painfully honest, her writing about her past. And how much she still wants to be beautiful on the outside (so do we all; but aging humbles that a lot). But even if her past had been merely that of reading, I feel confident in saying that Jesus would love her just as fully as completely — and she would have been in need of forgiveness then too. Nor height nor depth — not how “good” we are or how “bad” we are, not how “happy” or how “sad” we are — can separate us from the love of Jesus. To quote Paul, yes?

To be searingly honest, I find little about forgiveness here, but of course that is likely more my issue than Glennon’s. Forgiveness is how I found God. How I still find God. It is my cross that I struggle to extend, and struggle to accept, and struggle to keep the boundaries clear. I wonder in twenty years or so if her writing is even more beautiful and deeper and richer.

As Sarah Bessey has also beautifully written, I love the delving into the translation of the word used for “woman” that God provided Adam with. Not something lesser at all. Not a mere helpmeet. God provided Adam with a warrior. I’m always leary of metaphor from war and violence, but this is a powerful image and perhaps greatly needed these days: we women are meant to be warriors: strong, helpful, protective, capable.

Carry on, Glennon, Carry on and wrestle like Jacob with your God and your life.

Interrupted by Books

I’m in the midst of reading the Expanse books by James S.A. Corey which is actually two people, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. This is wonderful fun space opera so completely thought out and exciting — it is less like reading words and instead just seeing it all in your mind’s eye. The very best one so far is Abaddon’s Gate because one of the heroes is, Anna, a Methodist pastor — she’s just awesome! She saves the day and she’s afraid and she’s faithful and she cares about people and she cares about forgiveness and she needs forgiveness…. I think I nearly cried at the scene where she serves communion on the space ship. So often “science” is seen as answers and not mystery and wonder and “faith” is seen as the opposite and not, also, mystery and wonder. So many wonderful characters! And this book is exciting and just a really great read! But — start at book 1 — they are all excellent and build on each other.

As if my stack of books to read isn’t big enough the wonderful Sarah Bessey just compiled a list — check it (and her) out.

Because of my book group, a few weeks ago I read “Boys in the Boat” and this is just amazing beautiful nonfiction writing — a history of the crew team in 1936 Olympics and interweaves information about the depression, each crew member, coaches, the guy who builds the shells, how the shells are build — everything you can imagine. I’m not even remotely interested in crew and yet — this book was fascinating.  This was a really good read and so a new goal is to learn more about the depression and the dust bowl. Because we are blessed beyond all imaging here and now versus there and then….

Interupted by reading

The best part of Christmas is getting books. And I got some wonderful ones this year.  I want to start with least “Christian-y” one, at least on the surface, because I’m going to challenge everyone to think about this, too. “A Year without Sugar” a memoir by Eve Schaub is really well written and really astonishing: A more or less normal family in Vermont went a year (with very few exceptions) without added sugar in their food and without artificial sweeteners either. I just happened to pick this book up at the library for no particular reason. It is really interesting: so much of our food supply is sweet. Food that doesn’t need to be sweet is sweet. Added fructose (the bad part) gains our bodies nothing. The stats on how as fructose has increased in foods, Americans mysteriously keep getting fatter and fatter…. the use of corn for sugar and the economic implications. How the poorer you are, the less access to food without sugar you have. This information was all new to me; and I may or may not have understood it all. But the stories of this family living without added sugar are truly what I loved. I’ve started reading labels. I’ve starting having sugar-free breakfasts. I’ve started trying to eat (even more) vegetables. While the Schaubs went hardcore sugar-free for a year, and I haven’t done that (yet), I’m definitely in a zone of more awareness. Inspirational! So each January as we all vow to be healthier, here’s the challenge I send out — just try to be mindful of the added sugar (honey, agave, fruit juice,  white sugar, brown sugar, HFCS, etc. etc.) that you eat. And drink more water.

Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber is a fast, fun read and a beautiful glimpse into the life of a pastor. Nadia (I’ve read her book, I feel I know her on a first name basis) pastors a church called House of All Saints and Sinners in Denver. At the heart of the book is community; and it often isn’t the “cool kids” and you pretty much don’t get to pick — just wake up. Love the people you see. Sounds so easy….Nadia talks about churchy things and explains stuff and I wish I’d had this book when I was a baby Christian looking for the secret decoder ring translator. You guys are strange, I would think. Wash each other’s feet? Seriously? I’d wash Jesus’ feet but your feet? The year that I finally participated in that ritual, it was profound, for me maybe more so than communion. It is humbling and humiliating and nerve-wracking (did I do it right? long enough? do I look saintly? is this enough?) and there’s something about water, and something about towels, and something about how quiet everything gets deep inside me. I think Nadia would understand all that.

Carry on, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton is a freaking revelation. From laugh out loud to tears. Searingly honest about family, faith, children, parenting, the love and beauty and joy of little kids and how completely bat-shit insane they make you because they have no brains yet. I commend pages 155 – 159 as being as funny as David Sedaris. Or more. That funny. And despite (because of?) the laughter there’s so much truth in her writing. So much kindness. So much love and hope and joy and generosity and mistakes and problems and healing and love. Tears in my eyes just thinking about it. Read this book!

take this bread by Sara Miles is another spiritual memoir and oddly, while on the surface like Ms. Miles I’m an adult convert to Christianity, we really have little in common. For one thing, she is much much braver and extroverted than I am or ever will be. It was no doubt very good for me to feel completely inadequate after reading this book. I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that God works in all of us, even if we don’t know it. Ms. Miles wandered into church one day and ended up taking communion and her heart broke and her life changed. Oddly, the first time I attended church with my now in-laws, I took communion for the first time too (even though I wasn’t baptized yet so I shouldn’t have). I remember it and note it as a very important part of my spiritual journey. But communion, for me, in my experience, generally, is a prayerful moment, but not necessarily a mystical moment. Oddly, the food and lack-of-food-for-the-poor is front and center in this book as it lurked around the edges of A Year without Sugar. In fact, in telling us about one event she had as a war reporter, she was on a plane with some refugees and this boy near her ate her meal he was given like the starving person he was. At the end he is staring at the two white packets and asks what are they. She tells him it is sugar. He opens them and eats the sugar and a look of delight and amazement appears on his face. This boy had never had white sugar before….  Ms. Miles started and I’m sure continues a food pantry in her church and community, a way of bringing communion out to the world.

Finally, wearing God by Lauren F. Winner — I’m actually still reading this one. The typical metaphors for God, in the Christian vocabulary, are Lamb, Lion, King, Light, Shepherd. So Lauren (I’m sure I know her too) realizes that most of us don’t know a lamb, lion, king or shepherd. Or these images are dulled by repetition and we feel apart from God. So she went looking for other biblical images: clothing, smell, bread and vine (oh yes food again), Laboring Woman, laughter, Flame. Over and over God is reaching Godself out to us in friendship and the richer our vocabulary for God is, the more we can wake up to this friendship. Lauren says all this much much better than I just did. Her research, her bible study, her writing is perfect and enjoyable. Listen to Lauren on communion: “In the Holy Eucharist, we take a miniature sip of wine and a small bite of wafer, and we call this God’s abundance. I believe by regularly proclaiming that God’s abundance can be found in something small, we are gradually retooling our understandings of what is truly necessary for life.” There’s good food here.



Interrupted by books & musing

The wonderful blogger Sarah Bessey’s second book is coming out this week, “Out of Sorts”. I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Her first book, Jesus Feminist, was so. very. good. A clear intelligent beautifully written bible study in support of women preaching, talking, fully living the Christ in them. Not a battleground at my church or even a debate; nonetheless a very interesting bible study. I learned a lot. I don’t know what “Out of Sorts” will be about exactly — her site says:

It’s about loss and how we cope with change. It’s about Jesus and why I love him and follow him. It’s about church and church people and why both make me crazy but why I can’t seem to quit either. It’s about embracing a faith which evolves and the stuff I used to think about God but I don’t think anymore, and it’s about the new things I think and believe that turned out to be old. It’s about the evolution of a soul and the ways I’ve failed; it’s about letting go of the fear and walking out into the unknown.

Certainly change is everywhere and I hate it… {{grins}}. I’m trying something new. I’m trying to embrace change. I’m trying to just let it happen and see what happens. I’m almost done with my Certificate in Theology and Ministry an online program via Princeton. It’s been wonderful. In a year I’ve dipped a toe into learning so much that I never before knew and so much that I did know I now have a way of organizing the information. I have absolutely no idea what my “next step” will be. I hope to get back to writing and I hope it is deeper, richer and that — having done all this work for a year — I can keep a pattern of working. But maybe the Holy Spirit will send me on a different adventure.

I recently read that life is like a 4-burner stove: work, family, friends, fun-stuff. If you want to be really successful in whichever area then you need to cook on a 1-burner stove. I don’t want to be “successful” in that way — I don’t even think that would be success. I want to have all 4 burners and I want to cook a big feast to give out.  Of course I also want (and need) profoundly some quiet time. The challenge is that which burner I’m cooking on at any time seems rather out of control!

Thanks for listening and thanks, always, to God, for the glory of God in each “burner” of life!