What I Read and Loved in April 2020

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I feel as if I aged about five years in April. I intended to be far more productive than I actually was, but I figured that if there was ever a time to slack off, it was during a worldwide pandemic. Instead of saying I’m a teensy bit lazy, I prefer saying that I’m treating myself with grace. And I’m doing that by reading a lot (and also buying stuff from Sephora). I finished eight books in April and enjoyed each of them. Keep reading to see what else I loved last month. You probably don’t have anything better to do right now.

What I Read

The body double book cover

The Body Double by Emily Beyda

The nameless narrator of The Body Double is living in a small town and working in a movie theater. Her life changes when a mysterious stranger approaches her and makes her an offer. In exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars, she will leave behind every single facet of her current life, move to Los Angeles, and live as the body double for Rosanna, a famous starlet who has suffered a breakdown. She agrees, vowing to cut all ties to her current world. 

This book is eerie, strange, and unsettling. It’s a page-turner, yet it has a slower burn than most thrillers. I enjoyed the commentary on Hollywood and its beauty ideals but was a bit disappointed in the ending. 

The office book cover

The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s
by Andy Greene

The Office has been one of my favorite TV shows for years, so I’d been eagerly anticipating this book. Andy Greene delivered everything I hoped for and more. The book is written as an oral history, and we hear from all the cast members, writers, producers, crew, and many others. If you’re a fan of The Office, you’ll enjoy hearing its origin story and getting to see behind the scenes.

Adequate yearly progress book cover

Adequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden

Adequate Yearly Progress is one of those books that I judged by the cover. It caught my eye, and when I read the back and learned it was a satirical story set in a suburban high school, I had to read it. The cast of characters is diverse and always entertaining. There’s an overwhelmed principal who is suddenly thrust into the spotlight after an awkward encounter with the new superintendent. A history teacher is writing a secret blog in which she seems to have it together far more than she actually does. A spoken-word poet tries and fails to connect with her students in a meaningful way. The football coach can be there for his players but has no idea how to be a father. There’s more depth to this novel than you might expect. Teachers and school staff will especially enjoy this gem.

Dark places book cover

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

In this strange season, my attention span comes and goes depending on how I’m feeling. I was in the mood to read one day but knew I had to find a book that would instantly hook me. I perused my shelves, saw Dark Places, and knew it was The One. This book is about Libby Day, the lone survivor of a massacre in which her mother and sisters were killed. Her brother was arrested and convicted of the crime, and she hasn’t spoken to him since. Years later, when Libby is in her 20s, she’s approached by a group of people obsessed with crimes who call themselves the Kill Club. They offer her money to come to their events, and Libby has to take them up on it since she’s nearly broke. Life begins to unravel for Libby as she’s faced with her past, and she’s forced to confront things she thought she’d buried.

As always, Gillian Flynn’s writing is gripping from the first sentence. Dark Places is indeed dark and creepy, but it came through as the unputdownable book I needed at the time.

The guest list book cover

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

There’s a small island off the coast of Ireland that’s rumored to be haunted. A couple hopes to change that, though, when they turn it into a destination wedding spot. Their first bride and groom couldn’t be more perfect. The groom is a handsome TV star, and the bride is an online magazine editor. Their wedding will be chic, expensive, and memorable. As their guests start arriving, readers experience the wedding weekend through the eyes of various characters. The bride’s sister has been through something traumatic. The best man doesn’t get the respect he craves. The wedding planner is trying to make sure the weekend goes smoothly. It doesn’t, of course, but that makes for an exciting thriller. If you liked Lucy Foley’s previous novel, The Hunting Party, you’ll like this one too, thanks to the similar construct and narrative structure.

Wow, no thank you book cover

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

After reading a couple of eerie thrillers in a row, I wanted a change of pace, and a funny essay collection seemed like just the thing. I don’t often laugh out loud when I read, but Samantha Irby changed that. Her essays are hilarious, and her voice is entirely her own. Some of these essays are pretty raunchy, but this book makes for a good “I’m quarantined and need to laugh a lot” read.

Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer by Una LaMarche

I stayed on the funny essay path and picked up Unabrow next. It had been sitting on my shelf for years, though I don’t remember where or why I bought it. I’m glad I did, though, because it’s quite funny. Una LaMarche writes about what it’s like growing up female and the complexities that women encounter as they become wives and mothers. Unabrow is lighthearted and fun, perfect for fans of Sloane Crosley. (And what a cover, huh?)

All things reconsidered book cover

All Things Reconsidered: How Rethinking What We Know Helps Us Know What We Believe by Knox McCoy

I’ve been a Knox McCoy fan for a long time now thanks to the podcasts The Popcast and The Bible Binge that he hosts with Jamie Golden. He’s funny and thoughtful, a combination I love. All Things Reconsidered doesn’t come out until next month, but I got an advanced copy since I preordered the book. Knox covers a lot of different subjects, some of them silly and some of them deeply personal and theological. No matter the topic, his voice always comes through. If you’re a Popcast/Bible Binge fan (or just want a good book about reconsideration), mark your calendar for June 2nd and pick this up.

What I Loved

Honey grail face oil

SKINCARE: Farmacy’s Honey Grail Ultra-Hydrating Face Oil

As I said at the beginning of this post, I feel as if April aged me. To stop the ravages of time, I’ve been slathering my face with different potions, the newest of which is this oil from Farmacy. It’s thicker than the average facial oil and leaves my skin soft, even hours post-application. Can this oil help make me look 22 again? It’s certainly worth a try.

Devi from Never Have I Ever

TV: Never Have I Ever

I love Mindy Kaling and am always intrigued when she releases something new. Her newest effort is a Netflix show called Never Have I Ever. It’s about a 15-year-old Indian girl named Devi who’s growing up with her mom in California. Her dad died during her freshman year, but Devi is feisty and is determined to make her sophomore year the best yet. This show is a teen rom-com, but it’s got a surprising amount of depth, too. It’s funny, yes, but it also has its share of sincerely heartwarming moments. I loved it and can’t wait for season two.

Asian woman with a green face mask on
Photo by Arya Pratama on Unsplash

PEOPLE: Healthcare workers, janitors, delivery drivers, grocery store clerks, fast food cooks, and all the other people who are working to make our lives as normal as possible

I’m blessed that I get to work from home, but I know that’s not possible for everyone. I am incredibly grateful for the people who are on the front lines right now, the ones who are putting themselves at risk for the good of everyone else. If that’s you, thank you!


That’s it for me. What did you read and love in April? What’s getting you through this weird season we’re in? I’d love to know!

8 of My Favorite Short Books

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Last month, I wrote a post about my favorite long books. I’ve been in a reading slump this April, and sometimes when that’s the case, I want to pick up something short. These past few weeks have been stressful for many different reasons (like this one), so I haven’t had the stamina for a long book.

With that in mind, today I want to share eight of my favorite short books. (I define short as being less than 250 pages.) If you too are in the midst of a reading slump, maybe something on this list will spark your interest and help you get your momentum back.

The Pleasure of My Company book cover

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin
163 pages

This brief, sweet story is about a man named Daniel who lives alone and suffers from OCD. He only leaves his house to go to Rite-Aid, and to get there, he has to use sloped driveways since he can’t step over curbs. A psychiatry student named Clarissa visits Daniel regularly in an attempt to figure out what’s going on in his head. When her abusive ex-husband shows up and threatens to take away their son Teddy, Daniel steps in and tries to save Clarissa and the boy. Through his relationship with these two, Daniel starts opening up and being able to embrace the world around him. Steve Martin narrates this audiobook, so if you’re a Martin fan like I am, that’s a great way to read this gem of a book.

Glaciers book cover

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith
174 pages

Glaciers is a novel about a day in the life of Isabel, a twenty-something library employee working with damaged books in Portland. She lives a quiet life, loves anything vintage, and has unrequited feelings for a man at work. If you like books that dive deep into a character’s head and emotions, this is the novel for you. There’s not a lot of action or plot; instead, readers are allowed into Isabel’s head as she reflects on her past and thinks about her future. Glaciers is a charming, well-written delight of a book.

Dept. of Speculation book cover

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
179 pages

Though I’m happily unmarried, I love reading novels about marriage, especially when things aren’t going very well for the couple in question. Dept. of Speculation is about an unnamed woman known throughout the book as “the wife.” She and her husband used to write long, reflective letters to each other in which they would consider their lives and the world around them. In this novel, the wife is reflecting on her role as a mother, spouse, and lover of art and culture. I can’t believe how much depth Jenny Offill was able to reach in such few pages. Dept. of Speculation is a tightly constructed, excellent book about female identity and longing.

If Beale Street Could Talk book cover

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
197 pages

A few months ago, I started reading An American Marriage. I’d heard nothing but praise about the book, but I realized it just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t get into it, even though I made it halfway through the novel. After I read If Beale Street Could Talk, I realized how similar the plot is to An American Marriage. Both books are about couples who are forced apart when the man is arrested and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. While An American Marriage didn’t work for me, I loved If Beale Street Could Talk. Baldwin’s characters are well-developed, and their love is evident throughout the story. If Beale Street Could Talk is a compelling story about love, race, and the lengths we’ll go to save the people we love.

Interpreter of Maladies book cover

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
198 pages

When I read work by an excellent short story writer, I’m always in awe of their ability to tell a complete, meaningful story in so few words. Jhumpa Lahiri is an excellent short story writer, and Interpreter of Maladies is a beautiful example of the form. Many story collections can be hit and miss in terms of quality, but I love each story in this book.

When you reach me book cover

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
199 pages

When You Reach Me is a middle-grade novel, a type of book I never read. Something about it caught my interest, though, so I decided to give it a try. It takes place in New York City during the late 1970s and includes three storylines revolving around a sixth-grade girl named Miranda. Her mom is about to appear on the TV game show The $20,000 Pyramid, she and her best friend Sal have a falling out, and she starts receiving mysterious notes, including one that says, “I’m coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” Somehow, Rebecca Stead ties these storylines together and throws in a bit of sci-fi and references to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, too. This novel is a beautifully written and engaging story, one I couldn’t put down. I am so glad I gave this book a chance. It was a good reminder that a particular age range shouldn’t dictate what I read. 

Frances and Bernard book cover

Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
208 pages

When I heard that Frances and Bernard was inspired by Flannery O’Connor and her friendship with Robert Lowell, I was immediately interested as my love for O’Connor knows no bounds. This book is an epistolary novel comprised of letters between the two title characters who are writers that meet at an artists’ colony. Their bond is beautiful, as is Carlene Bauer’s prose. Frances and Bernard is a sweet story about friendship, love, creativity, and connection.

Gilead book cover

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
247 pages

Like Frances and Bernard, Gilead is also an epistolary novel. Rev. John Ames is an older man with a young son, and he decides to write him letters about his life and faith since he knows he won’t be around to tell him in person. Gilead is a masterpiece about family, memory, and God. It’s deeply theological yet also profoundly human. It’s one of my favorite novels of all time and truly deserves all the praise it’s received. This book is a modern classic.


What short books would you recommend? Do you find reading short things helpful sometimes?

9 Books to Motivate You in 2019

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I’m always a bit sad to see the holiday season come to an end, but I look forward to the possibility of a new year. January 1st feels like a fresh start, a clean slate. Change can happen anytime, of course, but there’s something about a new year that makes me feel extra hopeful and eager to make changes.

Today I’m sharing 9 books that have motivated me in different ways. If you too are excited about acquiring new habits and letting go of some old ones keep on reading. 

IF YOU WANT TO CULTIVATE NEW HABITS, READ THIS:

Book cover for The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
by Charles Duhigg

This book contains a lot of research and information, but Duhigg presents much of it through stories, so it’s never dull. Readers learn how habits helped Tony Dungy lead his NFL team to the Super Bowl and how habits helped a woman stop gambling. Habits impact everything from our diets to our routines, our relationships to our safety. Building a new habit sounds simple enough, yet we all know how difficult it can be. I learned a lot from this book and think of it as essential reading if you feel stuck and defeated by the failed habits of your past. 

IF YOU WANT TO FINALLY DO THAT THING
YOU’VE MEAN MEANING TO DO, READ THIS:

Book cover for Finish

Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff

Like many people, I’m great at starting things. But finishing what I start? That’s another story. If you too are a chronic quitter, read this book. Jon Acuff encourages people to complete their goals with doable steps and helpful advice. One of the things that stood out to me in Finish is Acuff’s advice to cut your goals in half. I tend to dream big, so being able to focus on smaller goals has helped me many times. This book is only around 200 pages, but there’s a lot of wisdom in it. 

IF YOU WANT TO CUT BACK ON YOUR PURCHASES
AND GIVE YOUR CREDIT CARD A BREAK, READ THIS:

Book cover for The Year of Less

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders

I have a sweatshirt I wear around the house that reads, “Shopping is my cardio.” The mall has felt like a second home since I was a child. I consider T. J. Maxx a close friend and have a deep, everlasting love for Nordstrom. As I’ve worked on decluttering and minimizing over the past few years, I knew my shopping habits had to change. They have, and that’s partially due to books like this one. I’ve never cut out shopping completely or gave as much away as Flanders does, but this book is still worth reading even if you don’t want to take all the extreme steps mentioned. Learning how someone else learned to live with less is inspiring and will help you see your buying in a new light. 

IF YOU WANT TO BETTER UNDERSTAND
YOURSELF AND OTHERS, READ THIS:

Book cover for Reading People

Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel

When I first discovered what an introvert was and realized that label fit me perfectly, so much about my life and personality made sense. I saw myself in a new way and was able to understand my preferences for the first time. If you want a lightbulb moment like that for yourself, Reading People is a good start. Bogel presents a survey of different ways to understand and determine personality types, such as the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and several others. Find what interests you most and then pick other books to dig a little deeper. 

IF YOU WANT TO READ MORE AND START
TRACKING YOUR READING, READ THIS:

Book cover for My Life with Bob

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues
by Pamela Paul

Pamela Paul has kept a record of the books she’s read for nearly three decades. Bob, her book of books, comes with her everywhere and its pages tell the story of her life. Paul reads widely and will inspire you to do the same. Seeing how essential her reading record is to her will motivate you to get your own Bob. Book nerds will genuinely enjoy this story of how reading shapes a life. 

IF YOU WANT TO LEARN HOW TO BE
MORE VULNERABLE AND PRESENT, READ THIS:

Book cover for Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Brené Brown’s work has changed my life. I can’t say that about a lot of things and don’t say it flippantly. If I were to make a list of things I hate doing, being vulnerable would be listed between laundry and running, yet it’s essential for a rich, fulfilling life. Brown explores what it means to live with courage and openness, explaining that vulnerability isn’t a weakness but a great strength. If your life needs a tune-up, Daring Greatly is an excellent place to start. 

IF YOU WANT TO CREATE SOMETHING, READ THIS:

Book cover for The War of Art

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Creative Battles
by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield introduced me to the idea of Resistance, which is anything that stands in the way of a creator finishing her creation. Whether you want to write, take photos, bake, or start a small business, Pressfield’s words will help you. This book is like a serious pep talk perfect for those moments when you need someone to remind you that if you want something, there are no excuses. This book should be required reading for all creative people. 

IF YOU WANT TO EAT BETTER, READ THIS:

Book cover for Food Rules

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

I’m easily overwhelmed by information about nutrition because there’s so much of it. There are countless diets out there and shiny magazine covers that tell you how to lose 10 pounds in a hurry. If your goal is to eat healthier, Food Rules is a simple, understandable guide that will help. Michael Pollan presents a rule per page and explains why it matters. I appreciate that this book gets to the heart of the matter and makes healthy eating seem like a doable endeavor. (There’s an illustrated version of this book by Maira Kalman that I’m dying to get my hands on.)

IF YOU WANT TO USE THAT DUSTY YOGA MAT, READ THIS:

Book cover for Every Body Yoga

Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body
by Jessamyn Stanley

We all know we should exercise more, but it can be challenging to find a routine that works. If you’re a perfectionist like me, the pressure to perform a certain way or look like a traditional athlete can be overwhelming. I like this book by Jessamyn Stanley because she encourages readers to move their bodies and to celebrate those bodies, no matter what they look like. The world needs more body-positive exercise guides. 


What are your goals for 2019? What motivates you to reach them?


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My Favorite Books of 2018

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I’m back after a Christmas break and am so excited to finally be sharing my favorite books of 2018. My favorites are determined by what books earned 5-star ratings from me on Goodreads. I’m stingy with my stars, so a 5-star book is one that had great prose, a strong viewpoint, and a story that stays with me. Out of the 60 books I read in 2018, only seven earned 5 stars. Five of them are 2018 releases, and two are backlist titles from the same series. Toward the end of the post, I’ll also list some honorable mentions. These titles are in random order as ranking them caused too much literary stress. Let’s get started!

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Goodreads Summary: Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer–madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place–feels her inner world light up. Then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.

Why this book is a favorite: This book stands out to me because the relationship that receives the primary focus isn’t Greer and Cory, but Greer and Faith. I haven’t read many books that focus on female bonds, much less a relationship that features a woman over sixty. I appreciate the feminist slant of this novel and think Wolitzer tells a compelling story. After I read this book, I wrote that it was one that would stay with me, and that’s turned out to be true.

Calypso by David Sedaris

The Goodreads Summary: If you’ve ever laughed your way through David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you’re getting with Calypso. You’d be wrong.

When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.

Why this book is a favorite: I’ve been a Sedaris fan for years, and have read all of his essay collections. I’ve enjoyed each one, but I think Calypso might be his best. I laughed out loud several times, which hardly ever happens when I’m reading. Sedaris is hilarious, but what I admire about him is his ability to write both comedy and tragedy so well, and sometimes even on the same page. Calypso stands out because of that skill.

Educated by Tara Westover

The Goodreads Summary: Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Why this book is a favorite: If this book had been a novel, I would have thought the story was too outlandish. The fact that Educated is a memoir makes it powerful and unforgettable. Westover’s story is fascinating from beginning to end, and her writing is fantastic too. That combination makes for a book I could hardly put down. I finished this in a couple of days because it’s so engrossing. There’s a reason why this book has been receiving so much praise. It’s certainly deserving.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Goodreads Summary: In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.

Why this book is a favorite: There are skills certain authors have that astound me. One of those skills is writing a lengthy novel with a lot of fully-developed characters and another is telling a story that goes back and forth between timeliness in an effortless way that makes perfect sense. Rebecca Makkai achieved both of those feats with The Great Believers. A lot is going on in this novel, yet Makkai never lets the story get away from her. It’s a beautifully constructed novel that’s full of love, friendship, tragedy, and healing. I said these titles are presented in random order, but I think The Great Believers is my number one pick this year. It’s outstanding.

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1by Tana French
The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2) by Tana French

NoveList Summary for In the Woods: Twenty years after witnessing the violent disappearances of two companions from their small Dublin suburb, detective Rob Ryan investigates a chillingly similar murder that takes place in the same wooded area, a case that forces him to piece together his traumatic memories.

NoveList Summary for The Likeness: This novel finds Detective Cassie Maddox still scarred by her last case. When her boyfriend calls her to a chilling murder scene, Cassie is forced to face her inner demons. A young woman has been found stabbed to death outside Dublin, and the victim looks just like Cassie.

Why these books are favorites: Tana French is the best thing that happened to my reading life in 2018. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries this year, and none of them are as good as her Dublin Murder Squad series. (I’ve only read two of the six books so far. I want to savor this series.) Both Rob and Cassie are fascinating and complex protagonists. The cases in both of these books kept me guessing. French creates such a strong, moody atmosphere and sense of place, a combination that made me feel as if I’d actually been transported to Dublin. I cannot recommend these books highly enough and am looking forward to reading the next volume.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

The Goodreads summary: Born on a farm and named in a field by her parents–artist Chrisann Brennan and Steve Jobs–Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s childhood unfolded in a rapidly changing Silicon Valley. When she was young, Lisa’s father was a mythical figure who was rarely present in her life. As she grew older, her father took an interest in her, ushering her into a new world of mansions, vacations, and private schools. His attention was thrilling, but he could also be cold, critical and unpredictable. When her relationship with her mother grew strained in high school, Lisa decided to move in with her father, hoping he’d become the parent she’d always wanted him to be.

Small Fry is Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes. Scrappy, wise, and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide through her parents’ fascinating and disparate worlds. Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the seventies and eighties, Small Fry is an enthralling book by an insightful new literary voice.

Why this book is a favorite: When Small Fry first appeared on my radar, I had little desire to read it because I wasn’t interested in Steve Jobs (or so I thought). As I started reading all of the Best Of lists for 2018, I kept seeing this book pop up. My library had the ebook available, so I decided to give it a try after all. I ending up devouring this story within a couple of days. Lisa Brennan-Jobs tells a complex and moving story from beginning to end, and it’s her story, not the story of Steve Jobs. I’m always interested in how relationships work, and the tumultuous bond between Lisa and her father is one I won’t forget. If you like memoirs, don’t miss this one. It’s heartfelt, vulnerable, and compulsively readable. I loved it.

Other Books I Enjoyed This Year

  • Providence by Caroline Kepnes
  • The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
  • This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
  • The Witch Elm by Tana French
  • Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

And Now a Little Something for the Stats Nerds

Fiction vs. Nonfiction: These numbers don’t surprise me. I’ve always read a bit more fiction than nonfiction.

Formats: Though I really do enjoy audiobooks, my number is so low this year because I’ve been opting for podcasts instead. I got a Kindle Paperwhite this past year, so the high number of ebooks has a lot to do with how much I enjoy that device.

Books I Own vs. the Library: Since I work for libraries, the library number is always high. One of my goals for 2019 is to read more of my own books, though. I’d like to see that number be 50% or higher next year.


That’s it from me this year. In case you missed it, my reading goals for 2019 can be seen here. If you like what you see on this site, please make sure to share it. Thanks for reading!


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A Look at Christian Faith in Mainstream Fiction

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I’ve been a Christian almost as long as I’ve been alive. My dad was a pastor for many years, so I grew up in the church and have chosen to remain there. Despite my faith, I have little interest in consuming most contemporary Christian art. I’ve seen my share of Christian movies over the years, and I cringe at the memories. My Christian CDs have been put away for a long time now. I have little interest in reading Christian fiction. That’s not to say all Christian art is bad; it’s not. But sometimes it feels more didactic than beautiful. Even when I agree with the message, I don’t want to watch a movie or read a book that’s preaching to me. 

Thinking about these things made me want to reflect on the books I’ve read that deal with Christian faith, specifically novels. Some of my most beloved, 5-star books focus on faith. Instead of featuring protagonists that are just a cliche of what culture thinks when they hear the word “Christian,” these books have characters that feel the tension of the holy vs. the ordinary. Faith has shaped their lives, whether they wanted it to or not. There are no tidy endings. Today I want to talk about some of those books that handled faith so well and realistically. I’ll start with my favorite.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson 

Gilead is written in the form of a letter by the Reverend John Ames. Ames is nearing the end of his life and has chosen to write to his young son, telling him about his past and family. This book talks about slavery, death, loss, and parenthood in ways that are profound and moving. Reverend Ames offers his son wisdom about God and life that I find deeply meaningful. Robinson (a person of faith herself) depicts Ames’s faith in a way that feels so very real.  Whether you’re a believer or not, I think this book is a must-read. It’s simply gorgeous and one I cherish.

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

This book is set on the fourteenth birthday of John Grimes. He lives in Harlem with his family and desperately yearns for the love of his father, Gabriel, a preacher. John feels pulled in two different directions: one toward God, and one toward the world. He’s also trying to figure out what it means to be black in a mostly white world. The tension John feels will be relatable to any believer, no matter your faith tradition. His longings and questions are universal and palpable thanks to Baldwin’s talent as a writer. This is the first book I read by him, and I knew immediately that I’d found a new favorite author. Baldwin is supremely gifted and his work here shines. 

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

Essie is a teen girl who’s pregnant. Her father is a pastor who preaches a fire and brimstone faith. To complicate matters even more, her family stars in a hit reality show that definitely didn’t script a pregnancy. Essie’s mother and the producers of the show scramble to figure out what to do. They decide to fabricate a love story between Essie and a local boy Essie chooses. As the novel progresses, we learn some secrets about Essie’s family and learn her new love interest has a secret of his own. This novel reveals how much damage people can do when they only care about what their faith looks like to an audience. Essie’s story got a lot darker than I thought it would, so this book isn’t for the faint of heart, but it does a good job of revealing the darker side of celebrity and religion.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett 

This novel is another one that involves a pregnancy. This time it’s 17-year-old Nadia who’s pregnant. The father is Luke, the pastor’s son. Nadia is grieving the suicide of her mother and Luke isn’t ready to be a dad. Bennett tells the story of what choices they make and how those choices haunt them and their families for years to come. The title refers to the church mothers, who help narrate the story. Bennett excels at showing how deeply entwined people can become in their church and how sometimes boundaries are erased due to a sense of belonging to a higher, heavenly family. 

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

Maggie is a loving wife, mother, and poet. She meets a fellow poet named James at a conference and they enter into a friendship that slowly morphs into something else. Maggie is a religious person who struggles with the moral choices in front of her. Quatro writes absolutely gorgeous prose that expertly captures the yearning and guilt Maggie feels. I read this book in one sitting because I was so captivated by not just Maggie’s story, but the way Quatro wrote it. While this book deals with the temptation of infidelity, any believer will be able to relate to Maggie as she’s drawn to something she knows will only end badly.


Other than Christian faith, the one thing that connects each of these novels is a sense of authenticity. One of the problems I often have with Christian art is that it seems superficial, as if God can’t handle hearing our doubts, longings, and questions. These books present a view of faith that is genuine and messy, and I appreciate that frankness.


What similar books should I read next? What are some of your favorite books about faith? 


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Top 5 Friday: Books I Read in One Sitting

One of my favorite literary delights is finding a book I just can’t stop reading. Today I’m sharing five books that provided such pleasure. All of the books I’m talking about were ones I read in one sitting. They’re entirely different from each other, but the one thing they have in common is compulsive readability. Keep reading to see what I just couldn’t put down.

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The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The wife of the title is Clare who’s married to Henry. They’re deeply in love, but their relationship is complicated because Henry moves in and out of time due to a newly-diagnosed medical disorder. We see Henry and Clare at different ages and stages of their lives. Henry can’t control when he time travels, and that adds gripping suspense to the story and raises the stakes immensely. Their struggle to have a typical family and marriage is what makes this book so captivating.

I’m not typically a fan of science fiction, fantasy, or romance, yet I devoured all 500 pages of this book which includes aspects of all three genres. I read this over ten years ago, and I can still remember the way it broke my heart and held my attention.

iseveryone

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

I wasn’t afraid of flying, and then I experienced some turbulence flying through a storm. (I do not recommend flying through storms.) Since that awful flight, airplanes and I don’t get along. Sometimes I have to fly, though, and during one of those mandatory flights, I brought this book with me. I’m usually too antsy to read on a plane, but I ended up reading this straight through. Kaling’s wit had no trouble holding my attention. I truly enjoyed reading about the beginning of her career, her time on The Office, and her love of comedy.  This lighthearted yet honest book was perfect for that moment when I felt nervous and out of control.

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

A couple of summers ago, I was really sick with pneumonia. All I had the strength to do was sprawl on my couch. I knew I needed a fast-paced book to hold my attention, so I picked up Big Little Lies.  I had low expectations because I’d heard this book referred to as chick-lit. I’m not a fan of that term or the books that are often ushered under its umbrella. It turns out my doubts were gone by page three.

This book tells the story of Madeline, Celeste, and Jane, mothers whose children attend the same elementary school. Someone dies at the beginning of the story and as the novel progresses we get more and more clues about who it was and how it happened. Moriarty’s pacing is pure perfection and her ability to write fully fleshed out characters keeps me coming back to her work.

csw

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murato

This book tells the story of Keiko Furukura who lives in Tokyo. Her parents always thought she was a bit different. In college, she begins working in a convenience store. Convenience stores in Japan are much bigger and nicer than they are in America, so her employment was especially exciting. When Keiko is in her mid-thirties, she’s still in the same job. She’s single and doesn’t socialize much. Her life is far from what society expects it to be. But for all her quirks, Keiko seems quite comfortable with that. I enjoyed this book and related to the desire for a simple life. This quirky story is one that’s stayed with me.

imstillhere

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
by Austin Channing Brown

This book offers a powerful indictment against the evil that is white supremacy and explains how it must be renounced for genuine reconciliation to occur. Austin Channing Brown describes a college trip in which she and some fellow students take a bus tour to see various sites important in Black history, a journey that changes her life and influences her to become the activist she is today. Her stories about the discrimination she’s faced are heartbreaking yet beautifully told. Brown is a person of faith whose convictions are shaped by deep compassion and understanding. This is an important book, especially for those of us in the Church who sometimes struggle to see and address the racism that is all too pervasive in our ranks. This book is reasonably short, but Brown is able to fit so much in its pages. It was gripping like the best nonfiction always is. (From my Goodreads review)


Do you ever read books in one sitting? If so, what books are on your list?

 


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