Two memoirs + two books on how to live your best life + three novels = my 2018 reading so far.
Sometimes it cracks me up how books come to me in relationship to each other and how they seem to reveal to me the state of my own heart. Two books about how to live: I desire to live intentionally and I’m willing to shake things up to get better at my own life. Two memoirs: well, I am a blogger, after all; I write and regularly publish memoir. In addition, one of the memoirs is by a young woman who wrestles in her relationship with the Church (my own struggles take different forms and reach different temperatures, but I relate) and the other is by a Bay Area wife and mom learning to live well after death steals some of her beloveds (I live here and I’ve been there).
Nine weeks of 2018, and I’ve read seven books, several with 5/5 ratings. Not a bad start!
Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Kelly Corrigan lost two precious people to cancer. So have I. She’s raising teen girls in the San Francisco Bay Area; I’m raising teen boys, also in the Bay Area. She works and volunteers and balances all that family life holds and I can relate to the whole big, beautiful mess.
“Minds don’t rest; they reel and wander and fixate and roll back and reconsider because it’s like this, having a mind. Hearts don’t idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it’s like this, having a heart. Lives don’t last; they thrill and confound and circle and overflow and disappear because it’s like this, having a life.” (25)
“…we can be damaged and heavy-hearted but still buoyant and insightful, still essential and useful, just by saying I know.” (102)
“This abstract performance art called Family Life is our one run at the ultimate improve. Our chance to be great for someone, to give another person enough of what they need to be happy. Ours to overlook or lose track of or bemoan, ours to recommit to, to apologize for, to try again for. Ours to watch disappear into their next self—toddler to tyke, tween to teen—ours to drop off somewhere and miss forever.
“It’s happening right now, whether we attend to it or not.” (220)
How to Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind of Happiness That Helps The World by Colin Beavan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The standard life approach doesn’t work for most people: get good grades, go to a good college, land the perfect career that makes enough money to live well, marry the love of your life, live happily ever after. That might have worked at one time, but the world has changed. So why not take responsibility and develop the life you want? Live in line with what matters to you. Ask “How can I help?” in each situation, and see what happens.
I read the first section, then started skimming (it is long…), then read sections that interested me. Some good stuff but, funny, not all that truly life-changing. I picked up Designing Your Life (Burnett & Evans) at the same time – though they’re different, they are variations on a theme and that one is shorter and better.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book captivated and entranced me. It moved me and eventually broke my heart. One lonely couple hard-scrabbling to establish a life in 1920’s Alaska provides the landscape for the most wonderful ‘real-life’ fairy tale. This book has found a place on my forever-favorites list.
“In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believe as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees.” (251)
“We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end up or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?” (258)
“When [joy] stands before you with her long, naked limbs and her mysterious smile, you must embrace her while you can.” (336)
Still Me by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A good book for binge reading while sick. It’s not as heavy/thought-provoking as Me Before You and I like it better than After You.
“There are so many versions of ourselves we can choose to be. Once, my life was destined to be measured out in the most ordinary of steps. I learned differently from a man who refused to accept the version of himself he’d been left with, and an old lady who saw, conversely, that she could transform herself, right up to a point when many people would have said there was nothing left to be done.
“I had a choice….The key was making sure that anyone you allowed to walk beside you didn’t get to decide which you were, and pin you down like a butterfly in a case. The key was to know that you could always somehow find a way to reinvent yourself again.” (386)
Refugee by Alan Gratz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I found this book while looking for historical fiction suggestions for my 8th grade son. As he finished another book, I devoured this one. I will now pass it on.
Chapters go back and forth between three stories, three young people and families fleeing their homes: Josef, a Jew, fleeing Nazi Germany; Isabel fleeing Castro’s Cuba in 1994; and Mahmoud fleeing war in Aleppo, Syria, in 2015.
The chapters are short and compelling, which keeps you flipping pages even when the stories are heart-rending. This book holds in tension the horrors humans inflict on each other with the hope of those who seek refuge, who hang on desperately to hope and one another. Occasionally we see genuine human kindness break through like light in darkness.
Honestly, I’m more than a little wrecked at this wretched reality. And I’m concerned about my 13yo reading about these atrocities. Except this is the world we live in. When we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it–and repeat it we do, as these characters spread out over almost a century could attest.
“I see it now, Chabela. All of it. The past, the present, the future. All my life, I kept waiting for things to get better. For the bright promise of manana. But a funny thing happened while I was waiting for the world to change, Chabela: it didn’t. Because I didn’t change it. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.” (277) –Lito, Isabel’s grandfather
Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You by William Burnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a great book to encourage intentional decision making and action to becoming your best version of yourself. For anyone looking for a job, or even just wanting to tweak their current job, this book holds so much practical wisdom. But for anyone looking to live more fully into their best self, this book contains practical tools to urge you onward.
“A well-designed life is generative—it is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise.” (xvi)
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” becomes “Who or what do you want to grow into?” (xxi)
“…follow the joy; follow what engages and excites you, what brings you alive.” (49)
“Work is fun when you are actually leaning into your strengths and are deeply engaged and energized by what you’re doing.” (49)
“…if a problem isn’t actionable, then it’s not solvable.” (82)
“It’s important to think of ourselves as life designers who are curious and action-oriented, and who like to make prototypes and ‘build our way forward’ into the future. But when you take this approach to designing your life, you are going to experience failure. In fact, you are going to ‘fail by design’ more with this approach than with any other.” (182)
“We are always growing from the present into the future, and therefore always changing. With each change comes a new design. Life is not an outcome; it’s more like a dance. Life design is just a really good set of dance moves.” (184)
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“…there is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you’ve mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud…” (187)
There is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about this book, as Held Evans whispers aloud her many doubts and questions, inviting us in to hear, to honor the silent pause, to nod in recognition, to receive graciously her vulnerability and there find that we are not alone. As she wrestles with God, we find that we are all held by God.
This book isn’t for the faint of heart, Christians easily offended who don’t doubt or at least admit to their questions (not me). It also probably makes most sense to those raised in evangelical churches in the US, those who speak “youth group” and “quiet time” and “contemporary Christian music” as a first language (yes, me). Some won’t like it at all; however, I found grace here, and grace to me always indicates the presence of Jesus.
“This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is.” (250)