Book Report: Books by Brian D. McLaren

January 19, 2023

I begin most days sitting in my Girlfriend Chair in the garret, meditating, praying, writing in my journal, and reading a book that will stretch me into deeper spiritual growth.

Currently, I am reading Faith After Doubt, Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It by Brian D. McLaren. Each time I read one of his books or listen to his podcast, (Learning How to See with Brian McLaren, https://cac.org/podcast/learning-how-to-see/) I can almost feel my limbs being pulled, my brain enlarging, and my heart expanding. Easy reads? Not exactly, although McLaren is such a good writer, making the experience of confronting tough issues and below the surface thoughts, a pleasure. Not only does McLaren become a real person with his own challenges, but he invites the reader into the conversation. In fact, each chapter includes questions for reflection and action.

McLaren was a conservative evangelical pastor who struggled with issues of belief versus faith for many years. Eventually, he left his formal role as a congregational pastor to write (over 15 books so far) and to live his faith as an activist and public theologian. He is on the faculty of the Living School at the Center of Action and Contemplation founded by Richard Rohr.

The first book I read by McLaren was The Great Spiritual Migration, How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian (2016). I don’t know how I became aware of him–perhaps through Diana Butler Bass whose work is also important in my spiritual development. Once I had read The Great Spiritual Migration, I knew I needed to read some of his earlier books.

I read A New Kind of Christianity, Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (2010). Those ten questions continue to be relevant.

  • What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
  • How should the Bible be understood?
  • Is God violent?
  • Who is Jesus and why is he important?
  • What is the Gospel?
  • What do we do about the church?
  • Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
  • Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
  • How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
  • How can we translate our questions into answers?

You may think you know the answers to those questions (and maybe you do), but I invite you to read McLaren’s explorations. You will learn something new and maybe feel something new.

Next I read We Make the Road by Walking, A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (2014). Books with “spiritual formation” in the title are always a reason for me to look beyond the cover. Even though the book follows the liturgical year, I didn’t wait to read season-designated sections. I started and just kept reading, but with Lent starting soon, I may re-read those chapters under the heading “Alive in a Global Uprising.” As I look at the table of contents I note several chapters I have marked with a star: “Women on the Edge,” “Your Secret Life,”, “Moving with the Spirit,” “Spirit of Love: Loving God,” and “Spirit of Love: Loving Self.” Perhaps I need to re-read those chapters and see what so appealed to me.

I still have two unread books on my shelf by McLaren. The first is Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World ((2012). I’ll get to it, I promise, for I agree with McLaren’s premise that we need a new faith alternative built on “benevolence and solidarity rather than rivalry and hostility.”

Before reading that book, however, and as soon as I finish Faith After Doubt, I will read his latest book, Do I Stay Christian, A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned (2022). Several people I know have read this book and have encouraged me to read it, but once buying it, I realized I first needed to read Faith After Doubt, and I am almost done reading that book in which McLaren proposes a model of faith development.

  • Stage One: Simplicity
  • Stage Two: Complexity
  • Stage Three: Perplexity
  • Stage Four: Harmony

Along with defining and describing each of these stages, especially their limitations and consequences, he goes further to highlight the potential gifts of moving through the stages. He encourages faith communities to become four-stage communities because they “produce spiritual activists, harmony activists, whose faith expresses itself in socially transforming love, politically liberating love and ecologically restoring love.” (p. 184)

The operative word in Stage Four, by the way, is LOVE.

When you read a McLaren book, don’t overlook his footnotes, and have your highlighter in your hand, for you will need it.

Now back to reading the last chapter in Faith After Doubt.

An Invitation

What spiritually stretching books have you read?

Book Report

January 12, 2023

It is only January 10, and I have already read a book that for sure will be on my Favorite Books of 2023 list: The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell.

This is the first book I read in the new year, and it sets the standard high for my reading life this year. (An Aside: The second book was The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles and while it doesn’t surpass The Marriage Portrait, it is good, very good, indeed.)

Lucrezia is a young noble girl in 1550’s Florence, daughter of the grand duke, and she finds herself married to another duke after her older sister dies. She is intelligent, curious, an amazing artist, imaginative, active, not passive, but her role in life is to produce an heir. Her husband shows tenderness and care for her, but…

He bends at the waist and, sliding a hand around her neck, stoops and presses his lips to hers–a brief, emphatic pressure. It reminds her of her father, bringing is seal down on top of a document, marking it as his.

p. 138

The characters are well-developed, as is the setting. The writing is impeccable, and as for the plot, well, I felt my heart race as I read the last few pages.

I have read other books by O’Farrell, including her memoir I Am, I Am, I Am; Seventeen Brushes with Death, and she is a writer who clearly gets better and better with each book. I remember not being excited about reading her 2020 book, Hamnet, which was about Shakespeare’s wife and young son. That was probably because as a decades ago English major and teacher, I read so much Shakespeare, but the book was a gift and all the reviews were excellent, so…. Needless to say, I loved it. Now I think I will add Hamnet to my re-read list.

Now I am reading a fun palate cleanser, Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Rayburn.

An Invitation

What’s your first book of 2023? I would love to know.

Book Report: December Round-Up

January 6, 2023

I read a lot in December–not my usual December activity, but, thanks to a crummy cold, I spent more time curled up with good books. VERY good books.

I’ve already written about the latest Louise Penny book, A World of Curiosities, which I loved, and I re-read her first book, Still Life, but the month was full of other book delights, too.

Nonfiction

  • Faces of Christmas Past by Bill Holm. A friend loaned me this charming memoir written by a Minnesota author who was a frequent guest on Prairie Home Companion. He died in 2009. The premise of this short book was writing the annual Christmas letter, whose purpose is to declare, “I am alive, it says, still on the planet. I have not forgotten you. The thread, whether of blood, nostalgia, or friendship, that sews us together has not been cut.” p. 15.
  • Let Evening Come, Reflections on Aging by Mary C. Morrison. I re-read this book before leading a conversation about what those of us 55+ hold in our hearts. Full of wisdom, simply, beautifully stated.

Mystery–it is all around us, and we do not know it. But sometimes when we give it time and space, whether in deep peace or great anguish, it will come up behind us, or meet us face to face, or move within us, changing the way we see everything, and filling our hearts with joy and an upbringing of love that needs no direct object because everything is its object.

p. 87
  • A Place in the World, The Meaning of Home by Frances Mayes. Best known for Under the Tuscan Sun, a bestselling book that also became a movie, Mayes writes so evocatively about creating and being in home. Reading this book made me think about the many homes I’ve lived in and loved and how hometending remains a key spiritual practice in my life. Mayes says, “My house became my icon” (p. 126), and I understand and identify with that.

Fiction

  • The Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Ferat-Fleury. This small, one-sitting book is a love letter to books and reading and matching people to the right book at the right time, along with the power books hold to change one’s life.
  • Wild Geese by Margaret Ostenso. I love it when I am led to an author from the past whom I’ve not known about. Ostenso, originally from Canada lived much of her life in Minnesota, and this book, a psychological and sexual drama, caused quite a sensation when published in 1925. The patriarch of a family on the Canadian plains controls his family, always threatening to expose his wife’s secret of an out-of-wedlock child. Written beautifully, this would be a terrific book club selection.
  • The Ski Jumpers by Peter Geye. I have enjoyed other books by this author, such as Wintering, and I am glad I read this one, too. However, at times I was irritated by the ongoing barroom scenes and sometimes the chronology was confusing, but the characters intrigued me–the brothers who followed in their father’s footsteps and became ski jumpers at early ages. We meet them as grown men–one has become a writer–and many secrets are revealed along the way.
  • No Land to Light On by Yard Zgheib. I was so impressed with this book about the plight of refugees in this country that I gave a copy to our college granddaughter for Christmas, and I am eager to hear what she thinks about it. A Syrian grad student at Harvard married another Syrian who returns to Syria for his father’s funeral and then because of the presidential order is not allowed to return to this country. I’m not sure what I feel about the ending. Read it and let me know your thoughts.
  • Joan is Okay by Weike Wang. A young female of Chinese descent is a physician in NYC right before the pandemic. Working in the ICU is the totality of her life. At first she just seemed quirky to me, but the book becomes more serious as it explores immigration, relationships between generations, and the role of women.
  • The Love of My Life by Rosie Walsh. I was sucked in to this book almost on the first page. SECRETS!!! The wife in the couple has much in her past that her husband knows nothing about, but as an obituary writer for a newspaper he begins to question some contradictions. The author keeps the reader guessing in a masterful way.
  • The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani I have not read any of this author’s previous books, but may in the future, for she tells a good family saga. The story is set in both Italy and Scotland mainly around the years of WWII. The family background is unveiled as the matriarch is dying.
  • Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. I received this book for Christmas, and if that had not been under the tree for me, I would have bought it the next day. What a book! No surprise–the writing is lush, and if I had started underlining favorite lines, the whole book would be a pink mess. David Copperfield by Dickens inspired this story of a boy who suffers terribly as a foster child in Appalachia. Sometimes the subject matter makes it hard to read–he was always hungry, for instance–but don’t stop. This character and his desire to love and be loved made me continue turning the page. And the Big Picture message about poverty and opioid addiction and stereotypes about a region in this country are profound. This book definitely needs to be added to my favorites of 2022 list.
  • Lucy By the Sea by Elizabeth Strout. As lush as Kingsolver’s writing is, Strout’s sentence structure is simple and clear. I read this in one day, but that doesn’t mean it is a simple book. The time period is the pandemic and Lucy’s former husband decides they should move together from NYC to Maine. Lucy is grieving the loss of her second husband who died just a year ago, and her adult daughters are going through their own struggles. This book can be read without reading the previous books in which these characters are developed, (My Name is Lucy Barton and Oh, William!) but do read the trio. Strout wrote the books Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again, too and that character is mentioned in this recent book. You get a whole family and community when you read Strout books.

Not that it matters, but I am often asked about the number of books I read in a year. This year I read 150 books–101 fiction and 49 nonfiction. But who’s counting! In 2021 I read 120 books. Why the increase? Well, I will think about it and let you know, if I come up with a theory.

Here we are in January and a whole year of reading is ahead. My TBR list continues to grow, especially since I just received the most recent copy of BookWomen http://www.bookwomen.net with its list of ‘best reads” submitted by readers, including me. I am moving slowly into 2023, but this coming week I will return to my normal Book Report days on Thursday.

An Invitation

Did you receive any book gifts this past month? I would love to know.

Book Report: The New Louise Penny

December 22, 2022

NOTE: I’m taking a holiday break from the blog and will be back the first week in January.

Louise Penny’s latest book is A World of Curiosities, and, no surprise, I loved it.

Although it was released (and on my doorstep) on November 29, I just read it last week. My husband devoured it right away, but lest you think I am an incredibly generous soul, my plan was to read it after Christmas when I could immerse myself in it without a long list of Christmas tasks pulling me away. And preferably, on a cold and snowy day. Well, I got the cold and snowy days, and thanks to my own lingering cold and lack of full energy, I snuggled in with the book earlier than planned.

This book seemed even more complex to me than earlier books–lots of characters, old and new; a hidden room; a puzzling painting; old cases, all connected, of course. One of the themes is forgiveness, but also the belief that there is always more than meets the eye, a statement made more than once in the book.

How good it was to be back in Three Pines with the people we faithful readers have come to love. And the cover is beautiful.

Two More Things

  1. You may have noticed in the photo a bunch of pencils with the inscription I’M F.I.N.E. I subscribe to a couple Louise Penny fan blogs and entered a drawing to win these pencils. I’M F.I.N.E. is the title of one of Ruth’s books of poetry and in true Ruth style F.I.N.E. stands for “fucked up,” “insecure,” “neurotic,” and “egotistical.” Perfect pencils for a writer!
  2. Yes, I watched the Three Pines Amazon series and enjoyed and recommended them–and hope there will be more. Is Gamache as I pictured him? To some degree, but I didn’t imagine his hair and eyes quite so dark. I had a softer look in mind, but his demeanor is very much the way I think of him.

I’ve been reading more this month than I normally do in December and there is still over a week left. With a predicted blizzard on the way, there may be even more reading time than anticipated. My hope, however, is that our loved ones arrive as planned, and we are too busy enjoying family time for more than bedtime reading. I will post my December Book Report early in January.

An Invitation

What books do you hope to receive and what books are you giving? I would love to know.

Book Report: Christmas Books

December 15, 2022

I have a plan.

Some snowy and grey day before Christmas (oh let’s be real, maybe the week after Christmas or even later. After all, Christmas lasts till Epiphany, January 7) I’m going to fix some hot cider with a dried orange slice for extra flavor, and I am going to wrap myself in a shawl and get cozy in the snug. Here’s the important part: I’m going to browse our collection of Christmas books and read whatever appeals to me in the moment.

To be honest, I plan to do this every Christmas season, but then shopping and baking and writing Christmas cards and wrapping presents and… and… takes precedence. I enjoy all those activities, so I don’t feel too sorry for myself, but still… This year the desire for this kind of gentle luxury feels more necessary. Maybe it’s the crummy cold I’ve had that has lasted far too long or more likely it is the need to sit quietly with the sadness I feel about the death of a friend. I am also aware that my age, being an elder, lures me towards the simple pleasures more and more.

Over the years we’ve passed on many of the books we collected when our kids were growing up, and what remains are some special favorites plus a few old books I’ve found when antiquing. At the top of the pile is a small paper copy of A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. Bruce was in a reader’s theater version of the story when we were in college, and one of the first presents he gave me was a copy of the book with lovely wood prints. I might begin my immersion into my Christmas books by reading it aloud–even if it is just to myself.

…I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six…

Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the light in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed, I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

Next I will smile my way through my favorite picture book version of The Nativity. Mary, as imagined by illustrator Julie Vivas, is not exactly beatific. Rather she is LARGE with child and has a very hard time getting on the donkey and is exhausted by the labor. There is a reason it is called LABOR.

I also love Tomie De Paola’s illustrations of Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies and the De Paola book that will always be my favorite, Clown of God about the juggler, Giovanni and the miracle of his gift. Both of our books are signed by De Paola from the days decades ago when I worked in an independent book store in St Paul, Odegards.

I am just as delighted with Susan Branch’s illustrations and also her calligraphy. In the Christmas stack are two of her books, Christmas From the Heart for the Home and Christmas Joy. Branch encourages us to “Light candles, say a prayer holding hands, play music, dress up, take pictures, kiss everyone within 5 feet of the mistletoe, and keep your senses alive so you can remember THIS Christmas all year long.”

One of the books I have not read in years is The Story of Holly and Ivy by the English author Rumer Godden who wrote for both children and adults. In this story Ivy is an orphan and Holly is a doll left all alone in a toyshop window on Christmas Eve. It won’t be a surprise that there is a happy ending to the story. which in this version is illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

I’ve read a few of the stories in the Everyman’s Pocket Classic, Christmas Stories, such as Green Holly by Elizabeth Bowen, The Turkey Season by Alice Munro, and several times Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory about making the traditional fruitcake with his distant cousin.

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable–not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate, too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. ‘Oh my, ‘ she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, ‘it’s fruitcake weather!’

The book that entices me most, however is also called Christmas Stories, but it is by Charles Dickens. This old, small red leather-bound book with tiny print and pages you can almost see through just feels good to hold. In the last year or so I have been feeling a tug to read some of the Dickens books I have never read like Bleak House or The Old Curiosity Shop. I loved Great Expectations when I read it in 8th grade, and I think reading that book was influential in my decision to teach English. Perhaps reading some of these stories will be the beginning of a Dickens year.

I have a plan, and my shawl and mug of cider, and books wait for me. What a good Christmas present that would be to give myself. And it’s snowing!

An Invitation

What Christmas books do you enjoy reading year after year? I would love to know.

Book Report: Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2022

December 8, 2022

For a fiction book to be on my “favorites” list, the writing must be superb and I must have been able to engage with the characters in some way, even if they are from a totally different time and/or background. They must become real to me. I also love books in which I can imagine myself in the setting. Plot isn’t as important to me as the feeling created in the book.

I turn to books to deepen who I am, to grow and to expand my world. That is true for nonfiction books, too. Favorite nonfiction books are ones in which I pause as I am reading to marvel at a new thought, new perspective, a new piece of knowledge. At some point while reading each of the books on this year’s favorite list, I said, “Wow, I didn’t know that.” Or I might have thought, “This is just what I need right now.” Or “What a good idea” or “I can’t wait to share this with…”

As is the case with many fiction titles, one book leads to another –other books by the same author or books on the same or similar topic. Once again, so many books, so little time.

Perhaps my list of favorites will lead you forward into the next good book. I hope so.

  • Wife/daughter/self, A Memoir in Essays by Beth Kephart.
  • In The Country of Women by Susan Straight
  • The Inner Work of Age, Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig
  • Late Migrations, A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl
  • Crisis Contemplation, Healing the Wounded Village by Barbara A. Holmes
  • The Wild Land Within, Cultivating Wholeness Through Spiritual Practice by Lisa Colon Delay
  • All That She Carried, The Journey pf Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles
  • Decision-Making and Spiritual Discernment, The Sacred Art of Making Your Way by Nancy Bieber (a reread)
  • Spirit Car, Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson
  • Between Two Kingdoms, A Memoir of life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
  • The Divine Dance, The Trinity and Your Transformation, Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell
  • Without A Map, A Memoir by Meredith Hall
  • A Life in Light, Meditations on Impermanence by Mary Pipher
  • Unbinding, The Grace Beyond Self by Kathleen Dowling Singh
  • The Green Hour, A Natural History of Home by Alison Townsend
  • The White Stone, The Art of Letting Go by Esther deWaal
  • Windswept, Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abby
  • The Art of Gathering, How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker
  • Trusting Change, Finding Your Way Through Personal and Global Transformation by Karen Hering
  • How The Word Is Passed, A Reckoning With The History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
  • The Electricity of Every Living Thing, A Woman’s Walk in the World to Find Her Way Home by Katherine May

Such rich reading–almost takes my breath away!

An Invitation

What nonfiction books do you recommend from your 2022 reading? Is there anything on this list on your TBR list? I would love to know.

Book Report: December Round-up AND Favorite Fiction of 2022

December 1, 2022

Today’s post will do double duty. First, a look at what I read in November and then a list of my favorite fiction of 2022. Last year I was asked by a few readers to post my favorite books of the year before the year ended as an aid for Christmas shopping. Next week I will post my list of favorite nonfiction from this year. So here goes.

November Summary

Compared to October when I read 13 books, I was a slouch this month! Only 9 books.

Three of the fiction titles are on my 2022 favorites list —The Overstory, Foster, and The Beekeeper of Aleppo. Each of those books were emotional reads in which I felt such warmth and concern for the characters, although these books could not be more different from each other. I thought The Maid was an ok read–a good one to read in one sitting. I was disappointed in Fly Away by Kristin Hannah. I have enjoyed other books by her, but in this one the characters never seemed to rise above their whininess and I didn’t see much growth. It was a long running soap opera kind of book.

The last book I read this month was Writing and Healing, which I have had on my shelf for a long time, and it is a series of exercises used in a group of cancer survivors. I got some possible writing prompt ideas for the writing group I facilitate.

I borrowed one of the books from the library, and I am sorry I don’t own it. How The Word Is Passed, A Reckoning With The History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith is an amazing book, beautifully, poetically written and it opened me to so much I didn’t know or had never considered. I littered the book with tags and have made copies of many of the passages. Smith visits several key places in the history of slavery, including Monticello, Whitney Plantation (Louisiana), Angola Prison (Louisiana), Blandford Cemetery (Virginia), Galveston Island (Texas), New York City, and Goree Island (Senegal). It felt like an honor to read this book, and at the same time I felt shame for the necessity of this book.

No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler is about the author’s struggle with colon cancer (at age 35). She writes openly, honestly about this life-threatening challenge and wonders about the ways we approach adversity in this culture.

Finally, The Electricity of Every Living Thing, A Woman’s Walk in the Wild to Find Her Way Home by Kathering May. I was attracted to this book because I am always attracted to books about people going on extended walks (I wonder about that attraction in myself!) and also because I loved her more recent book, Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. This book was a surprise, however, for it was really a journey in her discovery of herself as someone with autism. The walking gave her room to realize and contemplate this about herself. Quite the book.

I suspect I won’t read as many books in December, but there is always January and snow days. Now onto the end of the year lists.

Favorite Fiction This Year

When I decided which books to include on my “favorites” list and then gathered books to illustrate this post, I realized how much I now use the library. Most of my favorites are books I borrowed from the library and few are ones I acquired. Because my list of favorites is so long, I divided the list into First Tier and Second Tier. I listed the books in the order in which I read them–not according to which favorites were my most favorite!

First Tier Favorites

  • The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
  • Oh William by Elizabeth Strout
  • The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yea Gyasi
  • Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk (a reread)
  • Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams
  • The Floor of the Sky by Pamela Carter Joern
  • A Town Called Solace, The Other Side of the Bridge, and Road Ends–all by Mary Lawson
  • Beneficence by Meredith Hall
  • Great Circle, Seating Arrangements, Astonish Me –all by Maggie Shipstead
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (a reread)
  • French Braid by Anne Tyler
  • Three by Valerie Perrin
  • Honor by Thirty Umrigar
  • Recitative by Toni Morrison
  • The Midcoast by Adam White
  • Fencing with the King by Diane Abu-Jaber
  • The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
  • Landslide by Susan Conley
  • The Other Mother by Rachel Harper
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers
  • Foster by Claire Keegan
  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Second Tier Favorites

  • Celine by Peter Heller
  • The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
  • Zorrie by Laird Hunt
  • The Eighth Life by Nina Haratischvili
  • The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Sharfak
  • Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff
  • Jubilee by Margaret Walker
  • Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher (a reread)
  • The Love Songs of W. E. B. DuBois by Honore Fannone Jeffers
  • Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce
  • Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
  • A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery
  • Violetta by Isabel Allende
  • Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

Mystery Favorites

As I write this I await for the arrival of Louise Penney’s latest. Because I am such a generous soul, I will hand it over to my husband to read it first. I will wait for a day when I can fully immerse myself in it and savor every word.

  • The fist two in the series by Richard Osman: The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice. I am on the list for the third one.
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  • A Sunlit Weapon, the latest in the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear
  • The Frieda Klein series by Nicci French. The first is Blue Monday and they progress through the days of the week, ending with Sunday Silence
  • A couple by Chris Pavone: The Expats and The Paris Diversion
  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers
  • The Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. I think there will be more in this series.
  • Fox Creek by William Kent Krueger, the most recent in the Cork O’Connor series. I didn’t think this was his best, bu I can’t not read WKK.

I make the decision to not continue reading a book quickly, which is why I don’t have many books listed in my Book Journal that I didn’t like. Sometimes I will bring home a pile I have requested from the library and only read one or two. I am sure that there are times if I had continued to read a specific book, I would end up enjoying it, but that is a chance I am willing to take. Too many books–too little time.

An Invitation

What were your favorite fiction titles of 2022? I would love to know.

Book Report: The Overstory by Richard Powers

November 10, 2022

I’m not sure why I finally decided to read this book. It has been on my “fiction yet to be read” bookshelf for a long time. Often when I finally take a delayed plunge I wonder why I waited so long, and this was the case with The Overstory by Richard Powers.

Perhaps I finally settled into this big book (500 pages) because I had discarded several books I put on hold at the library. The descriptions of each of those books appealed, but after reading the first few pages I knew they would not satisfy a barely perceptible itch for something more substantial.

Perhaps I finally turned to The Overstory because of the season and how much more aware I am of trees as they shed their leaves and reveal their bones.

Perhaps I was influenced by the paperback release of Richard Powers most recent book, Bewilderment.

Perhaps after reading thirteen books last month, I was ready to settle into the world of one book.

This is a novel about trees–their significance and how we treat them. That is a simple statement, but this book is not simple.

In the first section, “Roots” we meet nine main characters. Yes, nine, and each one is essential. We learn their backstories, each one fascinating, and then in later sections, “Trunk,” “Crown” and “Seeds,” we learn how some of them interconnect as tree defenders and for others the understanding of the essentialness of trees is discovered in more solitary ways.

As I read further and further into the book, I thought about a walk I took almost every day when we lived in Ohio. Sometimes our old dog Boe went with me, sniffing and shuffling along the trail. At the beginning of my walk a large oak tree, a tree I thought of as the Grandfather tree, welcomed me each day. I often stood in front of the tree, taking several deep breaths, before veering off onto the trail along a small lake. Boe was always eager to get moving, but I needed a moment to settle myself and find the rhythm of the day and to listen to what whispers the tree might offer. Further on I encountered another large, very large tree, with a sizable opening at the base of the tree. I imagined this was where Peter Pan and the Lost Boys descended into their underground world. Once I peered into the hole, almost as tall as I am, hoping I could hear them. There were other trees at other stages of their lives, juveniles reaching into the sky or fallen elders, still present, but giving life and wisdom in more discreet ways.

I didn’t think much on my walks about how trees are above and beyond and deeper than humanity and how they are our ancestors, but I think at some essential core, I knew that. Powers clearly knows that and wants us to know it, too, and his beautiful and passionate writing creates and reinforces that knowing.

If you’re holding a sapling in your hand when the Messiah arrives, first plant the sapling and then go out and greet the Messiah.

page 89

…a great truth comes over him: Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.

page 89

Now they only need to learn what life wants from humans. It’s a big question to be sure. Too big for people alone. But people aren’t alone, and they never have been.

page 489

This book is not an easy read, but that’s not a good enough reason not to read it. You might want to consult one of the many reviews of this book for some guiding insight. Here’s one: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/books/review/overstory-richard-powers.html

I look out our front window and realize the ash trees along the boulevard (or as it is called in Cleveland, the “tree lawn,” which I think is a wonderful name) are at the end of their lives and soon we won’t benefit from their shade and their energy. How sad that makes me, and I think about a Chinese saying Powers quotes, “When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago.”

This book is Powers’ contribution to increasing awareness and call to action regarding climate change. What will be your contribution?

An Invitation:

What big books are waiting for your attention? I would love to know.

Note:

One of my favorite nonfiction books about trees is The Healing Energies of Trees by Patrice Bouchardon (1999), but I also have on my TBR list To Speak for the Trees, My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.

Book Report: October Round-Up

November 3, 2022

Oh my goodness, what a good reading month it has been. You would think this was a hibernation month, when, in reality, the weather has been fall perfect.

I read thirteen books this month, but who’s counting! People ask me how I manage to read so much. (Is there an implication that my life is dull?) I guess the answer is that I structure reading into my day, beginning with my morning meditation time, which includes reading a book on a spiritual topic. This month I read three books in that category:

  • The Art of Gathering, How We Meet and Why It Matters by Prya Parker (2018). I am quite sure this would not be shelved in the spirituality section of a book store, but thinking about how we connect with one another and how we offer hospitality is a totally spiritual topic, I think. Written in a breezy, conversational style, this book has lots of helpful and insightful ideas that can make a difference when you plan a small dinner party or a big work or community event.
  • Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman (1953). This book had been on my list for a long time, and I read it slowly, savoring one brief meditation at a time. For example, in #10, “In the Moment of Pause, the Vision of God,” he writes, “It is good to make an end of movement, to come to a point of rest, a place of pause. There is some strange magic in activity, in keeping at it, in continuing to be involved in many things that excite the mind and keep the hours swiftly passing. But it is a deadly magic; one is not wise to trust it with too much confidence.” Keep in mind, if you read this, the time period, for the language is sexist, but there are gifts to be found here, and Thurman is one of the greats of the 20th century.
  • Trusting Change, Finding Our Way Through Personal and Global Transformation by Karen Hering (2022). One of the first programs I attended at Wisdom Ways when we moved back to St Paul in 2013 was a book launch for Karen Hering’s Writing to Wake the Soul, Opening the Sacred Conversation Within (2013), a book that has inspired my own writing. Since then I have participated in writing retreats and sessions with her. She is a gifted teacher and writer, and this book is packed with insights and inspiration. The book offers ten skills for living on the threshold (actually, I wish the title included the word “threshold”) and deep and creative exercises to do by oneself or with others. I have a feeling I will refer to this book often as I plan for the writing and other groups I lead. Hering is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister who has worked as a literary minister. Isn’t that intriguing?

Along with devoting part of my meditation time to reading, I read during lunch, but I also try to leave my garret desk at about 4 and read before I start fixing dinner, and, of course, I read before going to bed. That time adds up to a bunch of books. I guess I am a fast reader, and sometimes that is not a good thing, for I don’t always retain what I read. That is one reason why I keep a journal of what I read.

Here are my top four October novels:

  • The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian (2022). An American movie star invites friends and colleagues to join her and her new husband on a honeymoon safari in Tanzania. The novel is set in the 1960’s when the country was still called Tanganyika. Kidnapping, murder, page-turning suspense. The big question is who survives? The descriptions of the Serengeti and the animals they see are breath-taking, but be still my heart, so is what happens. This is the first book I’ve read by this author and I went on to read The Hour of the Witch (2021), which, even though I have never been drawn to books about the days of witch-hunts in the colonies, this book intrigued me, and I am afraid I am going to have to read Bohjalian’s extensive back list.
  • Fencing with the King by Diane Abu-Jaber (2022). Amani accompanies her father from the U.S. back to their Jordan homeland where he has been invited to celebrate the birthday of the king by engaging in a fencing match with him. What is more important about the story is Amani’s search to learn about her father’s mother, whom she resembles. Secrets are uncovered in this beautifully told story.
  • Landslide by Susan Conley (2021). I almost read this book in one sitting, for the witty and natural dialogue moved the story along so easily. Set in Maine, Kit has a serious fishing accident and Jill needs to cope with their two teenage sons, whom she calls “the wolves.” I loved all the mother-son interactions, reflecting teenage angst, the mother’s typical, but also difficult worries, and all the love needed to survive and move forward.
  • The Other Mother by Rachel M. Harper (2022). A complicated story of secrets and trauma related to the secrets. Two women are in a relationship with one another, but one is more committed to the relationship, and she wants a baby. The other woman agrees, but even though she adores the child, does not want to adopt him. Much of the story takes place when the child, Jenry, starts college at Brown University where the man whom he believes is his grandfather is a famous African-American professor. Some secrets are revealed, but others….well, I don’t want to reveal too much. I was intrigued by this book.

I also read five other books, each worth reading or I would have discarded them fairly early on!

  • Violeta by Isabel Allende (2022)
  • The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (2021)
  • A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie (1993)
  • The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg (2010)
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)

One more book note. This past weekend our roaming destination was Red Wing, MN, and, of course, we visited the library. I was impressed with the comfortable and set-apart reading room, but also liked some of the hand-outs available to patrons, including this one:

I would love to know what books are read to fulfill this challenge.

An Invitation

What did you read this past month? How are you challenging yourself in your reading life? I would love to know.

NOTE:

I loved this article about one’s personal library. https://psyche.co/guides/how-to-nurture-and-grow-a-personal-library-of-books

Book Report: The Reading List

October 20, 2022

Recently I read The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (2021). I am attracted to books about books, bookstores, booksellers, and libraries –both fiction and nonfiction–and this one is a delightful example of that genre. Another example is The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (2021), which is set in a bookstore and is one of my recent favorites. I also remember reading years ago a memoir by the mystery writer Susan Hill, Howard’s End is on the Landing (2009) about the year she read only books she already owned. I could do that, but then I better hurry up and buy the new Maggie O’Farrell and Barbara Kingsolver and…

Back to The Reading List. I loved each of the characters, especially the two main characters. Mukesh is an elderly man who is grieving the death of his wife and Aleisha is a young woman who has a complicated family. They meet at the library where Aleisha has a summer job. A list of books labeled “In case you need it:” appears to both Mukesh and Aleisha as well as other characters and thus begins a reading adventure, but more than that, support and even transformation.

And what a great list this is! I have read each of these books; some, more than once. I love how the lessons and the insights gleaned from these books are woven into the narrative–once again suggesting the power of books and reading.

Thinking about my own “In case you need it list,” I remember a charming illustrated book, My Ideal Bookshelf, Art by Jane Mount, Edited by Thessaly La Force. (2012). Over 100 cultural figures share the books that matter the most to them and why. Here, for example is librarian Nancy Pearl’s bookshelf as depicted by Jane Mount.

I am not familiar with most of Pearl’s choices, and that, of course, could lead to an even longer TBR list.

Here’s doctor and writer Atul Gawande’s shelf. I’ve read more of these books, but this isn’t a contest. Rather, an insight into a person’s life and development.

Naturally, this makes me think about what would be on my shelf. These are a few of the possibilities–novels I have read more than one time and that have impacted my life.

  • Giants in the Earth by Ole Rolvaag
  • All of Jane Austen’s books
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Persuasion by A.S. Byatt
  • A sampling of Nancy Drew books
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I need to stop or I will need a very long and sturdy book shelf.

An Invitation:

What is on your “ideal bookshelf”? I would love to know.