I had the privilege of easing into the new year with a week of leisure during which I did quite a bit of enjoyable reading. My literary excursions ranged from parenting to digestive help, with a large helping of spiritual writing as well. It’s been a fabulous month. Here’s what I read.
After Her: A Novel
I started 2014 with a novel by Joyce Maynard which was a perfect Christmas-vacation read. The main character is a teenage girl living whose life unravels one year in two ways: a serial-killer haunts her neighborhood, and she goes through puberty. Maynard captures this difficult age, and though the book lingers on days and weeks at a time, it never feels slow paced.
Sara Miles managed to share the story of her own significant accomplishment – starting a food pantry at her church in San Francisco – without sounding self-congratulatory or obnoxious. Miles covers a lot of historical and theological ground in her book while maintaining a thematic thread throughout.
Reading this felt like the right thing to do, since it sold a zillion copies. I read a chapter when it first came out and was really moved by what I read. I was impressed by the rest of Ann Voskamp’s book, but I can’t say I really loved it. At times the flowery language seemed obfuscating, and I wasn’t always sure where the vignettes were leading. Still, I can see why this book is popular, as its outlook of gratitude is intoxicating.
Colleen Carroll Campbell had me tearing up and rooting for her as she struggled with her father’s decline into dementia and a period of infertility. Campbell recounts her movement into a more mature spirituality with great elegance, and I enjoyed the writing. I have to admit that I skimmed many of the sections on the saints, which felt like more of a distraction from than an enhancement to the narrative. There were also occasional diversions into apologetics (particularly regarding IVF) that felt out of place. Despite these apparent digressions, all in all this is a lovely book.
I adore Tracy Kidder’s nonfiction, and have even more respect for it after reading this book on the craft of writing by Kidder and his longtime editor Richard Todd. A few highlights: they use excerpts from “good prose” that expanded my to-read list by a mile. They talk through some of the challenges in putting together Mountains Beyond Mountains and Strength in What Remains, opening up the process of creating such masterpieces. They provide a few concrete style suggestions, but not so many as to be overwhelming. Every time I put this book down I couldn’t wait to get back to it.
I reviewed Margaret Blackie’s guidebook to Ignatian Spirituality earlier this week. I highly recommend it!
The latest from Anne Lamott has her trademark humor and hope in the face of grim reality. It’s a quick and uplifting read. My only criticism is the layout: in order to make the short text book length, they are thick and have very little writing on them, so you have to turn the pages constantly. Read it as an e-book.
By the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, this guide for parents and teachers gets inside the heads and worlds of adolescent boys. This is an interest of mine since I work with that age group. The book is very practical and user-friendly, including specific tips, points for reflection, and even model dialogue for tough conversations.
I took a chance on this book with a stupid name because of the credentials of the author and my ongoing interest in my digestive system. Much of what I read was valuable, particularly her clear descriptions of how digestion works. I suspect that her publisher told her that she should be sure to mention bloating every other page because ‘ladies hate to be bloating!’ This periodic return to superficiality while discussing serious illnesses was distracting. And like most gut health books, it ended with the suggestion to avoid gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol, & caffeine. Simple, right?
Thoughts on any of these books? What have you been reading?
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