As I mentioned earlier this week, one of my big goals in 2019 is to read 100 books. This is audacious and crazy and I’m really excited for it. It also means I’m reading 8+ books each month to keep up.
I got a strong start in January, completing 8 books and starting several more (planning ahead since February is a bit of a short month). It’s been really great to find myself reading (and wanting to!) more than scrolling through social media or bingeing a Netflix show — although I’m far from abandoning TV.
My books this month leaned more toward memoir and inspiration, with 5 spiritual-leaning reads and only 3 fiction. 6 of the 8 pushed me to reflect on my opinions and thoughts on a variety of topics, which was really refreshing. Each book was very different from the next, so it was nice to mix things up.
I started January by finishing Paula McLain’s Love and Ruin. I loved her first novel, The Paris Wife, and was so excited she returned to depict Hemingway’s life through the eyes of another wife. Marty, Hemingway’s third wife, was a wonderful narrator, and I was fascinated to see how well McLain’s style changed to mimic Marty’s voice. I still love Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife, more — but I did like Marty, and this book only intensified my dislike for Hemingway as a human. I’d be curious to know what made McLain skip out on writing a book about Pauline, even though she played an important role in both books — was it a lack of source material? Disinterest? Regardless, I loved returning into Hemingway’s life, even if he was a total jerk.
Next up, I revisited my all-time favorite memoir, a book that changed my life two years ago: Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I’ve now read it four times and committed last year to re-read it every January to remind myself what truly matters — not the hustle and pressure of goals and resolutions, but my presence with the people I love most. There are several chapters that still shake me to my core every time (The Man in the Tuxedo and Throwing Candy are just two examples), and others that strike me differently depending on where I am in my life. I cannot recommend this book enough. If you haven’t read it, do. This is the book I wish I could buy for everyone I know.
Then, on my solo drive to Chattanooga, I listened to Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason: and Other Lies I’ve Loved. She shares her experience with a terminal diagnosis, paired with her research on churches that teach the prosperity gospel. Wowzers. This book smacked me in my face, and I was so grateful that she let us into her journey. She was able to articulate things I’ve wished I could say since 2016 and didn’t know how. Mostly, I felt understood. After several inexplicable losses over the past few years, I am so tired of hearing empty platitudes and explanations for why things are the way they are. News flash: sometimes there just isn’t an answer. Some things just can’t be fixed or explained, so stop trying. Thank you, Kate, for this wonderful work.
After losing my grandmother at the beginning of the year and then going through emergency surgery a week later, I also really needed the truths Lysa TerKeurst shared in It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered. While Kate’s book helped validate my frustrations with the evangelical tendencies to sweep grief and disappointment under the rug, this book helped remind me of God’s love for me in the midst of these disappointments. Lysa has been through trial after trial in the past few years, so her perspective on this life “between two gardens” was so helpful. I highly recommend this book.
To break up some of these serious reads, my hold on Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend, the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, came at the perfect time. I will say I didn’t find it as good or interesting as the first book, but I still enjoyed following the characters I’d grown to love back in December. I still placed a hold on the third book after finishing (if for no other reason than not finishing the series would bother me), but I have a more realistic understanding of what to expect moving forward.
Then, as part of my commitment to the Contentment Challenge, I re-read Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. I liked this book the first time I read it in 2015, but this time, I was blown away at how little I paid attention before. How do you read this book without it changing the way you view all your stuff, or the food you eat, or the way you spend money?! A few things that my re-read inspired: mercilessly going through my closet and drawers for donations, noticing just how much stuff I’ve been throwing away that I should be recycling (and now recycling it), buckling down even more on the challenge (cutting the grocery budget, using more of what’s already in the pantry, etc.), researching ways to better support local businesses… and this is just the beginning. I have so many spaces in our house to sort through for donations — and I’m probably the only millennial doing this for reasons unrelated to Marie Kondo and Netflix. It makes me want to tell the volunteers when I drive up with my stuff: “Hey, just so you know I’m not one of those people. This has nothing to do with what sparks joy and everything to do with the fact that we just need to do better at sharing our excess.” Rant over. Everyone, go read this book.
As if Jen didn’t knock the wind out of me enough, the follow up was incredible. After the recent event with Nathan Phillips and teens from Kentucky, I sought to read and support more work from indigenous writers. Kaitlin Curtice was at the top of my list after hearing her speak at Evolving Faith. Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places was like a beautiful refresher course on Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts, with the addition of beautiful prayer poetry and a reminder of the glory all around us. So now that I was split wide open from Jen’s calling-out of my excess, I looked around and said thank you, thank you, thank you for all the blessings and glory in my life that I take advantage of daily. The pairing couldn’t have been better. Everyone will love this book.
Lastly, I listened to Jodi Picoult’s A Spark of Light. I put a hold on this book months ago, without even looking into its topic, because I always enjoy her books, and I’d just read Small Great Things in November. So I started listening and whoa. In the midst of the abortion/infanticide/women’s rights debate following New York’s new late-term abortion law, I found myself listening to the story of a shooting in an abortion clinic. Y’all, I can’t make this stuff up. I had no clue that the book would become available when the topic was so prevalent in conversation. But it really helped open my eyes to why people feel the way they do about the topic. Also, I was fascinated by the fact that the chapters went backwards in time — from late afternoon the day of the shooting to early that morning, with the epilogue detailing the final outcome. Between Small Great Things and this book, I gained so much respect for Jodi Picoult and the care she takes in choosing her topics, along with the immense amount of research and interviewing she completes to accurately reflect the perspectives she portrays in her books. I ended up really liking the book, but I’m not sure everyone will based on the material.
Have you read any of these books? Did you like them? I’d love to hear what you’re reading lately and add it to my list!