Reading Life 2017

by - December 17, 2017

I read 22 books this year. That's not too bad considering I taught two bible studies that totaled 20 weeks of study, worked full time, navigated my daughter's freshman year in college and cooked dinner most nights. I listen to audio books on my commute, but I also listen to podcasts, which I haven't counted here. Nor am I counting my online reading, which I also do. Here are some standouts in no particular order.

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

This was the year my deep-thinking, like-minded, brilliant friend and I decided to read together. I dubbed our meetings the The Theology Nerd Girls Micro Book Club, and it stuck. Reading with Amanda is one of two favorite new practices I began this year. Without her, I would never have finished (nor understood) Chesterton's smart and pithy defense of his Christian faith. He is articulate,  an eloquent write, and too smart for his own good. We are taking on Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship next.

Hum If you Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais

This debut novel told heartbreaking parallel stories of a white girl who lost her parents and a black woman who was separated from her daughter in 1970s' Apartheid violence in Johannesburg. I quoted many beautifully-written passages on Facebook. Here's one:

"He was right. Instead of facing my fear of losing Beauty, I'd tried to run away from it. Instead of raising my fists to an unknown future and facing whatever a Beauty-less life would entail, I lied and hid the evidence of Nomsa's return, and then I'd run and run and run. But you couldn't outrun your fears because that was the thing about fear: it was a shadow you could never shake, and it was fit and it was fast and it would always, always be there just a split second behind you."

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

Not only was this book somehow both heartbreaking and hopeful, it was beautifully written and so engaging, I looked up interviews on YouTube afterwards because I didn't want his memoir to end. I read this book with my mother on audio while we were on a rare road trip, which was reason enough to love it. A beautiful book of compassion and triumph paired with a wonderful mother/daughter long weekend adventure together.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe

I am not a follower of Hollywood, but this audio book came highly recommended. Memoir is probably my favorite genre, and I love author narration because you get the author's intended tone and inflections. These factors together won me over. Oh. My. Goodness. This was a story of a man finding himself despite fame and success. It grew and deepened as it transitioned from the things he did to the things he is. It was a redemptive story about  life as an artist abounding with perfectionism and  always being unsure, of choosing art over security and stability, of defeating addiction, self-discovery, and learning to become the man he really wanted to be. It was beautiful, quality writing. I loved this book so much, I promptly read his follow-up Love Life and followed him on Instagram. I feel like we're old friends because he was so open and vulnerable, but I never "like" his Instagram photos because that's entirely too fangirl and I have my dignity.

A favorite passage:  "As Thanksgiving rolls around, I spend my first major holiday away from home. This doesn't help my loneliness, but it does introduce me to another facet of the path I have chosen. You are going to miss a lot in life that most people take for granted. If you are not vigilant, the list can include holidays, birthday, births, deaths, funerals, graduations, parent-teacher conferences, first steps, first words, school plays, trick-or-treating, Little League games, and just about every other moment that makes life worth living. Sure, there is an obvious trad-off with some of the great perks of success, but you can't build a life on a backstage pass -- or free swag at Sundance."

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

This is an historical novel that shined light on the despicable Memphis, Tennessee orphanage that stole children from poor families in 1939 to "sell" to wealthy adoptive parents. It was a horrifying and heartbreaking story. It was voted a 2017 Best Book by the Good Reads Choice Awards for historical fiction.

Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy by Carlos Eire

I read his first memoir over ten years ago, the National Book Award for Non-Fiction winner, Waiting For Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy. Eire is a Cuban-born immigrant to America of the famed Peter Pan flights. The man can write. Both books were exquisite, not to mention my interest in the subject matter because of my own connection to another Cuban Refugee Boy. He is a History professor at Yale, and I wish I could write just like him.

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard by Laura Bates

I bought this book on Kindle for $1.99. I'm an English major with a soft spot for Shakespeare and college English professors. The men in our church also minister to male prisoners regularly. There are many Shakespeare prison programs out there. Google it, they are a real thing. But not until Dr. Bates pioneered the first program. This book addresses ethical questions about prisoner rehabilitation programs at tax payer expense and the necessity of our penal system in tension with the humane and even compassionate treatment of prisoners. It was heartwarming, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking.  Have I said this about every book so far?

A favorite passage from Chapter 70: "The cell phone was never proven to have been Larry's (his cell mate submitted a statement swearing that it had been his, not Larry's), but as a result of the possession charge, Larry spent six months in the disciplinary cell house in general population, while the Shakespeare group prepared their performance of The Taming of the Shrew. After that, he spent another six months in the SHU, without a conviction or even a hearing on any charge. He spent the time not sulking or fuming, but writing another workbook, the most ambitious of all, covering all nine of Shakespeare's history plays: Richard the Second; Henry the Fourth Part One and Part Two; Henry the Fifth; Henry the Sixth Part One, Part Two and Part Three; Richard the Third; and Henry the Eighth. Arguably the most difficult plays in the collection, they are rarely read by students and infrequently examined by scholars. At sixty thousand words, Larry's workbook was longer than my PhD dissertation. And, in one important respect, it was also better. Doctoral dissertations are a composite of others' ideas, with footnoted material almost as long as the text itself. In Larry's work, all sixty thousand words represented his own original thinking on these plays, without the crutch of professional scholars' writing.

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