As this one is a bumper two-monthly edition, my What I’m Into Post will follow with all kinds of fun things. But for now – BOOKS! There’s what I’ve been reading these past two months:
Present Over Perfect – Shauna Niequist.
For every perfectionist, workaholic, anxious person – or anyone involved in ministry, which is usually a combination of all three – this book is the perfect antidote. Niequist writes part-essay, part-memoir on her journey abandoning the quest for perfectionism and performance, and finding contentment in the everyday. One of the things that stood out for me was the question, ‘Since you will disappoint some people, who will you choose to disappoint – your family and close friends, or your ‘audience’ for your message?’
Niequist, like her father Bill Hybels, has an incredible capacity for making her message memorable and repeatable, and I must have underlined about half of the entire book. She is a master of metaphor, and I really loved the imagery of water throughout. She has the sort of welcoming, positive, easy tone that makes you feel instantly that she understands you: the ‘me too’ moments. I’m ashamed to admit that this was my first Shauna Niequist. I confess I avoided her books for a while because, from a distance, they seemed so centred on cooking (which I can’t do) and tasting delicious foods (which I often can’t eat.) But I’m so glad I listened to all the hype about this book, because it really is excellent (and hardly about food at all) – and I will now work my way through her back catalogue. Highly recommended.
Thumbprint in the Clay – Luci Shaw.
I have been savouring this beautiful book. Luci Shaw, best known as as a poet, writes an extended meditation on what it means to be made in the image of God, and where God’s imprints can be found. I read it in the garden, which was the best place to read it because it weaves so much natural beauty and aspects of creation into it.
The prose works as an overture for the climactic poem in each chapter, and quiet often I was unexpectedly moved to tears by the worshipful, heart-ful words. This is a book to be read slowly, preferably outside – recommended.
Rhythms of Rest – Shelly Miller.
Shelly is thoughtful and joyful, and someone whose writing I’ve followed for a while. (Like me, she has a chapter in Soul Bare). She started a community of people who wanted to commit to the discipline of Sabbath, and the book emerged from there. There are three main elements to each chapter: theological reflections on Sabbath, emails from people who’ve benefitted from the online community, and memoir of how God has guided her in her prayer times (expressed through charismatic evangelical spirituality).
I did struggle with one chapter, ‘Forced Sabbath’, because in it she talks about how illness is not just something you dread, but a ‘relief’ because it means a rest. I think she probably means temporary illnesses, which I can understand to some extent, but it was confusing as the chapter contained illustrations of cancer sufferers and tragic deaths, and I would struggle to label those events or indeed any chronic illness as either blessing or ‘relief’. But the book contains a wonderful compendium of wisdom on the benefits of taking time to rest, and I found it inspired me to view Sabbath as a gift, as well as a discipline.
The Muse – Jessie Burton.
Flicking between 1960s London and 1930s Spain, on the cusp of civil war, this novel centres on the discovery of a mysterious painting, and the tragic secrets it holds. This is my first Jessie Burton book, though I have the bestselling The Miniaturist on my ‘to read list’. I really enjoyed it. Though the London sections are good, it was the characters and story of the Spanish sections that really gripped me. On the way, it touches upon how we interpret art, the role of women in art and literature, and the silences and trauma that war brings. Highly recommended.
Before the Fall – Noah Hawley.
It starts with a plane crash. We then follow the backstory of each of the 11 people on board, slowly piecing together the mystery of why the plane crashed. We also follow the aftermath, and how life changes when you survive disaster. A compelling and character-rich story with biting commentary on the rapacious nature of the 24/7 news cycle, this is a good and gripping read. Highly recommended.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler.
The Booker Prize-shortlisted story opens with a seemingly placid student who, unprovoked, impulsively insults a police officer and spends a night in jail. She’s not telling anyone at college about her family, but we glean that she has a troubled relationship with her parents, and her siblings have both mysteriously disappeared from her life. There’s a spectacular plot twist about a third of the way through, and that’s when it becomes a truly memorable work of literature. The narrator has a strong voice, witty and snarky, it’s an enjoyable read. Some books make you feel; this one makes you think – particularly about sibling relationships, what makes us human, and our place in the world. Highly recommended – and worthy of its Booker shortlist. (To avoid spoilers, don’t even look at the blurb on the back – just plunge in.)
When We Were Very Young – A A Milne.
I bought this children’s classic to read with the boy, and he loves it, but what really surprised me was the beauty and grace of the quieter, nature poems that I had found so boring as a kid. I still love my childhood favourites which I remember by the lines rather than their titles (e.g. Halfway up the stairs, James James, Morrison Morrison, Lines and Squares, ‘I do like a little bit of butter to my bread’, ’they hadn’t got a rabbit, not anywhere there’, ’They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace’ etc ). But as an adult, the real hits for me are – The Dormouse and the Doctor (a little too close to home), The Alchemist, The Wrong Home, The Invaders). With all the themes of the joy of nature and the magic of poetry he’s like a more-accessible Wordsworth. If you’ve never read it – WHY ARE YOU STILL EVEN HERE? BUY IT IMMEDIATELY!! If you have already read it, buy it as a Christmas present for your favourite child.
Quick Links to buy online:
When We Were Very Young – A A Milne – for $6.99 from Amazon.com (paperback), £8.99 from Amazon.co.uk (paperback), or £5.69 (paperback) or £8.31 (Hardback) from Wordery.uk
(Some of these books I received for free as Advance Review Copies – these are my honest reviews. )
Over to you:
- What have you been reading lately?