July was all about breathing space and taking a break.
I handed over the leadership of Compassionate Britain to two incredible and capable people and breathed a sigh of relief.
I went on holiday to Greece for two weeks, which was amazing. There are elements that make a holiday complicated for someone with severe M.E. – a two week holiday takes about 6 weeks out – two weeks to prepare by resting, and at least two weeks to recover. It’s the journey that’s so tiring, but we have the routine down to a fine art – a cushion so I can lie down at the airport, noise-cancelling headphones to minimise the over-stimulation, seats reclined as soon as possible, the boy trailing his own suitcase while Jon pushes me in the wheelchair, then full-on emergency resting when we get there.
It costs a lot in terms of energy, but the benefit of feeling the sun on my skin, being warm for once in the year without having to wear ten layers of clothing, being able to see a beautiful view – a different view – is incalculable. It took my heart a few days to adjust to the heat, but once it did, I loved it. I read and sunbathed, and we ate fresh fish by the sea and watched as the boy hopped up and down on the beach, throwing pebbles into the waves. I’m so grateful for the privilege to go.
I’m terrible at all sport, and can’t understand people who like to watch sport – with the sole exception of tennis, which I love to watch. (Anyone who’s ever tried to play tennis with me can confirm that I am indeed terrible at playing tennis). In early July you could find me eating strawberries, cheering Murray on for his excellent Wimbledon performance. The only thing missing was the straw boater – perhaps next year I shall rectify that.
No TV this month, but I did a fair amount of reading. Some GREAT book recommendations!
- Circling the Sun – Paula McLain. This was my favourite novel of the summer. Set in Kenya in the early twentieth century, it explores the life of an unconventional female character who bucks society’s expectations by becoming a successful horse trainer and then record-breaking pilot – and her various love affairs along the way. Like Khaled Housseini, she writes intriguing characters and describes the world so beautifully that you feel you are transported there, into that time and place. I could feel the dust of Africa on me as I read it. It was a book I kept wanting to read, and I was astonished (and intrigued) at the end to discover that it was based on a true story. So many ‘true story’ novels can fall flat, because life is typically not as exciting as a novel, but this one kept me gripped to the end. Thoroughly and heartily recommended. Currently £9.99 or $16.70 – Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- The Children Act – Ian McEwan. Ian McEwan never disappoints. This is a short, intellectually stimulating book, with good characterisation and an interesting plot twist at the end. . The premise of this book is an atheist judge who has to preside over a difficult ethical case – whether a teenage Jehovah’s Witness can refuse a blood transfusion that would save him from dying of leukaemia. Like his previous book Saturday, this book closely follows one character in a short period of time. The writing style is more perfunctory and abrupt than his other works, imitating the efficiency of the judge, and there is a lot of description of ethically difficult legal cases, which I found interesting, but others might find heavy-going. I always appreciate Ian McEwan’s books for his plots and intelligent writing, and this was another good example of it – I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended. Currently £3.85 or $8.42/$5.71 – Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett. This novel is an unconventional love story: from the time they meet, we follow three potential future versions of their story, all interlinking with each other. The premise is interesting, but it is also a disadvantage – as a reader I felt distanced from the characters because it was hard to keep track of which version we were on, and who had had an affair with whom, and which their various children were called. I am in two minds about this book, because I felt an emotional distance from the characters and the plot because of the way it was structured – I was tempted to stop reading midway. However, it is written with lean and exquisite prose and it has some sections which really stood out as beautifully observed (for example the sections on caring for someone with chronic illness), and those scenes have stayed with me. Currently £9.09 or $10.89 – Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- Night Cycles – Poetry for a Dark Night of the Soul – Beth Morey. The reason I was drawn to this book was because when people are feeling distant from God, often sermons and theology don’t help as much as story or poetry, genres which tell the truth sideways, in a gentle way. In this collection of poems, Beth Morey perfectly and beautifully articulates the emotions that accompany a dark night of the soul. Beth Morey is a talented poet, and for me the greatest ones were poems such as ‘You say’ and ‘The Beetle’ which combine vivid storytelling with poignant emotion, reminiscent of the late and very great Seamus Heaney. Some of the poems took my breath away, and made me want to read them aloud to a friend. The poems are structured around ‘Descent’, ‘The Dark’, ‘Ascent’, ‘The Light (or something like it)’, so you are taken from a journey from . As well as exploring the questioning of faith, on the way through she also covers themes such as marriage, motherhood and loss, humanity’s relationship with the natural world, and a celebration of femininity. One of the things I love about Beth’s work is her ability to make the physical world large and colourful even while she is describing abstract concepts like doubt, joining emotion and body together in her words. Raw, evocative, powerful, and (what I most appreciate in a poetry collection) intelligible rather than obscure – I thoroughly recommend this book of beautiful words. Currently just £1.99 or $3.10! – Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- Non-violent action – Ronald J Sider. This is a fascinating, inspiring and engaging book by the author of ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’ on the history of non-violent action in the twentieth century onwards. Rather than ‘peaceful protest’, Sider chooses the term ‘non-violent action’, because he is making the point that non-violent confrontation of governments and regimes involves more than simply protesting – it is about effecting change through non-violent means. Sider gives a potted history of how individuals and countries have achieved this, with chapters on Ghandi, Martin Luther King, right through to the Arab Spring. I was really surprised by how many dictators and despots have been overthrown through the power of non-violent action. His analysis is thoughtful rather than sensational – he’s not afraid to outline the limitations of nonviolent action – but its his ability to tell a story so well that makes this book so readable. At the end, he makes a case for Christians – both pacifists and Just War Christians – to engage seriously with non-violent action, and I found myself wanting to discuss this book with everyone I saw. Highly recommended. Currently £12.08 or $12.05 – Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- The Collected Sermons – Volume 2- Walter Brueggemann. I am halfway through this book, which is structured according to the liturgical calendar, making it easy to dip into. This is the first book by Brueggemann I have read, and although it probably isn’t the best introduction to Brueggeman’s theology, I found it good as a devotional. His sermons are good for getting under the skin of our unwillingness to act, and his exegesis emphasises the communal application of the passage, something I find refreshing, and not done enough in evangelical circles. Though he is American and a lot of his points refer to American society, I found it equally applicable to British society. Some of his sermons deeply moved me, and highlighted the character of God as passionate about justice. The sermons are well-written and engaging to read. Of course, no one theologian or Bible teacher has a monopoly on truth, but you don’t have to agree with his entire theology to hear God speaking through these sermons. I found him particularly skilled at uncovering the hidden idols of our society, and challenging deeply-held motivations, and I recommend this book as an alternative devotional. Bit pricey, so probably one for the fans. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- God Behaving Badly – is the God of the Old Testament angry, racist, sexist? – David T Lamb. This is a hugely helpful book on a difficult topic – David Lamb combines wit and warmth with engaging exegesis and is not afraid to name the difficult and unknowable parts. He combines rigorous scholarship with accessibility, has an enthusiasm for the Bible which is contagious, and he makes me glad to be a Christian. Currently £1.97 / $2.99 on Kindle. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- Embracing the Body – Tara M. Owens. Everyone who has read this book is talking about it – it’s a game changer. Not just about body image, but more widely about our relationship with our bodies, this is by one of my dearest friends and favourite writers. Currently £1.97 / $2.99 on Kindle. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- Wild in the Hollow – Amber Haines – released this week. I’m halfway through and it’s already amazing. Beautiful Christian memoir – just £5.22 but it’s the type of book that you may want to spend extra and get in hardback and re-read. Currently £5.22 / $8.12. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- The Mudroom has had an amazing series on grief this month – check it out.
- Guardian comment is free – what are we doing to our kids?
- 4 things we should all teach our kids about racism right now – probably more applicable to US society than Europe, but still worth reading and digesting.
- Launch of ME Activism Network – could you be the one to help?
- Celebrating light. Video from Gungor celebrating the first birthday of their beautiful girl with Down’s Syndrome – they are right. Contra Professor Dawkins, every life matters
- 10 reasons people with disabilities shouldn’t go to church – on Cindy Brandt’s blog for her excellent series on voices excluded from the church. One for church leaders to read.
I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for her magnificent What I’m Into Linkup.
I received a free advanced copy of many of the books above in exchange for my honest review, which these all are. This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click through to Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com from this site and buy absolutely anything in the world, you help this site, at no extra cost to you.
Over to you:
- What have you been into this month?