A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of reading, especially in light of recent statistics that show the number of book readers is diminishing along with the number of young people who read for fun. I started a little campaign to take back reading for fun, and I gave away pizza!
Well, I also took my own advice, and in addition to all the reading I do for work, I’ve read a few books for pleasure — although in my line of work, the line between the two can be a little fuzzy.
Let’s just say that for whatever reason I read the few good books below, I liked them. And in less than 200 words for each book, I’ll tell you why.
Two Steps Forward: I actually received a copy of this book from the publisher for my honest opinion about that book, and I’ll admit that I was skeptical. I often find the way faith is portrayed in Christian fiction to be less than authentic. However, this book by spiritual director Sharon Garlough Brown felt different to me. It’s actually part 2 of the Sensible Shoes series about four women who meet at a conference and forge an unlikely friendship. The women are real — nuanced, not all good or all bad. There’s a unique rhythm to each woman’s faith practices that feels consistent with my own life’s stages. And the setting centers around the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, so it makes for a great holiday read.
Winter Street: My husband likes the author Elin Hilderbrand, so I couldn’t resist snatching up this signed book for him last year as a Christmas gift. I finally read it myself just a few weeks ago, and it too is centered around the holidays and would make a great read on a cold, lazy day. Winter Street reminds me of John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas, sort of the requisite Christmas book written by an extremely popular and prolific writer. The similarity extends to the plot line where nothing is normal and everything goes wrong for the Quinn family at Christmas. But it’s a fun, quick read (when it’s not addressing serious topics like infidelity, corporate scandal, and war), and it certainly makes the normal holiday blunders everyone experiences seem like a piece of cake.
Still Life with Bread Crumbs: I picked up this Anna Quindlen book from the Buy 2 Get the 3rd Free table at Barnes and Noble with a holiday gift card last January, and it took me nearly a year to read it. But I’m glad I did. NPR called the book “the literary equivalent of comfort food,” which makes it another great read for the holidays. Rebecca Winter is a professional photographer whose career is dwindling along with her personal life. In order to rent out her New York apartment to help pay for her mother’s nursing home bills, Rebecca leases a small cabin in the middle of nowhere. The town is filled with lots of interesting characters, and Rebecca finds new purpose in this new place. The New York Times Book Review called this book Quindlen’s “most powerful,” and in my opinion, the power is in the simplicity and slowness of the scene, the plot, and the characters.
Coming Clean: A Story of Faith: Seth Haines knows how to tell a story, and in this spiritual memoir we get the very best of his tale spinning as he unpacks the beginning, middle, and ending of his alcohol addiction. The book has much to offer to anyone struggling with addiction: it’s categorized as “Christian life” and “personal growth.” But don’t let the topic of addiction keep you from the book. “I suppose we’re all drunk on something,” Seth writes, and then he goes ahead and shows us from his life all the other things besides alcohol — like bitterness and betrayal — that have him tied up spiritually over the years. I know Seth and his writing, so I expected to be pretty happy with this latest project. But I had no idea how much I would value the language he uses and the lessons he learned and the long road he traveled in such a very short time.
Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door: I bought Barbara Mahany’s book a year ago and have been slowly reading it over the last several months. Normally an author might cringe to hear that it took someone a year to read her book, but Barbara was thrilled when I told her. Slow reading is the only way a book called Slowing Time should be read. This book is divided into seasons — winter gets two sections: one at the beginning and one at the end — and there are short meditations for each season which I have savored. There also are blessings, prayers, and even recipes to use to make each season an opportunity for slowing down. Now would be the perfect time to start this book — now or anytime, really. Just be sure to read it.
Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature: I used this book as one of the texts in an essay workshop I taught this fall. In my opinion, this is one of the best handbooks for creative nonfiction a writer could have. It’s filled with instruction and exercises, along with stories and writing samples from the author Bill Roorbach’s long career as a writer and teacher. My copy is thoroughly highlighted — it might have been easier to highlight the few passages I didn’t want to remember — and I will use the book again in my own writing life and to help others.
This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems: If you know me well, you know I am a fan of Wendell Berry’s writing. I came to him first through his fiction and later through his essays. I know him least as a poet, though that’s the way many people know him best. Now I’m hooked on his poetry, too, after slowly reading through This Day as part of my morning ritual. The way Berry sees is inspiring, and the way he writes is breathtaking. Just today I read the phrase, “the mind incarnate,” and I understood myself and my life differently. I’m only about a third of the way through this book, but I wanted to recommend it because it would be a great book to incorporate into your life for the new year.
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