what i read in march.

This month, I continue my average from February of four books in four weeks and add my 2017 stack to a total number of eleven books! I hope that as I reach one of the busiest seasons of my life (I see you coming, May!), I will only continue making reading good, long, sharpening books a priority. (And what better way to procrastinate homework?) March held: Two memoirs, one novel, and one biography. There were two books out of this roundup that were winners for me – they are compelling, convicting, and stories that I personally connected to immediately. The other two held little substance for me. Let’s dig in!

  • The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines 

Go and find what it is that inspires you, go and find what it is that you love, and go do that until it hurts.

For those of you who may not know (who are you? where do you live??), Chip and Joanna Gaines are the TV hosts of Fixer Upper on HGTV. They are strong believers and hard workers. This book read as an easy-going dialogue between Chip and Joanna as they gave us glimpses into their childhood, dating years, newlywed adventures, and into the details of how they have built their career and family. I traveled to Waco over Spring Break and this book brought the details of everything I experienced (like driving by where Chip and Jo met, swinging at Magnolia Market…) to a new level of appreciation. On the other hand, it also spurred me on personally to tackle my God-given desires with boldness. If you love Chip and Jo, you’ll have more reasons why when you get your hands on this book. I am cheering you on Gaines’ and praying that you continue restoring dusty, beautiful things to bring God glory!

 

  • Chasing Slow: Courage To Journey Off The Beaten Path by Erin Loechner 

Perhaps we were never meant to change the pace. We were meant to surrender it.

Chasing Slow is about living an abundant life, saying no to the rat race and certain components of the American dream, simplifying, and also giving yourself grace in the mess. This book is SO aesthetically pleasing with beautiful typography and photography. I am tucking many ideas from this book in my pocket! I started cleaning out my closet (again). I took stock of my priorities. I prayed hard prayers about loving the poor and then did something about it. For this, I am so grateful! But, overall, I found Loechner’s voice to be condescending and life-draining. I found the extras in the book (recipes, added blurbs, a few misplaced stories in my opinion) to be good, but just not fitting. I’ll be recommending and furthering the ideas and a few quotes this book carries to friends for many days to come, but probably not the book itself.

 

  • Wise Blood by Flannery O’ Connor 

The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take all time to complete. No one was paying attention to the sky.

My girl Flannery disappointed me with this one. This novel was haunting. Unlike Flannery’s short stories, I missed the redemption song she usually, however subtly, ties into the narrative. There were many paragraphs that blew me away with her imagery and understanding of humanity. O’Connor is amazing at capturing heartbreaking human emotion and transforming that into tangible empathy for the reader to take away. That’s the best I can say about Wise Blood.  (Also, book cover goals. But that’s not the point. 😉 )

 

  • Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior 

More’s life shows that the facts and our wishes can produce great stories when serving things much grander than ourselves, and that the stories we tell ourselves and others matter.

I first heard about Hannah More when I was reading Seven Women by Eric Metaxas last May, and I was shocked about how quietly her story is being told in the 21st century. Hannah was, as the the book title describes, a poet, reformer, and abolitionist living from 1745 – 1833. She was known for her wit and her never-pausing pen. A pen that aided the abolition of slavery in England weeks before she died. More’s life proved the importance of friendships and hospitality, the balance between strong convictions and tolerance, and loving God with your whole heart. She pushed the boundaries, but stood tall in the lines she believed in. I hope to be like Hannah More as a writer, as a citizen, as a friend, and as a woman of God.  Hannah’s story needs to be told and rewritten in our lives today — start by learning about how Hannah glorified God in her life with Fierce Convictions!

Next Up…

You are Free: Be Who You Already Are by Rebekah Lyons

Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (I am making progress!)

What books have you put down this month and what books can you not put down?

what i read in february

This month puts my tally to seven books so far this year! I am passionate about each of these books on my shelf this month. The common threads, unintentionally, have been solitude, idolatry, technology addiction, pressing against lies, ministering with compassion. These books have made me wonder why people don’t read and how in the world they function without books. Everyone that owns an iPhone would benefit from Changing The Subject, every minister should read The Way of the Heart in seminary, every Christian should invest in Counterfeit Gods, and The Broken Way continues to take my breath away. Humor me? Read on for all the good words about these books that my nose was stuck in this February.

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  • The Way Of The Heart: Connecting With God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence by Henri J. M. Nouwen 

We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of the Lord. Without such a desert we will lose our own soul while preaching the gospel to others. But with such a spiritual abode, we will become increasingly conformed to Him in whose name we minister.

Henri Nouwen’s pen, I am convinced, was made of gold. This account is easy to read and gives a deeper level to Christianity’s simplest lessons in a way that convicts and inspires. This book touches on how we have replaced compassion with systems, living life together for meetings, action for God as intimacy with God. Nouwen redefines ministry, what it looks like to live out a true ministerial life, and the problems of how we have been approaching it in the 21st century. I highly recommend this read if you are seeking more prayer, solitude, and compassion in your life… or, maybe, especially if you don’t know why those components even matter on the daily. (This book would be especially profitable for church staff, pastors, and those in leadership roles in their communities!)

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  • Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power and the Only Hope That Matters by Timothy Keller

We become like what we worship.

In this book, Keller takes the three main things that we have set before God as a culture and points to the truth of how life in Christ trumps everything the world has to offer. What made me love Tim Keller even more in this book, is that he is aware and awake to the problems of our secular and church culture. He knows what is going on outside of his generation and has such a gift for pointing us to the Scripture that applies to the same issues we are wrestling with today. Counterfeit Gods made me ask myself what motivates me to wake up in the morning (is it an idol or my God?) and made me look at money, sex, and power completely differently. This goes on my list of “Christianity Classics” and I’ll be recommending it for years to come.

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  • The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into The Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp

In Christ, I  am chosen, accepted, justified, anointed, sealed, forgiven, redeemed, complete, free, Christ’s friend, God’s child, Spirit’s home.

Oh, The Broken Way. This was my second journey through The Broken Way, and so much more came alive to me on this time through. I led a small group in my church and we watched the accompanying videos and discussed our readings each week. Something I appreciated that wasn’t at the front of my mind when I read it last October, was how Voskamp doesn’t just tell us truth, but invites us to live the story with her. I appreciate her honesty that doesn’t make me feel like it’s impossible to live a messed up, cruciform, yet-truly-abundant life. To see my first full review of the book, go here. If you’ve read The Broken Way and don’t want to let the truths of the book get dusty in your mind, check out my book-based playlist. 

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  • Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age by Sven Birkerts

Do most of us truly wish to be in the swim of the digital “now”? Or is it more that people are afraid of not being in that swim? Could both be true at once? Almost everybody I know makes the same superficial complaints about the distraction, the triviality, the frustration, the self-alienation, you name it. At the same time, there is clearly such a powerful, and, it seems, increasing desire to be in touch – to express ourselves, to hear from others, to  be caught up in that pulse for a time eases our essential loneliness.

A T T E N T I O N: Everyone that owns an iPhone needs this book. While The Way of the Heart was about the spiritual implications of noise in our lives, Birkerts takes on a more intellectual angle. It’s about our generation’s “fragmentation of focus” & being “choked by noise”. How technology is literally rewiring our brains, our kids’ brains — how it’s changing the way we communicate & see art. It initially made me want to pull every iPad from every little kid’s and grown adult’s hand, and honestly? I don’t think that a bad thing. We need to be more aware of the issues of connection, attention, and communication because of the silent change brought on by our devices. Simply put: this book has encouraged me to forget about my phone more often, embraced people over systems, buy in physical stores when possible, create with no distractions, and read more books. If I ever go completely off the grid, y’all can blame Sven Birkerts.

Currently reading….

 

Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

…and currently contemplating on what titles to choose for the weeks and months ahead!

What authors and topics have been keeping you flipping pages as we dig in deeper to 2017? Tell me what books have been on your mind in the comments!

what i read in january.

I feel refreshed after a month of getting back into a reading routine and gaining momentum after a two month period of finishing not. one. single. book. In summary, I read 24 books in 2016 with an average of 2 books a month! I hope to kick that number in the butt in 2017, but am pleased about the titles I accomplished and lingered over this past year. You can find all my past book reviews here. 

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  • Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (And Everything In Between) by Lauren Graham

Writers: how therapists buy summer homes. 

Lauren Graham is the main star of two of my favorite shows, Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. This memoir, unlike A Year In The Life, was no disappointment. (Although the endings of both leave the same confused and hopeless feelings. Just a warning.) Graham took us through the beginning of her career, season by season through Gilmore Girls, gave writers some fantastic tips, skirted us through the adventures of her love life, and gave a lovely tribute to Parenthood. It was light and breezy – there wasn’t a real common thread that pulled the whole book together in harmony which at times annoyed me.  I received this one as a gift on Christmas day and had it finished within a week! If you love Gilmore Girls as much as I do, definitely pick this one up. As a bonus, I already had Lauren’s voice in my head as she told her stories and that added to the simple charm of the book!

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  • Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

I write because there are stories that people have forgotten to tell, because I am a woman trying to stand up in my life. I write because to form a word with your lips and tongue or think a thing and then dare to write it down so you can never take it back is the most powerful thing I know. I am trying to come alive, to find the distances in my own recesses and bring them forward and give them color and form.

This book was the best book I have read about writing to date. I have had this one on my shelf for almost a year, but once I gave this book more than a glance, I couldn’t put it down. I decided to not highlight my favorite segments, because I wouldn’t quit highlighting. I love Goldberg’s unique voice, how she faces the struggles, reality, and glory of writing. I’ll keep this one nearby for years to come and pull out an essay or two when I am feeling discouraged and at a dead-end in my projects. Natalie Goldberg is a Buddhist, so at times the book stretched out of my belief system and comfort zone, but it’s important to read a bit from people you don’t understand and overall that didn’t overshadow the heart of the book! I was expecting a boring yet helpful book on writing, and instead was met with a poetic, thrilling, helpful account!

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  • Girl Meets Change: Truths To Carry You Through Life’s Transitions by Kristen Strong

When God uses change to send us packing, He sends us with the promise of blessing too.

January held some gut-wrenching change for me, and the rest of the year will be no different, so I picked this one up on a whim when I was taking care of my responsibilities at my church library. This book was a helpful companion, and I would recommend it, especially for those who are new to the faith or need a “change of scenery” so to speak! Kristen Strong was a new author for me. Honestly, I didn’t like her style of writing at all, but the heart of the God-given truths kept me going until the last page.

Currently reading…

The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp (for the second time)

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend 

Abiding in Christ by Andrew Murray

Way of the Heart by Henri J. M. Nouwen

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

Friends, what are you reading right now? Do you have a monstrous reading goal marked for yourself in 2017? Tell me what you have recently hated or loved!

 

 

 

 

what I read in July.

HOW IN THE WORLD IS JULY ALMOST OVER?

Half of my heart is grieving that these are the last few weeks of summer, while the other half is quietly anticipating the comeback of skinny jeans and Grey’s Anatomy. There is still much beauty to savor, and the beauty of autumn to anticipate.

As far as reading goes this month, I kicked off by finishing one of the best books I have ever read, and then put many books down or procrastinated opening them out of pure boredom.

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17. Scary Close: Dropping The Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller 

You can’t control somebody and have intimacy with them at the same time. They may stay because they fear you, but true love casts out fear.

No love is conditional. If love is conditional, it’s just some sort of manipulation masquearading as love.

Scary Close was a book that I had on my shelf for several months. I didn’t dive into it because I was afraid of how much it would convict me, because just look at that tagline. Although I know that was a silly reason, I believe that God led me to the pages at just the right time in my life and once I got going I finished it within just a few days. I’ll be the first to admit that I hate dating books. But, I especially loved this one because it didn’t have boundaries that only applied to friendships, dating, or marriage — it played into all of those components, although most of the stories come from Donald’s dating life and from his engagement period. The book takes you through personal mud as you contemplate insecurities, performance anxiety, manipulation, being too careful, and true love that equals immense amounts of grace. It was truly one of the best books I have ever read, and I don’t say this lightly. Donald has such a unique writing voice that I have always loved; it instructs you like a teacher, makes you laugh, and invites you in like a friend. He shared in particularly vulnerable ways in Scary Close that was essential, convicting, and breathtaking for the sake of the message of true intimacy.

Recommendation status: GET YOUR HANDS ON THIS BOOK, REGARDLESS OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP STATUS. I believe that the truths within it are vital to healthy, grace-filled relationships.

226 pages.

Books I Have Put Down and/or Rejected This Month…

  • For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. I got over 200 pages in. I plan on finishing it eventually. I swoon at Hemingway’s style, but the plot was boring me.
  • Hemingway in Love. I’ll finish this one alongside For Whom The Bell Tolls in the distant future, hopefully.
  • It’s Not What You Think by Jefferson Bethke. This book is easy-to-read and tackles an incredible topic, but I’m taking it back to the library because it was always on the backburner between all the other books I am reading.
  • Walking The Bible. I just never got far enough in it to be hooked!

I am all about giving books a solid chance, but sometimes there are other ones on the shelf that deserve more of my attention at the present moment.

Up Next On The Reading List…

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

A Testament to Freedom by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

All The Light We Cannot See

Wise Blood by Flannery O’ Connor

 

 

 

what i read in april.

What an eclectic mix this month!

I am so glad I read all three, but I don’t know if I’ll be reading them again in their entirety:

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10. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’ Connor

He felt he knew now what time would be like without seasons and what heat would be like without light and what man would be like without salvation.

These stories were heartbreaking. What I love most about these quirky, weird, redemptive stories is that in almost every single one there was a hopeful character as well as a cruel cynic. As I looked back nearing one hundred years since some of them were written, I could see the racial “improvements” that have been made since that time. It was hard to read at points for that reason, but I’m glad I hunkered myself down and made myself read them all.

My favoite stories for both feels and exquisite writing were: The Geranium. A Stroke of Good Fortune. The River. Parker’s Back.

Would I recommend it to you: See Flannery by Brad Gooch.

550 pages.

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11. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes.

Maybe I’m building my own damn Chocolate Factory.

If you’ve ever read Yes Please by Amy Poehler, it’s like that. But better, in my opinion.

I loved this book, and I blitzed through it in a matter of days.

Shonda has such an amazing mind, and the most incredible sense of humor. I disagreed with most of her moral statements, but I knew I would. I loved getting to know her beyond Thursday nights (where all her shows air weekly these days). It was both inspiring and hilarious.

I laughed out loud countless times. Which, by the way, almost made up for all the tears she has provoked cruelly in me during these past 12 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.

Would I recommend it to you: If you have ever watched Grey’s Anatomy, or any other of the wacky, stunning creations from Shonda, you must read this book. If not, I just don’t think any of it would be appreciated or make enough sense when it comes to the parallels between Shonda’s breakthroughs and her character’s.

300 pages.

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12. Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch

As for biographies, there won’t be any biographies of me because, for only one reason, lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy.

As I read this biography and read about how her contemporaries described her, I keep repeating just one word in my mind when it comes to Flannery: fascinating. Her works were so unusual, especially for a devout Catholic at the time. She was deeply invested in her faith, and extremely hard at work on her craft of writing until her last days of life. I loved being able to place her work in the context of her life (reading about her college years in Iowa were especially fun!), and to see the parallels of her experiences to what she wrote in her stories. It was also fascinating to read about all of her friendships throughout her life. Many friendships took places through letter writing, while others were invited over to the family farm to sit on the front porch and discuss theology. What I love most about Flannery is that she knew she was different, she was too quiet and stubborn for most people’s liking, she was well aware of the expectations set up for her by her friends and family, yet she wasn’t afraid to stand out and just do her thing as she felt called to do it. She died young from lupus at the age of 38. Biographies are so rich, and Brad Gooch did an impeccable job with this one.

Would I recommend it to you: Flannery is not for everyone. She’s weird, and everyone told her so when she was living. But she also was super talented, fearless, and had deep faith. This is what makes her words worth reading. If you ever do read her complete stories or any of her other fiction, though, please use Flannery by Brad Gooch as your companion along the way!

374 pages.

Did you read anything inspiring, hilarious, or quirky this month? Have you started any summer reading lists yet? I hope you’re carving out time in this crazy life to slow down and read. It’s worth it.