What I Read | NOVEMBER 2017

Wow, is it hard to go from working at a library to living in a foreign country.  From overabundance to scarcity!  Since my time is ending in Greece, I’ve decided to actual tackle the shelf of To Be Read books that I kept passing over.  This is actually pretty satisfying, though the going is slower.

Novel_the_blind_assassin_coverThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

This book was immediately intriguing, flashing between an old woman remembering her past and an at-first ambiguous meeting of lovers discussing science fiction plots.  It’s a dense novel, delving into generational family relationships, complications, and regrets.  Because it’s Atwood, the story consistently reveals the underbelly of what it means to be a woman during the early 1900s.  The middle dragged a little for me, but the beginning and end were totally engrossing.

71epnYVGumLThe King Must Die by Mary Renault

A historical novel focused on the life of mythical Theseus, I was ALL about this book.  It covers only the first half of his life (I accidentally read the second book so long ago I was writing full reviews).  Theseus travels to Athens and then Crete, where he lives in the Palace of Knossos (I WENT THERE) and survives by becoming a champion bull-leaper.  Renault is a master at creating believable history out of mythology, and I am continually impressed by how she allows events to unfold in such a way that they can be read as natural events or godly interventions.  Very fun read for Greek mythology nerds!

51zEfKBgrdLAbraham by Bruce Feiler

A Jewish man goes to the Middle East to talk to leaders of the three great monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – about the man that unites them all:  Abraham.  This is an excellent book for people who like history, culture, and/or theology, delving into sacred texts, oral traditions, and how people have twisted stories to suit their purposes throughout time.

220px-The-lost-city-zThe Lost City of Z by David Grann

A modern day journalist ventures into the Amazon in search of a mythical city and the man who disappeared while seeking it.  It’s more of a biography than a travel memoir, but Colonel Fawcett is a fascinating man.  I loved reading about the early 1900s and all the explorers trying to survive the Amazon rainforest.  Although a lot of it is horrific, and is portrayed as such, Fawcett himself is a man before his time, insisting upon pacifism when interacting with indigenous tribes.  So many people kept returning to the Amazon despite enormous difficulties, and this book does a wonderful job of conveying the enticing mystery that the forest creates simply by existing.

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What I Read | August 2016

From a Russian classic to a dragon-centric fantasy to inspirational non-fiction…my reading tastes were diverse this month!


theidiotThe Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I started this in July at the request of one of my new friends.  It’s her favorite novel of all time, and while I can’t claim that for myself, I was really impressed with it.  I’ve always felt scared of the dense Russian novels, but I found The Idiot to be a quick read for 700+ pages of stories and psychological analyses.  It did take me a while to acclimate myself to upper class Russian society in the 1800s, but there was enough common humanity to keep to me going.  It’s also pretty depressing, so fair warning.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_CoverHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling

I loved this!  It in no way compares to the novels, but I never wanted it to.  The screenplay is a quick way to jump back into the world of Harry Potter, and I so enjoyed watching Harry struggle once more (he can save the world, but he doesn’t know how to parent a child – seems accurate).  I also loved Draco getting more development and the adorable relationship between Albus and Scorpius.  Perhaps it really is HP fanfiction, but I love HP fanfiction, so that is not an insult in the slightest to my mind.

220px-HmsdragonHis Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

After reading this alt-history novel about dragons during the Napoleonic War, I am 100% that dragons are cats with wings.  Obviously, this means I am SUPER into a story about the intense bond between human and dragon, though I felt this first novel was more interesting for the potential it showed for future stories than its own entertainment value.

ThroneofjadeThrone of Jade by Naomi Novik

Speaking of future stories…this is the second Temeraire novel, and as I suspected, it was even better than the first!  This book follows Laurence and Temeraire on a long sea voyage to China, and it’s basically just one long “you two shouldn’t be together” “YES WE SHOULD” argument, which is exactly the sort of quasi-romantic co-dependent relationship I’m easily invested in.  Can’t wait to read more!

6415185Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire by Lars Brownsworth

Wow.  This non-fiction book about the history of the Byzantine Empire was SO engrossing, mostly because it is person centered rather than date centered.  I totally fell in love with General Belisarius and want to read even more about his life.  I also fell in love with the Byzantine Empire itself, to the point that I actually started crying when it finally fell and the Roman empire came to an official end (1,000 after its western counterpart).

710391The Story of My Life by Casanova

I was so excited about Casanova’s memoir.  It was super entertaining, and I really enjoyed reading about a sex-positive guy who seemed to be shameless in a really healthy way…until I got to a part where he participated in a gang rape and assured his readers that the woman really liked it.  At that point I felt physically ill for days, because I genuinely felt so betrayed.  I couldn’t read any more, and I don’t really care to find out what he did after that, because I doubt it was “felt remorse.”

34352-1Salt of the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Sepetys’s other YA novels, but it was still a quick and interesting read.  She follows four people (with their own perspective and voice) to the harrowing voyage of the ship Wilhelm Gustloff…a true event that deserves for more attention than it usually gets.  I was mostly impressed, however, by how she showed that for many people in Germany/Prussia/Poland/etc, neither the Axis or Allied powers were good guys.  Death, rape, and property possession was inevitable, no matter which side won.

prototypPrototype by Jonathan Martin

I’ve already written a couple blog posts based on how inspired I was by this non-fiction Christian book.  It’s a fantastic reminder that transformation only comes when we are totally confident in God’s deep love for us.  I especially loved the way he described living in God’s love – that it’s found in those moments when we feel most free and creative, not when we’re hunkered in a room reading our Bibles (well, maybe it is for you, but not me).  It’s a very encouraging and uplifting book that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of God.


Did you read anything this month that was especially amazing (or especially awful)?  Leave a comment below and let me know!

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill

I’ve already begun thinking of myself as part-Greek, which is, I know, very ridiculous.  Just because I will live in the country for a year does not mean I have a right to claim their heritage as my own….except that Cahill has written an entire book about how the Western world has been shaped by the Greek worldview for the last two and a half thousand years.  So while I may not be Greek in heritage, I am in spirit.

Cahill divides his chapters into themes that also follow a general chronological pattern.  I found this to be a much easier way to track with the history and culture presented.  He also makes use of a lot of literature, which, as a book nerd, I found especially delightful.  Beginning with Homer’s The Iliad, Cahill describes Greek warriors and their obsession with glory on the battlefield.  We then move on emotions, celebrations, politics, philosophy, art, and religion.  Over and over again, Cahill reminds us just how strongly our present-day culture resembles the ancient Greeks.

I’ve always loved Greek mythology, my high school English class spent some time with Sophocles and Homer, and I took art history classes as electives in college.  I’m a little familiar with a lot of Greek history and thought, but Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea put everything into context.  For instance, the shift in Greek sculptures from rigid idealistic poses of men to the twisting, agonized figures in the famous Laocoon and His Sons came about as the strength of Athens waned, first to Sparta in the Peloponnesian War and then to Rome.

This book hits all of my interests:  art, literature, history, culture, and GREECE.  Perfect.  Continue reading

My Cousin’s Sermon Reminded Me That Stories are Powerful

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This is some Norman Rockwell-esque adorable: walking home from church in the sunshine with my grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, and second cousins.

Yesterday I went to Downs, IL (a tiny little town outside of Bloomington) to hear my cousin preach.  I was going out of low-expectation familial support, but WOW, it turns out my family is very talented.  Steve is three months younger than me, but he is already a phenomenal preacher.  He’s laid back, good at working the room, and really great at getting his point across.  So great, in fact, that over 24 hours later, I can still remember what he said.

With Acts 6 and 7 as the backdrop, Steve talked about Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  But the point wasn’t about death, or intensity of faith, or anything like that.  Instead, the point was about story.   Continue reading

StumbleUpon Sunday (13)

StumbleUpon is a great way to lose hours of your life.  Luckily, I braved the Internet vortex so you don’t have to.  This week I found these especially interesting websites:

  1. 53 Books You Won’t Be Able to Put Down
    I cheered at the names of titles I loved and put several unknowns in my library queue.
  2. Young Girl Who’s Best Friends with African Wildlife
    I’m hyperventilating with how much I wish I had her life.
  3. Untranslatable Words Turned into Charming Illustrations
    I like those “if only English used this word” lists, but the addition of illustrations makes this so much better!
  4. Photograph
    I don’t normally link to a single photograph, but the simple whimsy of this outdoor space is so cute!
  5. Important Things from History Everyone Pictures Incorrectly
    The Egyptian pyramids were white, Greek statues were brightly painted, etc–time changes things!
  6. The Quest for Every Beard Type
    This is a man after my own heart – I’ve always thought there’s no point in being able to grow facial hair if you don’t experiment with it.
  7. Hope You Had a Better Day Than These Guys
    Sometimes all you need to feel better is a collection of pictures and GIFs showing you people who have it so much (hilariously) worse.
  8. The 50 Cutest Things That Ever Happened
    This title is no lie.  *squee*
  9. 23 People Posted the Wisest Words They’ve Ever Heard
    From “The single raindrop never feels responsible for the flood” to “By living, there’s a risk of dying.”
  10. Create Face Online
    What a weirdly addictive webpage.  My only complaint is that there don’t really seem to be options to create a female face.pimptheface-com

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

I used to be really into novels in verse (stories told through numerous short poems), but I haven’t read one in a while.  I’m so glad Brown Girl Dreaming reminded me of the art form.  It’s a great way to condense a long story (in this case, Woodson’s childhood) into bite-sized emotional pieces.

Woodson does a wonderful job of conveying her experiences both through the micro lens of her family as well as the macro lens of the changing racial cultures around her.  We get to see what it was like for a black girl to grow up in the North and the South during the Civil Rights generally, and we get to see her family support and tragedy specifically.

I loved this book.  Because of its format, it’s a quick read.  It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking, just like life.  Continue reading

The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill

I’ve always thought of Western civilization beginning with ancient Greece or Rome.  But Thomas Cahill convinced me to take a historical step backward and consider the impact of the Jewish story as the true hinge upon which history turns.  Prior to the Jews, pagan religions viewed the world as cyclical, repetitive, and uncontrollable.  When Yahweh intercedes in the life of Avraham (then Yitzchak, then Yaakov), the unveiling of a monotheistic religion changes everything.  History becomes linear, and a relational God that interacts with humans creates the possibility of real change and human responsibility.

Anyone interested in history, culture, or religion will find this fascinating.  Cahill is a phenomenal writer, working his way through history with just enough time to appreciate what happens without dawdling.  His adherence to Hebraic terms (like the names of the patriarchs above) gives readers enough space to view the story with new eyes.

As a seminary student, I view the Bible almost exclusively through the eyes of application:  what can we learn from its stories?  The Gifts of the Jews broadened my appreciation, helping me to see that history itself was changed by this unique people group.  Continue reading