What I Read | APRIL 2017

28092902Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

Bryson, known mainly for his European travelogues, here documents his return to the USA through a series of newspaper essays.  Having tasted life in Europe, his musings about his home country are mostly exasperated.  Occasionally, usually at the prodding of his British wife, he remembers something lovely about the United States, which just goes to show that it’s easiest to love greener grass elsewhere than to love what we were given.

NorseMythology_Hardback_1473940163Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

The first creation stories were not especially amazing, and I almost lost hope for this book!  But once we dive into character-driven narratives, there is a distinct Gaiman-sparkle that elevated the book and helped the story feel more cohesive.  I’m becoming more and more interested in Norse mythology, especially because the gods seem especially unfair, and unrepentantly so.

51nBwU944QL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

A true memoir of one guy’s journey of Not Dating, and how this could have happened.  It’s funny, and there is meaningful growth, which is good because I spent most of the book yelling “you’re self-sabotaging!” at him until he heard me and said so himself towards the end.  The premise is even more fun because he frames each story through the lens of a scientific hypothesis to be proved or disproved.  It was fun to see that he was mostly wrong, and had to learn that we see what we want and/or fear, not what is really there.

28588459Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

King is one of my all time favorite authors because she walks a fascinating “is this mental illness OR magic OR reality” line that she refuses to clarify.  This book in particular dealt with a subject I haven’t really seen represented before.  King confidently asserts that abuse, big or small, endured or witnessed, is traumatizing and deserves to be acknowledged, addressed, and healed.  Through the lens of a teenager girl meeting other-aged versions of herself.  Fun!

25528801Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This book is a little more PSA-y, telling the “ideal” rape scenario in which the victim knows it’s not her fault and is believed and supported by everyone.  It’s not very realistic, but it’s very encouraging to see a future to work toward.  Secondarily, I was very impressed that Johnston made me question my cheerleader-stereotypes, and by the end I really admired the sport.

51vR3C-ZWpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I don’t usually like books written in the form of diary entries, but Schlitz pulled the form off wonderfully.  The break between entries, and how the time in between is explained either in a rush or with embarrassment, really added to the narrative.  It’s set in the early 1900s, and the journey from country (which felt vaguely Little House on the Prairie) to city (which felt modern…ish) highlighted just how drastically technology changed people’s lives during that time period.  It was a fun read!

27230789Honestly Ben by Bill Konigberg

This is a sequel to Openly Straight, now told from Ben’s perspective.  And thank goodness, because Ben is so good!  He’s so lovely!  He’s thoughtful and deliberate, and we all need a Ben in our lives.  There was also so much good gender and sexuality talk going on in this book, with a gender fluid character who is almost immediately embraced by their all-male high school (if only!) and a main character who is something like demisexual…but not really?  I hope there’s a third book from Hannah’s perspective.

41d41DLmZwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron

I LOVE St. Francis, so reading a fictional book about a Protestant pastor who goes to Assisi and also falls in love with the saint was right up my alley.  I mean, it’s history/travel/theology all in one!  It was actually a little heavy-handed for a novel in the way that it presented a model for how the Church could be remade, but I found it quite inspirational.  Definitely a book for the postmodern mystic/skeptic.

25665016The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

A seriously uplifting book about four teenagers struggling with mental disorders (rage, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia) inside a mental health hospital.  I loved how they helped each other in their brokenness WITH their brokenness.  Stork’s amazing ability to write about depression and suicide attempts is apparently based on his personal experience, but his ability to write female teenagers believably is all skill.

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Wednesday

top5wednesday

Welcome to my first, and possibly only, Top 5 Wednesday!  I saw this over at My Tiny Obsessions, and since I couldn’t think of anything else to write about today, I ran with it.  This week’s theme is Favorite Videos/Posts, so let’s get real meta and have ME talking about ME and MY work.  I love narcissistic blogging!

img_81781|  I Can Die In Peace, Because I Saw Hamilton on Broadway

I will always enjoy remembering the INTENSE joy of seeing Hamilton on Broadway last December, and of getting autographs from the main casts, including Lin-Manuel Miranda himself.  This post captures my raging emotions very well, I think, which is necessary because I must always remember that I was in the room where it happens.   Continue reading “Top 5 Wednesday”

Fill These Hearts by Christopher West

Ten pages in, I knew Fill These Hearts would be at the top of my favorite books lists.  Few other Christian books feel so human; West is deeply in touch with the longings of humanity as well as our hope.  Every sentence went straight to my heart, and I found myself excited to live, excited to be human, excited to admit my desires in hope of my destiny.

The main premise is that we all have universal longings–for meaning, for companionship, for eternal ecstasy and bliss.  We know we want those things, and we know that this life so rarely fulfills us.  In the face of thwarted desire, West suggests that we react in one of three ways:  1) the starvation diet, wherein we pretend we don’t care about those desires, 2) the fast food diet, wherein we try to fulfill our desires through unhealthy means, and 3) the banquet, wherein we lean into our desires and let them point us to God and his goodness.

I used to fall into the starvation diet category, miserable but in control.  I was leery of people who indulged in their desires and arrogantly called them “sinners.”  The past few years, thanks to mentors, books, and counseling sessions, I am learning to embrace the banquet mindset.  I’m so glad West wrote this book (which embraces both theology and pop culture–my favorite!) to give language to my emotions.  More than most books I’ve read, I hope everyone reads this one!  Continue reading “Fill These Hearts by Christopher West”

Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

I enjoyed reading Valenti’s persuasive argument in favor of feminism, but I don’t think I would use it to convince anyone who is on the fence.  Valenti is brash, paranoid, and sensationalistic.  Since I align myself with feminism, I can forgive her these faults and understand where she’s coming from.  But if someone were new to the movement, I think they might be more put off than intrigued.

The sections I enjoyed most were her discussions of media, body image, victim blaming and violence toward women.  Her brashness can lend an air of humor sometimes.  But I lost touch with her in the chapter on abortion, which she sees as one of our primary rights to defend.  I can understand a woman fighting for control of her body, but the lack of empathy on her part for people who consider fetuses to be babies (this is a “ridiculous” thought that she spends no time exploring) was disconcerting.  Perhaps because this was the issue upon which we disagreed, I sensed more than before her “all or nothing” mentality that alienates rather than intrigues.

Valenti’s book is empowering and informative.  I’m glad it exists.  But it’s not quite my feminist manifesto.  Continue reading “Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti”

Is God Male?

The answer might seem obvious to Christians.  After all, throughout the Bible, God uses male pronouns to describe himself, and when God become flesh, he came as the man, Jesus.  Most people are content to leave the issue there, but since I love thinking about culture, gender, and sexuality, I wanted to dig a little deeper.

In a fallen world, anything can become a source of division.  This is true of music preferences; how much more when the character of God is in question?  There are some who find solace in thinking of God as Mother rather than Father, and there are others who react against this with scorn and even hatred.  It seems to me a part of the age old (Genesis 3 old) battle of the sexes:  whichever sex God identifies with “wins.”

After all, if God is male, then it is one small step to assume that being male is like being God.  And unfortunately, many of our Church forefathers taught wonderful truths about God alongside vicious insults about women.  For instance, Thomas Aquinas viewed men as the default perfect image of God and women as defective copies:  Continue reading “Is God Male?”