100 Books in 2020- Full List

It is finished! I reached my goal to read 100 books this year. I will write a post after the holidays with my top favorites, but for today- this is the full list of books I read in 2020.

  1. There There, Freddie Orange
  2. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler
  3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
  4. An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
  5. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers, Fred Rogers
  6. Heavy, Kiese Laymon
  7. Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott
  8. The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke
  9. Shrill, Lindy West
  10. Still, Lauren Winner
  11. The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
  12. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brian
  13. Lincoln In the Bardo, George Saunders
  14. The Tattoo Artist of Auchwitz, Heather Morris
  15. Untamed, Glennon Doyle
  16. The Explosive Child, Dr. Ross Greene
  17. Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
  18. An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor
  19. Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
  20. Circe, Madeline Miller
  21. The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
  22. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  23. No Bad Kids, Janet Lansbury
  24. Wolfpack, Abby Wambach
  25. The Dutch House, Ann Patchett
  26. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, Haemin Sunim
  27. The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood
  28. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Ronda Janzen
  29. Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline
  30. Finding Chika, Mitch Albom
  31. Normal People, Sally Rooney
  32. How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay
  33. Why We Can’t Sleep, Ada Calhoun
  34. The Witches Are Coming, Lindy West
  35. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
  36. Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham
  37. Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher
  38. Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher
  39. Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, Leah Remini
  40. The State of Affairs, Esther Perel
  41. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
  42. The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, Nina Riggs
  43. You Can’t Touch My Hair, Phoebe Robinson
  44. Raising Human Beings, Dr. Ross Greene
  45. In Pieces, Sally Field
  46. Why Not Me, Mindy Kaling
  47. White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
  48. I’m Still Here, Austin Channing Brown
  49. Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation, Latasha Morrison
  50. The Rainbow Comes and Goes, Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt
  51. Me and White Supremacy, Layla Saad
  52. Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue
  53. Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
  54. Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate
  55. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
  56. Euphoria, Lily King
  57. The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead
  58. 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World, Elif Shafak
  59. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
  60. The Book of Longings– Sue Monk Kidd
  61. Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. Vance
  62. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Lori Gottlieb
  63. Becoming Dutchess Goldblatt: A Memoir, Anonymous
  64. Little Weirds, Jenny Slate
  65. Night Boat to Tangier, Kevin Barry
  66. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, David Sedaris
  67. Small Mercies, Eddie Joyce
  68. The Incendiaries, R. O. Kwon
  69. Tinkers, Paul Harding
  70. Adrift, Tami Oldham Ashcraft
  71. Less, Andrew Sean Greer
  72. Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey
  73. The New One, Mike Birbiglia
  74. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
  75. Long Way Down, Jason Reynolds
  76. I Killed Zoe Spanos, Kit Frick
  77. The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
  78. Writers and Lovers, Lily King
  79. Jack, Marilynne Robinson
  80. Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu
  81. Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell
  82. Monogamy, Sue Miller
  83. Calypso, David Sedaris
  84. Unlearn, Humble the Poet
  85. Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson
  86. The Overstory, Richard Powers
  87. Deacon King Kong, James McBride
  88. Sisters, Daisy Johnson
  89. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, Cho Nam-Joo, Jamie Chang, translator
  90. A Children’s Bible, Lydia Millet

I included 10 children’s books in my list of 100. Though I read dozens of children’s books each week, these selections had a huge impact on our year. Because of these books: we successfully potty trained our youngest, adopted a cat, started to talk about our feelings with clarity, increased sharing, handled a mouse issue in the pantry, dreamed big dreams about the future, and expanded our imagination about God. These are the 10 kid books that made the 100 list this year:

91. Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea, Cynthia Ryland and Arthur Howard

92. Can I Be Your Dog, Troy Cummings

93. In My Heart, Jo Witek

94. Where’s the Poop? Julie Markes

95. Candle Walk: A Bedtime Prayer to God, Karin Holsinger Sherman

96. Fancy Nancy: Tea for Two, Jane O’Connor

97. A Visitor for Bear, Bonny Becker

98. Last Stop on Market Street, Matt de la Pena

99. When God Was A Little Girl, David R. Weiss

100. Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau, Jennifer Berne

Sweet 16- My Latest Reads

In the last few weeks I read whatever felt right at the time. Some are Pulitzer prize winners, some are little known youth literature picks, others are memoirs. I’ve been reading to escape the harsh realities in our country over the last 6 weeks. I am up to 90 books in 2020, one final push to meet my 100 book goal by the end of the year. Here are my recent distractions:

  1. Hillbilly Elegy– J.D. Vance- I enjoyed this memoir about the struggles of poor white Americans in the rust belt. Vance gives an honest glimpse of his upbringing and the struggles he faced to find success and get an education.
  2. Maybe You Should Talk To Someone– Lori Gottlieb- This book is well written, honest and vulnerable. Gottlieb is a therapist who shares stories from her own therapy practice and her patients as well as her own experience in therapy. The book gave me hope about how we can all heal from the things that are painful and crippling.
  3. Becoming Dutchess Goldblatt– Anonymous- This book is a memoir from an anonymous writer who created a fictional character on Twitter to bring humor, kindness and comfort to her followers. It is a surprisingly touching story about connection, compassion and the ways communities our built- I highly recommend it.
  4. Little Weirds– Jenny Slate- True to it’s name this book is a little weird. Fantasy and imagination mixed in with memoir. Jenny is an actress and a comedian who writes about her upbringing, early career and divorce with poetic exaggeration and fiction mixed in- mostly enjoyable… but odd.
  5. Night Boat to Tangier – Kevin Barry- I really wanted to like this book, it got such great reviews, but it didn’t capture me. Two men with criminal pasts in a port, looking for someone, and as they wait, they recall stories of their lives. Solid C+ for me.
  6. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls- David Sedaris- I needed to read this book this fall. It is a collection of hilarious essays and humor writing from David Sedaris- I laughed out loud hearing him describe dentist visits, waiting on the tarmac on an airplane, and more- just the right lighthearted humor about ordinary things to make the 8th month of the pandemic bearable.
  7. Small Mercies– Eddie Joyce- This is a beautiful novel that explores the trajectory of different family members after enduring the loss of Bobby in the September 11th attacks. The writing is beautiful. The pain and grief and complex family dynamics are believable and moving.
  8. The Incendiaries– R.O. Kwon- Again, this book didn’t capture me. The novel was recommended to me because it explores relationships, religion and politics- but I found the story dull and not believable and generally hard to finish. I would give this a C- rating.
  9. Tinkers- Paul Harding- This is a beautiful, Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a man looking back on his life from his death bed. Stories of his father’s life and his are woven through the pages- poetically and beautifully written.
  10. Adrift- Tami Oldham Ashcraft- This is an unbelievable memoir written by a woman who was stuck at sea for 41 days after surviving a hurricane that destroyed her boat and killed her fiancé. It is a story of survival, resilience and strength- I loved every page.
  11. Less- Andrew Sean Greer- This is a lighthearted, touching novel about a writer who decides to accept every single speaking engagement offered to him after a painful breakup. His speaking and teaching tour takes him around the world on a journey building his own confidence and understanding of himself. It was the winner of a Pulitzer Prize- a delightful read.
  12. Greenlights– Matthew McConaughey- A new memoir from the actor Matthew McConaughey, and it’s lovely! He’s lived a fascinating life with travel, adventure and risk-taking. He shares his philosophy on life along with many family stories and funny anecdotes that give readers a sense of who he is- I loved it. Light and fun.
  13. The New One- by Mike Birbiglia and J. Hope Stein- This book is a raw, honest, and hilarious description of a reluctant dad. He shares funny and heartbreaking stories about his own concerns and anxieties about losing his freedom, independence, and his marriage when his daughter was born. I laughed out loud because of the witty writing and I related to so much of what he shared- I am giving Andrew this book for Christmas too so he can enjoy- shhh, don’t tell him.
  14. The House on Mango Street– Sandra Cisneros- I finally read this classic. It is a novel about the experience of a Latina girl growing up in Chicago- and her experience with racism, poverty, and sexual assault. It is beautifully written and powerful.
  15. Long Way Down– Jason Reynolds- This book is haunting. The novel tells the story of a teenage boy preparing to avenge his older brother’s death- and after he grabs the gun and heads down the elevator to bring street justice to his family, different ghosts from his past get on the elevator on all 8 floors and share their stories.
  16. I Killed Zoe Spanos– Kit Frick- This is a teen lit mystery and suspense murder mystery. It entertained me and kept me guessing. I enjoyed reading it to escape. I would give it a solid B rating.

For my last books of 2020, again, I am going to read recommended books, those I have been meaning to read, a few more Pulitzer Prize winners, and maybe another memoir or two. Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any suggestions!

I’m Right (And Neither Are You)

I poisoned my family.

Let me explain:

Andrew and I disagree about cleaning products. He urges us to try soap nuts in place of laundry detergent or switch to scent free, dye free, all natural sanitizer( a.k.a.: expensive re-packaged vinegar.) I prefer Tide, Dawn, and Cascade.

When we ran out of dishwasher detergent last week I ordered pods on Instacart. Andrew claimed it clumped on our dishes and made everything taste like chemicals. He started re-washing dishes by hand out of the dishwasher. I double down: “you are just against soap! Get over it!”

I ignored the bitter, filmy, floral flavored coating on every glass and plate.

Four dish cycles later, I finally noticed that Instacart replaced the dishwasher pods I ordered with laundry pods. We had to throw out all of the kid cups because we couldn’t get the chemical taste out.

This is 2020 in a nutshell.

Not only are ridiculous things happening but many of us become convinced that the way we see the world reflects truth -and everyone who disagrees is wrong.

I don’t know about you-but the pressures of the pandemic and the election cycle are bringing out my worst self.

It’s more than detergent arguments.

The other day in my neighborhood-I witnessed a car door fly open and a Styrofoam cup, lid, and straw dropped out. I couldn’t see the instigator but I imagined a car full of teens or a busy corporate executive thinking they owned the street. I took a picture of the littering act. As the car drove near me I raised up my arms and called out the littering. But the driver of the car, I learned, was an African American woman. She saw my gesture as an act of aggression related to her race and started yelling at me: “go to hell Karen!”

There we were – both of us at the height of our emotion and frustration and assumptions. Both of us convinced we were right and being wronged. But what if we were both just wrong?

In 2020, as I watch our decency and respect for one another crumble, I wonder: how did we get here?

I live and work in the swing state of Ohio. My social media is filled with snide, sarcastic, insulting posts tearing down both Democrats and Republicans depending on who I follow.

I have friends who have vastly different perspectives on the pandemic and get into heated debates about what this means.

As I scroll- Most of it makes me ill, but my favorite meme this week said: remember when you are in crisis, it’s your friends and family that will show up for you, not your convictions.

We have been poisoning each other in recent months.

In the same way I refused to even consider there was something wrong with the dishwasher soap, it seems we all refuse to consider that the issues of the world are complex and nuanced. These issues cannot be summed up in oversimplified tweets or headlines.

We have forgotten that we belong to another.

We have forgotten that we’re all in this together.

We have forgotten that we are similar in more ways than we are different.

This week reminded me to let go of my righteousness. I remembered that we all see only a part of what is true and good.

May we be humble enough to listen and learn from the people we love. May resist the temptation to double down on what we “know.” May we start to build up community, relationships and connections again- because the world needs us to create wholeness.

Amen.

Nine Novels

I took two weeks off in August and decided to dive into fiction reading. This vacation time was meant to include a big family gathering, a celebration of my parents anniversary, and my 20 year high school reunion. 

All of that was canceled. 

Instead, we mostly stayed in one place. In fact, I got in our car only 3 out of the 17 days- two trips to the store and one disc golf outing. 

We slept. I deactivated my social media accounts. I eliminated screen time-not a show, no online shopping, no movies. It was two weeks of stillness, of quiet, of snuggling and cooking and reading.

The vacation time felt like true Sabbath. And though I read countless children’s books each day, the bottom post is about the nine novels I finished in those weeks.

1. Behold The Dreamers-Imbolo MBue

This novel was a gut wrenching portrayal of the challenges American immigrants face. The contrast in the American dream with the reality of low wages and job insecurity. The characters are complex. The story is both compelling and painful.

2. Where the Crawdads Sing- Delia Owens

This book is a unique story with beautiful nature imagery. The premise of a young girl living by herself in the swamp is hard to believe so at first I struggled to buy in to the narrative but by the end I was hooked and it was a fast read.

3. Before We Were Yours- Lisa Wingate

This Book is a fictional interpretation of the unethical practices of the Memphis Childrens home in the 20s and 30s. It tells the tale of poor children stolen from their families and sold to wealthy folks. The novel follows one family in particular. The story itself is painful and captivating with a silver lining of redemption at the end.

4. Everything I never Told You- Celeste Ng

This novel is all about the writing. Ng creates believable, deep and complex characters. She writes about family dynamics and the unspoken narratives that shape our family systems. The story follows a Chinese American family in the unexpected loss of their teenage daughter, but the story beneath the story is about each of their insecurities and the ways their idiosyncrasies affect their family. The novel top the list of Amazon‘s best books of the year in 2014 and I’ve read that the author spent six years writing this book with four complete drafts until she published. An excellent read.

5. Euphoria- Lily King

This novel is about a love triangle that takes place among anthropologists doing work in the field across the world in Africa. It’s inspired by the story of Margaret Mead. The book made the top 10 list in the New York Times in 2014. Again, this book is all about the characters and the effective subtle writing of King. It was a page turner for me simply because the writing was such a high-quality, even more than the story. Good read.

6. The Nickel Boys-Colson Whitehead 

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize and made the list of Time’s most influential books of the last 10 years. I listened to the audiobook format and the narrator was excellent. The story is about juveniles in an unethical detention center – inspired by the real story of the Dozier School. Issues of race and justice are explored in the pages. An excellent book.

7. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World- Elif Shafak

This novel is told through the lens of a sex worker who is murdered and her life is flashing before her eyes in the last 10 minutes and 38 seconds of consciousness. The premise itself is fascinating. The story is beautiful and heart wrenching. It’s set in Istanbul and focuses on themes of friendship, loyalty, and the complexities of the lives of six people. 

8. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous-Ocean Vuong

This novel is written as a letter that a Vietnamese American son rights to his illiterate mother. He shares vulnerable and intimate experiences of his life to try to explain who he is to his mom. It got great reviews and I wanted to like it but I didn’t. It was painful to read. It’s a tragic story- a tragic letter that broke my heart too many times and I felt nauseous by the end. The book itself is lyrically and poetically written but it filled me with grief and it was too heavy for a vacation read.

9. The Book of Longings- Sue Monk Kidd

This novel is a fictional story about Jesus‘s wife, Anna. The writing is rich and descriptive. Every page is filled with vivid and beautiful language . This book is equal parts amazing because of the writing and because of the story. I loved every page and I didn’t want it to end. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

This brings me to 74 books in 2020, on my way to my 100 goal. My vacation reading reminded me that fiction is my favorite. Nothing is better than a good novel to me. So if you have recommendations of amazing fiction you’ve enjoyed please share-thanks for reading!

20 Non-Fiction Books

The most recent 20 books I read this year were all non-fiction. I desperately wanted to learn more about people’s lived experiences, and connect to real live stories- after so much social distancing and isolation, I craved the human connection that comes from non-fiction reading and memoirs. My children must have felt this same stirring, because even their books of choice recently tended to be non-fiction. I also focused on black voices, books on racism, and memoirs by women working in men’s fields, members of the LGBTQ community, and other minorities. I am continuing to learn and grow through my reading list.

Here are my latest 20 reads:

  1. Talking as Fast As I Can, Lauren Graham- I loved the Gilmore Girls, and I wanted to learn more about the star. Turns out, she is a college educated, smart, witty actress and I loved her book.
  2. Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher- I am a huge Star Wars Fan, and I grieved the loss of Carrie Fisher, so I decided to read the memoir she wrote just before her death- I found some of it to be rambling, likely a result of her struggles with addiction that ultimately led to hear passing, and yet, it was a sentimental experience to read her words.
  3. Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher- I decided to also read her earlier memoir, and it was raw, witty, and well done.
  4. Troublemaker, Leah Remini- I was drawn to this memoir because I am always interested in other religions and the impact religion has on people’s lives. Leah writes about her experience as a Scientologist, and it was unbelievable at times. I am glad I read her book.
  5. Crocodile Vs. Wildebeest, Predator vs. Prey- Somehow, this book because the go-to kid book over the last month. It is a graphic, depressing picture documentation of a Crocodile hunting a Wildebeest, ultimately killing the beast. My kids were drawn to this book almost daily for a month- if that isn’t the most 2020 children’s book they could find… goes with the theme of this unbelievable year.
  6. The State of Affairs, Esther Perel, This book was in the bargain section of the Audible App, so I decided to check it- I am glad I did. A great look at the complicated nature of relationships and love, a helpful tool in my relationships and my role as a pre-marriage counselor.
  7. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi- This memoir is written by a renowned neurosurgeon after he discovers he has incurable cancer. He shares his reflections on living, dying and what it all means. I was moved beyond words by this book- an important look at mortality and how we can all choose to live well in the time we have.
  8. The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs- I followed up with this memoir written by Nina Riggs as she faces her own terminal diagnosis- partially because I was so interested in the back story. Paul and Nina’s spouses fell in love after these memoirs were published and after they had passed- I loved seeing the parallel perspectives and wrestlings in these two books side by side.
  9. In Pieces, Sally Field- I am a Sally Field fan, and I found myself interested in the stories of women actresses in this recent reading cycle. I appreciated Sally’s honesty and raw sharing around her experiences with sexism, sexual assault and the challenges of trying to make it as a professional woman in a man’s field… something I relate to, sadly.
  10. Buddy Books- I made a Buddy Book for each of my kids in this quarantine. 100 pages of pictures featuring them and their friends. My kids have been so isolated in this pandemic, these two buddy books helped them remember the good times they have had with their friends and the memories we’ve made already in their lives- even if we are not adding to them right now- a huge hit, and an important book to remind us of more connected moments.
  11. Raising Human Beings, Dr. Ross Greene- I try to read a parenting book at least once a quarter, and this book was a perfect pick in July. It is a follow-up book to Greene’s “The Explosive Child”, with broader recommendations for parents of neuro-typical kids. I loved his suggestions about collaboration, communication, and diffusing hard moments.
  12. You Can’t Touch My Hair, Phoebe Robinson-This was one of my favorite books so far in 2020. Phoebe addresses the systemic racism in our country with humor and grace. I laughed out loud throughout this book, and I came away with a better understanding of how to check my white privilege and advocate for people of color in my life.
  13. Why Not Me, Mindy Kaling- Another great memoir from another funny comedian woman. Mindy talks about her experience at Dartmouth, working on The Office, and starting her own show- she is honest, humorous and fun to read.
  14. White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo- This book was a slap in the face- in the BEST possible way. Robin spells out the problematic ways we White folks use our privilege, power and tears to keep racism alive and well in our culture- I learned so much and realized I still have so much to learn.
  15. 38 Birthday Book- My beloved Andrew put together a book for me for my 38th Birthday with love letters from 43 different friends, family, mentors and congregants- in one of the nicest, biggest and most grand gestures I have ever received. The book is filled with pictures, affirmations and words of encouragement from people who have supported me throughout my life. I have been feeling down and discouraged in the past 6 months- and this book lifted me up. Thank you to those who contributed, my cup overflows.
  16. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown- In my continued quest to learn about racism and my own role in it, I loved reading the wisdom and experience of Austin. She explores her own encounters with racism and shares wisdom about how we can all work to change the system.
  17. Be The Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation, Latasha Morrison- This was an amazing resource filled with prayers, resources, discussion questions and raw reflections from Latasha, the author. I appreciated the spiritual perspective she brought to the discussion of racism in our community. I hope to bring this to my book club.
  18. Me and White Supremacy, Layla Saad- This was a 28 day experience of looking at my own racism and going through exercises and questions to really understand the roots of white privilege and how we can work to change. Another great book and great resource for church leaders.
  19. The Rainbow Comes and Goes, Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt- This was a collection of letters and conversations between Anderson Cooper and his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt. They wanted to say what needed to be said and process through the tragedies and triumphs of their family and their lives before it was too late- I loved it.
  20. Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau- my kids love this book right now. Felix is learning to swim and hold his breath, and he loves to hear the story of the person who invented the ‘aqualung’, or, the ability to scuba dive. There is an important environmental message in this work as well. High on our list.

After all the non-fiction and antiracism reading of this quarter, my head and heart are full. I am taking some vacation days in August, and I plan to turn to fiction for the next 20- I’m ready to imagine again and get lost in good literature.

20 More Books in 2020

Reading continues to serve as an anchor in these challenging, unpredictable times we call 2020. These are the latest books that I enjoyed in recent weeks. With the exception of one children’s book, each of the books I read in this season were written by women or people of color, or featured a main character that was a woman or person of color. It felt important to me in this time to be intentional about reading those who are often silenced.Good fiction that transports me out of the current moment is my favorite right now. And I also decided to read a few other works from authors from my first 25 books of 2020.

Since my goal is to read 100 books by the end of the year- I will need to step up my reading schedule during our August vacation to make it, but reading has been the perfect respite in the midst of so much stress and exhaustion so far this year. Let me know what you’ve been reading! Here is my list:

  1. The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller- I enjoyed Circe so much, I decided to explore more of Miller’s writing. This was a beautiful love story and a fast read- one of my favorite novels of 2020 so far.
  2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates- this book was a #1 New York Times best seller, winning several literature awards- and I can see why. This is an important account of the experience of a Black man growing up in the United States. This non-fiction work is formatted as a letter from the author to his teenage son, and it is poetic, painful, vivid and beautiful at once.
  3. No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame- Janet Lansbury- This was such a helpful guide for me and Andrew, who listened to the unabridged audiobook version of this book over a few nights out at the firepit. The book is a collection of writings and articles the author has written to parents over her many years of consulting parents through her respectful, gentle parenting approach.
  4. Wolfpack, Abby Wambach- This book is an expanded version of Abby’s graduation speech that she gave to the 2018 graduates of Barnard. It was a very quick read but so much wisdom about how to build one another up and take on a team approach to living and building community especially among women.
  5. Fancy Nancy: Tea for Two, Jane O’Connor- Once again, a handful of children’s books make the list this time. We love Fancy Nancy in our house- all of the books have lessons or teaching moments within them. But this book has a beautiful example of taking responsibility for a mistake, and learning how to apologize to friends. My kids loved it, and we’ve seen a distinct shift in accountability and responsibility among our sweet kiddos in this season, I credit this book for part of that.
  6. The Dutch House, Ann Patchett – I listened to the audiobook format of this novel- my first Ann Patchett experience, and it was delightful. Tom Hanks reads the story- which added to the fun. A great book about grudges, forgiveness and family.
  7. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, Haemin Sunim- This was one of the first books I have read on mindfulness- and it has helped me so much. Taking time to slow down, to sit, to observe, to notice and to grow is a crucial part of spiritual wellness and I hope to keep up some of the practices and disciplines in the months ahead.
  8. The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood- After reading Madeline Miller’s books Circe and The Song of Achilles- I was interested in reading more Greek mythology- specifically the stories surrounding Odysseus and Penelope. This is a retelling and interpretation of Penelope- and while it was an interesting story that added depth to my imagination about Penelope- I found the book to be somewhat flat and difficult to finish.
  9. Mennonite In A Little Black Dress, Ronda Janzen – This was supposed to be our May book club book- but instead, I mailed a copy to each of our members and we read the book on our own. The memoir is funny, charming, a quick read and a good reminder that sometimes our roots hold us up, no matter how far we’ve traveled or how much we think we’ve left them behind.
  10. A Visitor for Bear, Bonny Becker- I hate that this book is on our list, but… after finding evidence of mice in our pantry, setting glue traps, catching 2 and realizing the traps were inhumane and terrible, then grieving the whole experience- wouldn’t you know our kids found THIS BOOK at the bottom of the pile and had us read it over and over last month… great. Bear is nicer than us. He let’s mouse in and befriends mouse- meanwhile we are terrible. This book will stick with me for a long time. Rest in peace pantry mice, sorry we couldn’t be your friends.
  11. Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline- This novel followed two young women across several generations as they faced challenges as orphans and found new ways to build connections and relationships- it was touching and an easy read.
  12. Finding Chika, Mitch Albom- I had already read Tuesdays with Maurie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and then this memoir popped up on a daily deal through Audible. It brought me to my knees. Mitch Albom shares his experience taking care of a Haitan Orphan for two years through her cancer treatment. He reads it himself, and it is beautiful, piercing, challenging and truly broke my heart open.
  13. Normal People, Sally Rooney- This book came highly recommended, and apparently there is going to be a Netflix show produced based on the book- but I didn’t love it. It’s the story of modern star crossed lovers-and while there were some interesting parts and some helpful commentary about what genuine love looks like- I was bored by this book.
  14. How To Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay- This book was a dense, practical guide about how to respect your conversation partner and reach common ground or at least common respect and kindness even in the midst of disagreement. A helpful set of tools in this election year and in the midst of so many challenging issues and politicized topics everywhere we look in 2020.
  15. Last Stop on Market Street, Matt de la Pena- This beautiful children’s book was gifted to us a few years ago by our friends Emily, Ethan, Cora and Sofia- and recently it has become a favorite again. The story is a reminder to be appreciative, connected to our local community, and present in the circumstances of our lives. The book has beautiful illustrations that highlight diversity in race, ability, and socioeconomic differences.
  16. Why we Can’t Sleep- Ada Calhoun- This book is about the issues that Generation X women uniquely face and the sources of anxiety that keep us up at night. The author interviewed over 250 women for the book. I felt seen, understood, and a bit better after reading this book- finding solidarity through the chorus of voices acknowledging there are reasons to worry, and also reasons to hope.
  17. The Witches are Coming, Lindy West- Following up on Shrill, I read Lindy West’s most recent book- and I loved this one even more. She uses humor, pop-culture references and skilled writing to discuss the environment, the body expectations put on women, a harsh but vivid look at the state of our country, and a few promising stories to help us keep the faith that change is still possible.
  18. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng- Again, this book had high ratings, reviews, and was recommended to me- but I thought it was just OK. It is a novel set in Cleveland and I appreciated the geographic references to my area. The novel explores issues of race, adoption, wealth, and what constitutes a happy life- parts were intriguing and thought provoking, but it was a slow read for me.
  19. Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips- This is a haunting, beautiful novel about how a community of women respond to the abduction of two little girls in their community. Deep character development, gorgeous writing, and a sobering reflection on the impact of community trauma.
  20. David Gets in Trouble, David Shannon- This is a great kid’s book that teaches the importance of taking responsibility for our actions and mistakes, and apologizing. My kids love reading it several times in a row- and we are already seeing results- more sharing, saying sorry, and reflecting on the consequences of our actions… thanks David!

 

 

Fire

Fires and protests and pain burn across the United States this week because unarmed George Floyd was killed by someone with authority while he cried out in pain and asked for mercy.

A crowd gathered around George when this took place. Some filmed, some bargained and begged for him to be spared, while others ignored these pleas.

George said “Please, I can’t breathe, please… please… Mama…” And with these seven last words, he took his final breath.

Now, days later, flames and fire, voices crying out and the need for change.

And now, there must be transformation, there must be more listening, more learning, more justice.

While the road ahead feels uncertain and urgent, we must remember on this Pentecost Sunday that the Holy Spirit came as fire.

We remember that flames showed up 50 days after an unarmed man was killed by those with authority. He cried out, and after his seven last words -he breathed his last. His Mama was there and could not comfort him. Bystanders gathered-some who begged for mercy, some who remained silent and ignored his pleas.

We remember in the days after his death there was pain, a need for transformation, a need for change, a need for justice to roll down like a mighty stream…

And on this Pentecost morning: we remember that change begins. The Holy Spirit comes through tongues of flames and fire. It’s time to learn, it’s time to grow, it’s time for transformation and justice.

Amy Cooper Is Me

This week, many of us watched the cell phone footage of Amy Cooper telling Christian Cooper that she was going to call the cops and claim that an African-American man was threatening her life. She then changed her tone to hysterical and panicked while she spoke to a 911 dispatcher.

You and I both probably saw the story and flinched. For a moment, I thought: how horrible of her. Why would she do that?

But in the very next moment, I realized she is me. She is most of us.

It’s awkward and uncomfortable to acknowledge, but it’s far worse to ignore. Watching that video, I tried to search deeply within myself and see the ways that Amy Cooper did something I am very capable of doing.

In a bad moment, or when I’m frustrated, or when I’m losing my cool, or when I’m tired or stressed… I could easily call on my privilege and put someone in danger.

I experience the benefits of my privilege almost every day.

This weekend, I bought 10 bags of black mulch at Lowe’s. I drove to the back of the parking lot for it to be loaded, and when I got there I couldn’t find my receipt. The friendly Lowe’s workers smiled and said “it’s no problem ma’am, we believe you.“ And they loaded 10 bags of mulch into my trunk without any question. That’s my privilege.

I try to walk in my neighborhood most evenings listening to an audiobook to clear my head. Last week- an African-American man walked in the opposite direction 50 feet ahead of me and when he noticed me, he cross the street, hunched his shoulders, and nodded his head at me- trying to shrink himself and perhaps appear ‘less threatening’. That’s my privilege.

But what if Lowes wouldn’t have given me the mulch? Would I have been tempted to raise my voice and ask to speak with the manager? That’s also my privilege.

What if the man didn’t cross the street and kept walking towards me? Would I have tried to turn down a different street and hurry home? Or maybe watched him to see where he was going to go with my cell phone out? Just because he’s walking down the street? That’s also my privilege.

We are all a part of a structure where the news about an African Americans is mostly bad. Headlines are pictures featuring our dark skinned neighbors paint a picture that we should be scared, mistrusting, or suspicious.

Most of the movies I go to feature white heroes, white love interests. Most of my children’s toys and books feature white faces. All of this contributes to my privilege.

When the story broke about Amy Cooper, I saw myself. I experienced the familiarity and recognition of her, another middle-aged professional woman, who did something I’m capable of doing.

So what do I need to do to make sure it’s not me next? How do I keep learning and growing and fighting against the systemic racism of our culture? I don’t have all the answers. But I know I need to ask the questions.

I need to expand our children’s book collection. I need to forge more relationships with people who look different than me. I need to listen more to my African-American friends and ask more about their experiences. I need to check myself every day to make sure I’m not leaning on privilege to make my way in the world.

I write this blog post in the spirit of confession, reflection, and invitation. Perhaps we all need to see ourselves and Amy Cooper, and from there: how can we grow?

Reading in Quarantine: 25 Books I’ve Loved in 2020

In 2020, I set out to read books.

My kids reached the age of predictable bed times and moments of self-sufficiency. The book club I started in 2019 brought me joy and I longed to capture more of that feeling. So, I made a resolution to read 100 books this year.

As 2020 marched on, so many plans began to erode: dependable childcare, travel, celebrations, and routines- but I’ve held tightly to my commitment to read. Sometimes this means multi-tasking: listening to an audiobook while walking my dog or during a moment of exercise. Sometimes this looks like staying up too late or reaching for a book in the mornings before the kids wake up.

I’m about a quarter in to my goal, and I wanted to share what I’ve read so far and some of my impressions.

Here are the first 25 books of 2020- mostly fiction (my passion), some religious- and in an unpredictable twist- a few children’s books. Let’s face it, as a mom of 2 toddlers, I average 100 children’s books each week, and yet, there are a few that had a profound impact on our lives.

  1. There There, Freddie Orange- This novel was haunting and vivid- following a cast of characters all connected in distant ways through their involvement in the American Indian community. In the era of frequent mass shootings, I felt a sense of doom from a character wresting with rage and boredom. The book reads quickly and has stuck with me.
  2. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler- If fiction is my first love, memoirs are second. This was the first book of 2020 for my book club, and Kate Bowler had piercing descriptions of parenthood and the love we have for our children. She taught me about how to savor this precious and fragile life through her own journey wrestling with terminal cancer.
  3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman- I loved this novel. Eleanor is on a journey of self discovery and growing to love herself. It’s a story about recovering from trauma and learning to trust people again.
  4. An American Marriage, Tayari Jones- The mass incarceration of black men in America is one of the most disturbing trends of my generation- and while non-fiction books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow have helped me learn, An American Marriage helped me feel the pain of this national crisis in a new way through this deeply moving and well written story.
  5. Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea, Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard- The first children’s book to make the list. This is a new favorite at our house- it was gifted to us by our dear friends Emily, Ethan, Cora and Sofia from Texas. It was this book that started stirring interest and longing in our house about adopting a cat.
  6. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Fred Rogers- One of my church leaders gave me this book for Christmas- and I didn’t know how much I needed it. This collection of phrases and lessons from Fred Rogers lifted my spirit every time I read it. The message at the root of this book is one we all need to hear every day: You are loved and worthy, just as you are. Thank you Mister Rogers.
  7. Heavy, Kiese Laymon- This memoir was painful to read. Kiese shares boldly from his experience being raised in the south as a young African American son of a single mom. He refuses to sugarcoat or pretend- and he inspires raw honesty and reflection in his readers.
  8. Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott- This was my 2nd read of Traveling Mercies. The first time I read this book in graduate school, with very little life under my belt. But this time, I read Anne Lamott in partnership with my book club- and her wisdom brought me to tears. She has the ability to strip away all the lies we tell about ourselves and force readers to look in the mirror- with all our fears and insecurities and inner thoughts laid bare.
  9. The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke- this was one of my favorite books this year so far. It is HILARIOUS and lighthearted. I needed to laugh out loud, to learn more about the animals who share this earth with us.
  10. Can I Be Your Dog, Troy Cummings- If Mr. Putter and Tabby got us thinking about adopting a cat, it was this new favorite kids book that sealed the deal. After reading this book 64 times, including the statistics on the back cover that remind us that only 1 in 9 dogs and cats has a forever home in the US- we adopted our new kitten Ruby.
  11. Shrill, Lindy West- This memoir is well written, witty and easy to read. And yet, the book deals with distorted expectations of women’s bodies, self esteem and professional aspirations- I loved it.
  12. The End of the Affair, Graham Greene- This was a decent novel about the ways love can hypnotize us and how everyone we love will still always be a mystery to us. But the best part is that Colin Firth reads the audio book- making the story come alive.
  13. Still, Lauren Winner- This was the March selection of my book club, and honestly, it did not speak to me. The author tried to share openly and vulnerably about her experience through divorce and her changing thoughts on faith but it felt wooden and insincere.
  14. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brian- This classic collection of short stories about the author’s experience in the Vietnam War paint the disturbing picture of the war that shaped my parents’ generation. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it- because so many stories were gut-wrenching, but it felt important to read.
  15. In My Heart, Jo Witek- this children’s book reminded all of us to name our feelings and acknowledge the emotions that are swelling in the era of Covid-19
  16. Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders- This novel tells the story of President Lincoln grieving his son, and the experience of letting his son’s spirit go. Issues of faith, mortality, and grief are beautifully explored. I listened to the audiobook version and there are dozens of actors narrating this beautiful story- I highly recommend the audiobook version.
  17. The Tattoo Artist of Auschwitz-Heather Morris – Hands down, the most impactful and amazing book I have read in 2020- based on the true story of a man who survived the Holocaust by making unimaginable decisions and agreements with the enemy.
  18. Untamed– Glennon Doyle- This memoir spoke to me as a mother, a daughter, a woman and a human. Glennon encourages women to be brave, authentic, and wild. She invites us to stay true to our own inner voice, and to drown out the calls to conform, shrink and bend to the pressures put on women to be tame.
  19. The Explosive Child, Dr. Ross Greene- Andrew and I listened to this book together by our firepit after the kids went to bed for several nights. The title has shock value and we nearly skipped the read altogether because of it- but this book gave us strategies to partner with our children in finding solutions when their young minds struggle to be flexible and adaptable. In this time of social distancing, it helped everyone in the family feel empowered.
  20. Where’s the Poop? –Julie Markes- How could I have predicted that this book would make my reading list and my blog? It’s a lift-the-flap book where my kids look for animal poop… and yet, it was the reading of this book night after night that seemingly inspired our 2 year old daughter to poop on the potty- so it stays on the list. It had a big impact in 2020.
  21. Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert- This book was a special read in April because my dad and I decided to read it together. We both listened to the audiobook version. Gilbert talks about the nature of creativity as something that is alive, looking for partnership with the human mind, and how to capture this magic- it was inspiring and fun to read with my dad- the guy who has fostered my creativity and writing since I was little.
  22. An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor- This was my second time reading this book, and it was our April Book Club selection. The second time through I felt deeply moved by the message that God can be found outside the walls of the church- especially as we suspend in-person worship during Covid-19
  23. The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo- I was brought to tears by the end of this powerful coming of age book following a young artist who finds her voice and her courage. A fast read.
  24. Circe– Madeline Miller- this novel tells the story of the Goddess Circe and her journey to find her powers and her courage. It is a great woman-centric telling of Greek Mythology and my mom and I decided to read it in parallel. We would call each other after big reveals and curveballs in the story and we both breezed through the pages of this adventure story.
  25. Candle Walk: A Bedtime Prayer to God– Karin Holsinger Sherman- our dear friends Laine, Michael and Theodore sent this to us 6 weeks in to our shelter in place order. I had confessed to Laine that no one was sleeping well and anxieties were high at our house. And, a few days later this beautiful children’s book that follows the tradition of Compline (prayers the end of the day)- arrived. She wrote an inscription in the front cover that we treasure. This book brought peace and sleep for us.

Looking ahead, more fiction, a few unusual memoirs, and good theology books. I would love to know what you’ve read and enjoyed recently, and any impressions you have of the books I listed above. Here’s to the next quarter!

 

In My Heart

My children have a book called “in my heart“. Each page beautifully describes the many feelings our heart can experience.

“ Sometimes my heart feels like a big yellow star, shiny and bright. I smile from ear to ear and twirl around so fast, I feel as if I could take off into the sky. This is when my heart is happy.”

The book serves as a tool for children to name what they feel, to find words and images to describe the many things that happen inside us when the world affects us.

I love this book. So do my kids.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, We all have big feelings. I write this to share some of mine.

Nearly a month ago, we decided to move church online. All of a sudden a ministry calling that was once about bringing people together & creating space for bravery and vulnerability became a vocation about producing online material, quality sermon videos, and engaging social media posts. I thought to myself: this is when my heart feels creative. We can change everything we do about ministry in an instant, we will build the plane as we fly…

Three weeks ago, our two and four-year-olds’ school closed. We went from having full-time childcare to balancing full-time jobs with toddlers at home. Friends and church members talk about being bored and taking on new disciplines, projects, and crafts. And yet-I have never felt more exhausted and rundown in my entire life. I thought to myself: this is when my heart feels stretched. Andrew and I can split the daylight hours, we won’t see each other much or have family time but we can each work a full day if one starts at dawn, then alternate at nap time- doing work until bed.

Two weeks ago, Andrew and I canceled our 10th wedding anniversary cruise to Alaska scheduled for June. I thought to myself: this is when my heart feels patient. We will have to postpone this beautiful trip.

Last week, our oven stopped working, our dog ate a nest of baby bunnies, and the kids’ tantrums escalated. It was only then I felt I could say out loud what all of this feels like: grief. This is when my heart feels grief. 

For me, in this pandemic, everything is grief. It’s not patience or creativity or stretching, or hustling. This is grief. We’ve lost our routine, our support, our community, our ability for balance, our family time.

I’d love to come up with creative adjectives and words for what this feels like. But the truth is: it’s grief, it’s stress, it’s overwhelming.

This is holy week. In our tradition it’s considered the darkest before the dawn. It’s a time when we remember that there have been many times in the past and there will be many in the future when it feels like all is lost. When the things we care most about are buried, dark, and even dead. And yet it’s in the darkness that light emerges. It’s out of the darkness where hope overwhelms the world.

So for all of you out there turning yourselves and pretzels: pretending behind the curated Facebook post about the triumphant parenting win or the excessively productive workday, know this: it’s OK to not be OK. We are all doing our very best. These are difficult times. And yet, the creator of the whole universe often whispers good news into times such as this.

So we wait. We lament. We pray.

And we know, no matter what, God is with us. Our story is an eternal story beyond this moment, beyond these hardships. Out of darkness, our God brings light. Easter is coming. Hallelujah!

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