Monday, February 08, 2016

what I read in January [from the book pile 2016]

the books my mother mails me and the post-it love notes contained therein


01  Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (Harper Perennial, 2005. 432 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book set in Europe (Ireland)

This book has been included on so many of the recommend reading lists I've seen through the years. I kept putting it off because I had it in my head that it would be melodramatic and depressing. In some ways, it is both of those things. Except, somehow, it's also not those things. I think it helps to know that the author and two of his brothers make it through the horrific poverty (of all sorts) of their Irish childhood to make good stories together and to continue loving each other. 

Mr. McCourt is a skilled writer - causing us to both love and agonize over his parents' choices, his home country's bleak era, and his own awkward acceptance of the good and the bad in each. In this way, he is all of us as children - in one way or another. We root for him, and in front of our eyes he grows in wisdom and favor with God (the God of both his Catholic and Protestant forebears) and man.


02 The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time by David Sloan Wilson (Little, Brown and Company, 2011. 448 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book set in your home state (actually set in my hometown of Binghamton!)

This book is not really what I thought it would be, but I found it interesting -- in a scannable sort of way.  I first noticed it because of the lovely cover illustration by Gina & Matt.  I'm also a sucker for any title with the words "neighborhood" and/or "project" in the title.  This had both!  

It was only after that I discovered the book was actually written about my little, beleaguered home town of Binghamton, NY.  Well, now, of course I needed to read this book!

I've discovered that the older I get (and, perhaps, the further away from home), the more I want to understand the complexities of the place generations of my family grew and raised families and founded churches and met disappointment and persevered.  Professor Wilson's noble goal to apply his expertise in evolutionary biology  and research (many of those years at Binghamton University) to address the social conditions of the Triple Cities.  With research grants, an impressive network of colleagues, and "an ambitious scope that spans biology, sociology, religion and economics, The Neighborhood Project is a memoir ... and an exploration of the big questions long pondered by religious sages, philosophers, and storytellers."

I didn't find the book necessarily practical, as the synopsis claims, but heartfelt and intriguing, nonetheless.  Becoming agents of change in the sort of "rust belt" and "tech desert" that is my hometown will take all vocations, and the sort of optimism, enthusiasm, and collaboration that Professor Wilson seems to embody. 


03  The Emotionally Healthy Woman: Eight Things You Have to Quit to Change Your Life  by Geri Scazzero, with Peter Scazzero (Zondervan, 2013. 226 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book recommended by someone you just met 

Approximately a dozen years ago, when Brian and I were poking our heads up from the ground of ministry leadership, we had the privilege of hearing Pastor Pete Scazzero speak at a major church conference.  His story made a major impact on our minds -- if not yet on our youthful idealism. 

The story Pete and Geri Scazzero tell of of both ministry and relational collapse, when it seemed like it would have been easier to quit both, is powerful. (I actually found myself wishing so much that my mom and Geri could have been friends.)  Out of the pain of the church planting burnout in Queens, NY, the Scazzeros sought spiritual, emotional and physical healing within the long story of Christianity.  They learned the wisdom of the disciplines of contemplative prayer, silence and Sabbath from outside their own non-denomination tradition.  In a beautiful redemption, they experienced personal healing which then multiplied throughout their large church family.  Out of these changes and learnings, the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality ministry was born.  

In a fun twist, a mutual friend connected me to Geri Scazzero to discuss a ministry that I've had experience in leading for about ten years.  Imagine my surprise to discover I was giving ministry advice to the wife of the man who'd had such an impact on Brian and me a dozen years ago!  As a result of the conversation, Geri encouraged me to dig into some of the more recent books she and Peter have released.  I started with Emotionally Healthy Woman, and I'm especially grateful for God's timing in this as Brian and I set out to lead a church in the near future.  I highly recommend the book, and hope to go back through again in a study format with a few women this year. 

Brian and I are reading The Emotionally Healthy Leader out loud together, which is turning out to be another gem.  May God strengthen each one of us for the work he's given us to do, and may He bless all those who have persevered -- imperfectly -- in positions of leadership in His Church throughout the ages.


04  Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1997. 256 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  reading the world: North America

My mother sent me this small novel (along with an innovative, homemade bookmark) because she loves me so well that way.  The Newberry award-winning book could be considered the American version of Angela's Ashes (even note the similar ash/dust theme). Out of the Dust is a "gripping story, written in sparse first-person, free-verse poems, is the compelling tale of Billie Jo's struggle to survive during the dust bowl years of the Depression." I've never read a more vivid description of the infamous dust storms that ravaged the mid and south-western states during the first part of the last century.  And that is only one part of the devastation the young woman must overcome.  But there is light and there is beauty, and somehow, through her eyes, we see light in the darkness of that horrible time in our nation's history. 


05  A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis (HarperOne, 1961. 112 pages.)

Reading challenge category*: a book you can finish in a day; also read for the Liturgy of Life Reading Group

I'll be posting a separate review for this book soon.  


* This year, I'm part of two different reading groups made up of friends and sisters. You can find the lists here: Take Our Ultimate Reading Challenge / A Year of Reading the World, & Liturgy of Life reading group. *

Go to my Book Pile page to see my reading lists from 2015 and previous years.
Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

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