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11 Books to Read During COVID-19

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Stronger than Death: How Annalena Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

This book will show you how to live in a time of contagious disease and fear. I am so inspired by Annalena, as I think comes across in the book. She was relentless in her love and care for the most vulnerable among us. Her legacy continues and I want to quote her nephew, with whom I messaged in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis in Italy where he lives. He said, “All is quiet. It is a time of silence and also of God.” That is just so beautiful. He is caring for his family and they are turning to faith. He also quoted Annalena, “Everything is grace.” What a privilege to get to know people like this, who live this way and with these hearts in the world. They are what bring me hope.

You can read the prologue of Stronger than Death free, just enter your email address here:

 

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

I loved this book especially because (spoiler alert) it ends with hope. It is so beautiful and thoughtful and richly imagined and slightly terrifying. All the right elements.

 

Black Death at the Golden Gate, by David K. Randall

I saw a dead rat in the streets of Nairobi about a week after reading this and felt a cold pit in my stomach. This book is a deep dive into the bubonic plague (which is still around, who knew?!) but also the way fear stoke racism and how that leads to further death and mayhem. A super relevant read right now.

 

On Immunity, by Eula Biss

I quote this book all the time. Biss is such an incredible essayist. If you want a thoughtful look at herd immunity, on caring for the vulnerable among us, on being a parent in an age of disease and fear, if you just want to read someone with a sharp and smart mind, this is amazing.

 

No More Faking Fine, by Esther Fleece

I gifted this book to many people. An excellent look at how to cling to faith in the middle of a crisis or of pain without pretending that everything is fine. I love this book.

 

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, by Sonia Shah

Science, history, geography, disease. It’s all here.

 

Illness as Metaphor, by Susan Sontag

Such a powerful essayist. This is a look at how we talk about illnesses like cancer and how the words we use can sometimes also cause harm and affect the patient.

 

The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison

How to cultivate empathy when we feel overcome by our own fear? We need to wrestle with this question because I do not want to see the end of empathy. I’ve read this book several times.

 

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chodron

Could there be a more apt title?

 

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, by Lysa Terkeurst

Nope, it’s not. There is so much pain and brokenness in the world. How does our faith respond?

 

Devotion, poems by Mary Oliver

Because we can always, always read poetry.

 

What would you recommend for readers right now?

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The Bookshelf, March 2019

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres Gripping, horrifying, infuriating. This was a quick read that made my blood boil at the things she experienced – abuse at the hands of “Christian” parents and a “Christian” reform school. Racism that her brothers faced. The ignorance of the impact and struggles adopted kids face. Julia is a lovely writer, this is a haunting and dark book. Fitting in the #metoo era and especially with the New Tribes, Southern Baptist, and Catholic Church scandals.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung What a gift. This book is written from the perspective of an adopted child, now an adult. So many stories of adoption are written from the POV of the parents who adopted the child, and are written while that child is just coming home, or still young. But what impact does adoption have on the child? Nicole provided a nuanced, thoughtful look into her own experience and it is an important opener for a really important topic.

A Country Between: making a home where both sides of Jerusalem collide by Stephanie Saldana This book was, quite simply, gorgeous. I went to bed early every night the last week just to spend more time with the gentle prose and the imagery and the wisdom. Stephanie is an American, married to a Frenchman. They met in Syria where he chose love for a woman over love for his life as a monk. In this book, they live in Israel, between two worlds. I loved this book. See also her book Bread of Angels: a journey to faith and love, about reading the Bible and the Quran and finding Jesus and falling in love with a monk.

Walking in Wonder: eternal wisdom for the modern world by John O’Donohue Can I say this book was gorgeous, too? Well, it was. I took my time through this one and reread some chapters several times, through tears. I am a massive John O’Donohue fan, if you haven’t yet noticed. His words remind me of all that is beautiful and good, even in darkness and sorrow.

The 21: a journey into the land of coptic martyrs by Martin Mosebach (published by Plough, my publisher, yay!) Another book of trauma, except it isn’t. It could be. The 21 refers to the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were beheaded by ISIS. Martin explores each of these men’s lives and legacies and what could be a story of horror becomes in his skillful hands, one of hope and life.

 

Kindle Deals – so many great books!

South and West, by Joan Didion $2.99. Um, Joan Didion for under 3$?! Yes, please.

The Color of Water, by James McBride, $1.99. A really important read in the racial relationships conversation.

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah $2.99

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy, $1.99

The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, $1.99

Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans, $0.99 (this is probably my favorite of Rachel’s books, I read it while on the voting panel for Christianity Today’s book awards)

What are you reading lately?

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What I’m Reading, July 2018

Or, what my 12-year old daughter is reading, for the young among us, and the young at heart (personally, I still love books for this age), some classics and some new-ish books. She’s a reader, keeping mom happy.

The Giver

The Westing Game

This Island Isn’t Big Enough for the Four of Us. Oh man, I still just love and love this book. I can’t read it out loud to the kids without laughing. I must have read it a hundred times as a kid.

The Inquisitor’s Tale, Or Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. Could barely tear her away from this one.

The Scourge

I have a hard time reading much while we are in the US, there is just a lot more to do here. Things like axe-throwing events, frog-chasing, mini golf, multiple graduation open houses, and so much more. Plus, I have a massive stack of magazines that piles up while I’m away, because yes, I still prefer to read magazines in hard copy format rather than online. So I’ve had a lot of Runners World and New Yorker to catch up on.

The Day the Revolution Began, by N.T. Wright, about the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus. The particular copy I’m reading is full of my dad’s underlinings and notes, which is fun and adds another perspective to the book.

Dance of the Dissident Daughter, by Sue Monk Kidd, about spirituality and femininity

The Destiny Thief, by Richard Russo, about the writing life

The Bookshelf, June 2018

Summer reading seems to be a popular blog or podcast topic. For me, summer reading is no different than winter, fall, or spring reading. I read a lot and don’t make changes based on seasons. I read based on what books come up in my library queue.

Here’s what has been in my head lately:

This is Where You Belong by Melody Warn This is a wonderful book for anyone moving, graduating, starting over in a new city. Where you live and how feel about it, how you interact with it, how you find meaning in your place, matters. Warn offers practical tips for forming a connection with where you live. Even though I’ve lived for fifteen years in the same city and even though I have to modify some of her suggestions based on my specific location, I found it encouraging and challenging.

Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. Put simply, LOVE.

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans I actually purchased this book as a preorder and I became the publisher’s biggest pain in the ass. I couldn’t download the bonus content. So I wrote to the publisher and asked for a different format. It took almost aw eek and about six different attempts before I was able to finally access the materials. I have no idea why. But I was incredibly impressed with this woman’s patience and willingness to keep trying. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book, just sayin’. The subtitle, “xxx and loving the Bible again,” fits me pretty well right now, so I was excited to dive into this. Plus, she has a few paragraphs about what it means to us evangelical children to be named Rachel. For her, she was upset to hear it meant, “Ewe,” which she first took as “eeewwww,” and thought she had perhaps been an ugly newborn. For me, the name Rachel made me horribly embarrassed every time the story of Jacob and Rachel and Leah came up. There was a Jacob in my grade at school and on my bus and people teased me. I didn’t even like that Rachel was the ‘beautiful’ one. She was also nasty.

The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie Wright. Don’t read it if you can’t handle her language. I was hoping for a little more insight into the issues she takes and didn’t really care about her pets, but that’s just me. I’ve read her blog for a long time, so I was able to fill in a lot of the blanks and I appreciated hearing her personal journey of discovering the God who is always, ever, Immanuel, God with us. Her voice is an important one in helping the North American church examine, critically, its actions in the world and she has very valid concerns and issues.

What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney. Modern life protects the body from our physical, natural environment, maintaining a constant temperature, pursuing comfort, etc. Unless you live in Djibouti, where things like dust and heat force the natural surroundings on us…This book talks about why putting our body into contact with our environment can make us stronger and healthier. If you’re the type inclined to take ice cold showers, you’ll enjoy this book. If you aren’t that type, you’ll enjoy reading about other people doing that.

The Dream of You, by Jo Saxton. “Let go of broken identities and live the live you were made for.”

Scary Close, dropping the act and finding true intimacy, by Donald Miller Ever since Blue Like Jazz, I’ve read Donald Miller. I have a bit more trouble getting into his newer books but I appreciate watching him grow and change and adapt as a writer. It encourages me, to realize I don’t have to only write about one thing.

Scream, chilling adventures in the science of fear by Margee Kerr Why do we like (or if you are like me, hate) scary movies? Why do we choose to do something we know will terrify us?

Deep Survival, who lives, who dies, and why, by Laurence Gonzales

Educated by Tara Westover

Longing for Home by Frederick Buechner

What are you reading?

The Bookshelf, April 2018

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately and want to share highlights, perhaps one of these books will resonate with you.

Question for expats: I get 90% of my books through my US county kindle library. I first search my library for a book I hear about. If I don’t find it, I look it up on Amazon and usually toss it into my wishlist. I find that if I click back through to the same book five or more times, it is something I should consider purchasing. We just don’t have the budget to buy all the books I would like to. How do you obtain books? Library? Kindle? Purchased? Gifted?

I was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet, “If I’ve learned anything, it’s this: a mother’s screams over the body of her murdered child sound the same, no matter if she is black, brown, or white; Muslim, Jewish, or Christian; Shia or Sunni. We will all be buried in the same ground.”

The Homing Instinct by Bernd Heinrich, “For other animals, and for us, home is a ‘nest’ where we live, where our young are reared. It is also the surrounding territory that supports us. “Homing” is migrating to and identifying a suitable area for living and reproducing and making it fit our needs, and the orienting and ability to return to our own good place if we are displaced from it. Homing is highly specific for each species, yet similarly relevant to most animals.”

On Edge, a journey through anxiety by Andrea Peterson “Research shows, however, that anxiety is linked to some aspects of perfectionism but not others. Specifically, while anxious people are concerned about mistakes and doubt their actions, they don’t necessarily have superhigh personal standards. Worriers actually tend to lower their standards when stressed out. It isn’t that they want to be the best. They just don’t want to mess up.”

Thirst (again, because really, what else can you read while camping on the beach?) by Mary Oliver.

All afternoon the sea was a muddle of birds

black and spiky,

long-necked, slippery…

God, how did it ever come to you to invent Time?

The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher L. Heuertz. “The contemporary Enneagram of Personality illustrates the nine ways we get lost, but also the nine ways we can come home to our True Self. Put another way, it expresses the nine ways we lie to ourselves about who we think we are, nine ways we can come clean about those illusions, and non ways we can find our way back to God.”

Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Believed, by Kate Bowler. She writes about dealing with a cancer diagnosis in the context of the prosperity gospel. “What would it mean for Christians to give up that little piece of the American Dream that says, “You are limitless?” Everything is not possible. The mighty Kingdom of God is not yet here. What if rich did not have to mean wealthy, and whole did not have to mean healed? What if being people ‘of the gospel’ meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough.”

Bird By Bird (again) by Anne Lamott. I won’t share a direct quote, other than three words most writers already know Anne Lamott for: “Shitty first draft.” Or, SFD, if you don’t like the language. Yup. And sometimes second and third drafts, too. But hopefully not.

Misunderstood, by Tanya Crossman (a great, researched read about Third Culture Kids). So many things I could quote here, but I’ll go back to the basics. “The ‘Third Culture’ is a concept, not a count. The three cultures of a Third Culture Kid are not three locations or people groups, but three categories of influence.” And those categories are: the host culture, the passport culture, and the in between space in which TCKs find themselves.

What are you reading?

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