Something on This List Will Make You Laugh

Guaranteed.

  • A former student used to give me ground coffee at Christmas, but wrapped in Victoria’s Secret bags so I’d have to carry them through the halls saying, “It’s coffee, I promise, it’s really just coffee.”
  • While in Korea last year, we decided to go out during Typhoon Lingling, and my shirt blew straight up.
  • One foggy morning back when I was teaching, I accidentally hit a bird with my car on the way to school. Feeling sad but thinking little of it throughout the day, I was shocked in the afternoon to discover half a bird stuck to the grille of my car, an ominous smear up the hood, and one lone feather affixed to the antennae. Unfortunately, I’d parked in a prominent spot near the school office, and everyone saw. Even worse, I’d been teaching “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” that day. The students watched closely for the next week to see what bad luck would befall.
  • When my twin nieces were five years old, they were quite concerned that I didn’t have a family of my own. I went for a visit and found pictures of little kids cut out from magazines and left on the guest bed. “Those are coupons for you, Aunt Ruth! So you can buy some children!”
  • One time when we were out at Ocean Beach in California, we got grub burgers and then walked down the beach to the pier. That’s when someone noticed I’d accidentally sat on a slice of processed cheddar cheese, which was still plastered to the back of my skirt. It had hardened to a crusty cement, and it took two people helping to peel it off.
  • Once while in France, I got up in the middle of the night, tripped over a slight ledge in the kitchen, and went sprawling into the living room. When someone in my group asked what that noise was in the middle of the night, I started telling the story (angling for some sympathy) and our waitress overheard and started laughing at me. The waitress.
  • During the year that I lived and taught in China (pre-cell-phone days), I’d been downtown all day and was unaware of a problem with our apartment that would leave me locked out for the next few hours. A friend thoughtfully tried to alert me to the issue (and save me a long walk to our apartment on back campus) by leaving me a note attached to a bush at our bus stop. A note. In a bush.

Her: But I left you a note! Didn’t you see it?

Me: A note? Where?

Her: I stuck it in a bush!

Me: …

  • Some time ago, I was taking care of nieces and nephews while their parents were away. The kids passed around the stomach flu. One by one, they all started vomiting. It was like a bad dream. “That’s it!” I told them dramatically. “No one else is allowed to throw up!” Twenty minutes later, I threw up.
  • Once while on a first date, I climbed into a hollow tree.
  • While on a road trip in the Southwest, a friend and I rented a car with weird bumps on the steering wheel. Later, she admitted that she thought the notches were Braille. On the steering wheel. (Braille. On the steering wheel.)
  • My sister and I once sneaked into a public performance of one of my plays. As the lights came up for the intermission, we heard the lady sitting behind us hiss, “This play is weird.”
  • The same sister also once hacked into my cell phone, imitated my voice, and changed my outgoing message to something super long and pretentious, and I didn’t notice for six months. Six months.
  • I recently did a Skype talk with a high school class about writing, and accidentally ended with, “Okay, I love you, BYE!”
  • When I was little, I slid down a sloping outside cellar door and filled my backside with splinters. I didn’t tell my mom until she was tucking me into bed at night. When she asked why I waited so long to say anything, I told her I’d been saving it as a surprise.
  • While driving my sister home from church, I witnessed an accident. I immediately slammed on the brakes and hit the horn. Bethany, who had been quietly reading a book in the passenger’s seat, looked up to behold….. nothing. Two clear lanes of traffic and a sunny sky stared back at us. That’s because the accident had happened a few blocks behind us. The fact that I had seen it in the rear-view mirror didn’t register with me until after I’d already slammed on the brakes and hit the horn.
  • One time, Bethany and I had to move three heavy wooden wardrobes out of a trailer and into a barn with the help of a hand truck with partially-deflated tires. Although we survived, we made several mistakes while moving the first one and nearly crushed ourselves.

Me: Maybe it would help if we tied the wardrobe doors shut. That way they won’t flop open and throw the balance off.

Her: Good call.

Me: Do you have any rope?

Her: Hold please. (Returns carrying a tiny length of twine.)

Me: Um, that’s not enough.

Her: Sure it is. (Ties handles shut.)

Me: Oh.

Her: What?

Me: I never would have thought of that.

Her: Thought of what? This was your idea.

Me: I mean just tying the handles together.

Her: (Nonplussed) What would you have done?

Me: Looked for enough rope to go all the way around the wardrobe.

Her: LOL.

Me: SHUT UP!


Everyone, please stay safe during this crazy time. Do what you can to take care of the people around you as best you can, and trust God to take care of you.

Also, if you like this post, you’d love my books.

Do I like to read_ (1)


 

How to Work from Home: An Expert Guide

I don’t want to boast, but I’ve been working from home for roughly seven years.

This is how the magic happens.

How to Work From Home: An Expert Guide

1. The night before, set your alarm for super early so that you will be able to get a jump start on the day. Just think, if you knock out all your work before lunch, you’ll have all afternoon to enjoy yourself! You are so smart.

2. When the alarm goes off, wonder what you were thinking. Why are you getting up early? You have literally all day to do your work and no reason to leave the house or even get dressed! This is madness. Hit snooze.

3. Hit snooze a few more times.

4. Feel guilty about hitting snooze. Begin self-talk about the importance of consistency and determination. Mid-talk, realize you are floating five feet above your bed. Begin the back stroke in mid-air. You’ve always wanted to do this! Twirl to your stomach, paddle to the window, and sail out over the neighborhood. What a wonderful day!

5. Wait, this is a dream. Rude. Hit snooze again.

6. Realize that the sun is up and you have no idea what time it is. Someone might call with a work-related question, and you will still have Sleepy Voice! Fling the covers back and leap from bed, heart hammering. This is dumb. Working from home is supposed to be relaxing!

7. Get up, make coffee, and eat, all still in a mild, irrational panic. Debate whether to shower and get dressed or just work in pajamas. Seriously, why would it matter? Who would ever know?

8. Peek outside to check the weather. If foul, feel smug that you work from home and don’t have to go out in it. If fair, pity yourself because you work from home and don’t get to go out.

9. Decide to work non-stop until lunch.

10. Accidentally open Twitter.

11. Twitter crashes and you glance at the clock. It’s 9:48. How!

12. Get serious. Sip your cold coffee, set up your desk, open all your documents, lay out research materials. Answer a few work e-mails and decide 10:15 is a perfectly respectable time for an early lunch.

13. Eat lunch with a book. Accidentally drizzle food on yourself.

14. Change shirt. I mean, you might be working from home, but you have standards.

15. Wonder if 11:00 is too early for afternoon coffee.

16. Studiously ignore the fact that if you had gotten up early, as you had planned, you would already be done by now.

17. Stare into the void.

18. Make afternoon coffee to fortify yourself for phone calls and/or Skype sessions with clients/editors/students/etc.

19. Put on pants. They might not be strictly necessary, but they put you in a more professional headspace. Usually.

20. Conduct Skype sessions and/or phone calls, adjusting the angle so no one sees the unmade bed.

21. Having finally expended energy, feel you’ve earned a nap. Struggle with the knowledge that if you lie down now, you’ll have to work after dinner to finish the day’s quota.

22. Brew more coffee.

23. Ignore the fact that from where you sit, you can see your bed. It looks inviting, cozy, and warm. Build a tower of books between your desk and the bed as a makeshift blinder. Power through its gravitational pull.

24. Finally establish a productive groove, only to field phone calls from a family member who’s teasing you about how you work from home and therefore are probably just now starting your work day. Laugh like it’s actually a joke.

25. Notice the shadows slanting. Contemplate throwing your phone onto the roof.

26. Pull blinds, shut off lights, hide phone, don noise-canceling headphones, and finally establish a productive groove. Emerge from partially-hypnotic state to discover you’ve lost a significant swath of time. At last! The work day has arrived!

27. Power through the rest of your daily quota. When you finish, it’s dark.

28. If weather and circumstances permit, take a jog around the neighborhood, partly for the exercise and partly to remind yourself that other humans exist. At the very least, walk on your treadmill. Anything to keep yourself from feeling like a half-baked potato.

29. Read, watch a little TV, get ready for bed. Despite the fact that you know you don’t need to leave the house early the next day—or at all—try to convince yourself to get a good night’s sleep.

30. Set your alarm for super early so that you will be able to get a jump start on the next day.


Okay, I’ll be honest. Although I do work from home, this list isn’t perfectly reflective of my work day. For one thing, around the time I turned forty, my body decreed that we would no longer need an alarm. Instead, we wake up around five every morning with or without my consent.

So that’s been fun.

For another, after a few years of flailing, I found a steady rhythm that works much better than the one depicted above.

That’s the thing. For me, it took a while for me to find my work-from-home groove.

For all of you already working from home due to COVID-19 (and for all who soon will be), know that you have my deepest sympathies and greatest respect.

Working from home is harder than people think.

Welcome to the team!

Give It Silence

Yes, there are times to speak.

When error and injustice reign, we should kick up a fuss. When nuance is needed in constructive conversations, we should make our voices heard.

However, in some areas, silence is more effective.

For this reason, while I don’t willingly throw my money behind companies and causes I can’t in good faith support, I also don’t jump on public boycotting bandwagons.

Here’s why.

There’s actually good evidence that loud, social-media-fueled boycotts don’t work; in fact, they often prove counterproductive.

This is especially true in the entertainment industry.

As Andy Crouch points out in his book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, prominent protests actually fuel the box office by increasing visibility for controversial projects.

Boycotts generate headlines, drive publicity, and dominate the news cycle of a culture that generally doesn’t care about specific moral critiques and can easily move on to enjoy victory when such projects inevitably do well.

That’s why instead of joining boycotts, I give silence.

Silence is the death knell of creative endeavor.

Speaking as a writer, I’d much rather my work be met with hearty debate than the awkward chirping of crickets.

Silence means it wasn’t even important enough for someone to form an opinion one way or the other.

For these reasons, I encourage you to redirect your energy. Instead of boycotting, look toward boosting.

Shine a light on what matters.

When a truly good film comes out, go see it (“That’s your way of casting your vote, the only vote Hollywood recognizes,” says Barbara Nicolosi, who terms this sort of resistance an othercott).

Post reviews of good books to help boost their visibility. Ask your library to add them to the collection. Go to live shows. Support worthy artists, speakers, and public thinkers. Back them with your words and your capital. Play good music, and play it loudly with the windows down, yodeling along as best you can. Never stop recommending your favorites.

Celebrate your local community’s arts scene, lending your support at the grass-roots level.

That’s the beauty of art and culture: everyone can be involved.

Together, we can build culture—culture that celebrates life, light, and truth.

Let’s shine a light on what matters.

Let’s give the rest our silence.


An earlier version of this essay originally posted to my former blog site in the spring of 2017.

Recently, I’ve been thinking along similar lines as this relates to online pseudo-controversies and petty personal beefs clogging my timeline, most of which are ridiculous and yet have helped certain individuals amass large platforms due to the viral nature of controversy itself.

While there’s certainly a place for defending orthodoxy or adding helpful nuance to good-faith discussions, let’s not waste time arguing with fools or amplifying attention paid to petty nonsense. In most cases, we’d be much better served simply to give it silence.


Though I don’t quote him directly, my general thoughts on these issues have been shaped by L.M. Sacasas, both in essays posted to The Frailest Thing and more recently in The Convivial Societywhich, incidentally, you should subscribe to immediately.


 

Love Songs for Literary Lonely-Hearts

For all my fellow Literary Lonely-Heart Friends who plan to spend Valentine’s Day 2020 at home alone, snuggled under a fuzzy blanket, nerding it up with a good book.

You are my people, and these are for you.

You’re welcome.

(Also, I apologize.)


Stuff Like This

I want to live a love song.

I want a true love story.

But all I’ve managed to pull off

Is cosplay Jo and Laurie.

I want a couple’s portrait,

In grand, dramatic tableaux.

Instead, I pose for headshots,

Profile, like Cyrano.

I want to meet in moonlight.

I want a lover’s tryst,

A face-to-face, full-armed embrace.

(I think you get the gist.)

Alas, I haven’t prospered.

Alas, I’m all alone.

Perpetually the Rosalind

To Act-One Orlando.

Instead of arms to hold me,

Instead of true-love’s kiss,

By and by, I sit and sigh,

Writing stuff like this.


I Read Too Much Ann Rule

Maybe he will notice me.

Maybe we will marry.

We’ll sit and sip on Earl Grey tea,

Enjoying sun-ripe cherries.

Maybe we will dance and sing.

Maybe we will travel.

Perhaps our whole relationship

Will messily unravel.

Perhaps he’ll dig a pit out back

In which he plans to roast me.

His fierce expression turns to stone,

As (literally) he ghosts me.

The neighbors say he’s grown remote,

Seems hard and cross and cruel.

All unobserved, he digs my grave.

(I read too much Ann Rule.)


I Think We Might Survive (Love)

Katniss bests the Hunger Games.

Shackleton, the sea.

Harry is The Boy Who Lived.

Harriet goes free.

Sam and Frodo flee Mount Doom.

Janie, a hurricane.

Vronsky’s lover Anna⁠—

(Oh, wait⁠—my bad⁠—that train!)

Hugh Glass, though ravaged by a bear,

Still makes it out alive.

Though love’s a bit Lord of the Flies,

Somehow, we might survive.


In case you weren’t hanging around here last year, don’t miss 2019’s Valentine’s installment, “5 Original Poems for Literary Lonely-Hearts.”

My personal favorite of that batch is “The Doomed Romance of Fiction.”


Whatever your personal feelings about Valentine’s Day this week, I pray you’ll find joy in God’s good gifts of people, places, and simple pleasures.

Personally, I plan to eat lots of pasta.

2019: My Year in Books

Total Books: 171

This year I read fewer books than in 2018, but since I invested in some truly long and/or challenging works, I guess it mostly evens out.

Total Pages: 49,427

The longest book I read this year was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, at which point my workflow exploded and my series re-read derailed. I plan to circle back in 2020 and finish up, though.

Breakdown by Category

Please enjoy some highlights from my year in books. I’ve arranged the categories in descending order according to how much time I spent in each.

Christian Theology/Spirituality

Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack by Alia Joy is both beautiful and poignant. The author has an important message, and she communicates it so skillfully and with such grace that I wish the book were twice as long. I read it early in the year, but I continue to ponder the message and will likely do so for a long time.

Soong-Chan Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity and Jackson Wu’s Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission paired so well together. Both books are keen and thoughtful, clearly underscoring just how deeply embedded in Western thinking my biblical understanding has been. Through these reads, I’m able to grasp now more than ever all the ways in which rather than allowing the Bible to impact my culture, I’ve allowed my cultural practice to inform my understanding (and therefore application) of the Bible. The past two years have been a journey for me in this particular area, a journey that will likely only continue in 2020.

Another great book pair I took in this year: Mary Beth Swetman Matthew’s Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism between the Wars and Paul Harvey’s Bounds of Their Habitation: Race and Religion in American History. I could easily have listed these two books in my section accounting for historical reads; however, what I learned in their pages had such a deep impact on my understanding of how American history, ecclesiology, and theology have intertwined, that I name them here.

The contents of these books are prime examples of what I mentioned in the paragraph above: all too often, rather than letting theology impact culture, American churches have been guilty of letting cultural practice inform their understanding and practice of theology.

Honorable Mentions:

Identity Theft: Reclaiming the Truth of our Identity in Christ, multiple authors, edited by Melissa Kruger

God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

General Adult Fiction

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha did a number on my emotions. As I read, I felt angry, sad, worried, grieved. The characters felt real to the bones, and I was totally hooked and invested in their stories from Chapter 1. Though this is a work of fiction, the facts align so closely with real events (that of the ’92 LA Riots) that it’s particularly unsettling. Recommended for those who can handle heavy themes.

I’ve been making up for lost time with Zora Neale Hurston, and this year marked the first time I read Their Eyes Were Watching God, at least as an adult. (I no longer consider the half-hearted read I gave it in high school because it’s clear to me now I must have understood next to nothing.) Janie is a powerful character, and I’ll be thinking about her for a long time. Incidentally, I’m currently living very close to the area where the latter half of the book plays out (Belle Glade), and that only intensified my enjoyment in this read. Hurston captures the essence of South Florida (and hurricanes!) quite accurately.

Honorable Mentions:

Silence by Shūsaku Endō

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

There There by Tommy Orange

Biography/Autobiography/Memoir

This year, I devoured memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies like never before. I’m not sure why, to be honest. Much like food cravings, book genre cravings come and go seemingly of their own volition. For whatever reason, it was a wonderful and fruitful year for this category.

In June of this year, I visited the Rosa Parks museum in Montgomery, Alabama. That’s when I got the first inkling that her legacy as I’d learned it in school was partially mythologized. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis confirmed it. She’s quite different from what I’d assumed. Complex, interesting, and largely misunderstood in the mainstream historical imagination.

It was on that same trip that two friends sat across from me at a breakfast cafe and delivered an impassioned defense for Tara Westover’s Educated. Now that I’ve read the book, I understand why they couldn’t stop talking about it. Westover’s experiences are so raw and painful. I ache for her trauma. There are limits to all memoirs, and the author’s limited perspective, while fully acknowledged by her, likely runs deeper than she realizes. Several comments she makes toward the end especially drive this thought home to me. But still, this has proven one of my most memorable reads of 2019.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is another of this year’s reads that I would never have picked up on my own. Thankfully, after multiple recommendations from people whose reading taste I admire, I checked it out. I’m so glad. I knew little of Noah going in (other than that he’s a TV personality) but was instantly hooked by his engaging narrative voice and the way in which he details his relationship with his mother, whom he clearly loves deeply. The affectionate antagonism between the two was, for me, the stand-out feature of the book; but I also appreciated the depth afforded by Noah’s observations of life in South Africa, both before and after Apartheid. Compulsively readable and surprisingly poignant. I walked away wishing I could be best friends with his mom. (Also: I fail the pencil test.)

I don’t often cry over books, but I cried over Rachael Denhollander’s What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics. The trauma inflicted on these women and girls, the amount of absolute mountain-moving strength and tenacity required to seek justice, and the world’s willingness to turn a blind eye–it’s all devastating. My respect for Rachael Denhollander has been high since first hearing her deliver her victim impact statement at Nassar’s sentencing; but after reading this book, it’s through the roof. I thank God for her even as I grieve that this happened to her (and to so many others). Please read this book and confront the critical question posed by the author: “What is a girl worth?”

Honorable Mentions:

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

History

My enjoyment in Michael Breen’s The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation was only heightened because I read it while preparing for (and then while on) a trip to Korea. As an English consultant and journalist who’s spent decades in Korea, Breen brings to the table a wealth of experience and insight. He also has a positively delightful turn of phrase.

Even though I’ve spent the last few years reading up on these matters, some of the details in The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby still surprised me. Tisby provides much-needed context to conversations I’ve participated in myself and watched unspooling online over the past few years. Without properly understanding history, we’re much less capable of analyzing the present. This is a great resource toward advancing the conversation by bridging that gap.

The Comfort Women: Japan’s Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War by George L. Hicks is the second book I’ve read in recent years concentrating solely on the plight of the WWII Comfort Women. The other book (Silenced No More: Voices of Comfort Women) was published more recently, and therefore contained updated information on government responses and moves toward reparations. However, Hick’s book did a great job of showing the big picture.

Honorable Mentions:

Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, & Criminal in 19th-Century New York by Stacy Horn

Narrative Non-Fiction

Mitchell Zuckoff’s newest offering Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 is a clear, comprehensive, and compassionate account, both of individual stories and of the large-scale event. Zuckoff masterfully captures the chaos and confusion of that day. It’s just heartbreaking. I didn’t expect to have such visceral emotional reactions while reading, but between the grisly details, the overwhelming scope of the tragedy unspooling page by page, and the personal emotional resonance experienced as my own memories of that time came bubbling back up, I honestly had a hard time getting through it.

It is with great sadness that I discovered Spying on the South Travels with Frederick Law Olmsted in a Fractured Land is the final book we will have from Tony Horwitz. (He died while on tour promoting it.) That said, this book is so great. Literally following in the footsteps of another writer (Olmstead) who traveled the American South pre-Civil War, Horwitz revisits the locations highlighted in Olmstead’s Cotton Kingdom, providing thoughtful and timely commentary. Truly wonderful work.

Peter Hessler‘s books never disappoint. I’ve read them all and kept loose track of his career since his River Town days. He’s only grown as a storyteller and observer since then. In The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution, Hessler outlines the lives of specific, ordinary Egyptians post-Arab Spring, framing his observations within the context of Egypt’s ancient historical roots. I toyed with listing this new one in my history section; but honestly, in keeping with his other books, he’s really only using Egyptian history as a jumping-off point to understand modern issues. I’m always eager to see what/who he will use as a framing device to shape his larger narrative and found his choices this time around particularly compelling.

Honorable Mentions:

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story f the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar

Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football’s Forgotten Town by Bryan Mealer

Young Adult Fiction

After having my hair blown back last year by Angie Thomas‘s The Hate U Give, I made time for her second book, On the Come Up. I loved the relatable inner conflict of trying to be yourself in the face of people’s crushing expectations. I also loved the rhymes, and I liked the central character, Bri. Despite the fact that the plot is largely driven by her impulsive, teenagerish mistakes and tunnel-vision choices (or perhaps because of that), Bri comes across as very relatable. I found the secondary characters likable and well fleshed out. The overarching external story goal (will Bri make it as a rapper?) felt a bit less compelling than her inner journey (will she find a way to be true to herself?).

To date, I’ve adored every Stacey Lee book I’ve read, including The Secret of a Heart Note, which is a simply lovely story centering the most classic YA themes imaginable: friendship, first love, and finding yourself. In Lee’s hands, however, nothing feels worn or trite. It’s all big feelings, warm fuzzies, deep insecurities, and the occasional belly laugh.

Psychology/Sociology/Politics

Early in the year, a friend who’d read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion loaned me her copy and asked me to read it so we could discuss it together. And what a lively discussion it was, with each of us finding points of agreement and disagreement with Haidt. Haidt’s research uncovers some fascinating tendencies in human behavior, and he’s a clear and interesting writer, so despite the length of the book and the intellectual footwork necessary to keep up, I didn’t have much trouble making my way through the text in a couple of days. But though I fully engaged with the ideas in Part 1, my interest in successive sections waned. I’m glad to have engaged with this material, however, if only because it’s helped me understand just a bit better how (and why) people reach differing moral conclusions.

I wish I could make The Problem of Slavery in Christian America by Joel McDurmon required reading. I read this whole book slowly and carefully (including the appendices!) and found it incredibly helpful in informing my understanding of what went on theologically in America down through various historical periods. This is a nation that purported itself “Christian” and in favor of liberty and justice for all–yet cherished chattel slavery. How did people like Whitfield and Edwards (and so many others) justify their behavior? There’s much here to lament, as well as eye-opening parallels to how the generational repercussions of slavery are being addressed (or not) by Christians today.

Honorable Mention:

“Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity by Beverly Daniel Tatum

LitCrit/Language/Writing

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch was so, so enjoyable. Informative, witty, and observational, it’s one of the few books I read this year that actually made me SAD when I realized it was ending and the rest of the pages were notes and citations rather than more material. If you’re into analyzing language and culture, don’t let this one pass you by.

I’m rarely one to turn down a book about books, which is why Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books has been on my radar since it launched. I finally got my beady eyes on a copy and was delighted. Even the essays focusing on books and short stories I haven’t yet read were enjoyable.

In Dorian Lynskey’s The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, the author connects key events in Orwell’s life to the development of his best-known work. I found the final chapter the most enlightening, in which Lynskey underscores Orwellian thought and processes alive today; and since this is a new release, the social and political implications all feel very fresh.

Honorable Mentions:

Images and Idols: Creativity for the Christian Life by Thomas J. Terry and J. Ryan Lister

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

Fantasy/SciFi/Steampunk/Dystopia

Most of this year was absorbed in re-reading the full Narnia series, plus restarting Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Honestly, I have no idea what prompted this, but I’m enjoying revisiting these worlds and plan to complete the latter two series in 2020.

Other than those gems, the only thing that stood out for me in this category was Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, which read as fun, geeky wish fulfillment. The story took a while to get rolling, and some of the 80s cultural references were lost on me (I’ve never been a gamer), but the overall plot kept me invested. Would have gladly traded some of the lengthy descriptions of in-game shenanigans for more character development, though.

Essays/Short Stories

I don’t read a lot of short stories, but I make an exception for Ha Jin. The stories in The Bridegroom are set in China post-Cultural Revolution, but it was hard to narrow down a more exact time frame. (No specific years are noted, but the book first released in 2000, and there’s mention of Deng Xiaoping.) As always, I find his writing beautiful but unsettling. I always want happier endings for his characters than what they get, though what they get usually feels realistic. Sometimes depressingly so.

Honorable Mentions:

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Books by Friends

This is a catchall category for actual close friends and friendly internet connections I technically haven’t met “in real life” just yet. Sort yourselves into categories: you know who you are!

If you follow me on Goodreads, you may have noticed that sometimes when I read books by friends, I forego giving star ratings. That’s because I have very complicated feelings about awarding stars to people I know in person. Hopefully in 2020, I’ll sort myself out emotionally and figure out how to do this without breaking out in hives.

Dangerous to Know by Megan Whitson Lee – One thing I love about Megan is her consistent willingness to tackle complicated topics. In Dangerous to Know, she gives us a fictionalized retelling of Lord Byron’s marriage to Annabella Milbanke. It’s difficult to watch central character Isabella Bankmill deal with her marriage to Lord Bromby, but it’s also relatable. Who among us doesn’t have at least one friend or loved one dealing with a complex relationship to a challenging spouse? I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say I’m satisfied with it from a storytelling perspective because I think it’s the most realistic scenario that could have played out under such circumstances.

The Reactionary (The Rogues #3) by Kristen Hogrefe – Book 3 had some surprises in store along with satisfying developments to wrap up the trilogy nicely. I was a bit thrown by the viewpoint shifts (a change in this installment from the first two books); but honestly, that didn’t mar my enjoyment of the trilogy as a whole. I’ve enjoyed watching Kristen’s career develop over the last few years and look forward to what she has in store for us next.

Desolate Paths by Erin Unger – As someone who doesn’t typically read romantic suspense, this read was outside the norm for me, but I did enjoy it. I especially loved the uniqueness of the concept. What a fresh setup!

Flowers from Afghanistan by Suzy Parish – This is definitely a tear-jerker, but a bittersweet story leads to a satisfying end. Aside: All the mentions of treats and coffee drinks gave me serious snack attacks. Even now as I’m typing this, I think about how this book gave me coffee cravings the entire time I was reading. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

The War in Our Hearts by Eva Seyler – So much about this book was completely unexpected (which, if you know the author, is not unexpected! LOL.) It’s such a unique blend of gentle emotion and the brutality of war. I wouldn’t have picked it up if not for our personal connection, but I’m glad I read it.

A Serial Killer’s Daughter by Kerri Rawson – Exactly as the subtitle suggests, this is one woman’s journey of faith, love, and overcoming as she attempts to reconcile what she understands about the father who raised her with the man he actually was behind the mask. My heart truly goes out to Kerri.

Christian Mission: A Concise, Global History by Ed Smither – In this slim volume, Smither lays out a no-frills overview, perfect for gaining big-picture perspective.

Prophesy Hope! An Advent Reflection on Hope, Peace, Love, and Freedom by Danté Stewart – I actually got my hands on this early and read it in the days leading up to Advent. Danté draws heavily on the Black American church tradition for this rich Advent offering.

Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated by Kaley Rhea and Rhonda Rhea – This isn’t a genre I read very often, but I stumbled upon Turtles in the Road (the first book from this writing duo) last year and happily queued up for an early-release copy of their second offering. The same wit, charm, and warmth are all here in good measure. If you’re in the mood for a fun set-up, relatable characters, and great dialogue, this might be your next read.


On the lookout for your next good read?

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Join us for 2020: A Year of Books!

Each month during the next year, I’ll be sending a recommended set of titles for you to consider. No forced discussions, no homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox on the first day of every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible Christian theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Come join us!

Let’s make 2020 our best reading year ever.


Happy New Year, everyone!

May your 2020 be filled with satisfying work, enjoyable recreation, and tons of great books.

Decade Retrospective: Things That Happened, Good and Bad

We’ve reached the tail end of 2019, which also marks the close of a decade. That means instead of getting a year-in-review retrospective, you’re getting a decade in review, minus the boring bits.

All things considered, the past ten years have been a mixed bag. Witness the following accomplishments and events from the last decade, both good and bad.

Between 2010 and 2019

  • launched a writing career, publishing six books, four plays, and four sacred scripts, all while amassing an avalanche of rejections
  • started running, progressing from that first exciting 2-miler to 5k to 8k to 10k to half marathon to Ragnar Relay to this year’s full marathon (completed only after a short stint lying on my back crying at the top of a bridge)
  • lost several toenails (see above)
  • reunited with my best friend from middle school
  • sneezed my gum out of my mouth
  • survived multiple Atlantic hurricanes
  • broke a tooth
  • tried internet dating (I almost said “tried and failed” but if you’ve ever internet dated, you know surviving the experience is a win)
  • snake fell on my head
  • visited the American Southwest
  • called 911 while on a run because I thought someone was being assaulted but it was just two little kids play/scream-fighting in a hot tub
  • bee flew into my mouth
  • slowed down significantly on overseas travel, but sneaked in some visits to old haunts and new favorites: Israel, England, Scotland, France, New Zealand, Haiti, Korea
  • broke my ankle falling off a bucket (and leveraged the experience for the plot of my debut novel)
  • started wearing reading glasses
  • first international showing for one of my plays (Enter Macbeth, Dubai)
  • made the switch to half-caff coffee
  • dropped my entire dinner-on-the-grounds contribution in the church parking lot one Sunday before even getting out of the car
  • earned a master’s degree in theological studies
  • lost friends and connections to old age and sudden death
  • attended funerals
  • wrote and performed original music with a friend from church
  • woke up with half a spider stuck to my neck and the other half under the fingernails of my right hand
  • said “Okay, I love you, BYE!” at the end of a Skype lecture to a high school class
  • frog jumped on my head
  • audiobook I’d loaded on my phone started playing at full volume in the middle of church (not a sacred text)
  • intermittently treated for chronic pain, neuropathy, and inflammation
  • surprise medical tests, contemplated my own mortality
  • read nearly 2,000 books (official count started in 2011 – 1,712 as of today)
  • developed a long list of historical boyfriends (see above)
  • touched an alligator
  • stopped working with the church youth group and started teaching adult women
  • opened an umbrella in the car directly into my own face (twice)
  • finally joined Spotify (please welcome me to the twenty-first century)

2019 finds me in a place that 2010 Ruth would never have imagined. To be honest, I have mixed feelings. I’m thankful for the successes but am ever mindful of the disappointments, struggles, and pain. Life is a beautiful, ridiculous, and messy mystery.

God’s grace keeps me steady.


What’s your decade been like? What items would you include on your list?

Comment below or shoot me a message on social media. I’d love to hear points of comparison and departure in our experiences.


Coming Soon

2020: A Year of Books

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Each month during the next year, I’ll be sending a recommended set of titles for you to check out. No forced discussions, no homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox on the first day of every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible Christian theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Join us for 2020: A Year of Books!


I’ll be back next week to post my 2019 reading retrospective.

Until then, I hope you savor the last few days of 2019 and enjoy a wonderful holiday week with your family, friends, and loved ones.

Merry Christmas from me to you!

Whales, Umbrellas, and the Power of Language: Vignettes from Korea

I recently wrote about my trip to Korea and how everyone kept asking why I would vacation there.

As promised, I’m back with a few vignettes from the trip.


My friend Pricilla and I arrived at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport after nearly 24-hours of uninterrupted travel. After a bit of bumbling around the airport, we managed to find the correct counter to purchase a bus ticket for the 1.5-hour ride to Namsan.

We were two of only four passengers on board the clean, air-conditioned bus. Our flight had landed late in the afternoon; and as we bumped along, the sun slowly setting in the hazy sky, I struggled to keep my eyes open. My one goal was to stay awake long enough to find my friend Robby, take a shower, and maybe eat a little supper before falling asleep.

I leaned my head against the window and gazed across the Han River. The Seoul skyline slowly flickered to life against the darkening sky.

Suddenly, from the middle of the river right next to our bus, a whale breached, setting off a chain reaction of foamy waves. What an amazing sight! Water sloshed across the highway and misted the bus window.

Wow! We had only been in Korea a few hours, and already we were seeing amazing sights! I knew this trip would be unforgettable, but I had no idea something like this would happen.

I turned to make sure Pricilla had seen the whale and jerked myself awake. There was no whale; nor was I even sitting against the window. I was slumped over in my seat, gently drooling, backpack clutched to my chest and hoodie draped over my torso like a blanket. It was now totally dark outside, and I’d been dreaming.

Because of course.

There are no whales in the Han River.

At least, not that I personally witnessed.


We’d left Florida one day after a close brush with Hurricane Dorian and arrived in Seoul just in time for a sideswipe from Typhoon Lingling.

Hence our first full day in Korea, we were met with strong bursts of blustery wind, periodic rain bands, swaying tree branches, and pelting clumps of wet leaves. Classic “stay at home” conditions, which of course we were not going to do. We hadn’t flown halfway across the world to sit in Robby’s apartment while it rained.

But we weren’t totally insane. We switched up our original plan for the day and decided to spend it mostly indoors at the Seoul Museum of History.

“Don’t worry,” Robby said. “I have plenty of umbrellas.”

Maybe he didn’t say that exactly. But he did seem to have plenty of umbrellas because he had enough for himself, Pricilla, and I to take one each as we headed out to catch the bus.

All went well enough until we hopped off in front of the museum. The wind, which had been nominal to that point, suddenly picked up, accompanied by bursts of needle-sharp rain. We fumbled with our umbrellas as we hustled toward the entrance.

Robby and Pricilla snapped theirs open and ducked underneath like the normal people they are. I, however, began the first of what turned out to be multiple Korea-based, umbrella-related debacles.

It had all started so normally. I’d gripped the umbrella handle with one hand and used the other to push the round plastic runner up toward the spring at the top. That’s where things went awry. The wind got under the umbrella, flipped it inside out, and then by sheer force, snapped the canopy away from the shaft completely. I snatched at it, attempting vainly to reattach it before anyone noticed, but both hopes were in vain.

Pricilla and Robby were already wheezing from under the comfort of their properly opened umbrellas while I flailed about in the rain in my soggy, slapstick attempts to piece the umbrella back together.

I’d been in the country fewer than twenty-four hours, and I’d already broken something.

At least it wasn’t a bone.


Later in the day, before parting ways with us, Robby handed off his functioning umbrella. He wouldn’t let me pay for the broken one.

“It’s fine,” he said. “I have plenty of umbrellas.”

Which did seem to be the case.

Once again with a 1:1 umbrella-to-person ratio, Pricilla and I set out to check a few more sights off our to-do list before making an early evening of it and escaping the foul weather.

“It’s actually not that far to walk from here,” I said in a fit of enormous stupidity. “Why don’t we walk down, and if the weather gets bad again, we can always take the bus back.”

We had only made it a few blocks before the wind and rain kicked back up. People around us scurried into nearby shops to wait out the worst of it. Not us. We were made of sterner stuff. Plus, we had come prepared.

“Umbrellas up!” I crowed to Pricilla.

I wasn’t going to let history repeat itself. I took a firm grip on the handle at the bottom and fitted my hand around the plastic runner, pushing it gently but firmly toward the top of the canopy.

In that moment, the wind got under more than just the umbrella. It also got under my shirt. As I stumbled forward, wrestling the umbrella into submission, the hem of my shirt blew up and plastered itself directly against my collar bones. Desperate not to break a second umbrella in as many hours, I refused to release my death-grip.

“Help!” I crowed foolishly, inadvertently ensuring that the maximum number of people left on the sidewalks would turn to gawk.

They were joined by the line of onlookers who had ducked inside a nearby glass-fronted bookshop to escape the rain, gazing wide-eyed at the hapless foreigner twirling nearly topless down the sidewalk beneath a flapping umbrella.


No matter our plans for each day, Pricilla and I got in the habit of stopping somewhere for afternoon coffee.

Often we chose a Starbucks since they were familiar and also ubiquitous in Seoul; but we also tried a few local chains, one being Angel-in-Us. There, the staff members all wore jaunty brown fedoras with gold bands; and with a mix of English and Korean, we managed to order items more-or-less in line with what we thought we were ordering.

We were in the Sincheon-dong district of Seoul that day. The coffee shop was packed, and the people-watching excellent. Young couples had scooted their seats close together and were sharing Airpods. Clusters of upscale-looking housewives and middle-aged intellectuals engaged in lively discussions. Next to us, a dad and his miniature daughter FaceTimed the grandparents.

It was a whole scene.

In the midst of all this commotion, an oasis of silence.

A twenty-something young man sat at a small table all by himself, one leg crossed neatly over the other, bent studiously over a white-covered hardback novel. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen someone reading with such obvious deliberation. No matter how the sound swelled around him, he never raised his head, never broke his focus.

He also never turned the page.

I leaned forward and squinted.

Oh, yes. That makes more sense.

He’s totally asleep.


For months leading up to our trip, Pricilla and I worked to learn Korean.

Since we only planned to be in the country for ten days, we didn’t have any illusions of making friends or having meaningful conversations, but we did want to avoid being completely helpless. We wanted to ask for directions, make purchases, and understand a bit of what was happening around us.

Our efforts proved successful.

One day, while buying water near Bukchon Hanok Village, I tried out my meager Korean on a store clerk.

Assuming (rightly) that I’m a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language, he started out by nodding at my water bottle and ringing it up. I planned to pay for Pricilla’s water as well and decided now would be the best time to put my language studies to good use.

The rest of this conversation took place in Korean.

Me: Two of them.

Him: (surprised) wahhh!

Me: Please.

Him: [You] speak Korean!

Me: No. Very little.

Him: Very good!

Me: [I’m a] Korean person.

Him: wahhh!

Me: No, [I’m an] American person, LOL.

Him: LOL!


I found that speaking even the tiniest bit of Korean to wait staff, shop keepers, and people on the street seemed to bring out something personable and kinder in each of them. I mean, I guess it makes sense. But it always touched me to see people warm to even our most awkward attempts.

One day, when Pricilla and I stopped for lunch at a sukiyaki restaurant, the woman serving us seemed stand-offish (even a bit surly) until I spoke a few words in Korean. Then her face softened, she looked us directly in the eyes, and she came over to mix my sukiyaki for me as if I were a helpless infant.

Which, by that jet-lagged portion of the afternoon, I actually sort of was.

When we left, she had to chase me down to give me my phone (which I’d left on the table), and we were down the stairs and out on the street before I remembered I’d also left my umbrella in the umbrella stand.

Because for whatever reason, umbrellas in Korea were never not a problem for me.


There’s so much more I could write.

I came home with pages and pages of notes, scribbled furiously in my travel journal at the end of each long day. I love re-reading them. They remind me of what a fun, relaxing, and truly restful holiday this trip to Korea turned out to be.

Umbrellas or no umbrellas.


Guys, somehow it’s mid-November already.

You know what that means.

You get a new book from me in less than a week!

Head Back to School with Rachel Cooper (4)

Unseasonable: A Novel of Sisterhood, Storms, Sunblock, and the Occasional Christmas Celebration releases November 20, 2019.

I can’t wait for you guys to read this one. It was a treat to write, start to finish, and I loved revisiting these beloved characters–especially with Ann in charge.

If you pre-order the e-book today, you will be among the first to clamp your beady little eyes on it when it releases next Wednesday!

Until then, I hope everyone is enjoying a productive and happy fall.

May your hearts be warm, your coffees hot, and (if you’re in Florida, at least), your air conditioners ice cold.