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!

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?

edi-libedinsky-711483-unsplash

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

joanna-kosinska-470407-unsplash

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!

2018: My Year in Books

Total Books: 180

It’s been a while since I read so few books in a year; however, with quite a bit going on behind the scenes with my own writing and in my personal life, this year I decided to prioritize quality over quantity.

Total Pages: 48,817

The longest book I read this year was Stephen King’s The Stand, tipping the scales at 1,153 pages. I regret nearly every one of them. Yes, he’s a genius writer, but his particular brand of genius isn’t for me.

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

One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization by Jackson Wu. This is a wonderful introduction to biblical contextualization, especially for Christians trained exclusively within a Westernized theological framework. I particularly love how Wu demonstrates that the gospel is both firm and flexible.

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin. I had the privilege of leading a group of women through this study early in 2018, and the experience proved much more enriching than when I read/studied the book on my own last year.

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, Lesslie Newbigin. A wonderful resource for Western Christians who’ve given little (or no) attention to how their culture inherently influences their basic understanding of Christian faith. An extremely helpful and timely read for me.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah. A guided exposition of the book of Lamentations underscoring American Christianity’s poverty of biblical lament and pointing out both the causes for this poverty and its effect. The style’s skewed a bit toward the academy, but if you put forth the work, you will find your efforts rewarded.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone. Cone and I operate under different biblical hermeneutics, but he brings fresh (and painful) perspective to the Christian experience that should not be missed. Despite not being fully on board with Cone on every theological point, I was still edified, convicted, and challenged by this book.

Honorable Mentions:

Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms by Jayson Georges

Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts by Trillia Newbell

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss.

Middle Grade Fiction

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Nobody’s more surprised than I am to see this book on this list, considering the fact that last year I started it twice without finishing it. Then on my third attempt (after many recommendations from trusted reading friends), I fell completely into the story. This book broke my heart and then put it back together. While the storytelling format has never been a favorite of mine (multiple storylines/narrators), it’s worth it all to get to that last chapter.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I straight-up and unironically love this book. I found it engaging, readable, and super touching. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Honorable Mention:

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

General Adult Fiction

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This is easily the most absorbing novel I read this year, consumed in two fevered sittings. The protagonist’s descent into Alzheimer’s feels horrifyingly real. I’m going to be thinking about this one for a long time.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I’ve heard other readers comment on a slow start, but this book hooked me right away, and it hooked me hard. Start to finish, I was totally invested in the story–in all the stories, really. Every single character is the protagonist of his/her own arc, and each thread feels vital and fully fleshed out, yet all the threads weave together perfectly into a unifying narrative. Sure, the characters are not very sympathetic, but they seem very real. I’m not one for book clubs, but I recognize the possibilities for rich, fruitful discussions that could spring from reading this with a group.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim. Love and heartbreak set against the backdrop of the Korean War. Cover to cover, I was totally engrossed. Though not exactly likable, each character is real to the core, and their problems compelling. [Note for gentle readers: this book has just a touch more sexual content than I normally read, though none is explicit or gratuitous.]

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman. When I picked this novel up, I was unprepared for how deeply I’d sink into the narrative, or how large the characters would loom in my imagination. The story carries great emotional resonance.

Honorable Mention:

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

Biography/Autobiography/Memoir

Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. A powerful and moving memoir written by a Haitian-American woman and centering on her complicated relationships with her father and uncle. Danticat’s style is flawless, the story heartfelt and sad. Find this book and read it!

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass. Worth the read for many reasons, one of which is the Appendix, in which Douglass breaks down the “Christianity” of the slaveholders and contrasts it with the true Christianity of Christ.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston.  I’ve not read a book quite like this one before. In effect an oral history collected by Hurston between 1927-1931, this is a powerful firsthand recounting of one man’s experience as the subject of America’s African slave trade.

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry. I’ve seen this book shelved all over the map, everywhere from “Christian Living” to “Social Issues.” When it comes to substance, though, I’d classify this as more of a memoir than anything else, though a memoir that takes full advantage of teachable moments. I can see Perry’s writing style as one people are either going to love or hate, and I land firmly on the “love it” side. Fans of inventive imagery will find a banquet.

Honorable Mentions:

He Included Me: The Autobiography of Sarah Rice as transcribed by Louise Westling.

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad.

Young Adult Fiction

Scythe/Thunderhead (Arc of a Sythe, Books 1-2) by Neal Shusterman. I had a bit of trouble getting oriented in this world; but once I did, the story completely took me over. Totally engrossing read, with engaging and sympathetic characters I found myself really rooting for (which doesn’t always happen for me in dystopians). My only regret is that I blasted through the first two books before Book 3 was within shouting distance. Fingers crossed that the story’s conclusion will be as gripping as the first two installments!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The author brought more nuance to the table than I was expecting! This is an absorbing read: the characters are well developed, the dialogue snappy, and the pacing moves at a good clip. Given the timeliness of the subject matter and the skill the author exhibits, I’m not surprised this book has won awards.

History

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. Robust, dynamic, and sympathetic–this is one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. I purposefully went slowly to savor in the style and soak in the history. Although encompassing a large-scale, decades-long historical event, Wilkerson’s zoom lens on the personal really drives the message home. Strongly recommended.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. This book hits hard. Wonderfully researched and written, and terrible in its implications. This is a near-flawless recounting of a chilling conspiracy of murder and greed. If you’re an American seeking to take in the full scope of our country’s history, this is a good place to start.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon. Of all the books I read this year, this will likely have the longest and deepest impact on me. To quote the author, “no one who reads this book can wonder at the origins, depth, and visceral foundation of so many African Americans’ fundamental mistrust of our judicial processes.” It’s a long book, a heavy topic, and dense prose; but it’s worth the investment.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist.  The author’s stated goal is to establish a concrete relationship between African-American suffering and the American nation’s fledgling economic growth. I’d say he succeeded. I found the style tough to wade through, but the information is worth the effort. The book just came out in 2014. It’s to be hoped that, moving forward, this sort of scholarship can pave the way for more balanced an nuanced history textbooks than ones my generation grew up with.

Honorable Mention:

The Blood of Emmet Till by Timothy B. Tyson

Self-Help/Psychology/Misc. Non-Fiction

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk. I understood more about how trauma affects people physiologically than I did about the various treatments discussed. I’m glad I read this because it’s helped me develop a fuller understanding of the lifetime effects of trauma and how I can understand and show more sympathy for traumatized people.

The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge. Brains are amazing. Among other realizations I had while reading this book, I finally understand why it’s so hard for older people to adjust to new ideas or adapt to change. It’s not just because they’re “set in their ways.” Some of their seeming stubbornness and rigidity is a natural outflow of diminished neural plasticity.

Narrative Non-Fiction

Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King. This was a super engaging read, and I felt extra invested since the events took place in my backyard (Florida). Though the narrative is frustrating due to the actual events (criminal conspiracy), the writing’s fantastic.

Essays

Becoming American: Personal Essays By First Generation Immigrant Women edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah. Each essay was so unique and different while circling similar questions of identity and belonging.

Literary Criticism/Writing/Craft

Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph C. Wood. Even if you don’t have a fascination with O’Connor, her beliefs, and their intersection with the culture of the South, this book would be worth reading simply to enjoy Wood’s clean lines of reasoning and delicious vocabulary. This is more of a theological and academic treatment than most casual readers would enjoy; that being said, anyone who’s read a great deal of O’Connor could likely handle this.

Mystery

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. None of the new-to-me mysteries I read this year stood out as much as my re-read of Strong Poison. Whether that says something about my book choices this year or simply the nature of Sayers’s powers as a novelist, you be the judge.

Fantasy/SciFi/Steampunk/Dystopia

The Circle by Dave Eggers. I found this book super gripping and its implications feel-it-in-my-bones scary. The parallels with 1984 are undeniable, and I don’t mean that as a detraction (especially given that I found the writing style more palatable than Orwell’s). It’s not a perfect read, but it’s an intense one.

True Crime

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. While the quality of this read was a bit patchy, that’s understandable given its origins (the author died before completing the manuscript, and the parts she’d left unfinished were completed by a team of friends and editors working from her notes). Reading this, I can’t help but wish she’d lived not only to complete writing it herself but also to see the arrest of the alleged East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer (Joseph James DeAngelo).

Books By Friends

Wildfell by London Clarke. English Gothic escapism with a modern twist. Come for the atmosphere and stay to enjoy the wide variety of men Anne Fleming meets along the way.

Justice by Emily Conrad. I wasn’t sure about this one going in. First, the cover raised a lot of questions, and say what you want about not judging a book by its cover, but I totally do it, and this isn’t a cover that says “Ruth’s Type of Book.” I read the blurb, though, and–most importantly–was privy to some pretty deep discussion regarding the plot via an online forum. After I read what some readers were saying, I decided to give the book a shot. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed it way more than I expected, given that I generally avoid romancy, “book club” type books (which is what the cover suggested to me). The issues raised in the book are handled with nuance, and I can imagine certain story elements sparking robust discussion.

Hello, Goodbye, We Meet Again by Brooke Anderson. This is a sweet little snack of a book. I recommend that you read it in one sitting if you possibly can.

Mistletoe Melody by Stacey Weeks. A heartwarming and sweet holiday novel that acknowledges pain and weakness.

Turtles in the Road by Rhonda Rhea and Kaley Rhea. Sometimes books billed as “funny” overly depend on quirky characters or outlandish situations to try to leverage humor, but I’m delighted to report that this book is actually funny. Sure, there are quirky characters and a few outlandish situations, but what really drives the humor home is the dialogue. This was a super quick and super cute read that kept me engaged the whole way through. Kent Peeper forever!

Face to Face: Discover How Mentoring Can Change Your Life by Jayme Lee Hull. This is a practical, helpful, and engaging read. Both prospective mentors and mentees will find plenty to chew on here. Personally, I found the first half of the book especially helpful.

A Love Restored by Kelly J. Goshorn. Historical romance isn’t a genre I typically read, mostly because although I do love history, I’m not very romancy. I like that the protagonist is outside the norm for the genre (in that she has a robust figure and isn’t considered attractive by the majority of the other characters). It creates such relatable inner tension, because how many of us haven’t doubted ourselves because of some unrealistic and arbitrary beauty standard? The dialogue is pleasantly snappy, something I don’t always find in inspirational fiction, and I chuckled out loud a few times. If historical Christian romance is your thing, this has what you’re looking for.

Her Good Girl by Elaine Stock. The strength of this book was definitely its unique plot. Not only was the story itself a bit out-of-the-norm, but the characters also threw me a few curves. Although the emotional changes did feel a bit abrupt at times, they make sense in light of certain story developments.

The Revolutionary (The Rogues #2) by Kristen Hogrefe.  I read this book really quickly. It helped that I’d been looking forward to seeing what happened to these characters, and I’m pleased to report that I’m happy with some of the growth arcs and story trajectories. Looking forward to reading Book 3 early in 2019!

The Tremblers (Blackburn Chronicles #1) by Raquel Byrnes. Byrnes successfully infuses steampunk with Christian worldview elements while staying true to the tropes of the genre.

Lamp Unto Her Feet by Paula Mowery. As the title indicates, the strength of this book is in showing how someone might seek to apply scriptures to daily life. I also appreciate that the story moves along at a good clip. Romances aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but if you’re looking for a clean, light read that can be swallowed whole (or in a few gulps), this would be one to consider.

Providence: Hannah’s Journey by Barbara M. Britton. Because of my background and training, whenever I read biblical fiction, I turn off the fact-checking part of my brain so that I’m not distracted by minutiae and hung up on what’s factually historical and what’s artistic/creative license. That’s precisely what I did with this book; and once I did, I found a quick-paced narrative with unexpected splashes of humor and cheek. Probably what I most appreciated was that the author didn’t sugar coat the extremely vulnerable position of a captive slave, forcing readers to grapple with the overt sexual component.


On the lookout for your next good read?

edi-libedinsky-711483-unsplash

Sign up for my monthly e-mail series, 2019: A Year of Books!

Each month during 2019, I’ll be sending a recommended list of titles for you to check out. No discussions, 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 theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Come join us!

Let’s make 2019 our best reading year ever.