In January 2009, we committed to a year of no television, canceling our DISH Network and stocking up on books, books, and more books. My goal was to read twenty-two books from cover to cover, and, well, I only read fifteen. I could have read more, but I'm proud to say that when I read, I soaked up every word. As a result, some of the books I read this past year really changed my life.
One of the greatest things that has come of this is that we have no desire to hook up our TV service again. All we watch are DVDs occasionally, and even then, it's a planned time rather than just brainlessly surfing through the channels. I like how quiet our house is and that I have no idea what products are being promoted on the latest commercials.
I don't have as much to show for my writing, but I do still believe I worked on my writing this past year. Becoming a better reader has been crucial to becoming a better writer. I've learned to be more descriptive - to "show" rather than to "tell." Something is holding me back from going full-force, though - perhaps my own fear or laziness, I don't know. Writing is such a slow process for me. And right now, that's just going to have to be okay.
In 2009, I learned that books are so much more than paper pages bound with glue. My friend Lori refers to them as "books that are like friends," and I think that's a great description. I have some books that actually give me a peaceful feeling when I pick them up in my hands. They are portals into another's world - or even my own world - and tools that help me slow down and pursue the simple life.
Part of the experience is remembering the settings where I read each book: cozying up one afternoon in the peak of Texas summer, reading the winter chapters in See You In A Hundred Years, or sitting cross-legged and waiting for my mom on a bench at the Albuquerque airport with my nose buried in Bird By Bird, barely aware of anyone else around me. I had an incredible book in my hands, clean mountain air in my lungs, and the anticipation of a weekend exploring in Colorado. I took the time to swallow the words, let them to seep into my bones.
So here is my 2009 reading list along with a few selected quotes. I hope you'll find some books to add to your list. And please share yours as well!
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
"I'm not interested in the insurance industry. I'm tired of being a skeptic, I'm irritated by spiritual prudence and I feel bored and parched by empirical debate. I don't want to hear it anymore. I couldn't care less about evidence and proof and assurances. I just want God. I want God inside me. I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water." (p. 176)
Almost every female I know read this book in 2009, and their opinions are as varied as the three countries featured in this book. Some hated Eat Pray Love and wanted to throw it against the wall. Some loved it and were glued to each page. And others, like me, put it down in frustration about ten times but ended up picking it up again. Ultimately, I'm so glad I stuck it out. What made this book difficult for me was, honestly, that Elizabeth Gilbert's perspective on life and faith could not have been more opposite than mine. That is also why I'm glad I read it, though. I thought I'd had enough by the India section, when it felt like Ms. Gilbert had tipped the New Age mysticism scales. It makes me sad that she constantly rationalizes where she can find freedom, but ultimately it's not in places, people or things. She begins to commune with God but stops short of the true picture of grace which, I believe, is found in Christ alone. But I forged on through and found some absolutely beautiful writings - my favorite being the brilliant pair of poems she shares at the culmination of her time at the ashram in India.
Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Have you seen You've Got Mail? This is one of the "Shoes" books referenced by Meg Ryan's character, Kathleen Kelly, at the end of the movie when she visits the big bad Fox Books Superstore. My dear friend Suz gave this to me for a birthday gift, and it was absolutely charming! You'll fall in love with the all-girl English dance troupe - Mrs. Wintle's Little Wonders - and the witty characters Rachel, Hillary, and even awful Dulcie. Great, light read. I've got to read the rest of the "Shoes" books now!
Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer
I don't agree with everything about Joyce Meyer, but one of the things I love about her is how plainly she communicates so that anyone can understand. This book describes the war that is being waged in our minds, where negative thoughts can lead to all kinds of negative behaviors, like worrying for example. She explains very simply and practically how to conquer those thoughts with good, pure ones that lead us down paths of hope and healing. I know from personal experience that what she says is true.
Savannah by the Sea: Book 3 in the Savannah Series by Denise Hildreth
This is book three in a series about a girl named Savannah from Savannah, GA. I read the first two in 2008, and this third book was mostly set in Seaside, FL, where I've visited about a million times. But it was also full of Christian clichés. I guess I kept coming back to these books because I love Savannah, GA, and I loved the character of Savannah's mother, Vicki.
Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
I cried through the entire second half of this book, finally finishing it at about 2am with my husband sound asleep beside me. Set in Dallas, the very city where I live, this true story was very real to me and stretched my faith and perspective on the homeless. You will fall in love with Denver Moore, too.
Girl Meets God: A Memoir by Lauren F. Winner
A life-changer. I borrowed it from Mary but simply must get my own copy soon. Lauren was raised Jewish in the South, and this is her journey of learning about Christ and converting from Judaism to come to faith in Him. She says the Incarnation of Christ is what eventually captured her. Through this book, I learned so much more about the beauty of Judaism, and it made my faith come alive as I saw the love story painted from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
"There are pictures of the people in my family where we look like the most awkward and desperate folk you ever saw, poster children for the human condition. But I like that, when who we are shows. Everything is usually so masked or perfumed or disguised in the world, and it's so touching when you get to see something real and human. I think that's why most of us stay close to our families, no matter how neurotic the members, how deeply annoying or dull - because when people have seen you at your worst, you don't have to put on the mask as much. And that gives us license to try on that radical hat of liberation, the hat of self-acceptance." (p. 215)
I laughed with Anne, I cried with Anne, I wanted to be her best friend and friends with all of her best friends. Her candid writing makes you trust her. You can tell her faith is real, and it has been tested and tried by difficulty: divorce, death of close people in her life, single parenthood. She can write a one-liner that will stick with you for days. To me, this book feels like cool sun and a warm fire - where I read it on Easter weekend by the pool and realized I definitely wanted to be a mother - not for the fantasy of it, but for the real nitty-gritty of it. I'll always remember this book for that gift. And I'll probably read it ten more times in my life.
Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
I actually read this before Traveling Mercies, and it was my introduction to Anne Lamott. A bit on the political side, but it still has Anne's captivating and hilarious stories that will make you want to read everything she ever wrote.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
"So many of us can be soothed by writing: think of how many times you have opened a book, read one line, and said, 'Yes!' And I want to give people that feeling too, of connection, communion...
It is one of the greatest feelings known to humans, the feeling of being the host, of hosting people, of being the person to whom they come for food and drink and company. This is what the writer has to offer." (p. 204)
This is required reading for any writer or anyone who wants to become a writer - not just for publication purposes but even just for your own private enjoyment - to write your memoir, your stories. I was sad when I finished it, because I knew that even if I read it again, nothing would be the same as the first time. Anne makes it sound like writing can be one of the most sacred gifts you can give someone. And after reading this, I believe it.
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller
"When you live on your own for a long time, however, your personality changes because you go so much into yourself you lose the ability to be social, to understand what is and isn't normal behavior. There is an entire world inside yourself, and if you let yourself, you can get so deep inside it you will forget the way to the surface. Other people keep our souls alive, just like food and water does with our body."
I was a latecomer aboard the Donald Miller train, but this book disarmed me. It reminded me why I need people, that I'm not very good at hanging out with people who are different than me, and that I have simply got to visit the Pacific Northwest. Soon.
The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming by Jeannie Ralston
A fascinating memoir by an interesting lady who reluctantly leaves her high-profile Manhattan life to become a lavender farmer with her husband in the Texas Hill Country. You can taste Jeannie's struggle as she deals with the feelings of leaving behind a life she loved for a new life she's not sure she'll be able to love. It's a wonderful ending, and I hope to visit Hill Country Lavender one day to see the farm that she describes so vividly in the book.
See You in a Hundred Years:Discover One Young Family's Search for a Simpler Life . . . Four Seasons of Living in the Year 1900 by Logan Ward
Another book about a Manhattan family who leaves the city for the simple life. This book was fascinating - the Ward family - mom, dad, toddler - decides to live for one year in rural Virginia as if they are in the year 1900. With no bathroom, only a horse and buggy for transportation, and a garden where they have to grow all of their food, it's a page-turner from start to finish. I read this in the middle of the summer but felt I was right there with them in the dead cold of a rural mountain winter as they struggled to find heat and food.
Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action by J. Matthew Sleeth
I already shared my thoughts about this book. Great practical advice on how to be better stewards of the planet. As a Christian, I believe it's one of my greatest duties and privileges, to care for the creation that God cares about, that He made.
Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby's First Foods by Nina Planck
I believe that ultimately, fertility is up to God, but we are also given the tools to help build a healthy baby by feeding our bodies the best way possible in preparation for hosting a human life. Nina is basically the poster mom for raw milk and has quite an in-your-face writing style, so be prepared. But the book has lots of great practical advice, including clear reasoning behind her nutrition advice and explanations of why each nutrient is critically important. I read this before I got pregnant, and I'm currently doing great in my second trimester drinking raw milk and eating real foods like grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, nuts, and fresh cheeses. And no, contrary to the advice of many traditional dietitians, I do not have high cholesterol.
Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging by Brennan Manning
Ah, the "Imposter." Brennan describes the poser living inside each of us and contrasts that against our true identity as God's Beloved. Just beautiful.
Would love to hear about some of your favorite books of 2009!