Thursday, March 24, 2016

March Book List

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper:  This book was enchanting and grabbed me from the beginning.  However, when I finished it I had that feeling of not knowing for sure how I felt about it.  The realistic story was not always done favors by the author's decision to pepper fantasy elements throughout.  I felt like the sparse storytelling was beautiful and precise, but at the end I also felt like I could have used a few more scenes to boost my understanding of the characters' relationships.  Overall, a good read.

Pax Romana by Jonathan Hickman:  D recommended this one, and as is the case with all of D's recommendations so far, I would have never chosen this one for myself but I loved it.  The Catholic church has a time machine and decides to send back a team to rewrite history since the future for the church and humanity have gone off course.  Since this is a graphic novel, the pictures are an essential part of the story, something D has to remind me so I won't just read the words and keep moving.

Dietland by Sarai Walker:  This book devoured me.  Walker tells the story of a woman named Plum who is planning weight loss surgery.  Her life is then interrupted by a woman who ends up leading her to a group of women trying to change the world.  Walker will make you uncomfortable; it's part of how a book with a cupcake on the cover ends up being a study of how we treat women, how we treat our bodies, and how society as a whole is failing.

The Fall of Princes by Robert Goolrick:  Meh.  I saw this one recommended and grabbed it.  I guess it was along the lines of The Wolf of Wall Street, which I did not see and was not interested in.  Not my thing.

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet:  I was terrified when I put this book down.  So rich and real was the story that I feared I would never be able to pick up another book and love it like I loved this one.  Crucet's story of a Cuban American woman recalling her life in Miami as well as her college life in New England is funny and heartbreaking.  She examines what it means to be American but considered other, what it means to find your place in the world, and what it means to be home.

In Progress:  Ghettoside by Jill Leovy:  I plan on wrapping this one up by the end of March.  In this non-fiction book, Leovy, through the stories of families and detectives, explores a problem in America that few want to talk about:  black-on-black crime and how it is hugely ignored and rarely prosecuted.  Her goal is to offer a solution, a simple one that some detectives in places like South Central have tried: stop making black lives cheap.  Filled with facts and emotions about people the reader grows to care about, this book is engaging and heartfelt.  Leovy doesn't take shortcuts, instead exploring this problem to its depths and putting the hard facts on display for all to see and hopefully be affected by.

The power of books, it always amazes me.  D and I started listening to Ta Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me in the car on our trip today, and though I had already read it, I still found myself nodding at certain points, coming just short of saying Amen.  After reading Dietland, I wanted to give up the few leftover insecurities I carry about my appearance and focus that energy on actual real problems women face.  When a friend saw me reading Ghettoside this week, I told him the premise and he said, "Wow, sounds good, but this isn't exactly a topic you could discuss with the general public, know what I mean?"  My answer:  "I know why you say that, but I think we should talk about it.  If we can't have honest conversations, how can we ever hope for honest change?"  Tonight as I read from the Bible about Jesus' command that we serve like He served, I remembered that the answers to all of this, to helping make it on earth as it is in heaven, are in a book, the greatest one ever written, and all the problems we have go back to a garden in Eden where a decision by humans led to the day we will remember tomorrow.  Good Friday, a day of atonement when the one who never sinned paid for all of ours.  I'm grateful for this hope, especially in the midst of all the loss and injustice surrounding us.  I'm grateful for the book I go back to time after time that never fails to offer sustenance.  I'm thankful for grace and mercy and for the day eternal justice will reign. And I ache for that day, even as I look for ways to serve and understand and see the kingdom come in the here and now.  Still, I ache.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How Tearing Our House Apart is Helping Put it Back Together

We're ripping up our carpet, and this process requires us to move floor items out of the house.  So far I have loved everything about this situation: the opportunity to swing a hammer daily after toddler tantrums(at nails, not toddlers), removing many of our possessions and storing them somewhere else, the overall lack of things in our home.  I believe this opportunity is finally going to be the push I need to finish the tidying project.

My plan is to remove everything and just not bring most of it back in the house.  At first I thought this would be hard. Surely the kids are going to notice that almost all of their toys are gone and ask about them, right?  We're four days in, and Sam has been to the garage looking for a toy exactly once.  No one else has noticed.  The house is cluttered from the overall process of pulling up carpet, but the new solution is to throw the clutter in the garage to be sorted at a later date.  If no one has asked for or missed an item, then that item will be gone.  Easy peasy.

In the beginning I felt guilty about this plan.  It's true that D and I will also be getting rid of items we don't need, but we already choose to live fairly simply.  The majority of mess in our house on a regular basis comes from kids' clothes and toys, which means the items not making their way back into the house will primarily be the kids' items.  After talking it over, we decided we're moving forward with this plan anyway.

We talk to our kids a ton about living simply and being grateful you have what you need.  They receive an allowance, and they are allowed to spend a portion of it on items they desire.  One of my proudest parenting moments came a couple of weeks ago when Wren decided to spend both her giving and half of her spending money to support missions through AWANAS.  I think Jesus was the motivation behind this decision, but there is also a competition between the boys and girls to see who can bring the most money.  The winners get popsicles.  So the motivation was Jesus or popsicles.  Anyway, this was awesome and makes me think they may be grasping the message that they already have enough, more than enough to share.  However, they don't particularly take great care of what they have.  They are givers but could just as easily go down the road of constant consumerism given how blessed they are and how surrounded we are by things, especially since we live in an area putting in a $15 billion dollar stretch of retail in the next few years.  I think talking may not be enough.  It's time they live with less and just take really good care of what they have, because I think they will enjoy what they have more and understand truly that they are not, and have never been, in true need.

We're not being legalist about this, but we are trying to be practical.  Why keep items you neither need or take joy in?  Why hoard?  Our house holds six people, and after we get the floors done, I plan on moving never.  That means it's important to sift through possessions to make sure space is being used wisely.  It's important to learn that things aren't the source of true happiness.  It's important for me to stop stepping on small plastic toys in the middle of the night and then having to bite my tongue to avoid using profanity.  All of this is necessary.

I'll post updates on how successful this plan is.  D recommended last night that we throw everything away except the furniture and just see how that goes for a couple of weeks.  In a strange switch of roles, I was the one who told him that seemed a bit extreme.  However, I'm not ruling his plan out completely.

Hall destruction

Bedroom destruction
In between floor duty, books I'm reading.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What I Actually Read in February

For what I read the first half of February, click here.  Here are the stragglers I consumed at the end of the month:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara :  One review I read described this book as long and dark.  Yes and yes.  However, I stayed in it because the characters were people you could really care about, hurt for, and hope for.  This book was number one on the BookPages list this year, and though I might not have placed it in the top spot, it was definitely an amazing accomplishment.  Spanning decades and following four male friends as they navigate careers, friendships, and their pasts, the story was painful to read but worth it.

Citizen:  An American Lyric by Claudine Rankine:  This book of lyrical poetry was breathtaking.  Rankine lets us see life from the eyes of a black girl growing up in this racially tense world.  It was a coincidence that I read Citizen the same month I read Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me, but I saw many of the same ideas and concerns echoed throughout both books.  Eye opening, tragic, and beautiful all at the same time, I absolutely recommend this one.

World War Z:  An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks:  I'm not technically finished with this one, but I am over halfway through, and I had to apologize to D because I really did not understand how awesome zombie books could be.  Brooks writes his history of what happened during the zombie war, interviewing survivors and sharing their accounts.  It is addictive and frighteningly accurate.  In the face of any major world collapse, I could see most of what Brooks mentions in the book taking place.  Plus, I've learned what to do in case of zombie attacks, so this book may save my life one day.  FYI:  D says the movie is nothing like the book.  Brooks himself confirmed that they took the name but scrapped his basic premise.  Bad idea, Hollywood, bad idea.