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Books Domestic Church Reading Reviews

Best of My 2018 Reading: Nonfiction Edition with Sarah Reinhard

Best of My 2018 Reading: Nonfiction Edition with Sarah Reinhard

I used to think I was an all-fiction-all-the-time type of reader, but last year proved me wrong. Last year, I found out that I love nonfiction just as much.

I had a stretch of binge reading, and it included some great novels.

But I found something missing. I wanted something that {gasp} wasn’t fiction.

I read a lot of nonfiction anyway, both for paid review and for pleasure. There’s so much to learn. There’s so much that’s good. There’s…just…so…much.

So without any more rambling, here are my favorite nonfictions reads from my 2018 pile!

The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, by Cardinal Robert Sarah with Nicolas Diat. This was a book I couldn’t whip through, and yet one that I savored and couldn’t put down. Reading it felt anything but accidental, that’s for sure. (I wrote about that here.)

To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age, by Robert E. Barron. My first inclination with this was to offer it to a new deacon at our parish, who, as it happens, had already read it. Barron has a way of boiling things down and, yet, also planting seeds that stay with you.

Jesus Approaches: What Contemporary Women Can Learn about Healing, Freedom, and Joy from the Women of the New Testament, by Elizabeth M. Kelly. Water is a recurring theme that Elizabeth Kelly uses throughout this book, and it struck me throughout. It began like a long cold drink on a hot day: refreshing and soothing. It continued like a mug of steaming tea: comforting and snuggly. It traversed the paths of a wet washcloth on a hot forehead, a shared laugh over a glass of iced tea, a moment together over the baptismal font. Kelly’s depth of insight and the reach of her wisdom went right to my heart, in each and every chapter. The book examines eight women from the New Testament, and they may not all be the ones you expect. Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Martha and Mary of Bethany: no surprise there. But a shepherd girl who was there on Christmas night? That caught me…and captured my imagination. Kelly has a way of doing that throughout this book, and it’s a beautiful experience.

Clueless in Galilee: A Fresh Take on the Gospels, by Mac Barron. You’ll laugh, yes. (A lot, if you’re like me.) But you’ll also look differently at those Gospel stories that may be so old hat that you don’t even hear them anymore. I love Barron’s approach to “riffing” on the Gospels, and I also appreciate his innate ability to challenge readers to go beyond.

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both, by Jennifer Fulwiler. I’ve been following Fulwiler for quite a while, and I’ve enjoyed watching her hard work pay off in success. I read this in a can’t-put-it-down kind of way and laughed so hard, at times, that I was crying. She has a self-deprecating way of writing and sharing her life that makes her approachable. This book also challenges readers to think beyond their constraints — it’s equal parts memoir, humor, guide, and good story.

The Fisherman’s Tomb: The True Story of the Vatican’s Secret Search, by John O’Neill.This reads like an adventure in many ways, and yet it’s true. O’Neill has a way of turning the dry facts into interesting tidbits, and the pictures don’t hurt either. This is a book you can whip through and then find yourself saying, “Wait, what just happened? Was that real?”

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, by Anne Bogel.I’ve become a late-to-the-game Anne Bogel fangirl. I listened to this, but I think I’ll be getting a hard copy because…truth. She speaks to me and inspires me with her reading.

How Catholic Art Saved the Church: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art, by Elizabeth Lev. This book was such a gift to read. I didn’t mean to start reading it, to be honest. I was just leafing through it, looking at it and admiring the pictures. I glanced over the table of contents and the introduction caught my eye. I’ll read just about anything, but this was GOOD. Elizabeth Lev is a master storyteller: She had me flipping to examine pictures, smiling at what I read, and thoroughly enjoying every aspect of this book. Of course, at least part of that was because of the beautiful job Sophia Institute Press did with the actual book: thick, glossy paper and four-color, magazine-quality images. Truly, this is a book that’s an aesthetic delight on many levels.

Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me, by Amanda Martinez Beck. I read this book for the first time this year (it’s a new release, so I couldn’t have read it sooner), and then I reread it. I think, in fact, I’ll be reading it a third time in 2019 with a group of friends. Beck starts strong and finishes stronger. I think every woman probably needs to read and reread this book.

What nonfiction did you read last year? What did you love (or hate)?

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Books Domestic Church Ink Slingers Reading Reviews Sarah Reinhard

Best of My 2018 Reading: Fiction Edition with Sarah Reinhard

BestofMy2018ReadingFictionEditionwithSarahReinhard

While I drink enough coffee to drown a fat pony, I also read enough books to weigh that same pony down. Well, it was a lot for me, and a respectable 100+. When Martina heard that I had written about my favorite reads of 2018, she invited me to share it here. Never one to be outdone in ideas, I offered to do one for fiction and one for nonfiction.

So, let’s dive into my favorite fiction reads from 2018, shall we?


East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. This was a massive novel I intended to read years ago. I started by listening to it, and tried to supplement my listening with reading (because I have the book). I just couldn’t limit my enjoyment of it to the times when I could hear it. The story was huge and long and wonderful in all the ways I love.

Endless Water, Starless Sky, by Rosamund Hodge. This is the sequel to Bright Smoke, Cold Fire. I’m not classically trained, but Hodge is. I know, at some level, that I miss a huge amount of her brilliance because of my own ignorance. And yet, I am hopelessly a fan of hers. Of the books she’s written, I think these two may be my favorites. I’d call this the best writing I read all year, judged on actual writing and on storytelling and on enjoyment level.

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1), by Neal Shusterman. I heard this referenced as someone’s favorite book, and that’s sometimes all it takes for me to run after a book. I read and loved Shusterman’s so it stands to reason that I may like his other books. I just…hadn’t gotten around to them. Though this is first in a series, it stands alone. Once again, Shusterman has taken an old trope of a question and carved it into a mind exercise of a book. There’s a plot, but there’s also the exploration of ethics and the great what-if. AI meets immortality meets scandal meets human nature. This is a book not just to read, but to discuss and ponder.

The Eighth Arrow: Odysseus in the Underworld, a Novel, by Augustine Wetta, O.S.B.This book made me want to actually attempt Homer and some other classics. (I’ve read Dante, so I got those references.) And yet, the book made sense without any of that and only a rudimentary knowledge of what I knew were deeper references. The adventure was great, peppered with humor. I couldn’t put it down, and I found myself thinking of it in the times I wasn’t reading, which is, to me, always a sign of a great book.

Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather. I listened to this and found myself wanting to hold it and actually read the words. Cather paints an image of the Southwest that I could see as I listened.

A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron. My teen daughter handed this to me, and I’ll be honest: I was going to quit if it didn’t pick up or something. Cameron has his own style, that’s for sure, and the premise behind the book didn’t make sense to me until I was about a third of the way through. And then…hooked. The storytelling is fabulous, and you’ll never look at a dog the same way again.

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. This is one of my all-time favorite books. It seems like I’ve read it about even 18 months or so since the first time I read it. Every time I pick it up, I find some passage that was right there for me. The premise: A devil writes letters to his nephew, filled with advice and tips for tempting more effectively. Turn your expectations upside down and prepare to be wowed by Lewis’s wonderful writing.

The Cricket on the Hearth, by Charles Dickens. Another all-time favorite book, and one that inspired my handle for many years. This year, it also inspired me to read some other Dickens. It’s a family story, in many ways, and a glimpse at life many years ago. I never saw the movie (which I heard was horrible), but Dot Peerybingle remains a favorite character of mine.

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. I listened to this via CraftLit and was then inspired to listen to the rest of the eight-book series. And then, because I couldn’t get enough, I listened to Before Green Gables and Marilla of Green Gables. My girls have both turned their noses up at Anne, but I think I’ll be revisiting her quite often.

What fiction did you read last year? What did you love (or hate)?

 

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Allison Welch Books Ink Slingers Reviews

12 Rules for Life: Chapter 2

She declared it in the middle of my misery like a National Holiday: “It’s ‘Be-Good-to-Allison-Day.’” Yes! Finally! Someone “gets me,” appreciates me, and understands my pain. And she has given me ammunition to confront others in my life: Be good to me! I am worthy of dignity and respect. Don’t you know it’s ‘Be-Good-to-Allison-Day?!”

As I looked into the eyes of the woman throwing me a lifeline, it occurred to me that she was talking to me, not to others in my life. Quickly the urge to get up and fight dissolved into the desire to be still. Be good to yourself, she encouraged me.  Sometimes when the world won’t or can’t give you what you need or deserve, you need to give it to yourself. Take a timeout or hot bath. Go for a walk. Treat yourself to a quiet cup of tea and a scone. Visit a friend. Be good to yourself.

It’s good advice. It’s why I keep a framed photo of myself as a little girl in my bedroom: How would you treat her, Allison? How would you talk to her? How would you allow others to treat and talk to her?

As women, we know we are soooo good at putting others first and neglecting ourselves–until we just can’t anymore.  Until someone takes advantage of us. Until discouragement and resentment rear their ugly heads and we snap. So much for Christian witness.

This is Jordan Peterson’s advice in Chapter 2 in his book, 12 Rules for Life: “Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping.” 

Peterson begins with the fact that we often take better care of our pets than ourselves. Ouch. In true philosopher style, he puts this current dilemma in the perspective of human history: today, our worldview is decidedly scientific and material. What can be measured and objectified is reality. Everything else is dismissed as superstition.

Spirituality IS Reality.

But as Peterson points out, for millennia humans have understood the “most fundamental elements of human life” to be subjective experience (emotions, dreams, pain, and joy). This is the stuff that best expresses the truth of existence. This is why the Bible was written in story form, as opposed to how we would likely record “Truth” today as a series of facts (names, dates, places and times).

Peterson presents the problem of pain as an argument that the subjective is reality. He dares us to consider that “pain matters more than matter matters.” Been there, done that. Has anyone ever tried to talk you out of your pain? Subjective, yes. Real? YES! Suffering, Peterson says, is “the irreducible truth of Being” we are still trying to understand.

Balance

As humans in this material world, we are uniquely created to operate in both the physical world (the domain of order) and the immaterial world (domain of chaos). We are both bodies and souls. Interestingly, Peterson points out that order is traditionally associated with masculinity and chaos with femininity. (He’s obviously never been to my house–I live with three males and creating order feels like my life’s work. As Barbara Bush described it: it’s like shoveling the sidewalk while it’s still snowing.)

This part hurts my head: Peterson says we have a “primordial knowledge of structured, creative opposition.” This knowledge, such as parent/child and male/female, predate humanity and major world religions throughout history have understood and illustrated this opposing tension:

  • The yin and yang symbol of Taoism, with its narrow, squiggly way between the opposing forces of light and dark;
  • The Star of David, which incorporates the male symbol (a triangle) intertwined with the female symbol (an upside-down triangle); and
  • Michelangelo’s Pieta, which expresses “the dual unity of male/female.”

According to Peterson, we live in this tension and attempt to walk with a balance that promotes unity.

The Fall

Enter: The Fall of Adam and Eve and the source of all our pain. Human beings have consciousness and free will. We are uniquely created to move through the material world by using our physical bodies to choose to either obey or disobey how God intended us to behave. The rest of creation did not get this gift of free will.  It is a gift I sometimes want to give back to God; sometimes I just wish he would just make me do what I ought.  It’s a brave prayer. The rest of creation must follow the laws of nature. Try telling a tree that it ought to not bloom when we have a couple weeks of mild weather in the middle of winter. Or holding the tree responsible when the premature blooms are destroyed when winter returns. Ridiculous, right? No more ridiculous than refusing to acknowledge that we ought to live by the Supremely Good Rules of Behavior God made for us.

C.S. Lewis referred to these spiritual rules of behavior, rules that govern actions not objects, as “Laws of Human Nature.” And failing to obey them has real consequences for ourselves, for others, and for creation. Sin, which is separation from good, happens as a result. To fail to accept these Laws of Human Nature is as ignorant as refusing to believe in the law of gravity and the consequences of disobeying it.

What is Wrong with the World Today?

Are you, too, feeling misery and pain because of the fallen nature of humanity? Are you overwhelmed with the state of society? “We have seen the enemy, after all,” Peterson says, “and ‘he is us.’” Amen. When G.K. Chesterton was asked 50 years ago what was wrong with the world, his answer was, “I am.”

Wow.  Imagine that response in the Garden of Eden. What would the world look like if we all accepted responsibility for our actions? If we concentrated on the beam in our own eye instead of the splinter in another’s?

While Peterson’s rules can sound cliché and I sense a real danger of too much talk of “self,” I still find them helpful. Have I created tyrants in my life by allowing others to mistreat me? Am I my own worst enemy and the biggest tyrant in my life? “It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully, even if that bully is oneself,” Peterson says. Be good to yourself.

What I find missing most is the Christian perspective. How does one discern when to stand up and fight and when to let something go? What is the best way to confront bullies and tyrants in a way that doesn’t divide us into us v. them, winners and losers, or those who are good v. those who are bad? How do we know if the cross we are carrying is truly Christ’s or whether it is one of our own or another’s making? 

If 12 Rules for Life reads like a psychological self-help book, we should not be surprised. That is exactly where you’ll find it in the bookstore. While I miss the more in-depth discussion of how these rules fit in with the daily Christian walk, they certainly challenge me to think about it.

What are your thoughts, readers? 

Homework:

Be good to yourself.  Set some goals for yourself today and don’t forget to reward yourself for accomplishing them. Start small!

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Books Ink Slingers Mandi Reviews

Book Review: Can We Be Friends?

REVIEW: Can We Be Friends?

Can We Be Friends? By author Rebecca Frech is a timely book for me and my family. This book arrived for me to review the very same week my teenage daughter experienced a major blow up with a friend she has had for most of her life. And, unfortunately, this mess spilled over into my relationship with her friend’s parents. It has proven to be quite challenging to navigate. So what a gift it was to open up this book while wading through these rough waters.

Rebecca begins simply enough reminding us friendships are an absolutely beautiful and necessary part of life. In a culture that seems to increasingly isolate ourselves, it is important to remember we are created for relationships. As John Donne is often quoted, “no man is an island entire of itself.” We need one another to live a full, glorious life. We must learn how to make friends and keep friends by being a good friend. Rebecca reminds us to be attentive to whom we invite into our life as a close friend versus who we decide are best kept as acquaintances. This idea of acquaintances has fallen out of favor in our current culture of social media friend gathering. She advocates bringing that idea back into favor and I have to say I agree! She also notes how technology can both help and hinder friendships to be cultivated and grown today.

Throughout the book, Rebecca shares sweet and insightful anecdotes from her grandmother. In her grandmother’s day, it seemed much easier to find your friends. But, I imagine you still had to put the same amount of time and energy into sifting through your friendships to find the few that were authentic keepers. She helps us identify the different personalities and characteristics that make-up quality friends and build a healthy tribe. As we become intentional about creating our circle of support, it is important for us to be aware of what we are willing to invest in each unique friendship as it evolves.

As I was reading this book, I found quite a few chapters that were significant for me as I was helping my daughter to weather this current friend drama that had now affected her entire friend group. We talked over the chapter that covered establishing healthy boundaries in relationships. While also noting the importance of giving others the benefit of the doubt before becoming upset with them for something they may or may not have done. I was glad to hand off this book for her to read the short chapters with sound advice that could be easily revisited when wrestling with a situation. We both found her suggestions for realizing when it is time to call it quits useful, in light of the current situation.

I would recommend Rebecca Frech’s book Can We Be Friends?  It is a quick read that includes many touching stories and reliable advice on maintaining and discovering friendships. As I am packing up our current home to relocate to the other coast, I am going to keep this book within easy reach. I think I may need the encouragement to get out there and find my people to build up a new circle of friends in our new hometown.  I might even gift a few of these books to some young ladies I know heading off to college this fall!

You can purchase Can We Be Friends? from Our Sunday Visitor.

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Books Ink Slingers Mary Beth Reviews

REVIEW: Beyond Sunday by Teresa Tomeo

Beyond Sunday - Becoming a 24:7 Catholic

Most people likely know Teresa Tomeo as the intelligent, inquisitive, straight-talking host of the Catholic
Connections radio program and a co-host of EWTN’s The Catholic View for Women television show. But
in her new book, Beyond Sunday—Becoming a 24/7 Catholic, Tomeo sets aside her decades of broadcast
journalism experience to sit down and have a chat with the reader over a cup of coffee, one-on-one.
Not literally, of course. But the tone of friendship and encouragement in this book reaches out from the
pages and compels us to heed her sound advice to take our faith beyond an hour of Mass on Sundays.
Like a good friend, Tomeo urges us to think beyond the pew and dream about what a truly abundant life
in Christ would look like on a daily basis. Drawing from her personal experience as a previously
“nominal” Catholic, Tomeo outlines simple, practical steps to growing in our relationship with God and
learning to share our faith with our family and friends. She meets us at a lukewarm Point A, where she
admits she once resided, and walks us gently to a joy-filled Point B, where she presents a picture of a
24/7 Catholic faith life.

In the first chapters, Tomeo provides insight into the possible reasons, both cultural and personal, for
our halfhearted attitudes, and how a lack of formation has sent our consciences adrift in recent years.
But she doesn’t leave us treading water there. She re-introduces us to the gifts of the Church and the
“Three M’s of Faith” that can help us get fully grounded again. Plus, she offers reflection questions at
the end of each chapter so the reader can take baby steps beyond Sunday each week. And in Chapter 7,
Five Cures for the Common Catholic Cold, she offers lifelines of wisdom for our spiritual growth,
including (my favorite) a recommendation to “Silence the Noise.”

Teresa Tomeo and I have a few things in common, especially when it comes to our faith reversion
journeys. When I returned to the fullness of the Catholic faith five years ago, the Holy Spirit cooked up
some major enthusiasm in me as well (I termed it getting out of the “Catholic baby pool”). I can identify
with her aspiration to impart the “lessons-learned the hard way,” so readers can avoid the trap of
mediocrity she (and I) had fallen into. I understand the feeling of gratitude and peace she has at being
drawn out of that mediocrity. And I can relate to her desire to help others get beyond Sunday and into a
deep, full, daily relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Perhaps that’s why I was attracted to
this book and why I give it high marks: Beyond Sunday is an instructional guide to getting out of the
Catholic baby pool. There is no downside to this personal pathway from good to great! In Tomeo’s
words, “Why settle for a so-so relationship with God, when you can have a great relationship with him
that is filled with abundant joy?”

That sounds like wise advice from a good friend, doesn’t it?