April Reading 📚 Recs

How is it that a third of this year is already gone? 2020 has been one “for the books.” While its been very hard – for all of us – one thing I have enjoyed during this strange season is more time to read! My piles of books (and Kindle) are enjoying the extra attention, I think!

My goal is to make a monthly practice of sharing my three favorite books that I’ve read each month. Why? I enjoy writing about reading, I want to spread the joy of books with others, and I hope this will start a conversation and to get recommendations in return! Each month, I’ll choose a piece of fiction, a faith-based/theological work, and something from the category of psychology/sociology/history.

Without further ado, here are April’s picks!

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel lived up to all my expectations. It’s a hauntingly beautiful tale set in Europe during World War II that follows a young, blind, French girl named Marie-Laure who is evacuated with her father from Paris to Saint Malo along the French coast in June 1940. Her story is intertwined with a German orphan, Werner, who is sent to a special school because of his intellectual aptitude, and is ultimately drafted by the Nazi’s at age 16 for his electrical skills.

Doerr’s writing style is captivating and the reader can’t help but come to know and love the characters he has crafted. The vulnerable and sweet Marie-Laure. The eccentric, PTSD-suffering great-uncle Etienne. The maternal, precocious Jutta. And her brother, Werner, a sensitive, thoughtful boy, a dreamer, who “sees what other people don’t,” whose “soul glowed with some fundamental kindness,” caught up in a war he wants nothing to do with.

Of course this is a work of fiction, but one thing that struck me with this story, is thinking about all those caught up in World War II, or really any war, and the life-altering direction that ensues. Along with the death toll and the geopolitical consequences, there are the individual hopes and dreams dashed because of war. Once Marie-Laure and Werner meet in 1944 while Saint Malo is under siege, (sorry, no further spoilers beyond that!), Werner reflects on what life could be like were the war to go away:

Could he, by some miracle, keep this going? Could they hide here until the war ends? … He would walk anywhere to make it happen, near anything; in a year or three years or ten, France and Germany would not mean what they meant now; they could leave the house and walk to a tourists’ restaurant and order a simple meal together and eat it in silence, the comfortable kind of silence lovers are supposed to share.”

But it’s not just the challenges of war that these characters face. Marie-Laure is born blind. During the siege and her rescue, Werner remarks on her bravery. She replies:

“When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”

Whether it is war, a pandemic, or a personal trial, we are all thrust into circumstances that are beyond our control. Our lives take an irreversible direction, and all we can do is adapt; to choose to keep on fighting and living. It may not seem brave, as Marie-Laure demurs, but it is – moving forward in disappointment and suffering is a quiet courage. And we are all called to it one day, one way or another.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

“What if days passed in ways that feel small and insignificant to us are weighty with meaning and part of the abundant life that God has for us?”

This is the fundamental question posed by Tish Harrison Warren in her thought-provoking book, Liturgy of the Ordinary. She relates our every day practices, such as making the bed, losing our keys, answering email, drinking tea, and sleeping to the life-giving liturgical practices of the church. She challenges the reader to allow God to work in and redeem every moment, especially the ordinary ones.

I really liked her chapter on the Sabbath and the importance of rest, particularly sleeping. At a stressful time when good sleep practices are even more important, I was challenged by her reflections to give my sleep up to God as an act of obedience:

“We learn to rest by practice, by routine, over time. This is true of our bodies, our minds, and our souls, which are always intertwined. About one third of our lives are spent in sleep. Through these collective years of rest, God is at work in us and in the world, redeeming, healing, and giving grace. Each night when we yield to sleep, we practice letting go of our reliance on self-effort and abiding in the good grace of our Creator. Thus embracing sleep is not only a confession of our limits; it is also a joyful confession of God’s limitless care for us. For Christians, the act of ceasing and relaxing into sleep is an act of reliance on God.”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

This was a well-researched and worthwhile read. Cain provides a wealth of research and social commentary, critiquing the way our society – particularly American culture – overvalues the “extrovert ideal” and how much of our educational and workplace settings are organized around extroversion; when 1/3 to 1/2 of the population are introverts.

I’ve long been aware of my own introversion, but Cain’s book gave new validity to my experience as a child, teenager, and adult. Furthermore, as an introvert, who can adapt into extroversion as needed, I found a lot of practical advice in this book – for both social life and work life. But her research was also very fascinating on the broader cultural implications for fostering flourishing for every person – no matter their temperament. I think it is a valuable read for extroverts as well, particularly if you are a leader, manager, teacher, or parent, to help understand the introverts you are shepherding.

My thoughts on Cain’s work in light of COVID and current events is the simple reflection that ALL humans NEED human connection. There are many broad brushstrokes that apply to the introvert/extrovert dichotomy, but each individual is also unique in what that looks like exactly. Understanding ourselves is key, and that can then help us reach a higher level of understanding of each other.

Her concluding chapter has some great insight, that’s geared towards introverts, but can apply to anyone:

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers—of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity—to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply. Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it.”

Well, bravo if you made it here to the end! This went longer than anticipated but there was too much to say about these excellent books – hence them being my favorite reads in April!

If you have any feedback – or recommendations for May – drop a comment below! 👇🏽

A Prayer and a Hope for April

As April begins, hard times loom ahead, after what has already been a difficult few weeks. I’m lamenting and grieving this reality with all of you.

The simple saying, “April showers bring May flowers,” has me longing for the storms to be over and for the fullness of life and spring to return!

The veneer of how much we thought we controlled our life is gone. It’s hard, I’m right there with you, friends.

And yet it’s an opportunity to open ourselves to something more. To release. To take one day at a time – after all, we are not promised tomorrow.

The Serenity Prayer came to mind this morning. May it be a peaceful and grounding meditation for all of us in this challenging month ahead.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

– Reinhold Niebuhr

Some May flowers to look forward to!

And my grandmother’s peonies!