Friday, October 12, 2012

7 Quick Takes: The Book Edition

My friend, Elisa, asked me to do a post on recommended books.  I was so excited at the prospect, I agreed to do it right away.

And then I spent the next two days totally overwhelmed at the thought.

I'm a voracious reader who constantly purchases and reserves library books.  However, I have really eclectic tastes--I love memoir and autobiographical books.  I love fiction--but good fiction--not the modern day slop publishers serve as entrees these days.  I love books that make me laugh out loud and non-fiction books that teach me about something or someone.  I love books on prayer and the spiritual life--especially if these books help me in an area I'm struggling.  In short, I love books and I love to read.  Like Samuel Hamiliton says in Steinbeck's East of Eden, "I eat stories like I eat grapes."

But I also love reading because reading helps me understand myself and it helps me understand others.   In her small, reflective work How Reading Changed My Life Anna Quindlen wrote,  “In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.”

Yes, Anna.


But not everyone is like me and not everyone enjoys the same types of books.  So I got to thinking about the books I liked best and I realized there were a number of them.  And then I decided instead of writing about a bunch of books I've read in the last couple of months (and let's be honest, I can't remember all the books I've read lately because I can't remember what I did yesterday),  I thought I would mention 7 books I've read in the last 3 years I absolutely loved reading.

I realize this list potentially says a lot about me (and some or all of it may not be good) but here goes.
Elisa, I hope one of these titles suits your fancy.

7 Books I've Read (in the last 3 years) I Loved Reading:

1.   Lit by Mary Karr: Karr is a brilliant writer.  She's studied the craft and she's good at it.  (As a poet, her ear for rhythm and literary sound is amazing.) And her story?  Incredible.  From the book description:
 "Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober, becoming a mother by letting go of a mother, learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr's relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up--as only Mary Karr can tell it."  
Warning: this book is not for everyone.  Karr's life is filled with D-R-A-M-A (which I happen to very much enjoy) but it's precisely this drama that makes her conversion story so spectacularly beautiful.  Her tale is of a modern day St. Augustine and it inspired me.  After I finished reading her memoir I thought, There's hope for even the worst sinners, which means there's hope for me.  There's always hope and God's super-abundant grace.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:
“But I'm not ready to stop listening to the screwed-up inner voice that's been ordering me around for a lifetime. My head thinks it can kill me... and go on living without me. ”

2.  East of Eden by John Steinbeck:  Steinbeck, one of my favorite writers of all time, is also a master of the craft and he believed this novel was his quintessential work.  East of Eden depicts the melodramatic life stories of two families--the Hamiltons and the Trasks.  Steinbeck uses the characters to reenact the Story of Adam and Even and the existing rivalry between Cain and Abel.  His writing and story-telling ability are sublime.

 One of my favorite quotes from the novel:

“And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.”  

“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?” 

3.  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson: This was the 2005 Pulitzer Prize Fiction winner and the prose is superb.  It's a letter written by the dying John Ames, a preacher, to his young son.  The book depicts how even the simplest life can be beautiful and worth living, how any life can be a life full of grace and wonder.  The language and the insight had me crying throughout the novel.

My favorite quote from the book:
"I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.”

4.  One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp:  Voskamp's memoir about how she learned to live a life of gratitude despite her imperfect circumstances.  Voskamp's insights are inspired and her writing style is brilliant.   If I could only bring 3 books to keep me company on a deserted island, this would be one of them.

One of my favorite quotes:
"I just want to do my one life well."
"On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgement and effort to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur.” 

5.  A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalil Hoessini: A fictional story about the lives of two Afghan women, Miriam and Laila, and the intersection of their lives.  The story is filled with hope and redemption and light.  I loved it.

Favorite quote (Spoiler Alert!!!):
"Miriam wished for so much in those final moments. Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Miriam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate belongings.” 
6.  Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott:  I can't stand Ann Lamott's politics but I can't help but love Ann Lamott.  She's a soul sister and if I knew her in person, I'm sure we'd be good friends.  We suffer from the same perfectionist, obsessive-compulsive tendencies and we know it.  Bird by Bird is not a how-to book for writers (though it is aimed at them), it's a how-to book on life.  And it's hilariously funny.

One of my favorite quotes:
“Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived...Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation... Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist's true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”
7.  The War of Art: Breaking Through Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield: A self-help book for artists (writers, painters, dancers, entrepreneurs, etc) about conquering evil (what Pressfield calls Resistance) and becoming a professional.  One of the best secular books I've ever read that tackles the battle of good versus evil as it applies to our vocations--whatever they may be.  I highly recommend this book.

One of my favorite quotes:
“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don't do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself, You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got.”
Happy Reading.  Now go read some Quick Takes at Jen's.


  1. Love it. Thanks for all your thoughts on these books... have you read The Time Traveller's Wife? One of my faves. And also, Wicked by Gregory Maguire- I know they made a musical of it or whatever, but the book is great all on its own merit.

    1. Christine, I tried watching the movie of the Time Traveller's Wife and fell asleep. I might have to try the book. It's good, huh?

      And I've never read Wicked. The concept in interesting. Thanks for the rec.

  2. Colleen, this is a great list. My cousin John recommended I give the Ann Lamott book a try - this makes several books that you and he both recommended - but I need to find it and Steven King's On Writing at the library first. I'll check out Lit and Gilead, too - they sound really interesting.

    Loving the recommendations!


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