What I'm Reading This Advent

Advent started on Sunday and as I looked at my stack of current reads, I realized that they are all stories that are preparing me for this season of hopeful anticipation. I’m reading an actual Advent-focused devotional but my fiction and bedtime reads are pointing me toward reconciliation, as well. I’m in the midst of them so I can’t vouch for their endings but I thought I’d share what I’m reading right now at the start of this season.

Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro
We’re only on Day 2 but already we’ve covered loss and lament, waiting and hope. Enuma Okoro structures her daily Advent guide around Elizabeth and Zechariah, John the Baptist’s parents and Jesus’ aunt and uncle. Her reasoning is that they open the story in Luke with the all-too familiar humanness of wondering if God’s promises are true.

Each week focuses on a character or set of characters in the Nativity narrative and each day is broken into a small section of scripture around the week’s theme. So far, it’s just the length and depth I need for this season.

Beyond Our Efforts, A Celebration of Denver Peacemaking by The Center for Urban Peacemakers
This collection of essays, prayers, stories, and meditations is compiled in partnership with Mile High Ministries, whose board Frank has served on for the past year. Starting in Winter and working through the seasons, each section focuses on the radical work peacemakers are doing around our city. Even though its focus is Denver, I’d imagine this book would be encouraging for anyone engaged in the work of peace and reconciliation.

Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America by Jeff Chu
I’m just a few chapters into this journalistic memoir but I appreciate Chu’s attention to detail and efforts to truly uncover the varying sides of what it means to be LGBTQIA+ and a Christian. Chu’s background in journalism shines through in his interviews and research around the church’s recent stance on accepting and including those who identify as gay. While we have already gone through the process of inclusion as a family, we’ve recently joined a church on the cusp of these conversations and I realized I needed to refresh the whys behind my beliefs. Simply having friends who are LGBTQIA+ isn’t enough for those grappling with what they believe. Written in 2013, I wonder what has changed since Chu wrote this book but so far, it holds up to many of the opinions and questions I’ve heard recently.

I’m also (finally!) reading A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. I had gotten it from the library over the summer but it got pushed to the bottom of the pile by more urgent return dates. Recommended by a variety of well-read friends, I’m looking forward to diving into this family saga.

And lastly, I’m just a couple essays away from finishing Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice, edited by Mae Elise Cannon and Andrea Smith. This is such a hopeful book, especially for those who were raised in the Evangelical church or who have ties to it. Often, it feels as though the church whose name means good news has lost the goodness of its way. And yet, so many are working toward the powerful liberative practices of justice and peacemaking. This book of essays gave me renewed hope for the church I grew up in and the denomination we now find ourselves attending. Also, the essay called “Liberating Barabbas” by Drew G.I. Hart is worth the price of the collection.

What are you reading during this season of hope and anticipation? What is renewing your sense of good news these days?

The Case for Rereading Novels: A Guest Post


Rereading novels is one of my favorite memories of childhood. Curled up with an old friend, each time I got lost in a story, I’d learn new things about life through the characters. From classics like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to easy reads like Peanut Butter and Jelly, rereading was a rhythm of my reading life. It’s only been a recent change that I’ve stopped the practice and I miss it a lot.

Our guest author Melissa Chan, the designer of Literary Book Gifts, makes the case for rereading. Check out her shop for some great bookish gifts and scroll to the bottom for a special offer!

The Case for Rereading Novels

These days, with the sheer quantity of new novels coming out every day it can seem like one needs to devour books at the speed of light just to keep up. It can even be a challenge to only read all the current bestsellers, let alone any other books that catch your interest. Choosing where to devote your reading attention is a far more time-consuming task than just picking up a book and diving right in. I am a big supporter of diversifying one’s reading list to include titles and authors of all genres. Reading books by more than just one author will help you expand your horizon to find books you would never have thought you might have enjoyed. However, I love rereading books as well.

When there are so many new titles out there it can seem like a waste of time to read novels you have already read. Here are a few of the reasons why I personally love rereading novels. Perhaps it will get you thinking about picking up one of your favorite books again.

Themes are stronger the second time

I think most of us would agree that the very best books have timeless stories and themes that stay with us long after we put the book down. I’ve been fascinated when rereading passages of Moby Dick by Herman Melville at just how much I had missed during the first read through. In the case of Moby Dick, Melville’s writing is so descriptive and the plot so exciting that I tend to get caught up in it easily and forget about everything else. When picking up a book again for the second time, I already know what happens. This can bring more of a focus to the ideas, themes, and character development. In addition, there is time for reflection since the book was last read, allowing our minds ample time to understand, appreciate, and think through the story itself.

Rereading certain quotes or sections

Owning a few of my books in hard copy and audiobook has allowed me to mark up a few of them for my favorite quotes and passages. Books are a lot more than words. The narratives and characters can have such a powerful meaning to us. Experiencing their stories alongside our own can help us get through difficult times in our lives. Being able to quickly read a few pages from book I’ve already read can put me in a different mood right away. This is can be a big help considering that you never know what you are going to find when you open up a new book from an author whose work you’ve never read before.

Books never change, but people do

As time goes on we are different people than the ones we were when we read the book for the first time. A book to a child or teen can speak differently than to an adult. Books we read when we are young, perhaps in the school curriculum, will have entirely different meanings to us 20 or 30 years later. The lives we have lived in between influence how we read, and what we think about when we experience the story again. Reading books over a long period of time can show us how we have changed as people. Despite the words never changing in the book, people will always change and the reading experience is always a new one.

While I love rereading some of my favorite books, I don’t believe it is always the best strategy. When you are new to reading in general or to a particular genre I encourage you to explore. Find as many books as might interest you and read the first pages with an open mind. I know that I had thought I had found all of my favorite authors until I found Flannery O’Connor’s work. Her novels and selected stories are now a part of the list that I enjoy rereading all the time.

Melissa Chan is the designer of Literary Book Gifts,  an online gift shop for book lovers. She loves rereading novels, listening to audiobooks, and spending time in the library.

What about you? Are you a re-reader or is your to-read stack too high? How do you balance the comfort of old books with the discovery of new tales?

If you’re looking for bookish gifts, check out Melissa’s shop, Literary Book Gifts. She’s offering 20% off to my readers with the code ANNIERIM20. (I especially love the Tree of Life tote!)

The Beginning of Social Justice Awareness

Yesterday, I mentioned a librarian who made space for me to dig deeper into the books we were reading as a class. Another influential person was her assistant (whose name, twenty-some years later I can’t remember!) This paraprofessional was always recommending young adult books grounded in social justice.

0440407850I read about Kurdish sisters fleeing to safety; I read about Holocaust survivors; I read about migrant farm workers and people crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. Looking back, these books easily could have been written last year. In some ways, it’s sad to think that our world hasn’t changed all that much. In other ways, I’m so thankful for a teacher who would make me aware of these human rights crises from a young age.

Journey of the Sparrows is one of those books that comes to mind from that era of reading. It follows the journey of three young children who travel from El Salvador to the United States, crated in the back of a truck. They end up in Chicago, where their story continues as they try to find work and make a life as undocumented immigrants.

This book paved the way to books like Enrique’s Journey, a journalistic book about a young boy crossing the border to find his mother. It laid the groundwork for my reading of Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions and is why I stand on the side of the refugee.

And, while Journey of the Sparrows was formative in itself, it will always represent that adult in my life who pushed my thinking and opened my eyes to a greater world. I hope that, as our girls grow older and their friends come to our home, I can be that adult for someone as well. I want our girls to be raised with a global awareness and a heart for the injustices both right here and around the world. Having these books in our home is helpful but having another trusted adult recommend them is incredibly powerful.

One of my greatest hopes is that they will have a librarian in their own school journey, just like I did, who sees that potential for justice and a heart for helping to push against systems of oppression.

Is there an adult who has influenced your reading journey? When did you start reading books that impacted your view of social justice?

A (1)This post is Day 9 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

The Courage to Expand Horizons

I had to round out this week of childhood favorites with one I read over and over again, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Set at the turn of the twentieth century, the story follows Francie Nolan through childhood and adolescence. Even though this book starts around the same time period and the protagonist is the same age as the Meet Samantha series, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn explores deeper issues like poverty, alcoholism, and the American Dream.

IMG_0786As a child, I loved Francie for the bookworm she was. Smith’s description of her first library card and her ritual of reading on the small fire escape captured my imagination.

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”

When I first read the book, I saw a girl who idolized her father, clashed with her mother, and had the freedom to run around her Brooklyn neighborhood in ways I could only imagine from my place in the suburbs. As an adult, I read into the tragedy of a father who died of alcoholism, a mother who worked endlessly to make sure her family was cared for, and a girl who grew up all too quickly.

What Francie did for me, though was to normalize living in a world of books. I loved that this girl, who lived decades before me, could have that very same love as I did. I connected with her visits to the library, her eagerness for books and learning, and the desire to stretch beyond her neighborhood.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn taught me that, regardless of the specific books I read, the empathy and glimpse into a world beyond my own can give me the courage to act differently in my own life. Francie’s big move may have been to a different neighborhood but what I learned was that the foundation of imagination makes those moves possible. I wonder if I would have ended up in Paris without those faithful literary friends of my childhood? Did all my bookish habits give me the courage to move outside my comfort zone? According to Francie, I believe so.

I reread this book into my twenties as a comforting reminder that a foundation of reading can give us the courage to expand our horizons.

A (1)This post is Day 5 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

A Literary Life

If you’ve been around here any length of time, you know I’m an avid reader. Books, learning, and expanding my perspective are among the numerous reasons I value and carve out time for good books. Plus, there’s nothing like getting lost in an incredible story, is there?

A (1)I debated participating in the Write 31 Days challenge this year. I’ve written far too much about our transition (or lack thereof!) this fall. I wondered if I needed to just lean into letting ideas settle and grow. But I also thought about discipline and work. Ideas need to grow, yes. But I also need to practice the craft of writing and the accountability of this 31-day challenge often kick-starts a slump.

I thought about our rhythms and family culture and decide to tweak the challenge a bit this year. Recently, I’ve been shutting off apps and really limiting my time on the internet. I wondered how I could balance writing and interacting every day while also keeping these boundaries so I decided that, instead of writing every single day for the month of October, I’ll write every weekday. I suppose I should really call this Write 23 Days instead.

As I was reflecting about letting ideas settle and seeds dig into the soil, I realized I can do that and continue to write. So I’m keeping it lighter this year. I thought about all the books that have shaped me from childhood through adolescence, from my twenties into motherhood. I mapped out the books that shifted my worldview.

Some of these books are the actual book that sparked a change in thinking; other books represent a genre or series that impacted my perspective.

I hope this inspires you to map out your own literary journey and maybe you’ll add some new books to your to-read shelf.

And, if you’re a writer and interested in joining the challenge, link up over here! You have until October 5th to join the community.

Review: I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

Books and reading have always defined my personality. I was that nerdy kid who would scan my friends’ bookshelves when we were meant to be playing, itching to read new titles and get lost in the story. After grad school, my friends and I started a “Books and Beer” book club, meeting at bars in the hopes of meeting guys who also loved to read. And now, I edit and curate The Red Couch Book Club and am always on the lookout for books that would benefit our community. Yes, books are and always will be part of what makes me happy, what connects me to the world, and what expands my worldview.

IdRatherBeReadingBogel_3Dalt_webI’ve followed Anne Bogel’s blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy for years and love her book recommendations. Honestly, our tastes are quite different and I only read a handful of her picks but I appreciate the way she talks and writes about books.

I’ve been looking forward to her collection of essays, I’d Rather Be Reading since she alluded to it after the publication of her first book about personality types. This collection of anecdotes about the reading life (essays is a bit of a stretch) is cute and relatable. I’ve had stacks of books come in at the library at once; I’ve wondered how I’ll have time in this life to read all the books I want to; On tough days, I’ve often wished for a quiet cabin alone with a stack of books.

Each chapter served as a great introduction to readerly problems but I wish Bogel had continued. Rather than listing all the problems of bookshelf organization or remembering all the books that shaped her life (several times, in several chapters), I wish she had kept the thoughts going and linked those observations to a broader takeaway. It would have taken those anecdotes and turned them into actual, timeless essays.

I finished this book with the realization that I actually wouldn’t rather be reading. Instead of connecting with the plights of loving to read, I was confronted with all the ways one can miss out on life because of reading. It compelled me to step back and recognize that for me in this phase of life, reading is an essential tool but it’s not a way of life. I love reading because it helps me understand and connect with the world around me but unless I’m actively engaging in that world, reading falls a bit flat.

If you’re looking for a sweet gift book, this is a great option. If you’re looking for essays on reading, might I suggest finding a collection by your favorite author?

What about you? Would you rather be reading? How do you balance a love of books with real-life experiences? 

I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Favorite Books of 2017

It’s the week of lists and favorites as we prepare for the new year. As of right now, I’ve Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 10.39.10 AMread 67 books and am hoping to hit 70 by the end of the year. I did a better job than in years past of balancing fiction and nonfiction reads. I also tracked my page goals and found that they matched up pretty well with the number of books I read. I feel like I read a lot of great books this year, probably because I’m learning to be pickier about what I choose and about dropping a book that I’m not connecting with. I thought I’d compile a list of my favorite reads of 2017, in case you were looking for a way to spend some gift cards. Most of these books have made it into other lists and references throughout the year but these are the ones worth mentioning again.

Fiction

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This beautifully written novel follows the men of the first exploration to the interior of Alaska was well researched and thought-provoking. Ivey weaves maps, journal entries, and letters to tell the story of Alan and his new wife, Sophie, who is left behind in Washington as he leads a group of men on a harsh expedition. Ivey’s writing style is engaging and I’m thinking of starting 2018 with her earlier work, The Snow Child.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This is a book everyone should read. Following two half-sisters from Ghana, one who marries an English colonist and stays in Africa, the other who is sold into slavery in America, we see the history and repercussions of colonialism and slavery as each chapter flows into the next generation. The format is powerful as Gyasi points out the direct results of actions three hundred years ago to what is happening in modern society. I’m currently reading Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, which pairs well as a nonfiction account of laws and practices that have continued nearly two hundred years later.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
These powerful short stories follow Vietnamese immigrants following the American war in Vietnam. Some stories take place right after the conflict; others are reflections twenty years later. As with powerful fiction, Nguyen is able to weave facts, history, and important commentary into his stories. Frank recently took my library copy of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which seems like a good pairing.

American War by Omar El Akkad
As with most dystopian novels, this one had parts that hit a little too close to home. But Akkad’s view of the future seemed plausible and, while I didn’t connect with any of the characters, I also had trouble putting the book down. It gave me a lot to think about without being too heavy-handed.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
I will read anything written by Roxane Gay. Her subject matter is gritty and raw but these stories are important. However uncomfortable the topic, Gay reminds her readers that these stories are based on actual experiences. She doesn’t sugarcoat life and I always close her books feeling that I’ve gained empathy for the stories and struggles of others.

Nonfiction

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein
This book (and Orenstein’s TED Talk) has started a necessary conversation about how we’ll model and present healthy views of sex to our girls. It’s no shock that our culture needs an overhaul in how we treat women and deal with sexual misconduct. I don’t know the big answers to that, but I do know that I want to raise strong girls who have a healthy view of themselves and their sexual experiences. Girls and Sex was the starting point I needed.

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour
My year has been marked by learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Blood Brothers was a good starting point. Written by a Melkite priest, Chacour’s family has lived in Galilee for centuries. This book reframed the conflict for me and added depth that is so often lost in the media’s portrayal of this seemingly two-sided issue. Paired with The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, I’d recommend either book as a place to dig deeper into the stories of this region.

Adopted by Kelley Nikondeha
I had the honor of being on the launch team for Kelley’s powerful book but it’s one that has stayed with me. As an adoptee and mother of adopted children, Kelley brings her experience of adoption into her theological readings. Kelley digs into the sacrament of belonging – that Christianity is built on the idea of adoption and what that means in our relationships with God and one another.

Mending the Divides by Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart
Another book centered around Israel and Palestine, Huckins & Swigart dissect the story of the Good Samaritan in asking, Who is my neighbor? As they ask this question and center their search around peacemaking, they also give practical advice and help in creating peace from a grassroots level. They helped me look into my own family as a place to start working toward global peace.

Slow Reads

I’ve been reading the following three books all fall and they are ones worth taking slow. I’ll read a chapter or two a day, sometimes leaving the book for a few days before picking it up again. This is not normally how I read and I’ve found it so rich and satisfying. As I look toward 2018, I want to be sure to keep some of these slow reads by my side.

The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
This memoir is one I’d recommend everyone read. When I read the news and wonder how we have created systemic injustice, Douglass answers those questions. His own story of life as a slave is powerful on its own but Douglass includes societal commentary that helps me understand how certain policies and practices were put in place and are still considered normal.

In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan L. Richardson
This book is worth reading just for Richardson’s reframing of the “sin of Eve.” Leading us through powerful women in church history, Richardson gives insight and blessings to help us on the way. Reading about the church mothers is a reminder to reach back in history and immerse my own experiences in the stories of those who have gone before.

This is Not a Border, edited by Ahdaf Soueif and Omar Robert Hamilton
These reflections and essays from the annual Palestinian Festival of Literature have been powerful and heartbreaking. Included are insights from Palestinians, Jewish authors, British and American artists, and other creatives who have participated in PalFest. Their insights and reporting into what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank have given faces and stories to an underrepresented people.

Of course, I have so many more favorite reads of this year – it was hard to narrow down! Check out my Goodreads shelves if you’re looking for other recommendations. In the past, I’ve set goals and made lists for my reading. This year, in taking over the Red Couch Book Club as well as some other projects and focuses, I’m not really sure how I’ll set and track my reading goals in 2018. I do know I want to read more women of color and will be more aware of how I choose the books I read.

What were your favorite books of 2017? How do you track your reading? Anything you’re looking forward to reading in the new year?