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17) 3/1: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
A major historical event took place in 1906 San Francisco, and while most summaries mention it, I'll try to keep to my spoiler-free reflections in case you're the sort to want to pick up a book with little context beforehand. The girls are forced to find a way to work together, in spite of initial impressions. I could see this book having a place in a middle-school classroom for some interdisciplinary English and History unit.
18) 3/3: Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #6) by Louise Penny
This title I read instead of listened to, and I found myself completely engaged. Reading these titles back to back could backfire if the stories were too formulaic, but just when you thought you had things figured out, this book changes all that.
Throughout this book, three different story arcs are happening. Immediately we get a brief glimpse of something monumental that happened "off stage," and as the characters wrestle with the consequences of that, we are granted more and more details of what that event was until we get the full picture at the close of the book. Gamache is taking some time for himself but happens into a case, which is a second storyline (and that case has fingerprints that delve deep into the past, to the founding of Quebec). The third storyline is happening in Three Pines, as Jean Guy is sent there to re-investigate a previous case.
As I was reading, I had to put my book down at one point to rave to my husband about how much I was enjoying the clever storylines and how this title was my new favorite, even though my husband has read zero of these books and my words were probably vague and confusing. I just needed someone to gush to, and he was in the room. And lest we think these characters are tropes and don't transform, we see several instances of people altering their behaviors due to circumstances around them.
19) 3/4: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
As I was reading this short-story collection, though, I heard murmurings that he might be caught up in the #metoo movement for abusing his influence in the industry in an attempt to pressure women into uncomfortable encounters when they'd originally believed his interest in their work genuine and professional. NPR did a story when Alexie's accusers came forward.
I'm not yet ready to separate those accounts from Alexie's work, so I finished this book with little enjoyment just to move on. So there's my non-review review.
20) 3/8: I Thought It Was Just Me (but it wasn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power by Brene Brown
It's been awhile since I've taken a tangent before tying it into my impression of a book, so let's meander, shall we? When I was in middle school, perhaps, I remember a drive with my dad. He was working through audiotapes for Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus. I believe the author was setting up the framework of men and women using the same words but their meaning behind them is nuanced and different and their motivations for sharing information is different as well (I think that's basically the premise of the whole book, but I suspect we were near the beginning). Dad paused it to get my impression. I remember it was something like, "Well of course men and women communicate differently, Dad!" He was flabbergasted that I'd already known something that he was just realizing.
Anyway, back to Brene Brown's I Thought It Was Just Me. I appreciate the truths she articulated, like the differences between shame and low self-esteem, the importance of cultivating compassion, and expressing empathy over sympathy (especially towards ourselves before we can practice it outward). She also puts forward some "case studies" and for later sections she offers questions to work through, using the earlier case studies as a guide to demonstrate the personal reflections that could result.
So how does this tie in to my earlier story? I really appreciate her insights, but for the most part it wasn't an a-ha book for me, since I feel like I've come to these same conclusions. I do recommend this book, though, especially if you could use a practical way to reflect on any shame you feel regarding any area of your life (she has examples from people who struggle with parenthood, family dynamics, marriage tension, body image, employment, and so on).
21) 3/12: A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #7) by Louise Penny
This was, as always, a pleasure to listen to, but on the heels of Bury Your Dead, it was hard to compete. We continue to see characters evolve and deepen, though.
22) 3/12: Adam: God's Beloved by Henri Nouwen
Adam: God's Beloved was a beautiful read. I've been longing to read some Henri Nouwen after repeatedly encountering excerpts of his and I found this title at the college library.
This is the final book he wrote before passing away and it describes his experiences at L'Arche Daybreak Community. He served as their chaplain and was paired with Adam, one of the residents there; Henri was expected to wake up Adam and get him ready for the day. Adam was severely handicapped and couldn't speak, and Henri was intimidated with the responsibility in the beginning, but he credits Adam with transforming his faith. He sees Adam as a parallel to the biblical Adam.
Nouwen's insights were thoughtful and heartfelt:
"Could Adam pray? Did he know who God is and what the Name of Jesus means? Did he understand the mystery of God among us? For a long time I thought about these questions. For a long time I was curious about how much of what I knew, Adam could know, and how much of what I understood, Adam could understand. But now I see that these were for me questions from 'below,' questions that reflected more my anxiety and uncertainty than God's love. God's questions, the questions from 'above' were, 'Can you let Adam lead you into prayer? Can you believe that I am in deep communion with Adam and that his life is a prayer? Can you let Adam be a living prayer at your table? Can you see my face in the face of Adam?'" (page 55)I found myself wanting to mark down passage after passage, no small feat for a short book. Adam transformed Nouwen's life and the lives of several people he encountered, even if only for a meal, that it's easy to see why Nouwen held him in such esteem.
At one point Nouwen mentions being disappointed in a peer who accused him of throwing his life away and doing such demeaning work that he wasn't trained for when he should be preaching and writing in ways that would have more impact. That would be an easy reaction to have, but Nouwen allowed himself to get past any self-importance and see Adam for who he was and what he could reveal about our true vocations. In their exchanges, even as Adam wasn't verbal, Nouwen humbled himself and opened himself up to learn from Adam, to the point that when Adam died, Nouwen has this to say:
"I couldn't stop gazing at his face. I thought, 'Here is the man who more than anyone connected me with my inner self, my community, and my God. Here is the man I was asked to care for, but who took me into his life and into his heart in such an incredibly deep way. Yes, I had cared for him during my first year at Daybreak and had come to love him so much, but he has been such an invaluable gift to me. Here is my counselor, my teacher, and my guide, who could never say a word to me but taught me more than any book, professor, or spiritual director.'" (page 101)
23) 3/20: Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Priestdaddy was our March book club selection. Time was tight for me, so I opted to listen to the audiobook during a long drive to and from Iowa.
This was mixed for me. Lockwood's father had been a married Lutheran minister before converting to Catholicism. He received a special dispensation from the Pope to become a priest. That in itself is interesting, but while the title is Priestdaddy, the book is really about her and her parents are peripheral. Early on she and her husband move back in with her parents, which brings old memories to light. Unfortunately, I felt like she was always trying to make us laugh and the characters seemed like caricatures instead of fully formed individuals.
Lockwood is a poet, so towards the end as she wasn't trying as hard to be funny and delved into more serious, introspective areas, I found my enjoyment increase. As often happens when I have a middling opinion of a book club selection, though, hearing others' enjoyment and insight does challenge me to revisit certain passages and realize I do appreciate them, even if the overall impression isn't very positive.
24) 3/27: The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #8) by Louise Penny
One aspect I haven't mentioned yet that I appreciate is that, while these cases often have Inspector Gamache away from his wife for long stretches during investigations, they are dedicated to each other and there's no question of his loyalty. He will process cases with her because he appreciates her perspective, and they have a deep love and affection for each other that isn't dimmed when they're apart. We see how other relationships are similar and different to theirs, and what that suggests about their ultimate success or failure.