I love reading. L O V E reading. Books have sustained me through some of the hardest challenges of my life. They are inspiration, education, and sanctuary. They challenge and uproot. They uplift my whole person.
That said . . . I've been rather lax in my reading. Part of it is that being a mama takes up a lot of time (in an awesome way), but then after my sweet boy goes to bed, it's honestly easier to take in some TV shows on Amazon Prime than it is to pick up a book.
Still, my goal was to read ten books in 2014 (I know, I know, such a small goal for a woman who professes to L O V E reading), and I exceeded that. So yay me. And also yay to the fact that reading, even what feels like a paltry amount, has reminded me of just how much I need to be reading. Not just because it is awesome and good for your brain and nourishing to me on a personal level, but also as a writer. If I want to be a professional writer, I need to be a professional reader, too.
Here are some of my [highly professional?] favorite reads of 2014.
The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. This was my first read of the year, and oh man, was it a good one -- and kind of perfect that it was my premiere book of 2014. It's an autobiographical account of author Kidd's journey out of patriarchy and into her own self. Perfect for any woman seeking to embrace her own woman-ness in a deeper way.
“I often went to Catholic mass or Eucharist at the Episcopal church, nourished by the symbol and power of this profound feeding ritual. It never occurred to me how odd it was that women, who have presided over the domain of food and feeding for thousands of years, were historically and routinely barred from presiding over it in a spiritual context. And when the priest held out the host and said, "This is my body, given for you," not once did I recognize that it is women in the act of breastfeeding who most truly embody those words and who are also most excluded from ritually saying them.”
- from The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
Immortal Diamond: The Search For Our True Self by Richard Rohr. If you follow me on social media, you may already know that I read a good deal of Rohr's works this year. I even started a free book on Facebook for other Rohr readers. So I probably don't have to tell you that I really (really, really) like what Rohr has to say. Reading this Franciscan's priest's words helped move me from seeing the world, and specifically matters of spirituality and faith, in black and white (otherwise known as dualism) to opening up to a greater and more mysterious spectrum of existence and possibility. Read it if you're weary of spiritual shoulds and are looking for another way. I also recommend The Naked Now, Job and the Mystery of Suffering, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and Falling Upward, all by Rohr and all among my 2014 reads.
“Metaphor is the only possible language available to religion because it alone is honest about Mystery.”
- from Immortal Diamond
Red, Hot, and Holy: A Heretic's Love Story by Sera Beak. I have something of a love/hate relationship with this book. I felt like the book's description made promises that the book itself did not deliver on. However, I have to put it on this list anyway because I love how committed Beak is to finding her whole self, no matter the cost. Don't read this is a self-help book (that's what messed me up, I think -- read her The Red Book if that's what you need) but as an autobiographical love story between one woman and her Holy.
“Ideas aren’t helping you anymore, Sera. Concepts have run their course. Paradigms pop. Theories leak. Techniques are only top-offs. Beliefs brush away. Books close. Workshops end. What truly transforms is this Closeness with Me. You gotta hug Me so tight that nothing comes between Us.”
- from Red, Hot, and Holy
Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I haven't finished this yet, despite having started it at the end of 2013. It's not the kind of book you can rush through. I find it hard to read more than a few pages at a time, because it is rich and healing and alive. It is a collection of retold myths and fairytales. Required reading for the awakening woman.
“If you have yet to be called an incorrigable, defiant woman, don't worry, there is still time.”
- from Women Who Run With the Wolves
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This book. This book. It is perhaps the best book I read this year. It is a work of art, leaving me breathless like few works of fiction ever have. It is hard, and lovely, and challenging, and sacred. Go. Read it. Now. I'll wait. (And read Ness's other works afterward, because those are really quite good, too.)
“Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”
- from A Monster Calls
The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. This trilogy isn't high art like Ness's book. But it is really, really fun. And it's set in a fantasy world based loosely in Russian culture, which I found unique and refreshing. The story can be a little predictable, but Bardugo makes up for that with lots of engaging adventure, bloodshed, characters that you care about (pirates!!!!), and romance that I didn't hate. Like I said, I had a blast reading these, and couldn't stop until I'd consumed all three back to back to back.
“Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.”
- from Siege and Storm, book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy
“I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face.”
- from Grave Mercy, book 1 of the His Fair Assassin Trilogy
Magdalen Rising by Elizabeth Cunningham. This book is the first in The Maeve Chronicles, a series retelling the story of Mary Magdalen. Under Cunningham's care, Mary becomes the fierce and fiery Celtic (eeek!) Maeve, who is raised by seven mothers and goes off for training under the Druids once she comes of age. Trigger warning: there is sexual violence which, while not explicit, is nonetheless devastating. Honestly, although it took me awhile to come around to it, this is one of the reasons I love this book. It's the best fictional representation of sexual violence I've seen because, as with true life sex crimes, it completely stops and reroutes the story. Nothing is the same after this intimate shattering. I'm looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series.
“I've outgrown my childhood name, and I haven't found a new one yet.”
- from Magdalen Rising
Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Rainer Maria Rilke. No best-of-books list would be complete without poetry. And Rilke's poetry is so, so rich. It is just what I needed to read: the words of a mystic, questioning, reaching into the darkness, and learning to be satisfied with not-knowing. Rilke's poetry echoes my own heart's throbbing.
“I circle around God, that primordial tower. / I have been circling for thousands of years, / And I still don't know: am I a falcon, / A storm, or a great song?”
- from Rilke's Book of Hours
The Anatomy of Being by Shinji Moon. I'm still working my way through this collection of poetry, but it is powerful. Visceral, electric, and full of emotion. And I love that Moon independently published it. Basically, yum.
“You will lie to everyone you love. / They will love you anyways.”
- from The Anatomy of Being
This list would not be complete without mentioning the bravery of my friends who published books in 2014. I've blogged about a couple, but here they are in their totality, all gorgeous and worth reading. (I feel pretty sure I'm forgetting someone . . . if so, my deepest apologies! pregnancy brain strikes again -- remind me and I will happily add yours to the list!)
- Somewhere Between Water and Sky by Elora Ramirez
- Portals of Water and Wine by R.L. Haas
- Consent Based Parenting by Abby Norman (a must-read for parents)
- The Grey Muse by Heather Mattern
- Sufficient Grace by Kelly Gerken
- To Linger On Hot Coals (my poetry is included in this collection! woohoo!)
- In the Spirit by J.C. Hart
For 2015 . . .
I've already started reading some of the books that will become my best-books-of-2015 list, I can just feel it. Like A Discovery of Witches, for example, which I'm currently devouring. I'd like to read more fiction across a variety of genres, styles, and topics, both for fun and for my edification as a writer. I tend toward reading a lot of more self-help-y kind of books (usually spiritual ones), particularly when I feel like my heart is spinning. So more fiction for 2015.
I'd also like to read more parenting books. I've bought a decent bunch of them over the past two years, and have barely touched them. I'd like to finish one or two.
Similar to my accumulation of parenting books, I've accumulated even more books on writing over the years -- and again haven't read most of them. So I'm planning on reading more of those, particularly Writing Begins With the Breath because, well, writing tends to bring out the worst of my neuroses, so writing + breathing sounds like a better plan than writing + emotional eating, or writing + floundering in self-doubt, or writing + depression.
Looking back over this list, I notice that the authors mentioned are predominantly white. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is curious. I'd like to widen my range of authors, to take in the experiences of those who don't look like me. I think it's important, as a person and as a writer. I've already started doing this with my son's books, expanding our picture book collection with stories featuring non-white characters and both male and female main characters, as well as purchasing toys that aren't all male, or the kind of toys marketed only for males. It's time to challenge myself and expand my mind in some of the same ways as I'm doing for my son. One book I'm particularly looking forward to/nervous about reading is Writing the Other, which delves into penning characters of a different ethnicity than the author.
And more poetry. Because poetry = awesome.
On top of that, a number of my friends are publishing new books in 2015, so I'm also looking forward to getting my hands on those.
Most of all, though -- I've purchased a TON of books I haven't read yet in the last year or two. So my main book goals for 2015 are to a) read a bunch, and b) buy no more books! (Anyone else have a book buying problem?)
I'm also having a baby in the spring if all goes well, so I'm setting these book (and all 2015) goals with fluidity and grace. Who knows how much time I'll have to read/create/brush my teeth in the second half of the year, so I'm holding everything quite loosely (or trying to).
Okay, enough from me. Your turn! What were some of your favorite reads of 2014? Anyone with me in the assassin nun fangirling? How about your reading hopes for the new year?
*this post contains affiliate links. thanks for support the blog!