January 2015 Reading: 7 BOOKS

BOOK ONE: Farewell to the East End by Jennifer WorthI read Worth's best-seller Call the Midwife last summer before leaving for Spain and loved it. Since Farewell to the East End is a follow-up book in the series, I felt like I already knew the characters and it was a great continuation in Jennifer Worth's memoir of serving as a midwife in the slums of East London. Like Call the Midwife, this book is not for the faint of heart or stomach. It's brutally honest about life in the poorest areas of East London, in a way that opened my eyes to the art and science of midwifery as well as the bravery of the women who served that community 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I wanted to laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. Favorite quote: "Why does God so often cause good people to suffer so greatly? It is a question I have often asked myself. Sister Julienne turned the question the other way, and said, 'God loves greatly those whom He requires to suffer greatly.' This is a riddle wrapped in a mystery we cannot comprehend."

BOOK TWO: Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider. It's hard to describe how much this book affected me in the most positive way possible. I felt like I was reading an eloquently, perfectly ordered essay on so many of the ideas and topics that have been floating around in my mind (rather un-eloquently, I might add) for years. Tsh speaks from her own life experience having lived cross-culturally several times, both as a single woman and with a husband and family; upon returning to the U.S., she craved the slower life of living overseas and the intentionality that came with such a lifestyle. Her writing in Blue Bike encourages thinking about how to live a purposefully thought-out life, boldly going against the "buy one get one free," bigger-is-better and faster-is-ideal mentality of the U.S., while still engaging with our home culture and being gracious human beings who know not everyone chooses to live that way. I will be reading this book at least one more time in 2015, and then probably again in 2016, and 2017, etc. Favorite quotes: "Sucking the marrow out of life requires that I sit down in the silence, un-entertained. And then, remarkably, the marrow-sucking becomes the entertainment I crave." And, "People are willing to be brave when they admit their smallness within the enormity of the world, and the best way to understand our smallness is to leave our comfort zones and start exploring, one foot in front of the other. When we go on an adventure, we'd better understand where we truly belong."

BOOK THREE: Little Bee by John Cleave. A friend recommended this story and I picked it up at the library. A page-turner, I finished it in a couple of days because it was hard to put down. A story of intertwined lives, troubled and horrific pasts, and questions about the future, it made me wonder, what is is really like to be an immigrant (when you don't hold a U.S. or U.K.--or Western for that matter--passport)? Told from two points of view, Little Bee let's you see into two very different worlds. One (of many) favorite quote(s): We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived. In a few breaths' time I will speak some sad words to you. But you must hear them the same way we have agreed to see scars now. Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive. The next thing you know, something fine will happen to her, something marvelous, and then she will turn around and smile.

BOOK FOUR: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I'm so glad to have friends who love to read, because another friend recommended this book! Based in small town Maine, each of the thirteen stories are based around a central character, Olive Kitteridge, though at times she only makes a momentary appearance or is referenced in a story. And yet, her character is alive and raw, ever-present; she is someone I feel like I know but who I don't think I'd want to spend time with. Strout's characterization is poignant, and I did laugh out loud a couple of times. Favorite quote: "...she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered....It baffled her, the world. She did not want to leave it yet."

BOOK FIVE: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. RowlingAnd so the series continues, and I am hooked. (Currently reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, to be finished soon and very soon.)

BOOK SIX: The Water is Wide by Pat ConroyI picked this up on a Kindle daily deal for $1.99; it was recommended by a blogger as well as a friend who was in town at the time. And the price was right! This memoir recounts Conroy's time spent teaching fifth through eighth grade students on Yamacraw Island, off the coast of South Carolina, only accessible by boat. (The real name of the island is Daufuskie Island if you look on Google maps.) A white teacher on a mainly black-inhabited island, Conroy enters a different world and his heart and mind are forever changed by the kids he comes to love. The dialogue is sometimes hilarious, and the bureaucracy and racism of the school district are unbelievable and frustrating. Strangely enough, there were scenes and ideas in this book that corresponded very much with our experiences teaching here in Spain. Favorite quotes: "...life was good, but it was hard; we would prepare to meet it head on, but we would enjoy the preparation," and "Teaching is a record of failures. But the glory of teaching is in the attempt."

BOOK SEVEN: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I decided to try Audible for a month, a service that allows you to listen to audiobooks. Now, I have never liked being read to, which probably seems weird coming from someone who is often more of an auditory learner than a visual one. However, to pay attention well it is helpful for me to see the words on a page. 

So what changed my mind? I sometimes walk 35 minutes to school, and some days (if I'm not feeling lazy or my legs aren't aching from walking and training for a race) I will also walk home. That's a lot of time, but I obviously can't read a physical book while I walk (I'm too busy looking for dog poo on the sidewalks and making sure cars actually stop at crosswalks). I decided to try Audible for a month (free 30-day trial to see if you like it!), and now I'm thinking about paying for a membership for our remaining time in Spain because I really enjoyed listening to a book during my commute, on flights, and even while I worked out at the gym. 

And Americanah was a perfect book to listen to! Largely character- and setting-driven, it recounts a Nigerian woman's journey to America and back to her homeland, and asks questions like, What is race? How do different races relate to each other? How do different groups of people within the same race relate to and view one another? The book is read by a woman with a charming British accent who also read the characters in various Nigerian, white and African American dialects so well. It was a pleasure to listen to. I think I'll remember the novel in a special way, too, because it became part of my daily routine.