Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup, shared also at Catholic Mom!
Yes, it seems redundant to say that I’ve had a rough year, since, really, who hasn’t? But I’m going to come out here with a chunk of self-compassion over how little reading, especially fiction reading, I’ve done over the past two years. Carolyn and I, and a whole bunch of fiction writers I know through the Catholic Writers Guild, have often bemoaned the greater cultural problem as follows:
Why do people read so much more non-fiction than fiction?
I never understood it. Non-fiction was so dry, so unimaginative, and held none of the escape that Tolkien holds not as sickness but as duty. Why would people read non-fiction, even exclusively? Especially exclusively?
And then I found myself working more psychological trauma than I’d ever imagined would be mine to work.
What that trauma is/was is or perhaps may be for another time (more work to do on that before I can really synthesize it into something worth sharing with others). What I did learn, sort of, that I feel like I can share here is not so much of something I learned as something I’m wondering:
Our culture is so traumatizing in its dismissal of the beloved imperfection of the human person that we don’t see ourselves as soldiers under duty to King and country to escape but rather as rats in a maze that we must solve or else starve for lack of cheese.
It’s just a thought I’m still working with, but it certainly rings true as I look over my reading list from the past two years or so and see its utter dearth of fiction. Well, maybe not utter. Anyway, I feel like I’m starting to come out of the maze just a wee ratty bit and am eyeing all the unread fiction that has accumulated over the past 24 months. I’m hoping to share more in Open Book in the coming months. Here’s hoping.
Meanwhile, here’s what I have been reading:
Simple Mercies: How the Works of Mercy Bring Peace and Fulfilment by Lara Patangan.
What a remarkable journey through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy we have in Simple Mercies. In a world where we feel constant pressure to do more and be more, Lara Patangan offers readers an opportunity to let the to-do list carve instead a space in the heart, where we can encounter the all-forgiving love of Christ in the everyday. The author spent a year celebrating the works of mercy and shares the fruits of her contemplation in this engaging work that one moment will have you laughing and the next will touch your heart with empathy for those we serve—and, just as importantly, for the person you see in the mirror. If you’re looking for a brief but uplifting read that will help you reframe your daily drudgery and find opportunities for greater spiritual joy, Simple Mercies would be a great fit. 5/5
I am grateful to have received an advance copy of Simple Mercies from the publisher.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. This may be the only fiction I finished reading over the past year. I’d never read it before, and as I was preparing for my January surgery that little did I know was to become a January and a March surgery, I wanted something I wouldn’t have to think hard about how I was going to leave it a review, whose feelings I would hurt if I never got to that review (thoughts that go through an overfunctioning author’s mind when picking up her friends’ books), and so on. We had this in an anthology in the house, so I picked it up.
Oh, Sydney Carton. This was another experience like my first time reading Jane Eyre: I hadn’t read much about what I was about to read, so the big twist really got me and got me good, like took my breath away got me good. 5/5
Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential and How You Can Achieve Yours by Shirzad Chamine.
Wow. WOW! This (non-fiction) book has changed my life by helping me to change my mind. In PI, Chamine synthesizes neuroscience, trauma recovery, emotional intelligence studies, and so much more, offering the reader tools to help us identify and derail our self-sabotaging patterns so that we can live more creative, joyful lives. Chamine tells his own story of how he thought his harsh inner critic was helping him succeed when all it was doing was ruining his relationships and his professional life. He then goes on to offer a model of looking at our thought patterns, identifying our typical “Saboteurs” (control, distraction, hypervigilance, etc.), disabling said Saboteurs, and then strengthening our mind to listen to our wiser self (which he calls our “Sage”). Full of practical tools you don’t need a ton of money or a ton of time (or a long-term therapist) to use, PI has been one of the most positive books I’ve read and has helped me make the most positive changes in my interior life as well as my relationships. 6/5 (seriously)
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Ecco. I haven’t finished it yet, but imagine Brother Sherlock Aquinas has come to a medieval monastery with the job of discovering why one of the brothers was discovered dead at the bottom of a ravine. I’m afraid it’s smarter than I am right now (I blame trauma brain), but I do find myself interested in reading more. (TBD/5)
What are you reading? Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!
You’re motivating me to pick up some classics I have neglected. Sorry to hear that your year has been so difficult. Oddly, I tend to turn toward fiction under stress.
I used to turn to fiction as well. I’m grateful we all have the books that meet us where we are when we need them!
So glad you linked up this month! Positive Intelligence isn’t at all the type of book I’d pick up, but your resounding endorsement of it makes me curious. I’ve been itching to read some Dickens. I read A Tale of Two Cities in high school and then A Christmas Carol last year, but that’s been it. And I enjoyed both of those very much.