Book Review: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

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Note: As a member of the Launch Team, I received an advance reader copy from the publisher. 

Inspired: Slaying Giants Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

One Woman’s Journey Back to Loving the Bible

If the Bible isn’t a science book or an instruction manual, then what is it? What do people mean when they say the Bible is inspired? When Rachel Held Evans found herself asking these questions, she began a quest to better understand what the Bible is and how it is meant to be read. What she discovered changed her—and it will change you too.

Drawing on the best in recent scholarship and using her well-honed literary expertise, Evans examines some of our favorite Bible stories and possible interpretations, retelling them through memoir, original poetry, short stories, soliloquies, and even a short screenplay. Undaunted by the Bible’s most difficult passages, Evans wrestles through the process of doubting, imagining, and debating Scripture’s mysteries. The Bible, she discovers, is not a static work but is a living, breathing, captivating, and confounding book that is able to equip us to join God’s loving and redemptive work in the world.

The first Bible story I ever doubted can be found in the Book of Jonah.

I was a wide-eyed seven-year-old, fiercely in love with Jesus and not yet jaded by religion. I devoured the tales in my children’s Bible as though they would disappear: from Eden to Moses to Esther, I read and was fascinated and accepted each account as truth.

And then, I turned the page. Like every other page, this one had a brightly-colored picture. But this picture made me frown. A man was swimming in the depths of the ocean, cowering from a gigantic fish.

Not a whale or a manatee, which I knew were huge aquatic mammals. A huge, scaly, fish.

This fish, I read, swallowed Jonah. The reluctant prophet stayed in the fish’s belly for three days.

Perhaps it was because I had never heard this story before, but everything about Jonah sounded like nonsense. A fish couldn’t swallow a man whole. He couldn’t live there for three days. What kind of fool did these Bible people take me for?! I wasn’t an IDIOT. I was SEVEN.

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I’ve been wrestling with the Bible ever since. I started going to church, and believed my Sunday school teachers when they said that everything in it was historically true. There was a time in my life when I doubted God and everything to do with religion, but I still wasn’t sure what to do with the Bible. Then, I fell in love with Jesus again. The Bible became real once more.

Now, I feel caught in the in-between: I think the Bible is not always literal, but that doesn’t make it untrue. I still struggle with certain stories, especially those that involve miracles or floods or plagues.

But I know I’m not alone in this. Rachel Held Evans has had similar struggles with faith, and I’m a huge fan of her work. When she announced she was writing a book about the Bible, I could hardly contain my excitement–and then jumped at the chance to join the launch team.

In many ways, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again is classic Rachel Held Evans. The book is divided by literary genre; it reminded me of her book Searching for Sunday, which is divided into chapters based on church sacraments. In each chapter of Inspired, she uses elements of memoir and draws on scholarship to explore these genres within the Bible, never abandoning the vulnerability I so admire.

“We’ve been instructed to reject any trace of poetry, myth, hyperbole, or symbolism even when those literary forms are virtually shouting at us from the page via talking snakes and enchanted trees. That’s because there’s a curious but popular notion circulating around the church these days that says God would never stoop to using ancient genre categories to communicate. Speaking to ancient people using their own language, literary structures, and cosmological assumptions would be beneath God, it is said, for only our modern categories of science and history can convey the truth in any meaningful way.”

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

What’s different about Inspired, though, is that Rachel explores different genres and writing styles. Some chapters open with a short story (my favorites were the stories told from Hagar’s perspective, and the story about the woman that met Jesus at the well). One opens with a poem; another, a screenplay. While these works of fiction and poetry aren’t exactly necessaryI think the chapters stand well on their own, and I can see how this structure would feel a little confusing–they’re so much fun to read. They offer you a different perspective about the stories we think we know. Even if a story wasn’t my favorite, I always felt like I was implementing Ignatian prayer or midrash (Rachel also explains midrash in more detail) into my reading.

“The good news is as epic as it gets, with universal theological implications, and yet the Bible tells it from the perspective of fishermen and farmers, pregnant ladies and squirmy kids. This story about the nature of God and God’s relationship to humanity smells like mud and manger hay, and tastes like salt and wine. It is concerned, not simply with questions of eternity, but with paying taxes and filling bellies and addressing a woman’s chronic menstrual complications. It is the biggest story and the smallest story all at once—the great quest for the One Ring and the quiet friendship of Frodo and Sam.”

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

Throughout the book, there is an emphasis on the importance of story. As a writer, this idea resonated with me powerfully. Christians often say that God is a great storyteller; yet, we act as though it is heresy to imply the Bible is made of stories we struggle to believe. Rachel also points out that we will get much more out of the Bible if we accept it for what it is, instead of making it into something it isn’t. Her insights on war stories, miracle stories, and the epistles were especially comforting to me.

While I sometimes found myself wanting to read more history about the Bible, or wondering what genre her fictional retellings were leading into, I couldn’t put the book down. I often read paragraphs out loud to my husband and finished by exclaiming, “JESUS IS SO COOL! I LOVE THIS BOOK! I LOVE RACHEL HELD EVANS!” before melting in a puddle of my emotions.

Overall, I gave Inspired 4/5 stars on Goodreads. My sincerest hope and prayer is that, like Rachel, we all learn to wrestle with this ancient book. At the very least, we’ll hear a great story.

 

Pre-order Inspired here, or buy it from your favorite bookseller on June 12, 2018. 

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Read and Resist: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Welcome to Read and Resist, a blog series where I review books that amplify marginalized voices and address social justice issues. This includes fiction and non-fiction books (especially #OwnVoices), so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

hateugive_10-10snapI did not know much about The Hate U Give when it was released, but I remember having two immediate reactions. First, I thought, Everyone seems to love it. I must read it. Then I asked myself why the author used ‘U’ instead of the word ‘you.’ Like the grammar snob I am, I was annoyed at the title…but not annoyed enough to refuse to read it. It was, after all, a book. Hermione and Belle can never resist a new book, and neither can I.

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Please take a moment to appreciate the fact I used this GIF because Emma Watson plays Hermione and Belle.

Fortunately, my co-worker and fellow book lover loaned me her copy of The Hate U Give.  She had told me that the book was about racism, but I had no idea how absolutely relevant and poignant the plot would be–especially in our current political climate. As soon as I read the description, I was heartbroken:

 “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”

The plot is clearly inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and so I thought I would be reading a book about things I already knew. I told myself that I was white, but I wasn’t like those white people.

How wrong I was.

My thinking still reeked of white privilege–and I’m so glad that The Hate U Give was there to knock it down.

 

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Khalil is shot within the first few chapters of the book. He is driving, and Starr is in the front seat. When a cop pulls them over, Khalil is obviously agitated. He talks back to the officer a few times; still, he does not exhibit any threatening behaviors. He is unarmed.  It’s obvious the cop is wrong, and still, I found myself wondering if there is anything that Khalil could have done differently. But like so many his real-life counterparts, Khalil was innocent of any crime.

Khalil did not deserve to die. Period. 

Starr’s life is seemingly full of contradictions. As one of the few black students at her school, Starr has a lot of white friends; her boyfriend is also white, and they are often blissfully unaware of what Starr endures on a regular basis. As she explains: “It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black.” While she often finds herself unable to express her pain–especially after Khalil’s death–it’s clear that her enemy is not white people. Her enemy is racism and white supremacy, and these are evils that creep into all of our lives. These evils should be my enemy, too.

Similarly, Starr’s uncle is a police officer. Uncle Carlos is like Starr’s second father, and again, the book is made clear that you can hate a system without hating its people. More specifically, you can support Black Lives Matter and police officers. In an interview, author Angie Thomas explains:

“A lot of people are quick to say that saying “black lives matter” makes you anti-cop. All lives should indeed matter but we have a systemic problem in this country in which black lives do not matter enough. This not an anti-cop book. I intentionally made Starr’s uncle a cop because I have law enforcement in my family and I understand the struggle that black cops deal with particularly. One [relative] told me, “Well, in the uniform, I’m a sellout to some of my own people, but outside of the uniform, I’m seen as a suspect.” That’s a constant struggle for some of them and I wanted to show someone in law enforcement who holds other officers accountable. At one point in the book, Carlos [Starr’s uncle] says, ‘You shouldn’t be a cop if your first instinct is to shoot someone.’ I think the more we see more officers holding each other accountable, the more we will see people trust cops in this country.”

And the ‘U’ in the title? There is a reason for that, too. Khalil and Starr are listening to 2Pac songs when Khalil explains how truly revolutionary the artist was:

“Man, get outta here! Tupac was the truth.”
“Yeah, twenty years ago.”
“Nah, even now. Like, check this.” He points at me, which means he’s about to go into one of his Khalil philosophical moments. “‘Pac said Thug Life stood for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.”
I raise my eyebrows. “What?”
“Listen! The Hate U – the letter U – Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?”
“Damn. Yeah.”

As the story develops,  the meaning of ‘THUG LIFE” becomes even more important. So, yeah. I can stop being such an asshole about grammar.

The Hate U Give is a difficult and honest book; yet, I found myself reading for hours at a time. Starr feels more like a friend than a narrator, and the book is unexpectedly hilarious at times (the constant High School Musical and Harry Potter references had me especially giddy). While The Hate U Give  was written for the young adult market, its message is not limited to teens. It is for all of us.

Read and Resist: Tranny by Laura Jane Grace

Welcome to Read and Resist, a blog series where I review books that amplify marginalized voices and address social justice issues. This includes fiction and non-fiction books (especially #OwnVoices), so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

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If you find the title “Tranny” a little shocking, you aren’t alone. Like any good LGBTQIA+ ally, I balked when the cover popped up on my Goodreads feed. Tranny? Really? I mean, come on. It’s 2018.

Eventually, I succumbed to my curiosity and clicked on the title. After reading the description, I realized that Laura Jane Grace is, in fact, trans. Well. That certainly changed things. My self-righteousness was knocked down a few pegs, and I purchased the audiobook a few weeks later.

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Laura Jane Grace (previously known as Tom Gabel) is the lead singer of the punk band Against Me!. I had heard about Against Me! as a teenager–back when I had wistfully lusted after Warped Tour tickets–but I didn’t know much about their music, let alone that the lead singer was trans. Although she came out publicly in 2012 during a Rolling Stone interview, her book was released in 2016.

In true punk rock fashion, Laura Jane Grace holds nothing back in her memoir. In the first chapter, she recalls watching MTV and wearing her mother’s stockings in order to look and feel like Madonna. Of course, this was all hidden from her parents; even as a four-year-old, she knew her fantasy had to be kept secret. As a teen, she turned to drugs and alcohol to keep the gender dysphoria at bay. When she discovered anarchy and punk rock, she was inspired to start Against Me!.

At this point of Laura’s story, many chapters are taken from her journals. She recounts her first tours with Against Me!, her first marriage, and her struggle with addiction. Even as a punk musician on the road, she took every opportunity to express her femininity and research gender confirmation surgery. Laura’s second marriage and the birth of her daughter drove her to stop completely. It worked for a little while–but Laura soon realized that she couldn’t continue living as a man.

While Tranny focuses on Laura’s entire journey, rather than her current life as a trans woman, it is an incredibly important story that we all need to hear. She is brutally honest about everything–not just the struggles that come with being trans–and there were several passages that made me uncomfortable. I mean, how could I not be? Laura was a punk rock anarchist who has been arrested. She yelled at her pharmacist the first time she picked up her hormones (in Laura’s defense, the pharmacist was being an asshole). She had her first drink and first high before I had even thought about consuming alcohol. She prayed to God to turn her into a woman, and when that didn’t work, she prayed to Satan. Much of her story is heartbreaking, and that heartbreak only confirms what I’ve believed for a while now: trans and gender non-conforming people need safe spaces to express their identities. 

Listening to Tranny made my commutes much less rage-inducing, and I felt like I had a friend with me during those long morning drives.  My only complaint is that much of the book revolves around the music business–which I didn’t necessarily dislike, but it isn’t what kept me interested in Laura’s story. I gave Tranny four out of five stars, and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for diverse books.

I also recommend listening to “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” and “True Trans Soul Rebel”. Both songs can be found on the album Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me!, and both are total bangers.

If punk isn’t exactly your thing (hi, Dad!), I’ve included the lyrics at the end of this post (content warning: both songs contain strong language, as well references to self-harm and gender dysphoria.). I also loved watching Laura’s web series, True Trans. As a cisgender woman, I will never completely understand Laura’s experience–but her work has opened my heart and mind in so many ways. I can only hope we continue to follow the light she shines in the darkness.

“Transgender Dysphoria Blues”

Your tells are so obvious,
Shoulders too broad for a girl.
It keeps you reminded,
Helps you remember where you come from.
You want them to notice,The ragged ends of your summer dress.
You want them to see you
Like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot.
They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick.

Rough surf on the coast,
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast,
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast,
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
With you.
With you.

You’ve got no cunt in your strut.
You’ve got no hips to shake.
And you know it’s obvious,
But we can’t choose how we’re made.

You want them to notice,
The ragged ends of your summer dress.
You want them to see you
Like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot.
They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick.

Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
With you.
With you.

You want them to notice,
The ragged ends of your summer dress.
You want them to see you
Like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot.
They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick.

Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
Rough surf on the coast
I wish I could’ve spent the whole day alone
With you.
With you.

With you.

“True Trans Soul Rebel”

All dressed up and nowhere to go
Walking the streets all alone
Another night to wish you could forget
Making yourself up as you go along

Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Does god bless your transsexual heart?
True Trans Soul Rebel

Yet to be born, you’re already dead
You sleep with a gun beside you in bed
You follow it through to the obvious end
Slit your veins wide open
You bleed it out

Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Does god bless your transsexual heart?
True Trans Soul Rebel

You should’ve been a mother
You should’ve been a wife
You should’ve been gone from here years ago
You should be living a different life

Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Does god bless your transsexual heart?
True Trans Soul Rebel
True Trans Soul Rebel!

 

Read and Resist: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Welcome to Read and Resist, a blog series where I review books that amplify marginalized voices and address social justice issues. This includes fiction and non-fiction books (especially #OwnVoices), so if you have any suggestions, please let me know! 

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Between how outraged I always am with the patriarchy and how our nation is in the midst of important conversations regarding sexual assault, Moxie could not have found me at a better time.

I’ll admit it: I judged the book by its cover. How could I not? The library had it proudly displayed with other new young adult novels, and in case you don’t know, I am all about  badass ladies. And hot pink.

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Vivian, the book’s protaganist, was especially relatable to me because she is seen as someone who abides by the rules. I always feel like marching into a temple and flipping over some tables, but at the end of the day, I reallyreally hate getting into trouble. Similarly, when Vivian sparks the feminist revolution at her high school, no one suspects it was her–and she constantly wonders what her mother, grandparents, and friends will think when they find out.

The revolution begins after a boy in Vivian’s class quips that a girl should make him a sandwich. Considering that every girl I know has heard this “joke” a bazillion times (and guess what, everyone? It’s never funny), I immediately believed in Vivian’s small-town Texas high school. After a few similar incidents, Vivian takes inspiration from the Riot Grrl movement of the ’90s and anonymously distributes a zine to her classmates. She calls it Moxie, and invites fellow Moxie Girls to fight back.

One of the most wonderful things about Moxie is how it addresses intersectional feminism and internalized misogyny. In one of my favorite scenes, Vivian and her friends are discussing a Hot-Or-Not-type system created by the boys in their school. The winners, Vivian realizes, are always the same type of girl: skinny and blonde. When her African-American friend points out that they’re always white, too, Vivian admits that she has never noticed. “Well, no offense,” her friend replies, “But you wouldn’t have, because you’re white.”

 

Vivian’s mother also admits to not including black and brown women during her days as a Riot Grrl. The scenes are honest and poignant, and Vivian is able to acknowledge her privilege in a way many of us are not.

In terms of internalized misogyny, Moxie recognizes that some girls are hesitant to identify as a feminist. In Vivian’s case, her best friend thinks the word ‘feminist’ is too strong and the feminist movement is too radical. Her boyfriend, too, has trouble understanding some of Vivian’s views. It’s an especially heart-wrenching look at how we love those who do not share our own convictions. As Vivian’s mom so wisely puts it, we all grow up hearing the same bullshit.

And Vivian has her fair share of bullshit to deal with. Later on in the novel, she becomes friends with a cheerleader–a cheerleader who she used to judge and do her best to ignore. I did my fair share of cheerleader-bashing throughout middle school and high school, and this aspect of the novel made me want to hug every girl I once needlessly despised.

Reading about the Moxie Girls is a beautiful experience. Instead of tearing each other down, they lift each other up. It’s the feminist community I dream about. They start to break barriers built by race, sexual orientation, and high school hierarchies. When shit gets real and the girls start to fear suspension and expulsion, they fiercely protect one another. In every page, Moxie reminds you of the power that every girl has inside her.

“It occurs to me that this is what it means to be a feminist. Not a humanist or an equalist or whatever. But a feminist. It’s not a bad word. After today it might be my favorite word. Because really all it is is girls supporting each other and wanting to be treated like human beings in a world that’s always finding ways to tell them they’re not.”

Fortunately, Moxie Girls exist outside of the realm of fiction. Moxie Girls Fight Back! is the book’s official Tumblr, and the blog includes feminist resources and even a mix tape!

Needless to say, Moxie gets all the stars. Five out of five, I guess, if you’re making me follow these arbitrary book review rules. I still don’t like getting into trouble. But Moxie there are more important things–namely, taking part in the revolution.

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How do my fellow Moxie Girls fight back? What feminist books are you loving right now? Let me know in the comments or contact me through Goodreads or Twitter

Mirror, Mirror: Favorites in Non-Fiction

During the summer, my mother would take my brother and I to the library every single week. We were voracious readers no matter the time of year, but there is something especially magical about summer reading. The long days spent by the pool, the family vacations, the school-free hours–they all begged to have a book or two or three.

Some of my favorite books were discovered on these weekly outings. I would take novel after novel lovingly off their dusty shelves and ask, “Mom? Can I get this one too?”

Never one to discourage reading, Mom always said yes. In fact, she only had one library rule: we had to check out at least one fiction book, and one non-fiction book.

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I loved books, but I hated this rule. In my mind, non-fiction was boring. It had no creativity, no soul. Non-fiction books were textbooks on steroids. If it wasn’t about animals or mythology, I probably wasn’t interested–which is a shame, because I was interested in a lot of things. It was just that those things weren’t usually presented to me in an engaging way.

Or so I thought.

I’m happy to say that I’ve discovered some wonderful non-fiction books since the summers of my childhood. Some were discovered at the library. Others were found while I was working particularly long shifts at the bookstore. I listened to a few of them during long Atlanta commutes. And I love them all dearly. If fiction allows us to see ourselves and our world through another lens, non-fiction allows us to take a good, long look in the mirror.

Read about some of my all-time favorites, and be sure to tell me about your own!

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Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy M.D.  

Now, I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I was drawn to Black Man in a White Coat immediately. The title struck me, as did the photograph emblazoned on the cover.

Dr. Tweedy begins his story during his first year of medical school, where he often studies diseases that are “more common in blacks than in whites.” From there, he examines America’s healthcare system and his own biases, and tells his patients’ stories. I read this within a few days, but is not necessarily an easy read; justice and medicine are so closely intertwined, and each chapter pulls at your heartstrings. It’s certainly a wake-up call, but it’s one that we all desperately need.

Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

This may be slightly sacrilegious, but there are a few religious leaders I think of as bros.

Pope Francis, for instance, is a bro. I would call Mother Teresa a bro. Jesus is most definitely a bro. And Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is totally a bro. Not in God’s Name is a beautifully written book that reminds us that the Abrahamic faiths are siblings. Unfortunately, we have often resorted to violence to fight with our siblings. Rabbi Sacks analyzes our shared stories, pointing out common mistakes we make when we read religious texts. I already knew that at their core, the Abrahamic faiths do not condone violence–but Rabbi Sacks makes a case for why they don’t, and it is completely fascinating.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee

Same-sex marriage is finally legal throughout the U.S, but we have a long way to go–especially within the church. It’s no secret that sexuality and religion have butted heads throughout history; in recent years, many religious organizations have taken official positions on LGBTQ-related issues. In all the noise, we often forget that there are many, many LGBTQ people who are also part of the church.

This is more than theological disagreement. This hurts real people, and it hurts the church, and it hurts the God that Christians claim to serve.

Enter Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network. In his book, he writes about his struggle between faith and sexuality–and proves that there is a much better solution than conversion therapy or the common plea to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’

I can’t recommend this book enough. No matter your faith (or lack thereof), this is an important story to hear.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

The only thing you need to know about Yes, Please is that Amy Poehler is a goddess and everything she does is perfect.

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Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean by Jackson Galaxy with Joel Derfner

I purchased Cat Daddy because I was looking for a new audiobook. Originally, my audibook app recommended A Dog’s Purpose, which I was this close to buying until I realized that I would probably end up sobbing in my car every day. But then  remembered that Jackson Galaxy, the cat behaviorist from the show My Cat From Hell, had written a book about cats! It was the perfect solution: I would still have a book about animals, but I could learn about cat behavior instead of getting punched in the feels.

Spoiler alert: I got punched in the feels. And I cried.

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Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Another excellent read for my fellow Christians–or anyone who has felt ever felt burned out by church and religion, really (I’m willing to bet that’s most of us).

Rachel Held Evans reminded me that faith, doubt, and anger are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they co-exist more often than we would like to believe, and it’s completely normal. It’s human. 

“The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.”

-Rachel Held Evans

Searching for Sunday combines a bit of church history and culture with Evans’s own insights. It had been on my to-read list for a while, and I finally read it after snagging the digital version for two dollars. I don’t know if I have ever highlighted so many quotes in my entire life. I promise you won’t be disappointed (her blog is worth a visit, too!).

Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date by Katie Heaney

This is the book I wish I had as a teen. I didn’t have my first boyfriend until my last year of college; before that, I just thought something was wrong with me. Naturally, I saw myself in these stories–and how could I not? The author and I even have the same name! Never Have I Ever is a wonderful reminder that romance is different for everyone. You don’t have to have your first kiss at thirteen or your first significant other at sixteen. You don’t even have to ever kiss anyone if you don’t want to. You just have to be you. Happy endings are for everyone, after all.

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton

Even though I’m not a mother, I can relate to almost every chapter in this book.  You see, Glennon and I are kindred spirits: we are afraid of inviting people over; we hate all the same chores; we live with people who are obsessed with dental hygiene. And I can most definitely see myself asking my future daughter to push her doll stroller across the carpet to create lines that made it look like I vacuumed. I laughed so hard at these stories, but I was also moved by Glennon’s thoughts on life, faith, and love.

I’ve already bought the audio version of her newest memoir, Love Warriorand at this point, Glennon feels like a close friend. That’s why I’m calling her Glennon. We’re on a first-name basis and everything.

“… a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”
― George R.R. Martin

For more book recs, feel free to add me on Goodreads! Talking about books is my favorite thing (after actually reading books, of course.).

What are some of your favorite non-fiction books? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter

Reading List: Dumbledore’s Army Read-A-Thon

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I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions. I’m not sure if that philosophy is due to my previous failings or some deeply rooted cynicism, but every year is the same: while everyone toasts to the new year and announces their goals, I stay silent. If I say anything at all, it’s more of a hypothetical musing than an actual commitment…and if it’s been a particularly awful year, I look forward to better days.

But if there is one goal I have for 2017, it is to read more books. I fell short of my reading goal this year, and I’ve been re-evaluating what (and when) I choose to read. I have a horrible habit of buying books faster than I read them and adding more and more to my to-read list; even if I lose interest in the story, I become more determined than ever to finish the damn book. Because if I don’t finish it, I’ve just wasted my time! Right?

As you have probably guessed, that stubbornness only results in reading less. And there is so much to read and so much to learn.

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Words have power. That is a truth that I have never, ever disputed. Books entertain and comfort and educate, and it’s all part of an incredible magic that constantly amazes me.

To kick off 2017, I am participating in a read-a-thon that focuses on diverse books, appropriately titled Dumbeldore’s Army Read-A-Thon. If stories help us empathize with others, then diverse books are yet another a tool we can use to make our world a little kinder.

There are seven read-a-thon prompts, all based on spells from the Harry Potter world. Take a look at my reading list, and feel free to recommend some of your favorite diverse books in the comments!

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Expecto Patronum: Read a diverse book featuring an issue of personal significance to you or a loved one.

For the first prompt, I chose an old favorite: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. While this novel features various issues, the two that are closest to my heart are mental health and LGBTQ rights. Charlie has his own struggle with mental health, and one of his best friends is gay–and it is a story that is still all-too familiar and important.

Expelliarmus: Disarm your own prejudices. Read a diverse book featuring a marginalized group you don’t often read about.

I consider myself fairly well-educated in terms of LGBTQ rights, but I know I still have a lot of work to do. I’ve never read a book about someone who is trans or gender-nonconforming, and so I’ve chosen Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin. It’s about a gender fluid teen, and I’m looking forward to learning and reading more about gender fluidity than what I’ve seen on Tumblr.

Protego: Protect those narratives and keep them true. Read an #OwnVoices book for this prompt.

Diverse books are important, but we must also strive to read stories about marginalized groups written by marginalized groups. #OwnVoices is a movement that supports authors and their stories. For this prompt, I’ll also be diving into some fantasy with Serpentine by Cindy Pon.

Reducto: Smash that glass ceiling. Read a book that empowers women from all different walks of life.

ALL THE FEMINISM. There are so many options, but I decided to go with Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I loved reading essays in my gender studies classes in college, and I can’t wait to read about the author’s thoughts on today’s feminist culture.

Impedimenta: Read a diverse book that’s been left unread on your TBR for far too long!

I picked up a copy of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ages ago, but it’s been sitting on my shelves gathering dust–so it’s the perfect book for this prompt! Woodson tells her childhood story through poetry, and I have a feeling it will become one of my favorites.

Stupefy: Read a diverse book that has stunned the Internet with all its well-deserved hype.

I haven’t been as involved with the book community on Tumblr or Instagram as I have in the past, so this one took a lot of Google searching…but I finally settled on When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. This book has stellar Goodreads reviews and features characters with diverse, intersectional identies. And hey, more magic!

Lumos: Read a diverse book that was recommended by one of your fellow book bloggers.

I turned to Twitter and asked for  recommendations. The lovely ladies at Black Chick Lit suggested two titles, one of which was Another Brookyln by Jacqueline Woodson (yes, another one!). I probably would have never found this book if it weren’t for Black Chick Lit, and I am so grateful for their input.

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Only two days until the #DAReadathon begins! If you’re interested in joining, visit Read at Midnight‘s blog to sign up (and hit me up if you are a fellow Hufflepuff!). Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to an ink-stained 2017 that shines with love and compassion. ❤️

Words, Words, Words

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This year’s election has been one of the most divisive, tumultuous races in recent history. Many of us are still battling shock, fear, or a sinister combination of the two–but we are determined to keep fighting.

While petitions and protests have dominated my Facebook feed, I have also heard the rally cry of my fellow writers: we need books more than ever. 

We need to read diverse books, and we need to support marginalized authors. Reading has been proven to encourage compassion and improve social skills; by reading stories about and by people who are different than us, we are more easily able to empathize with others (check out this list of resources to find diverse authors).

Books clearly have the power to entertain, educate, and inspire, but words are also an inexhaustible form of comfort. As most of you know, I turn to writing when I need to process my feelings…and if that proves unsuccessful, I read.

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

-Roald Dahl

Books often feel more like friends than bits of paper and ink. Books are also meant to be shared, and so I decided write about stories that I hold close to my heart. I also asked several friends via Facebook and Twitter what books have been comforting in times of grief or hardship, and I am happy to say this became a rather varied list. (Suggestions from others are quoted and credited with permission). 

If you are in need of some literary hugs (election-related or not), consider the following titles–and feel free to suggest your own in the comments!

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The Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling

The Boy Who Lived has done so much for this generation of readers. At the core of this series is an overwhelming message of love, something we all desperately need. Dumbledore’s Army and The Order of the Phoenix feels especially relevant this year in terms of activism.

A re-reading of this series is long overdue, but I have been listening to the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast (thanks, Samantha!). Casper and Vanessa do a remarkable job, and I am always inspired to apply the episode’s theme to my own life.

“Beauty, grace, and charm my foot. It’s a school for sadists with good tea-serving skills.”
― Libba Bray

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray 

This series is set in Victorian England, but don’t be fooled: it is perfect for Nasty Women who need an extra dose of magic. Following her mother’s death, Gemma discovers she is a sorceress who can travel between the spirit realm and our own. Her story is an honest account of female friendship, grief, and finding her place in the world. I purchased the third installment (The Sweet Far Thing) on audiobook, and my morning commutes have been infinitely more enjoyable.

The Book of Lamentations 

Sometimes, I need God to tell me that everything will be okay. And sometimes, I need God to tell me that it’s okay to think everything totally sucks.

Enter Lamentations. The day after the election, I read Lamentations and highlighted every verse that described how I felt. It was incredibly therapeutic, and I was reminded that hope can exist amidst suffering.

The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer 

“These books found me at a very dark time in my life – a space before I was diagnosed with depression & anxiety, yet was experiencing the full extent of the symptoms & didn’t know how to reach out to friends & family to tell them I was suffering. It was so healing for me to escape into a world so very different from my own, someplace where I didn’t need to be part of this body & this mind that I so desperately despised. The books were lifelines for me. Even if my life was crumbling around me, they were always there to disappear into, to forget everything just for a few hours. While I didn’t realise it at the time, in the second book, New Moon, the main character exhibits symptoms of severe depression that I recognised so deeply in myself – & it was partially her family & friends’ horrified reaction to these symptoms that made me realise that what I was feeling wasn’t normal, & I needed to get help.”   –Topaz

“Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small, but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder!! I read it every single winter around February when winter starts to feel unbearable. It puts my life into perspective. Also, I just love Laura.” -Samantha

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 

“With regard to the story, it is the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions. (With regard to voice, it is pure perfection). This novel inspires within me the noble concept of having the courage of one’s convictions — which does not stop with mere words. It is our actions in life, what we do and how we own the consequences of what we do, what we have, in fact, created. In a nutshell, one cannot “play god” and then walk away from what we have created.” -Marie

 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 

“The deceptive simplicity never fails to draw me in and the warm imagery and relationships and the journey are all very comforting to me, especially when I’m feeling lost and alone and so, so, so apathetic towards the world and those around me. This book helps me to rediscover the connection I so wish for, both with myself and those around me.” -Jessica
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