What I’ve Read & What I’m Reading

I thought that I was going to be a little annoyed when the alarm went off at 5:15 this morning and I had to accept that real life was fully underway again, but I actually didn’t mind getting out of bed because I was so rested from spring break. Apparently six days of reading / watching The Newsroom / sleeping (at least) eight hours a night has some benefits.


Anyway, some of you (and by “some,” I mean “at least two”) have asked about my reading list, so I thought I’d do a quick recap of what I’ve read / what I’m reading. I think it’s probably obvious that I’m in a significant non-fiction phase, so if you have any good fiction to recommend (especially fiction where children are unharmed / not kidnapped / safe and treasured), I’d love to know about it.

All righty. Here’s the list.

1) The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

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I love books about writing, especially Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King. Given that, I was excited to finally get to read Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir since I tend to write memoir-ish books. I highlighted a ton of passages in this book, especially the parts where Karr chronicles her own writing experiences. There are a few chapters where she devotes a significant amount of time to critiquing other writers’ memoir techniques, and I found those parts less interesting just because they reminded me a little of grad school and clearly I still have some lingering stress from my grad school experience (especially as it relates to Vladamir Nabokov, a writer held in the highest esteem by Karr). Even still, I know that I’ll read parts of this book again; Karr is a brilliant writer and so fun to read.

2) Lit by Mary Karr

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So after I read The Art of Memoir, I immediately downloaded Lit, and I’m still reading it. There’s definitely an overarching tone of sadness (the book focuses on Karr’s battle with alcoholism), but there are also some hilarious moments, and I’m increasingly convinced that nobody writes a better simile than Mary Karr. So far I definitely like Lit better than The Liars’ Club, Karr’s first memoir that was hard for me to read because the subject matter was so heavy. I’ll also say that the pace and structure of Lit are a little fascinating to me; I’m kind of hyper-aware of those two elements when I read, and so far I really like how Karr handles both.

3) The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons

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I read a chapter of this book back in the winter, and then I put it aside and told myself that I could start reading again after I finished my book. Well, that is exactly what I did. I tend to like a novel with any kind of CIA / government intrigue / secret and/or rogue government operation as a backdrop, and this one certainly delivers on that count. I was also interested in the mystery at the heart of this book. However, I felt like it got pretty dark about half-way through, and the dark never really let up for the rest of the book. So when the book was over, it just felt over – but I didn’t feel like anyone had really conquered anything / learned any big lessons / walked away better than they were before. Sorry if that’s a spoiler – I really don’t think it is – but ultimately there was something missing at the heart of this book (redemption, maybe?) that left me feeling hollow.

4) Looking for Lovely by Annie Downs

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Reading Annie’s books is like having a conversation with a friend. I just started reading her newest book (it releases Tuesday 4/5), and I can honest-to-goodness hear her voice in every single sentence. I love that. Without spoiling the premise of the book, I will tell you that 1) in the nerdiest possible way, I am a fan of the way Annie has structured / organized the chapters 2) almost every woman alive will be able to relate to Annie’s stories and 3) you’re going to laugh and cry as you read. This book would be a great choice for a book club or a small group – lots to talk about, lots of ways to connect Annie’s experiences to our personal experiences. Just FYI. Yay, Annie!

5) Jesus Outside the Lines by Scott Sauls

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I’ve mentioned this book before. I just don’t want you to forget about it. :-) IT IS FANTASTIC.

6) Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling

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I finished this book a while ago, and I’ve been meaning to mention it ever since. Mindy Kaling makes me smile, primarily because she is hilarious. I loved her first book and was concerned that book two nmight be a let-down, but oh no it was not. So. If you liked her first book or Tina Fey’s book or Amy Pohler’s book, you’ll enjoy this one, too. Some of you who like to read Serious Things might want to keep in mind that this is not necessarily something you would read to strengthen your world view, but it’s light and funny and, in places, tender. I am such a fan of Mindy Kaling’s writing style (random-ish, stream-of-consciousness-ish, loaded with pop culture references, conversational, etc.).

7) Unoffendable by Brant Hansen

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I bought this book last week because I felt like I needed it. This presidential election has brought out parts of my personality that I don’t really love – a side of me that is super-opinionated and very certain of my right-ness and way too judge-y. Without belaboring the (boring) point, I’ll just say that I’m tired of feeling angry about it all, and after seeing mention after mention about Unoffendable, I decided to read it. No joke: I was teary-eyed by page three because it hit me right where I’ve been living. And while I haven’t finished it yet, this book is challenging me and encouraging me. I am grateful for both of those things. Also, Brant Hansen is HILARIOUS (I used to read his blog posts back in the day and wish I could write like he does), and he brings lots of levity to what could be a super-earnest subject matter. Also, I’m pretty sure that I’m on track to highlight more passages in this book than any other in recent memory. It’s a keeper.

So. Those are all of my current book-related thoughts. Have y’all read anything good or memorable lately?

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  1. Hey Boo Mama,

    I have a fiction writer for you: my friend, Julie Klassen, writes EXCELLENT historical (think Jane Austen) Christian fiction for Bethany House Publishers. She’s won 3 Christy Awards, a Minnesota Book Award, a RITA award, and let’s just face it, she’s awesome! Her last one – my personal favorite – is The Painter’s Daughter. I was SO blessed to have had the opportunity to travel with her to England in 2014 to research the book locations. She is all about accurate historical research, so you don’t have those issues with her. Hope you are able to dig into one of her books!

  2. Thanks for the recimmendations! I recently finished I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes. Not the fastest book ever, but I really enjoyed it. It’s in the spy/CIA-type genre. Fun! And I just finished the first of the Mitford books, by Jan Karon. It is a long book, but so charming and relaxing to read. It was like a breath if fresh air amid all the horrors of Facebook. I loved it!

    • Don’t stop reading Mitford until you’ve finished every single one! The only one I didn’t care for was the one set in Scotland. Talk about highlighting… So much goodness in these!

    • Stay in Mitford! It does not disappoint. In a world of cynicism and bickering, this is like relaxing in a mountain cabin away from the cruel world. I’ve read the series over and over!

  3. If you haven’t read Max Lucado’s book “Miracle At the Higher Grounds Cafe” yet (it is fiction), I highly recommend it! Wonderful story.

  4. Ok, wait. Did you actually like Amy Poehler’s book? I loved the idea of it, but geez, I just wanted more. I totally loved Tina Fey’s book and both of Mindy Kailings (and your first, I haven’t ready the second yet) so I am surprised to see a teeny endorsement. In other news, I love your blog. Makes me feel connected to the south somehow.

  5. Julie R says:

    “The World’s Largest Man” by Harrison Scott Key — Mississippi native — is wonderful! If you like Rick Bragg, you’ll like this.

  6. Thank you for the suggestion of “Unoffendable”. I, too, hate what this election has brought out in me, so I look forward to reading it. On a similar note, I felt like the first chapter of “Jesus Outside the Lines” was speaking directly to me about this election. Good stuff!

  7. I’m curious, would you recommend Mindy Kailing’s books for mature teen girls?

    • I think it would be ok-there are some mature themes around dating and drinking, but they aren’t explicit (I didn’t find it offensive). I would let my older teen read it, but give it a read yourself just to make sure you’re comfortable with the content. It’s a witty, fun book!

  8. I love Mary Karr also. Thanks for the recommendations I love having a stack on stand-by! If you haven’t checked out Fredrik Backman ( he only has two books–both great) I highly recommend them. As for non-fiction if you haven’t read “Tattoos on the Heart” by Fater Greg Boyle SJ (same order as our beloved pope) then you need to read it. It is life changing, perspective changing goodness. I also love reading you…

  9. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a sweet, compelling book. Also, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is fun. I’m with you – no books about children in danger, etc. Hope you enjoy!

  10. Great recommendations! I went to college with a Brant Hanson – he’s just as much of a scream in real life as he is on the radio & as a writer!

  11. Hey Sophie. After watching the “War and Peace” series this winter I bought the book. I’m enjoying it, but I’m sure I’ll be reading it throughout the summer. It’s kind of long you know.

  12. Anne N. says:

    In the CIA thriller vein, check out Chris Pavone’s “The Expats”.

  13. Sophie, do you listen to Brant Hansen’s podcast? It’s one of the funniest, best things I listen to (new episodes M-F). It’s called the Oddcast and is fantastic.

    If you need another non-fiction book down the road, I’d love to send you my book. :) Since we’re both Birmingham people, I’m sure you would recognize many of the places I talk about in Even If Not.

  14. I am on a fiction kick right now. Except for Looking for Lovely which I just picked up. If you haven’t read Big Little Lies, I highly recommend it. I’m reading Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah right now while I wait for my turn at the library to read her latest book, The Nightingale. I haven’t read her books before but I really like her writing so far. Mindy Kaling’s new book was my favorite of her two. She’s cracks me up!

  15. I listened to the audio version of Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron. It was so good that I actually listened to it again. Gorgeous writing, unforgettable voice with a touch of humor and poignancy I’ve never read before. So worth the time!

  16. Christina says:

    If you haven’t read them, you might enjoy “The Potluck Club” series by Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson. It’s Christian fiction and well-written. The “Last Chance” series (ok, I’ve only read one so far, but it was really good) by Cathleen Armstrong is also Christian fiction that I would recommend. If you like military/CIA type fiction, you might enjoy Christian author Dee Henderson. Her stories are well-written and fast-paced. It’s been a while since I’ve read them, but I remember liking them.

  17. Not too long ago I reread Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods, and was struck by how different (but not in a bad way) it feels now that I’m thirty years old instead of in the K-12 range. My feelings as I reread are more complex, but there’s a layer of admiration and sympathy that I probably didn’t know how to have before, even though I still loved the series as a kid. (And it’s set in Wisconsin, so you don’t have to feel too flinchy about there being no air conditioning! :) )

  18. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Sophie. Here are three non-fiction books I highly recommend.

    Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candace Millard. One of the best books I’ve read in years…fascinating. Everyone I’ve recommended it to has loved it.

    Dead Wake by Erik Larson

    Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Quereshi