April Book Report

April had all the things: Last-minute client work! Another round of colds for the kids! A historic blizzard! A new baby! 

Those last two things happened in the same weekend. Baby Conlin arrived happy and healthy a week early on Friday the 13th, just as the blizzard was turning from freezing rain into snow. I was also a spring snowstorm baby, so it's basically a family tradition now! Conlin and his big sisters are all doing well, and I'm adjusting better to baby #3 than I have during any other postpartum season. 

That's probably why my reading didn't dip too much, even with a new baby on the scene. Which book did I love, which books were meh, and which book didn't I finish? Right this way to the April book report! 

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The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

 

Deep reading category: Makes me think; teaches me something specific

Star rating: 5 stars

I'm a huge personality framework nerd (you can get all the details on that in this Chasing Creative episode about personality and creativity). The typing system I'm getting the most out of these days is hands down the Enneagram. Because the Enneagram has been around for thousands of years and is steeped in spiritual tradition, it's an incredible tool for not only becoming more self-aware but for actually doing something about the way we see the world and interact with other people.

Unfortunately, that rich history also means the Enneagram is complicated. That's where The Road Back to You comes in. It's not the first Enneagram book I've loved, but it is the best starting point I've found for anyone who wants to dip their toe into the Enneagram without getting totally overwhelmed. The authors do an excellent job at connecting each type with anecdotes about actual people so you can see each type in action. Another highlight is the lists at the beginning and end of each chapter to help you identify your type and begin moving toward a healthier version of yourself.

Bottom line: It's a must-read for personality geeks or those interested in self-improvement or spiritual transformation. You can also listen to the authors' podcast to get a feel for the Enneagram before diving into the book.

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Deep reading category: Makes me think; has outstanding writing

Star rating: 3 stars

The house on Yarrow Street has seen the Turner's thirteen children raised and grown. But after fifty years as the Turners' residence, the house is now worth far less than its mortgage thanks to the declining Detroit housing market. With the family matriarch in failing health and each of the Turner children facing problems of their own, the family has to make a hard decision about the future of the home, even as it brings up painful memories of the past.

This is one of those literary fiction books that doesn't feel too high-brow. It's easily readable and incredibly well written; I especially appreciated the realistic dialogue and complex family dynamics. The description may focus on the house's upside-down mortgage, but that's just the framework for the real point of the story: the way various characters have carried their pasts with them into the future, and the impact of racial disparity on the entire city of Detroit. 

Bottom line: Despite such good qualities, The Turner House was a slow read that I never felt like I HAD to finish. I struggled to power through it, especially with my mind distracted by little things like my impending labor.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Deep reading category: Outstanding writing

Star rating: N/A, did not finish

The summer of 1969 begins as boring as any other---until the four Gold children hear a rumor that a psychic has come to town. Even better, she can tell anyone the date of their death. Curiosity gets the best of the siblings, and they each spend the remainder of their lives holding her predictions in their minds as they try to spend their days well.

This new release has gotten a lot of buzz and good reviews, so I was excited to see if it lived up to expectations. Unfortunately, it did not. After the opening scene, the book follows each sibling individually until the date of his or her death. I only made it through the first two before giving up. The writing was well done, but I didn't particularly like any of the characters or the choices they were making. There was also some sexually explicit content I didn't think needed to be there. (As Modern Mrs. Darcy would say, the book needed an 8-line edit.) 

Bottom line: Despite the theme of self-fulfilling prophecies, which always intrigues me, I'm voting hard pass on this one.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Deep reading category: N/A, pure fluff

Star rating: 3 stars

Jessie's life isn't exactly stellar after her mom dies, but when her dad drags her across the country to live in Los Angeles after he elopes with a near-stranger less than two years later . . . well, let's just say she's less than excited for junior year at her new prep school. Just when Jessie is sure she'll never fit in, she gets an anonymous email from Somebody/Nobody offering to be her spirit guide to Wood Valley High. It isn't long before she's falling for her anonymous friend. But is SN really who she thinks he is? 

I give myself a few exceptions to my deep reading aspirations, and the months after having a baby are one of them. This YA novel was unadulterated fluff, perfect for nursing a baby in the middle of the night. There was a lot to love about Tell Me Three Things. It could easily have been a five-star book if it weren't for a few downsides: 

  1. Jessie constantly makes negative comments about her appearance, including everything from her weight to her acne. Normal portrayal of teenage insecurity is okay with me, but a never-ending stream of unflattering self-talk that doesn't end until a guy tells her she's beautiful? Not cool.
  2. The whole premise of this book was the mystery of SN's real identity (which was pretty predictable from the start). I wasn't exactly on pins and needles waiting to find out who SN was, so it was disappointing when the book ended almost immediately after the two meet in person. I would've liked the meeting to be a little earlier so readers actually got to see their relationship develop beyond the screen.

Bottom line: Not bad as far as fluff goes, but it's nowhere near some of my favorite YA reads.

What are your favorite fluff books?

Let me know in the comments! I'll need a few more to get me through these hazy postpartum days. And of course, summer is the best time for fluff. :)

Catch up on what else I've been reading this year in my past book reports.

Why I'm Giving Up Podcasts for Lent

I understand the spiritual practice of giving something up for Lent, but it's not something I've actively participated in as an adult. Either I never choose something soon enough, or I give up halfway through because my choice wasn't meaningful enough to me . . . the usual reasons I give up on setting goals or forming habits. 

(Or maybe it all points back to the arbitrariness of being encouraged to give up chocolate or pizza as a Catholic schoolchild . . . neither of which held much spiritual significance for me, but both of which made me resentful as a kid whose March birthday always falls during Lent.)

This year, though, I've been feeling unsettled. In this uncomfortable season of waiting and not knowing what's next, what I'm giving up for Lent seems to have fallen into my lap. 

And so, I'm giving up podcasts until Easter. 

The giving up

It probably seems like an odd choice, nearly as meaningless as candy. But here is what's been happening to me in increasing frequency over the past few months:

I wake up in the morning, and I scroll through my podcast playlist to see what's new. I distract myself from the chaos of getting the kids breakfast by choose one and hitting play. Hadley talks to me and I only half hear her. I tell myself it's just this once, just today, but of course it isn't. 

I get in the car and I turn on a podcast. I feel bored and I turn on a podcast. I fold laundry and I turn on a podcast. I tell the kids I'll build towers or color with them, but my mind isn't there; it's with a podcast. Reagan cries or Hadley asks a question, and I'm annoyed and impatient because they're pulling my focus away from the episode of the moment. 

In general, I think podcasts are a good thing. (Of course I do, or I wouldn't record my own.) I've culled my playlist down to include only the very best. The podcasts I listen to are filled with wisdom about creativity and writing, marriage and parenting, and Christian approaches to everything from money to business. 

The problem isn't with podcasts. The problem is with me.

In this rather stressful season, I've started relying on them in the hopes that they'll show me how to fix my life (at best) or escape from it (at worst). I've filled every moment of my day with chatter, voices that are wise but that have left no room for me to sit with my own thoughts or to notice any guiding signposts from God.

The taking up

Giving something up is the more well-known half of the Lenten practice, but the other option is to take something up (something I don't think I've attempted even once). This year, alongside giving up podcasts, I'm adding a new spiritual practice to my days:

Resting in solitude.

The idea comes from a book I read recently, The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher L. Heuertz (affiliate link). The gist of it is this: Christians need contemplative prayer in our lives as a way to draw closer to God and to become better versions of ourselves. The practice of contemplative prayer has been largely lost (though I think it still has a good foundation in Catholicism), and we need it more than ever in this age of never-ending distraction.  

I'm removing the distraction of podcasts, and I'm taking up the contemplative prayer posture Heuertz recommends for my Enneagram type, 4 (rest in solitude). 

I'm a bit skeptical about this, to be honest. How much solitude can I be reasonably expected to find as the mother of a three- and one-and-a-half-year-old? But something about it feels right, like it's a missing puzzle piece that will help me hit "reset" on so many things that have gotten out of line. 

I don't expect a huge spiritual transformation, but I'll take even the smallest baby step in the right direction. 

What are you giving up / taking up for Lent this year?