Spiced Caramel Companions (or, my fall reading list 2017)


It's been an unseasonably warm September here in Iowa but, keeping in the back of my mind how very long winter will be, I'm feeling pretty okay with it for now. Despite the summerish temps the leaves have begun falling and I'm more and more frequently spotting blazing orange trees in a sea of still-green ones. We were given a load of harvest vegetables from friends at a local farm and I happily added seasonal acorn squash to a pasta dish this weekend. (The entree turned out characteristically mediocre, so the autumn magic apparently doesn't extend so far as to transform my culinary skills.) I bought a fall-scented candle and light it every chance I get, even though the preschooler blows it out when I'm not looking and the toddler almost burned his hand on it during our glorious squash dinner. The good news is, now he can say the word "hot".

It's autumn, and here's what's going down on my nightstand.

(View the books at Amazon by clicking the covers. Links are affiliates and I receive a few cents of the purchases you make at no cost to you. Thanks for supporting this blog!)

Just Finished Reading:

It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing into Rebellious Motherhood
by Frida Berrigan

When we were living in Denton our housemate foisted this book upon me and I'm so glad she did. The author is the daughter of two passionate- if not highly controversial- Catholic radicals and political activists. It is both an account of her unusual upbringing in an intentional community and of her own journey navigating motherhood. What I appreciated most about her work is how respectful she is in relating her own parents unconventional family choices (they were both frequently jailed for their political demonstrations, keeping them away from their children for months at a time) while she herself has taken a different approach. It was a quick read and helped me formulate some of my own conflicting thoughts on motherhood and activism.

The Girl on the Train: A Novel 
by Paula Hawkins

I don't usually do a lot of audiobooks, other than stories for the kids in the car, but when I took a solo road trip up to Iowa from Texas to look for us a new house I picked this one up to keep the zzzzs at bay and it served it's purpose well. At this point in my life thrillers always feel a bit predictable to some extent, but they're fun and entertaining regardless. I liked it.

The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning
by Simcha Fischer

I really enjoy Simcha's writing and this book didn't disappoint as she writes about the beauties and woes of Natural Family Planning in her signature "sometimes funny-sometimes slay you" style. This isn't a how-to about the logistics of learning your body's fertility signs and all that fun stuff- this is a book for folks who have been practicing NFP for a while and have big feelings about the whole shebang. Quick and easy but very valuable!

Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World
by Kelly Nikondeha

This is the adoption book that the world needed. The author is both an adoptee from birth and a mother of two adopted children, and her depth of insight is profound. While there are thankfully plenty of awesome book resources for adoptive parents in the thick of navigating our particular complex circumstances, I really haven't found a theologically-based approach to the topic of adoption other than Russell Moore's Adopted for Life, which isn't bad but frankly isn't in the same league as this one. I heartily recommend this to anyone touched by or curious about adoption, or just anyone interested in human connection in general.

Currently Reading:

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
by Marshall B. Rosenberg

I'm slowly biting through this book, and am finding it incredibly helpful. I mentioned it to my newsletter subscribers this summer, and have only become more of a fan the further I get into it. I've always considered myself pretty good at interpersonal relationships and dialogue, but two chapters into Nonviolent Communication and I was confronted head-on with the truth of how my combination of numbing my feelings and taking responsibility for the emotions of others has been seriously unhealthy to me as an individual as well as for my family dynamics. Yet there is much more here too- it really is a must-read.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
by J.D. Vance

This one was on my list for the summer, but I never got to it due to oh I don't know, the most complicated three months of my life? So I finally started it a few days ago and I have to say I'm a  bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong the author's family is fascinating, but I guess I thought it would be more eloquently written. (To be fair, he clarifies in the introduction that he is not a writer and is surprised that the book is in existence. I just didn't know that going in.) And I'm not quite halfway through, but I had hoped for more noteworthy commentary on the "hillbilly culture" and less details of his own life. It may be coming, but so far I'd say I'm underwhelmed.

The Violence of Love
by Oscar Romero

Up until a year ago, my husband and I had only vaguely heard of Oscar Romero, the El Salvadoran Archibisop who spoke for justice so boldly that he was murdered during a mass. But one of Eric's college students gave him this movie to watch, and we were hooked on the soon-to-be-saint right away. We ordered this compilation of his homilies this summer and are just completely smitten by his courage and clarity. He is a prophet for our times, to be sure.

Will Be Reading:

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

My friend Sarah Babbs totally killed it assessing Hulu's series based on this book and its relevance to our times. I had never heard of the book or the series before, but my interest was immediately piqued by her review. I can't wait to dig in!

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting
by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

I don't read a lot of parenting books anymore, and whether it's because parenting an atypical child has made me cynical of their content or because my life is so parenting-heavy that I want my books to be far removed from the topic, I'm not sure. But every once in awhile I come across an angle that seems life-giving, and the subtitle on this one caught my eye. I haven't read a book on parenting since Momma Zen (and I really loved that one), so I figured I'd take a whack at it.

The Art of Memoir
by Mary Karr

This has been on my list for a year or two now, but I keep forgetting about it. Regardless of whether or not I ever write a memoir, my personal experiences are always woven into my writing so this book feels apropos. I'm trying to take writing as a craft more seriously and commit to reading more to make the headway I hope for, and this one comes highly recommended.

Poverty of Spirit
by Johannes Baptist Metz

Speaking of highly recommended... okay not this one. I've actually never heard of it before, have any of you? I stumbled upon it when someone gave me the language to realize that the term "poverty of spirit" succinctly sums up a lot of the themes I write about, so then I started googling to see if there were any books on the subject. Based on its brief synopsis on Amazon, I'm expecting to love it. Plus it's pretty cool that it feels like such an undiscovered treasure!

Reading with the Kids:

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle

Once we finish up James and the Giant Peach for the 12th time, this baby is next on our list. I absolutely loved it as a child and I think my boys will too, especially the 7-year-old who loves all things sciencey. I'm not as sure about the 3.5-year-old's ability to follow the plotline, but any book that is enjoyable to mama ends up delivering a pretty feel-good experience for everyone. Funny how that works, huh? ;)

Eric is Reading:

Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World
by Ken Wilber

Eric hasn't started this one yet, but it should be arriving tomorrow and my basic understanding is that its a theory of spirituality that seeks to integrate the revolutions in science and culture with the insights of the great religions. Definitely heady, but seems really necessary and timely too!


Your turn! Tell me in the comments or on Facebook what you've been reading lately, or which titles you have your eye on. I'd love to add some of them to my oft-forgotten Pinterest board of books to be read!

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)