Tuesday, May 1, 2012

reading recap: april.

Book: Bloom
Finished: Mid-April

I've been a fan of Kelle Hampton's blog since she first blogged about her sweet Nella's birth a couple of years ago, so I was thrilled our book club chose her book for our May read. (We'll even be "meeting" Kelle via Skype at our monthly gathering.) Bloom didn't disappoint. I appreciate Kelle's blog because she manages to write with both enthusiasm and honesty. She writes about enjoying the small things, but she's not overly perky or impractical, and her book reads the same way. Parts of Kelle's story are excruciating (a friend of mine recommended to "read with a box of tissues"), but they're necessary. I'm always grateful for bloggers and authors who choose to write honestly; it's like they're, one word at a time, showing us the way. For readers of Kelle's blog, Bloom also offers a more in-depth look at what Kelle's life looked like before marriage and children and family. It's nice to see that backstory, to understand how our upbringings shape who we are and what we become. Bloom is a beautiful book, too; I'd highly recommend forgoing the Kindle or Nook versions and buying the hardcover. (But then again, you're not going to see me recommending Kindle versions of anything.) It would make a wonderful gift, especially for Mother's Day. Bloom might not be for everyone (if you don't enjoy her blog, you're not going to enjoy this book), but I thought it was a beautiful portrayal of how one mother came to terms with her child's down's syndrome... and in turn, how she became a woman she's proud of. This is just a really great story, told by a passionate storyteller.

Finished: Mid-April

An Altar in the World was easily my favorite nonfiction book of the month. I started it back in March, but took my time completing it; by the time April rolled around, I decided to read one chapter a day, both to maintain the rhythm of the book, but also to soak in Barbara Brown Taylor's wise words. I underlined and took notes in and out of the pages; I truly believe her words make a difference to me. I wound up reading almost the entire last chapter aloud to Jordan one night. I believe I followed up that reading with the words, "I wish Barbara Brown Taylor could be my patron saint." And I meant it. I'd love to just sit and soak in her wisdom in person; I have a feeling she and I could have a lovely porch chat or a fun afternoon working in the garden. Her words are wise without being pretentious or overly-theological. I often find myself getting bogged down in the language of theology; An Altar in the World offers theological truths, practically. This isn't a book about "read your Bible; pray every day"; it's instead devoted to putting on spiritual practices like wearing your humanity, getting lost, and living with purpose. I know for a fact I'll wind up returning to her chapter on "the practice of saying no" again and again and again. I'd recommend reading this one, as I finally did, one chapter at a time. It's not meant to be rushed through or endured; it's meant to be enjoyed and, ultimately, practiced. I really couldn't recommend this one enough. 

Finished: Mid-April

If you're like me, you've seen John Green's The Fault in Our Stars all over the internet; it's been on my list for months, and I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago on a Barnes and Noble date with Jordan. It's young adult fiction, but I don't really know if that means anything. A book's a book. Words are words. And these happen to be really great words. I read the entire thing in one weekend, most of it in one setting, sitting out by the pool. It's heartbreaking and funny and true. One thing I especially loved was Green's ability to fully embody Hazel, the incredibly authentic teenage narrator. I was absolutely amazed at how real Hazel became; she sounds and thinks exactly like the teenagers I know and love while being her own person entirely ... and the whole time, her thoughts and words are being written by a middle-aged man. Intentionally or unintentionally, authors' voices often shine through in their characters. What I mean is: Steve Martin writes like a man. Which is fine, because a) he is a man, and b) his narrators and protagonists are often men. But the way he writes and describes and expounds, you know: He's a man. But The Fault in Our Stars could have been written by a teenage girl. A smart one. A cancer-ridden one. A witty one. But a teenage girl nonetheless. That alone would have been impressive enough, but The Fault in Our Stars rings true page after page after page. This is an easy read, but not because the content is easy; it's easy because you care about the outcome, because you fall in love with the smart, imperfect characters; and because it's a story that resonates, whether you've lived it yet or not.


Book: Heaven Is Here
Finished: Late April

If you've been living under a rock, Stephanie Nielson is a Mormon "mommy blogger" (hate that term, but there it is) who drew thousands of adoring fans to her blog with bright colors, a cheerful attiude, and four pretty adorable children. It didn't hurt that she's gorgeous, has a precious home, and exhibits a knack for holiday crafts and DIY projects. Then, in 2008, Stephanie was in a horrible plane crash with her husband and a family friend; the family friend died; Stephanie and husband, miraculously, survived. Heaven Is Here offers a detailed look into the crash, its aftermath, and Stephanie's recovery (she was burned over 80% of her body). The book is almost too depressing in parts; I had to put it down here and there because it was just so incredibly tragic. As with Kelle Hampton, I'm impressed by Stephanie's heartbreaking honesty; I do wish there had been more details about how not only her body repaired (is repairing), but how her relationships with her husband and family repaired and changed after the accident, and after recovery had really begun. Stephanie almost goes there a few times, but -- and this may be entirely intentional; Stephanie has long promoted her writing as positive and upbeat -- I feel like that part of the story is either glossed over or not told at all. I think, too, I had trouble identifying with Stephanie BC ("before the crash," her own term). Stephanie describes herself as a born romantic; she never desired to earn her degree, but instead always knew she wanted to be a wife and mother. Her goal was to meet her husband and create a happy life with him. Make no mistake: There is nothing wrong with that, and I admire Stephanie for being so confident, even at a young age, in who she wanted to become. I do think, though, that because I am just so very different from Stephanie, I had a hard time relating to her entirely. I'm a reader of Stephanie's blog, but I'm an even more avid follower of her sister C.Jane's, and I think that difference may have had an impact on how much I enjoyed and appreciated Heaven Is Here. One other thing: While Kelle Hampton's book reads almost exactly like her blog, Stephanie's doesn't. Her blog is mostly snippets and descriptive fragments (which are enjoyable in blog format, but would have made for a rather challenging book); her book is written in an entirely different style, which may be because she had help in writing it. (A point she's honest about.) The writing style is different, but the story is the same, and it's heartbreaking and tragic, but in the end... redemptive. It's simply amazing to me what healing -- of the body and the soul -- can look like.


Erin said...

The Fault in Our Stars has been on my list for months now too! Also I am adding an Altar in the World, as it sounds like a book I would love.
I see you're reading The History of Love now, and I can't wait to hear what you think of it...I read Krauss's more recent book (Great House) last year and thought it was...interesting. But it piqued my interest enough that I'd still like to read more of her work.

Jessica said...

I loved Bloom!! LOVED!! I haven't read Stephanie's book yet. I want to, but I'm afraid I won't recognize she wrote it. Her writing is imperfect and that is somewhat charming about her. Does this read like she wrote it at all? Does it seem authentic?

annie said...

@ Erin - I've only just started "The History of Love," but so far I'm liking it. I'll definitely give a full report once I'm finished!

@ Jessica - "Heaven Is Here" sounds like Stephanie wrote it in the sense that her priorities (husband, home, and family) are clear; there's never a moment when you wonder what's important to her. The writing style itself, though, doesn't sound all that familiar. I still think you'll probably like it -- her voice is still there -- but it definitely reads like she had some help in the actual writing (something she admits to pretty openly).

Rebecca said...

Oh goodness, I loved The Fault in Our Stars. I got a signed copy on the release day and read it in four hours in between fits of manic sobbing because it was giving me so many feelings . I keep meaning to pick up a copy of Bloom -- I love Kelle's blog! I haven't read the others but they sound really interesting.