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A Breakdown of Books I’ve Read Over Break: The 2018 Summer Edition

After just procrastinating from doing any school work to power through yet another book, I figured it was due time to go through the books I’ve been reading lately. My first round-up was really fun. I’ll start this round with what I read during my 3-week vacation in Europe! If you want more recommendations, you can find them on my bookshelf broken down my category. 🙂

Kramer v. Kramer by Avery Corman

There’s a library in an affluent area of northern Milwaukee that has a free book section as you walk in. This was one of the options. I’d of course heard of the Academy Award winning movie adaption with Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman, but I didn’t know the ending. The dialogue and novel itself were brutally honest and raw. The ending brought me to tears. Maybe the jetlag on the way to London could have played a role too…

Recommendation: I want to watch the movie, but I will probably never read this book again. Not that I didn’t like it, but it’s nothing I did not mind leaving behind when the plane landed.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

True story, this was the last book I had that I brought with me to Europe, and I internally groaned as I started it. I love pull quotes from this book. I know smart people cite it all the time. But I like philosophy in chunks, not novels. Or I like philosophy intertwined into a story or elaborate allegory, like The Screwtape Letters. I did not finish this book, and I honestly can’t recall where it is in my apartment. It did spark a good conversation with a waiter in Denmark, though. So there’s that.

Recommendation: C.S. Lewis is a brilliant man. I love his conversion story. I love this quote from the book: “Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not predict.” But I did not make it through this book. Maybe I need to try it in chunks…And find it in my house…

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This list is quickly turning “Classic Works of Literature Marissa Did Not Appreciate.” You can put Angelou’s memoir on that list too. I like autobiographies, and Angelou is a very vivid storyteller. It was an eye-opening look into a time and world I am not familiar with. It was educational. I just did not like it’s Ernest Hemingway-type ending where it did not really have a satisfactory ending.

Recommendation: Well, Oprah wrote the forward of the latest edition, so there’s that. Hopefully someone at the Copenhagen Airport found it and appreciated it. At least it’s not the book I literally threw in the trash around that time because it was so bad (and whose name I cannot remember for the life of me).

In The School of the Holy Spirit by Fr. Jacques Philippe

This book sustained me before, during, and after Europe. It’s Jacques Philippe, so it’s amazing. Too, it’s all about getting to know the Holy Spirit, which is the part of the Trinity I understand the least.

Recommendation: “Our Lord is always ready to lift us up again when we fall, and he even finds a way to make our falls beneficial to us if after them we turn back to him with a humble, trusting heart.” This tiny wise nugget of wisdom speaks for itself.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I picked up this book in Copenhagen on my last full day in Europe knowing full well that I needed a new (and large) book to get me home to the United States. I stumbled on this one at a volunteer bookstore in the Nørrebro area. I had heard it was the basis for the HBO series of the same name. I was expecting it to take place in the United States, so I was surprised that it was based in Australia. The book was captivating and held my attention for hours. I only broke up reading it to watch Die Hard.

Recommendation: Haven’t watched the HBO series, but I see how they got Meryl Streep for Season 2 based on the book alone. I loved Lianne Moriarty’s style and how she wove everything together.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

One good book means the author is good, right? Right. Also thoroughly enjoyed this other book by Moriarty, and I wonder if they are going to use material from it for Season 2 of Big Little Lies since Season 1 ended with that book’s ending.

Recommendation: I liked Big Little Lies more since it was laid out slightly better as a mystery, but both are good and captivating (but easy) reads.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

At this point in the summer, I was deep into my summer class called Evidence-Based Practice 2: This Time It’s For Real. (Just kidding. The subtitle is made up. But I wish I did not have to take not only one but two classes on Evidence-Based Practice aka EBP aka reading articles about the difference between EBP, QI (quality improvement), and EBQI (evidence-based quality improvement). Obviously, my head was hurting from my class.)

Giffin is all about the tragic rom-com novel as evidenced by the book and movie Something Borrowed. (Who picks anyone over John Krasinski, by the way? He in almost any role is prime partner material, so this movie was clearly a work of fiction.) This was a story about two sisters who can do nothing but argue after their brother’s tragic death years before. It was a light, easy read. However, it made me think on multiple occasions dang, these male characters are one-dimensional, which I feel is hard to do.

Recommendation: Are you going to a beach? Are you going to pay only some attention to the book? If yes to both, then yes, read it.

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey

My favorite book and movie adaption of a book is All the President’s Men. I love the Watergate scandal and how the diligent work of two journalists and a couple of honest people working for dishonest people to bring down a very popular president. This part of history gives me great confidence in the honest and good people there are working in the American government, of whom I am friends with a couple. In talking to government employees about the government, a name that has come up multiple times with respect and an air of awe has been former FBI Director James Comey. He always seemed to me to be an honest and grounded federal employee. After his dramatic firing, I was excited to get my hands on his autobiography.

This book is more of an autobiographical reflection on ethical leadership and some of the tough decisions Comey has had to make. Though some of the gravity of it is probably lost due to information still being classified, it was eye-opening to see how the FBI operates when it comes to investigations and special counsel investigations.  I have even greater respect for Comey who seems has a solemn respect for the law above all else. I was particularly struck in his re-telling of choosing to prosecute Martha Stewart, comparing her story to that of a young pastor who he did not want to prosecute. Comey seeks the truth and justice, and I am sorry to see him gone. (And too, what’s with all this partisan stuff about him? I don’t understand. Neither does he apparently).

(But seriously, if two junior journalists could bring down the popular Nixon with the help of a couple good people – including FBI #2 Mark Felt – I think Robert Mueller and every American reporting agency have a lot more going for them. Watergate was so much more dramatic.)

Recommendation: A must read of 2018 for greater insight into the political and ethical challenges going on in the current administration.

The Big Picture by Christine Whelan

Whelan is a professor at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. I had completed her book/workbook last year and just re-visited it as I am figuring out some of my long-term dreams. The exercises in it are great, and she touches on a lot of good research.

Recommendation: A great exercise when examining your life. It’s geared towards high school/college-age students, so if you’re in your late twenties like me or older, I’d recommend Meg Jay’s The Defining Decade.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Well, it was time in the summer semester for me to write yet another paper, so I needed a light book. John Green is a riveting Young Adult fiction writer, so something by him seemed like a good place to start. The book follows Colin Singleton who is a childhood prodigy having a crisis after the 19th Katherine he has dated dumps him.

Recommendation: I loved Green’s use of footnotes and style of writing. It was a lovely divergence from term paper writing.

The Second Greatest Story Ever Told by Fr. Michael Gaitley

I happened upon this book at my favorite Catholic thrift shop in town. Gaitley discusses how Divine Mercy has shaped the 20th century into the new millenium. Having just been to Poland, I was particularly interested in his re-telling of Polish history in light of 20th century saints like St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Faustina, and St. Pope John Paul II. It was very eye-opening how much God is trying to proclaim mercy, even now!

Recommendation: Gaitley’s writing is very accessible. If you’ve never read anything of his, I’d start with 33 Days to Morning Glory.

The Navarre Bible: The Psalms and The Song of Solomon

Complied by the faculty of the University of Naverre (initiated by St. Josémaria Escriva himself), this Bible has extensive footnotes.* I am working through the Psalms. So far, I am liking all the additional information from church documents and other historical contexts. It’ll be what I’m praying with for at least the year!

Recommendation: If you like footnotes and side information, this Bible is for you!

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

When Emily Giffin (of above) wrote that this novel was “witty and deeply heartfelt,” I was expecting mildly funny and slightly moving. In reading the synopsis about how it’s about an English family forced together by a quarantine, I was also expecting there to eventually be a line along the lines of “Maybe everyone should be quarantined with their family.” I was right on both counts.

The novel should have been called “Love in the Time of Ebola” because that’s essentially what the novel is. The drama centers around do-good doctor Olivia who secretly falls in love with another doctor while serving in Liberia who is forced to be in quarantine with her family that she does not get along with. Hornak’s fake virus is called Haag though. I do not, however, understand the route of transmission and the course of disease in the least. It sounds like a regular, old blood borne pathogen like HIV and Hepatitis C, so why are they talking Hazmat suits? And why is the British character measuring her temperature in Fahrenheit? And why do people have a purple rash when they’re almost dead? Ebola would have been more interesting.

Recommendation: The characters were predictable enough, but it was entertaining. Kept me hooked during a weekend away, but not so much that I could not put it down.

What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People by Joe Navarro

I picked this book up with my library raid before my family went up north for a weekend. I never gave it the time it deserved until a week before it was due. Navarro is an ex-FBI agent with a keen eye for human behavior that he backs up with science (much to my relief and delight!). His writing is very approachable, and I love that he complimented what he was writing with pictures and examples from his career. I only got through the basics, the feet, legs, and torso before I had return it. Guess I’ll remain clueless about faces!

Recommendation: Fascinating and approachable read. Navarro presented eye-opening information about non-verbals I had never thought of or heard of. I have already started using some of the information at work to get a better gauge on patients and their family members.

Between the Savior and the Sea by Bob Rice

My friend Claire of The Catholic Feminist Podcast lent this one to me, and it’s one of her favorites to read during Lent. Rice is an Assistant Professor of Catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and is on the Catholic lecture circuit. (I think she first heard of him at a FOCUS conference?) Rice incorporates his knowledge of scripture into a fictionalized account of the Gospels.

It is captivating for two reason: first, it is refreshing to read the Gospels as a coherent story. Sometimes I get lost in the gaps of the Gospels, wondering how and how long it took Jesus and co. to get from one place to another. I have a hard time seeing how much time has passed. Second, it is helpful to read another person’s imaginings of how the apostles reacted to Jesus. Not only does Rice offer the perspective of Peter but of Judas and Jesus as well.

Recommendation: I am a fan. There’s definitely stories that I conceptualize much differently than Rice, but it has been a great way to wind down and pray before bed. It also has given me new perspective on the Gospels and how the apostles, disciples, and Jews struggled to believe in Jesus.

Get the Guy: Learn Secrets of the Male Mind to Find the Man You Want and the Love You Deserve by Matthew Hussey

My friend loves relationship coach Matthew Hussey, so I watched a couple YouTube videos. Hussey has a lovely British accent and seems to offer straightfoward, simple advice, so I thought I’d give his book a read.

Recommendation: Worth a read, but the videos and book overlap a lot if you don’t want to dedicate your time.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I’ve renewed this twice, mostly because it can be a bit dry, but it is also immensely interesting. Flow or “being in the zone” is a stated of energized focus, and Csikszentmihalyi (holy letters) describes the condition necessary for flow such as a lack of worrying about the opinions of others and having set goals.

Recommendation: Very interesting concept, but the book is a little slow. I had a problem getting in the zone reading it.

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Fr. Gregory Boyle

My friend recommended this book to me. It’s the stories of Fr. Gregory, Boyle of Homeboy Industries in Los Angelos, a gang rehabilitation organization. Boyle was sick of burying boys from gang violence and wanted to offer them a way out. The book is a compilation of vignettes about his boys.

Recommendation: It took me a bit to get used to Boyle’s writing style, but I like it and am still working on it.

*Just wanted to note how much I love footnotes in my own footnotes.

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