Three books I’ve enjoyed so far this month:

9780393064896A Guide for the Perplexed: A Novel by Dara Horn.

I love the title of this book and may hijack it someday (along with President Obama’s The Audacity of Hope) for a nonfiction project. Perhaps I’ll do a whole collection of stolen titles :)  Anyway…

A Guide for the Perplexed is one of the stranger novels I’ve read. It’s a literary thriller centered on one sister – Josie – who writes brilliant code and creates a program called Genizah that tracks and stores everything its users do. Josie’s sister Judith hates her, and the theme of sibling hatred extends through three different centuries. The author weaves this idea of lives stored in writing back to the 1800s, and Cambridge professor Solomon Schecter’s search for ancient documents in Cairo, and then back to the 12th Century, and the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who wrote a book called Guide for the Perplexed in an attempt to reconcile concepts of Divine will and free choice.  Sound intense? It is. But it’s also interesting. There’s a kidnapping, betrayal, several plot twists. It’s one of the few novels I’ve read that would benefit from being longer. I wish the characters of Josie and Judith were better developed (their differing takes on similar memories are a highlight of the book), and that more was said about what we do with the past as we save and look back at it.

9781601425454When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over by Addie Zierman.

This is a Christian memoir about a world where young teens “gather at the pole” to pray for their schools, and tell each other (starting at about age 14) that they can’t date or hang out because they need to develop their love for Jesus. it was like visiting a new country where none of the behaviors make sense because the context is so ingrained, no one thinks to explain it.  Zierman is a good tour guide, though. She’s a solid writer and helps readers understand a lot of the “Why would anyone do that?” questions that come up. I especially appreciated how well she described her inner world as a teen – those scenes are really poignant.  The chapters of struggling with her faith are good too, but also felt like she was holding back a bit, trying not to offend anyone. I totally get that, and appreciate that she made the effort. The story doesn’t exactly resolve, although having a baby helped the author find her focus again and renewed her interest in a faith community. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, am glad I bought it, and would recommend it to anyone looking to understand intense Christian culture, or who wants a story of someone wrestling with the faith she’s given.

9780802121400Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of the Writing Life by Dani Shapiro

This is a fun addition to the standards (Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Stephen King’s On Writing) to have on your writing motivation bookshelf.  I loved the personal writing in Shapiro’s memoir, Slow Motion, and the passages of Still Writing where she gives us glimpses into her personal struggles and triumphs are the strongest in the book. Reading this book made me realize: I don’t care about furniture, or whether someone writes longhand or types. I’m interested in how different minds work to motivate, produce, generate creative courage. Shapiro is at artful pragmatist – she’s delightfully unromantic about what it takes to get words on the page, and she’s fun to spend time with. I appreciate her candor about her own struggles and how she works to overcome them. (Although interestingly, my own writing came to an absolute standstill as I read this book – not sure what that’s about?) I always look forward to her books, and this did not disappoint.

What books are you reading these days?

(Note: I received review copies from the publishers of A Guide for the Perplexed and Still Writing, with no expectation that I write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.)

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