Books I’ve read, the May-July edition.

Phoebe – Paula Gooder

A story based on the life of Phoebe from the letters of Paul. It’s a lovely imaginative piece which helped bring colour to the life of the early church and made me ponder all over again what it must have been like to be part of this crazy movement of people trying to take seriously the words of Jesus and start a whole new way of living. I think we often get so preoccupied with the minutia of how we are living as Christians, stuck in our tribal ways of acting, that it was refreshing to take a step back and look at a bigger picture. Paula draws us into the world of people eating and living together and trying to work out as best they could what Paul and Peter were on about when they wrote them letters about life with Jesus.

Searching for Sunday- Rachel Held Evans.

A beautiful manifesto for what the church could and probably should be. A bunch of weirdos trying to love and connect with each other because of the One who loves us and holds us together. Worth a read if you’ve ever struggled with church (I can’t imagine there are many who haven’t…). It’s a book that gave me hope again to persevere with the rather odd reality of church.

She says things like this: “The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace”. 

And this: “But the gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, “Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.”

Her early death seems all the more untimely and hideous when she wrote such refreshing welcoming words, that gave hope to so many people on the margins of this Christian thing.

Middle England – Jonathan Coe

I love Jonathan Coe books, he seems to have an almost prophetic insight into what the ‘English’ mindset is like. This one is the third in a series following a group of friends from the 70s to the present day. It’s a fairly depressing read considering the political landscape we now inhabit but one with an interesting social commentary on our times.

The Outrun- Amy Liptrot

A beautiful book about a recovering alcoholic returning to the Orkney Islands where she grew up. Nature, the sea and living a more simple life all aid her recovery. Wonderful for her honesty, descriptions of the natural world and the sense of hope she leaves the reader with at the end. I loved seeing a life redeemed and the confidence of someone breaking away from most of the social norms we take for granted.

Being Christian- Rowan Williams

A pretty good little book of reflections on baptism, prayer, the Bible and communion. It left me feeling hopeful that there is a space for me in this being Christian thing and enjoying the breadth of people’s experiences of what it means to be Christian.

The Salt Path- Raynor Winn

Another redemption through the natural world memoir book. Two people suddenly have everything ‘secure’ in this world taken away from them and are left homeless, one with fairly debilitating health issues. They decide to set off on the South West Coast Path and see how far they get on £40 a week, sleeping in a tent on the side of the path. I got properly itchy feet after reading this one. It’s a beautiful read and asks pretty big questions about how close we all are to the edge of what we expect life to give us.

The Core of the Sun- Johanna Sinisalo

Because everyone needs a slightly odd dystopian scary world where women are trained to be fluffy and stupid, their only purpose to attract a mate, and men can pretty much do whatever they want with them. Throw in a few female outliers, an addiction to chili, some major chili dealers, then follow a female and male who don’t fit into the social norms as they try and get out to freedom and you’ve got a pretty good read.

The Clockmakers Daughter- Kate Morton

Another one of those books she writes so well, two or three different timelines woven together in a mysterious story across the centuries. Pretty engaging to read.

Trials of Morrigan Crow- Jessica Townsend

Billed to me as the next Harry Potter I eagerly jumped through this one. It’s pretty good, an interesting, different take on a lot of themes popular in YA fiction. Other worlds, magical happenings, trials of one sort and another, a main character learning a new way of looking at the world around her and who she assumes she is. I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

Spiritual Direction- Sue Pickering.

Last year I decided that really all I want to do with my time is become a Spiritual Director operating from a campervan. I have the van, all I need now is the qualification to be a Spiritual Director. For those who aren’t aware, Spiritual Directors are people who are trained in the art of coming alongside others in their journey of faith, providing space for people to notice where God might be, where they might be in relation to God and to be a nurturing place for people to pay attention to the divine in their life. Someone to provide companionship, to walk alongside you for a bit of the journey. They aren’t counselors, not psychotherapists or mentors but occupy a space to help you think through life in relation to God. I’m going to be starting a training course in October in London to be a Spiritual Director and reading this book was super helpful in that discernment process. It’s a brilliant book for anyone to read as it covers so much ground in thinking through how we listen to God, how we hear the Divine presence in our lives, how we can listen to others, what stuff we bring to the table and how we can work through that in our interactions with others. It made me want to pay attention all over again to the presence of God in the midst of everyday life and be listening out to what God might be up to. She says things like this:

“As we, and our directees, begin to develop an awareness that God can be found in the midst of ordinary routines, and as we realise that any aspect of daily life can be used to aid reflection and connection with God, life becomes a real adventure. We become aware of the unexpected moments through which the Holy Spirit may touch and teach us, using the most common symbols or the simplest events.”

End of the World Running Club- Adrian J Walker

More depressing dystopian stuff. A fascinating insight into our society at the moment and a very honest main character who isn’t all that sympathetic but as he runs towards being reunited with his family through an England ravaged by meteor explosions he grew on me. Worth a read if you like that kind of stuff.

The Day the World Came to Town-Jim Defede

Story upon story of the week following 9/11 when 38 planes were grounded in Gander, Newfoundland as American airspace was shut down. Fascinating, heartwarming, humbling, inspiring, the superlatives don’t really do this true story justice. It was written a couple of years after the events and contains some of the stories told in the musical ‘Come from Away’, but also loads of other stories as well.

Where the Crawdad’s Sing- Delia Owens

The most beautiful book I’ve read all year. The story of Kya, a girl who lives out on the Marshes in the south of America. It’s so wonderfully written, is such a tender story, is full of the wonder of the natural world and had me in tears many times. Get it now.

Normal People- Sally Rooney

I gave this a go having hated ‘Conversations with Friends’ when I read it at the beginning of the year. The characters in this are slightly more sympathetic but I still just didn’t get it. It felt cold at times, written well but with nothing I could relate to. I think that was probably the problem, there was just a disconnect that I’m struggling to articulate. Maybe me and Sally just aren’t destined to get on. Ah well. It’s just that everyone seems to tell me that we should.

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