A new season is the perfect time to start a new book. Seriously. Whether you're someone who always has a paperback tucked in your purse or you're just trying to figure out a way to fill the time on your trip to Thanksgiving dinner, a good book is always a good idea. Over the past few months, I've read six books that were all uniquely interesting, intriguing and impactful. I'll warn you now, all of these books aren't for everyone. A couple are pretty out there in terms of subject matter. However, I am such a firm believer in diving into the way other people live and see things to build understanding. I've given a brief synopsis of each of these books and shared some of my thoughts. I think each one is a good choice for someone, depending on who you are, what season of life you're in and what interests you. Enjoy!
1. "Fresh Air" by: Chris Hodges
I got my hands on "Fresh Air" after the first membership class at Church of the Highlands, the church that has really made Montgomery feel like home to me. Chris Hodges is the pastor of the mega-church that has locations all over Alabama.This book, to put it simply, is a summation of all the things I love about my church and pastor. It's clear, easy to read and direct. It does such a beautiful job of addressing, early on, the way our relationship with God is intended to be and how beautifully freeing our day-to-day interactions with Him can feel when you go all in and let Him in. This book gives such tangible ways to discover and open ourselves up to God's presence in every area of our lives. I found myself highlighting sentences, praying over paragraphs and even laughing. Yes, laughing. One thing Pastor Chris said during my first visit to Highlands, that made laugh and nod, is that Christianity has a major branding problem. This book really sets the record straight. I recommend it to anyone who is feeling complacent, confused or just lacking excitement, depth or desire in their spiritual life. I closed this book feeling full and refreshed.
2. "Ordeal" by: Linda Lovelace
I became familiar with Linda Lovelace and her story one night in college, while desperately searching for something good to watch on Netflix (a real struggle). I really enjoy Amanda Seyfried, and I saw she was in a movie I had not seen yet called "Lovelace". So, I just watched it. It's the story of Linda Lovelace, one of the first big names in the porn industry. Now, before you exit out of this....don't. Stay with me. After watching it, I learned Linda Lovelace had actually written her own autobiography...important to note because there was actually an autobiography written for her that did not include the stories of the abuse she suffered and the situations she was put in against her will. I knew I wanted to read "Ordeal" because I think it's important. It's really uncomfortable, but it's important. It was a quick read, because it isn't long and because I could not put it down. It broke my heart and made my stomach hurt. It really did. This book is not for everyone. It's real, honest, to the point and a bit graphic. The part that kept me up at night, though, was that it happened to someone. And if it happened to her, it's happened to many more. It highlights the sickening danger there is to seeing people as less than human beings and treating them that way. Something that surprised me, that wasn't in the movie, was her unwavering faith in God. She talked about how she would pray through being raped, abused and tortured. She discussed how her faith is what got her through it. It's an amazing story. However, I know it may be too much for some. The movie is much less graphic, if you're interested in the story.
3. "If You Find This Letter" by: Hannah Brencher
Hannah Brencher is the blogger who made me want to take blogging seriously. I found the link to one of her posts on my Facebook feed. The post was, like, a list of 25 life things. I don't remember the specific title. I'm sure I could find it if I looked for it. I just remember how honest, open, funny and wonderful it was. It talked about mixing barbecue sauce in your tuna salad, loving your body the way it is and not letting boys who don't deserve you waste your time. Needless to say, I was hooked. I read every post on her site. I laughed. I cried. I filled up. I felt braver at the end of it all. I had written and posted to a site casually, but reading Hannah's words made me realize the power in letting people in and allowing yourself to be a place where people can come and just be. Without people watching, without pressure. So, I started writing more honestly and more often, and I've been running with that ever sense. This is her first book. According to her social media posts, she is preparing to publish a second one. This book is the story of how she got so brave. Not only does she run her blog, but she started a whole organization with the sole purpose to write love letters to people who need them. She has such a beautiful spirit and a wonderful way of putting that spirit into words. She is also extremely open about the battles she's fought and continues to fight in her journey, and it's just so inspiring. This book is a shorter read, but it holds so much goodness. I think this is a good pick for anyone who thinks their hands are too small to make or do something meaningful. It's a battle cry for anyone who is hungry to figure out their purpose and walk boldly in it. I loved it, and I am excited for her next book.
4. "Push" by: Sapphire
"Push" is the book that the movie "Precious" is based off of. If you have seen the movie, you will understand why I consider this book to be the hardest I've ever read. It took such a toll on me emotionally, but it is also easily one of the best books I have ever read. It tells the story of a girl who is living through cyclical poverty, abuse and a lack of education. Her story centers on trying to strive for a better life, in spite of a family dynamic that is damaging, discouraging and destructive. The novel is written from the main character, Precious', point of view. It's complex, broken but so so beautiful. Other than the obvious storyline, this book delves into the issue of body image, self-esteem and self-worth. Reading from the point of view of someone who has been made to feel like she has absolutely no value completely broke my heart, but it made it so clear how important it is to love and respect abundantly and well. I think everyone should read this book. It's short, and I couldn't put it down.
5. "The Shack" by: William P. Young
I've heard a lot of mixed reviews on this book- some people have said they absolutely loved it and that it changed their lives. I've read other comments that called the book blasphemous. Here's the thing- I read it. I loved it, not at first, but once I finished it. Reading it caused me to reconsider the way I view God. I think a lot of people got stuck on the fact that, in this book, God and Jesus are not presented to be white men. That, to me, is interesting because no part of The Bible that I have read ever characterizes either of them as white men. Now, it doesn't describe them they way they are in "The Shack" either. I think the author boldly made each member of the Divine Trinity into people who look completely different than they way they are portrayed in movies and pop culture, and then explained the way they each love us and work in our lives- they way The Bible explains it. This story is about a man who suffers one of the worst tragedies you could possibly imagine and finds himself face-to-face with "God" to work through his pain. It's different. There are parts that I wasn't too crazy about, and I will admit...it was a bit weird to read about this topic in a piece of fiction. However, I cried and my heart melted at some points. It spoke to me so clearly in a number of ways, and it challenged the way I view God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Honestly, I think that was the author's point...to remind readers to not get so caught up in God being this huge, superior being or Jesus being a middle-aged white dude with a beard. I think the author was trying to remind readers how intimate our relationship with the Lord should be, and how little that has to do with our limited, man-made views and opinions. I think this is great for anyone looking for a fresh take on God. I just recommend keeping an open mind.
6. "Lolita" by: Vladimir Nabokov
My reason for reading "Lolita" is simple. I was curious. For anyone who doesn't know, this book is a classic, but it's controversial. The narrator of the novel is a man who falls in love with a little girl. I wouldn't say I particularly loved this book, but I am glad I read it because I've wanted to for a while. It's easy to read, considering that a lot of classic novels are not. Despite the creepiness of the plot, it's really well written. I completely understand why the book has made so many "best novels" lists. The writing is beautiful and romantic, but I kept having moments of thinking to myself, "He is talking about a child. Gross. No. Gross.". However, I will say there is no provocative or graphic language used in the book. The foreward to the novel is also really interesting because it addresses the concerns for why people may not want to read it, but it explains the value of reading something written from the point of view of a fictional pedophile....especially since, the issue itself isn't actually fictional at all. It's also interesting how perception and point of view can really impact the way you view a character. There are points where you start to feel bad for Humbert Humbert, simply because the entire story is from his point of view. If you like novels, dark plots and beautiful writing, I think this is worth a read.