I’m always behind on reading.
The two bookshelves in our office are overflowing with yet-to-be-explored tomes. Our bedside tables are stuffed with the books we’ve been trying to mule through for months.
So, last Sunday, as part of our Throwback Lent, Fred and I waded through all of our books, stuffing a cardboard box of giveaways that will soon find their way to new homes.
It seems odd to complain about the “first-world” problem of having to cull one’s books.
Soon, Fred and I will have four degrees between us, two of which are advanced degrees from high-ranking schools. The privilege of literacy and access to education (and therefore reading material) is something Americans take for granted. Even when we do realize how fortunate we are, our 24-7 culture tricks us into thinking that reading a book is a luxury, not a necessity.
Having been born on the cusp of the Millennial generation, adults my age have benefited from technological advancements birthed in the brains of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. As our Apple II GS computers blasted “Oregon Trail” from public school computer labs, we all cried out collectively, “Who wants to read when you can play THIS?!”
Now the latest-mini-electronic-thing beckons the eyeballs of Generations Y and Z, and even computers seem dinosaur-ish.
But, one of the practices Fred and I agreed upon for Lent this year was eliminating these modern distractions in favor of the ancient ones: the simple pleasure of diving into a book or indulging in a slow meal with friends.
Our wilderness practices have worked: we’ve managed to complete(!) books, organize clutter, gather friends and family, and learn hard lessons along the way.
It may come as no surprise then that my Lenten sabbath reading has been entrenched in my favorite literary genre: the memoir. Saffron Cross was written in this vein, as it’s the kind of prose that makes me feel at home. I’ve tried to venture into fiction (I read The Help three years ago), but I always return to memoir, because someone’s actual struggles and victories help us all find meaning.
So, as you are marking the days until your next sabbath, lunch break, spring break, or summer vacation, here is my list of must-read memoirs for 2015:
- The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld by Justin Hocking
This memoir is a raw trip through the push-pull of the writer’s life. Justin, an aspiring novelist, moves to New York City where he begins surfing (of all things!), and finds himself both suffocated by the city and haunted by past relationships. Through a hero’s journey of self-discovery, Justin is “saved” by surfing and his obsession with Moby-dick, both of which buoy him through the roughest waves of his life, navigating trauma, love, and loss. Read this book. You will not regret it.
- Strangers at My Door, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Fred and I have major theological crushes on Jonathan, and not just because I’m so proud of the fact that I was his classmate at Duke. He is a frequent topic of conversation at our dinner table, when Fred and I parse the theology of community, hospitality, and social justice. Strangers at My Door will jolt you from your cozy life and awaken you to the reality of poverty, injustice, and racism in 2015. Even as it educates, it also calls us to join Christ is offering radical hospitality and friendship.
- Stations of the Heart, by Richard Lischer
I read Stations of the Heart in tandem with The Year of Magical Thinking. These two complement one another in a bittersweet marriage what it means to both love significantly, and to grief that very love. Didion and Lischer explain the inexplicable: how it feels lose a partner and a child, and yet be forced to continue living, but never in the same way.
- My Accidental Jihad, by Krista Bremer
Krista Bremer is a North Carolina favorite. Her much-anticipated My Accidental Jihad, based on a personal essay published in The Sun Magazine, chronicles her bi-cultural marriage to Ismail, her Libyan husband. Bremer’s thoughtful prose does justice to how it feels when western culture (and perspectives) slam into global contexts. Bonus: Bremer’s work gives intimate insight into the horrors Gaddafi’s Libya, something westerners living in democratic nations find nearly impossible to imagine.
- Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Pastrix reads like stand-up comedy, but what I love most about it is Nadia Bolz-Weber’s unapologetic look at what it means to serve God’s people while living in a human body. She is vulnerable, vulgar, and brutally compassionate. Bolz-Weber’s leadership is what I hope the future of the church will look like if it wants to be relevant: inclusive, tattooed, and truth-telling.
- Faitheist, by Chris Stedman
Chris Stedman is an evangelical-Christian-turned-atheist-turned-Humanist-Chaplain. What I love most about Stedman’s reflections is that, though he experienced intense struggles during his Protestant journey, he remains open-minded, compassionate, and respectful of all traditions. Stedman will shatter your stereotypical notions of atheism.
- The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton
I always find Thomas Merton to be a bear of a hard read. But, we all have something to gain from traveling with Merton, because our hearts are affected far beyond our reading.
8. And … the memoir I’m eagerly awaiting this spring: Search for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans (out April 14!)
With only two weeks of Lent remaining, I hope you’ll turn off your wifi and grab one or more of these titles. Settle in to your favorite sabbath spot, and do some good old-fashioned reading. You won’t be disappointed.
What have you been reading? Share your favorite titles in the comments below!
Read more about our Throwback Lent: