Once again, my “recently read” list is a hodgepodge of genres. I kind of like it that way …
In all my many years of reading, this is a first: I read something published by ESPN Books. It’s Man in the Middle, by John Amaechi, and it’s about his unlikely journey from Manchester, England to his years as a player in the NBA. Amaechi spoke at my high school last fall, during a particularly vulnerable time for our school, and he was riveting; the kids couldn’t stop talking about it.
His journey is fascinating. Amaechi didn’t pick up a basketball until he was 17, and through sheer grit he made his way to Penn State and the NBA. The book covers a lot of material he didn’t address in his talk, including the extent to which he went to conceal his identity as a gay man from the press and the team and fans, but what I found most fascinating was Amaechi’s frankness about what basketball did ( and mostly didn’t) mean to him. “I was never a basketball player; I just happened to be really good at it for a while. I mostly looked forward to going home to hang with my friends, to take care of my kids, to work with future generations of children.” In both his talk and in the book, he comes through as a thoughtful, compassionate man. When he was a teen, he said that his mom asked him, “Would you recognize your soul in the dark?” — a pretty terrific question, if you think about it. I think we all are on a quest to know who we really are inside, once all the externals are gone. This book was a fascinating look at what happens when someone lets that question guide his life.
It’s been a long time since I read any Dickens, so I started Little Dorrit on Christmas vacation, reading it in bits while also working on other books. The last four hundred and fifty pages were better than the first (how often does one get to make a statement like that?). I was reminded of how brilliant he is at describing a place or a scene with one or two details: the “staring” hot streets of Marseilles, for instance. There are also little turns of phrase throughout that made me dog-ear the pages … the man was good, no doubt about it. That said, I didn’t warm to the main character quite as much as I think I was supposed to, so it won’t end up in my top tier of Victorian novels. Still, I’m glad I read it.
Sanctuary:Creating a Space for Grace in Your Life by Terry Hershey. I got the chance to meet Terry at LA Congress and was thrilled to get a copy of this book. It’s a very readable invitation to think about what in your life gives you a break. Where do you go to recharge? What in your life gives you a feeling of being home? What do you do when you feel the need to replenish? How can we be sanctuary for others? The book has invited me to think about what my own sanctuaries are, and why they draw me. There are reflection questions and space to write in the book itself, too, which is something I always like in a spiritual book like this. It’s a great read for busy people who know they need to create a quiet space in their lives, but need a little push to begin.
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey. It’s hard to know how to describe this book: it’s part mystery, part romance, part historical fiction, part cookbook. In the eighteenth century, a young cook gets drawn into her mistress’s life of intrigue in Italy, and uses all of her wit and cleverness (and her ability to cook) to great effect. The book was rather ambitious in its storyline and there were a few plot threads that seemed a little loose, but overall, I enjoyed it and once we got fifty pages from the end, I could not put it down.
A kind friend sent me The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman, and I read it in about two days. It’s a love story (a few love stories, actually) set in Italy during WWII. This book really opened my eyes to the terror of the time, as well as the sheer courage of those involved in the Italian resistance movement. I also loved this book’s treatment of the romantic relationships. Sometimes I get drawn into a love story between two characters and get disappointed when one inevitably betrays the other. In this book, you see the power of true feeling and the beauty of loyalty, which made a refreshing and inspiring change. It’s also about the kindness of strangers, and that is always a theme I like to encounter in fiction (and in life).
A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac by Margaret Rose Realy. I have kind of a thing for gardens, as you know if you’ve read this blog for even a minute, and I just love the premise of this book. The book is divided into twelve sections, one for each month; each month focuses on a different spiritual theme and meditates on that theme as reflected in the act of gardening. Realy includes tips for gardening, stories of saints connected with plants or gardens, Scripture stories and verses that relate to the monthly themes, and the net effect is wonderfully inspiring. I love how she invites the reader to work spiritual symbols into the garden and to create specific places for prayer. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to drop everything and go pick up a trowel.
What have you been reading lately?