Road Reading, Part I

I gravitate towards clear and somewhat audacious goals. This is (I think) why I’ve completed two marathons, though not particularly well either time. There’s just something so direct and straightforward about a goal like that. Check. Done.

Early on in our travels, we began reading. A lot. And somehow this thought came to me: “Hey. You could probably finish 100 books this year if you wanted to.” I hear you, self, and I’m totally game for this challenge.

So 100 books this year is my goal and I’m almost a quarter of the way there. But as I read I desperately want to share insights from and recommendations for these (mostly) awesome stories. While reading for pleasure is certainly something I enjoy, my goal is more to learn about our world; the broken spots and the unbelievable goodness, too.

Here are the first ten books I read as we started off on our journey. I hope one or a few may be as interesting to you as they were to me!

*Nate and I both travel with Kindle Paperwhites and download books for free via the Boston Public Library. 

download (8)Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

Having worked on the periphery of health care and disaster preparedness in several professional roles, I was intrigued by this book and how to prevent breakdowns of leadership and communication in similar events. A heartbreaking story that shows the failures and goodness of humanity and that right and wrong as we know them aren’t as clear as we’d like to think. (This is a recurring theme in many of the books I’ve read and/or how I’m processing them).

“But what does the “greatest good” mean when it comes to medicine? Is it the number of lives saved? Years of life saved? Best “quality” years of life saved? Or something else?”

download (9)How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America by Otis Brawley

This is a book I think everyone should read. Exposing the racial and socioeconomic inequalities in our healthcare system, and how even those of us who are rich and white are lacking in positive health outcomes, Dr. Brawley writes clearly and straightforwardly about a system that gives us more headaches than it cures.

“Here is the problem: Poor Americans consume too little healthcare, especially preventive healthcare. Other Americans—often rich Americans—consume too much healthcare, often unwisely, and sometimes to their detriment. The American healthcare system combines famine with gluttony.”

download (7)The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
Recommended by our good friend Magen, this is a creative story by C. S. Lewis speculating about how the forces in this world that work against our Creator manipulate and guide us. It’s haunting and it’s eye-opening.

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out…” 

downloadThe Circle by Dave Eggers
Oh how I love Dave Eggers. Easily my favorite modern author, he colors the world of his writing with such artistry, I snatch up every new book any chance I get. This one is more plot-driven than most, with a little less poetic language, but wonderful all the same. He imagines the world through a young woman’s eyes, a woman who has just been hired at the largest tech company in the world. It’s all your worst nightmares about monopolies and the NSA and social media combined. And it’s awesome.

“It’s not that I’m not social. I’m social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You’re not hungry, you don’t need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you’re pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it’s equally addictive.” 

download (3)The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
This hilarious and heartbreaking work was recommended by our dear, wise Boston neighborfriends Greg and Rachel. Isn’t it funny how reading a book you know is loved by people you love makes you feel close to them? (That’s why a lot of my books are recommendations). Vowell compares and contrasts the early Massachusetts settlements, including the Puritans, with recent decades of American politics and leaves you feeling ashamed and confused about how our nation’s people and policies came to be the way they are.

“The most important reason I am concentrating on Winthrop and his shipmates in the 1630s is that the country I live in is haunted by the Puritans’ vision of themselves as God’s chosen people, as a beacon of righteousness that all others are to admire.”

“Dig deep into its communitarian ethos and it reads more like an America that might have been, an America fervently devoted to the quaint goals of working together and getting along. Of course, this America does exist. It’s called Canada.”

download (4)The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This interesting read was recommended (along with many others -thanks!) by our creative friend Anna. I didn’t like it as much as I expected, I think because I was just aching to dig into something meaty and true about the realities and injustices of our world in an attempt to find my place in it. (And I sure got that in my next book). But this was fantastical and, not light exactly, but removed enough from daily life – what with all the magic and all – that I could get lost in it for a little while.

“‘Magic,’ the man in the grey suit repeats, turning the word into a laugh. ‘This is not magic. This is the way the world is, only very few people take the time to stop and note it. Look around you,’ he says, waving a hand at the surrounding tables. ‘Not a one of them even has an inkling of the things that are possible in this world, and what’s worse is that none of them would listen if you attempted to enlighten them. They want to believe that magic is nothing but clever deception, because to think it real would keep them up at night, afraid of their own existence.'”

download (5)Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee
Nate actually recommended this to me, which is super sexy. Written by the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, it’s an engrossing story about social change and action in the face of unthinkable violence during the Liberian civil war.

“The person who hurt you–who raped you or killed your family–is also here. If you are still angry at that person, if you haven’t been able to forgive, you are chained to him. Everyone could feel the emotional truth of that: When someone offends you and you haven’t let go, every time you see him, you grow breathless or your heart skips a beat. If the trauma was really severe, you dream of revenge. Above you, is the Mountain of Peace and Prosperity where we all want to go. But when you try to climb that hill, the person you haven’t forgiven weighs you down. It’s a personal choice whether or not to let go. No one can tell you how long to mourn a death or rage over a rape. But you can’t move forward until you break that chain.”

download (6)Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
I’ve never seen this in the now-popular TV series form, but the book was great. Lighthearted enough because she’s a middle-class white woman (ie: privileged) only sent to prison for a year on an ancient drug-related charge from when she was young, Kerman also reveals some awful truths about our “justice” system. We have a long, long way to go in terms of rehabilitation of inmates, or even providing them with enough resources so their chances of recidivism are reduced.

“Our current criminal justice system has no provision for restorative justice, in which an offender confronts the damage they have done and tries to make it right for the people they have harmed. Instead, our system of “corrections” is about arm’s-length revenge and retribution, all day and all night.”

download (1)Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
Though thick, this tome is simultaneously intriguing as a history lesson and a reflection on current world events. It includes an enlightening chapter on divergent environmental policies on Hispaniola between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, an island we love so dearly. You have to strap in and be prepared for some depth in this one, but it’s well worth it for the environmental and economic lessons Diamond uncovers.

“Globalization makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation, as did Easter Island and the Greenland Norse in the past. Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote … can cause trouble for prosperous societies on other continents and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilizing). For the first time in history, we face the risk of a global decline. But we also are the first to enjoy the opportunity of learning quickly from developments in societies anywhere else in the world today, and from what has unfolded in societies at any time in the past. That’s why I wrote this book.”

download (2)Stories the Feed Your Soul by Tony Campolo
Here’s a light but deep read. Featuring super short stories about the true nature of love, forgiveness, and redemption, this book is sure to inspire and give you the warm fuzzies.

“One time I was discussing with a small group of junior high kids things that were unique about the Christian gospel. I tried to explain to them what grace was all about then asked what made grace different from mercy and justice. One boy with a smile on his face and a glint in his eyes answered by saying, ‘if a cop pulls you over for speeding and give you a ticket, that’s justice. If a cop pulls you over for speeding and gives you a warning, that’s mercy. But if a cop pulls you over for speeding and gives you a Krispy Kreme donut, that’s grace”. Grace is the unexpected good news that instead of meting out the punishment we deserve, Jesus offers us underserved and unparalleled blessings.

If you have recommendations for us, please feel free to leave them in the comments!

One thought on “Road Reading, Part I

  1. Recommendation: Ann Patchett – State of Wonder (fiction) and/or This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (essays)

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