Countdown to 2014’s Top Ten Books: Nonfiction

  As I work on my Top Ten list for 2014, I have some categories of books that may not make the top ten, but deserve special recognition anyway. Today’s category is nonfiction – a big category, I know, but here’s what I loved. (I have already reviewed most of these, so the links are to my blog posts instead of Goodreads).

 

5. Crafting: Rustic Modern Crochet by Yumiko Alexanderimagegatewoodwork

4. Faith: Still: Notes on a mid-faith crisis by Lauren Winner

3. Memoir: Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery

2. Business: What Works for Women at Work by Joan C Williams

1. Memoir: My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

 

Readers: What were your favorite nonfiction reads in 2014? 

Which do you prefer: Science fiction, or fantasy?

Which do you prefer: Science fiction, or fantasy?
What if you didn’t have to choose?
ench_stars

In Enchantress from the Stars, first published in 1970, Sylvia Engdahl gives us both: a fantasy story of three brothers who try to slay a dragon with the help of an enchantress and a sorcerer, and science fiction about three anthropologists from an advanced race of humans that travel to a less developed planet to help the locals resist colonization.

It’s clear from the beginning that these two stories are actually the same story, but told from such wildly different perspectives that they share very few recognizable details in common. Even the language and tone of the two stories is wildly different. Most beautiful is that as the lead characters of each storyline come to understand each other better – and as their storylines merge – the tone of the two stories begins to merge, too, almost imperceptibly, until at the end we are reading only one story.

Enchantress from the Stars is YA, it’s fantasy, it’s science fiction, it’s romance. It’s strong on character growth, and it has a classic quest plot.  But in her preface to the 2001 edition, Lois Lowry noticed something about this book that I missed:

…spirituality remains a topic largely unaddressed in fiction for young adults. But in essence, Enchantress from the Stars is a story about sacrifice and compassion, two of the main ingredients of religious faith, and about the power of believing in that which one cannot understand.

I think in the end, like most excellent books, Enchantress from the Stars is a book that can work on many levels for many different people. It even translates well to audio. It’s definitely my favorite read from the past couple of months, and I would recommend it to almost anyone.

What I Loved in Blogs This Week

imageI want to write about things I love in my everyday life. But I want to read about them, too, and connect with other bloggers who are writing about the same topics. Although my blog reading, like my posts, is currently heavily slanted towards books, I did enjoy some really good posts in several of my favorite categories this week.

Books

Adventures in Audio: Bookshelf Fantasies expressed her conversion to audiobook listener better than I ever did. Plus, there’s a great discussion going on in the comments section.

Career & Women in STEM

Barbie, Remixed: I (Really) Can be a Computer Engineer: A real life woman computer engineer rewrites a very demeaning Barbie book more to her liking. Oh, and Ken is a moron. (But we knew that already).

Yoga

Review of Yogis Anonymous: Broke-Ass Yogi tries out an online yoga class subscription service, and lets us know how she liked it. (Spoiler: it sounds like she had the same problem I do with yoga videos – wussing out in the middle of a long sequence I don’t like.)

Faith

The False Gospel of Gender Binaries: Rachel Held Evans asks, “If Jesus started with the outliers, why wouldn’t we?”

 

Readers: What was your favorite blog post (not your own) from this week?

Waiting is Hard

8432582097_3140344f10_zSometimes, it seems like my 30’s have been mostly about waiting.

Waiting for Mr. Right. Waiting for my career to take off. Waiting for the right time to buy a new home. Waiting for children. I’ve been in a constant state of “on hold” for the past eight years, at least.

Everyone around me has lots of wisdom to share: I should focus on the present. I should let go and quit worrying. Let it happen. Relax.

None of that changes this one simple fact: Waiting is hard. In fact, it’s brutal. This weekend, instead of condemnation in the shape of advice, I found sympathy and understanding – right where I wasn’t looking for it. I was at church, listening to a sermon about the parable of the ten bridesmaids.

The story is this: Ten bridesmaids each brought a lamp to a party, planning to wait up for the bridegroom. It turned out to be a long wait, and they all fell asleep. In the end, the bridegroom showed up, everyone woke up, and the wise bridesmaids were the ones who had brought extra oil for a longer than expected wait.

The sermon wasn’t about waiting – not directly, anyway. Yet even as the pastor spoke about spiritual reserves, I found myself thinking in a slightly different direction.

I recognized the bridesmaids’ exhaustion, after waiting beyond their physical capacity.

I recognized the need for backup supplies, emotional or tangible, and for naps.

I don’t think it is coincidence that the story is about women – women waiting, dropping with exhaustion, running low on reserves. This is a real thing – real enough for a parable then, and still real today. Waiting is something we all have to struggle with eventually. It’s not a unique or individual failing on my part.

Do you struggle with waiting?

 

Photo courtesy Andrew Bartramlicense

Membership and Belonging: Young Professionals at Church

I recently read (via Facebook) a well-meaning article questioning why some young people are attending church but not becoming members.

I don’t have the link anymore, but the concept – or maybe the complaint – has really stuck with me. My husband and I are regularly attending a church without being officially on the membership roll, and after some careful consideration, I’m still okay with that. I think it’s worth discussing, though, because it’s part of a disconnect that exists between churches and a particular part of the population.

I’m talking specifically about young professionals, married or unmarried. What does this segment look like?

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  • We relocate frequently for our jobs – every 1-3 years. Or, we may change employers frequently. Either way, we’re trying to establish ourselves in life and in business, and we’re not especially tied to any one area.
  • We travel for business regularly, and we may also accept temporary assignments (say, 3-6 months’ duration). It’s a Lean In kinda thing: we’re young and relatively unattached; now’s the time to get those types of experiences.
  • Our friends and family are located all over the place: in our hometown, in our college town, in the last place we worked. We are not living in any of those places, and there’s a lot of family expectation and social pressure to maintain those relationships and show up at key events like weddings and birthdays. As a result, one, two or even three weekends out of the month, we’re on the road.
  • We’re dating or married to other young professionals who are also dealing with the above. Chances are, they’re  not the same denomination as we are.

As a result:

  • We’re not able to be in your church every weekend, so when we are, please don’t come up to us with big sad eyes and say how glad you are that we’ve decided to ‘come back’. Remember, we may have been to church somewhere else. You’re not the only church in the world.
  • We can’t come to your Tuesday afternoon Women’s tea or your 7 AM Men’s breakfast. This doesn’t mean that we don’t want to participate or that we are “Sunday Only” Christians. Nor does it mean that we aren’t adults yet (even though not being able to participate in adult activities can make us feel that way).
  • It’s exhausting to search for, join, and commit to a church every time we relocate. Ideally, we stick within our denomination or to more open churches. (I’ve found United Methodists wonderful at being open – but that’s just me.) It’s much worse if we also have to ‘convert’ or go through classes to join. The effort does not seem worthwhile when we’re just going to pull up our stakes in a few months and go somewhere else.
  • We really just want to be able to participate in authentic worship in a welcoming and inclusive environment. No gimmicks and no sign up sheets. We’ll give, we’ll come to potlucks and church events when we can, and we’ll sing super loud if that’s what you want. Just don’t ask for more than we can do at this moment in our lives.

With all that: I’m thankful that I have found a welcoming church where I haven’t been pressured in any way, and where my husband and I can both fully participate together. I would love to feel more like a member by being included in the life of the church – yes, I’m talking about those teas and service events – but they seem to be geared towards housewives and retirees. So I’m letting that go, for now.

And please, when you see me at church after a two-week absence: just say hello. No intervention required.

 

 photo credit: Matthew Wilkinson, “Montreal Steps”, via Flickr. license