Recent Reads: October 2011

October is nearing its end; autumn has arrived with a rainy and blustery vengence here in my corner of SW Ohio. 

As the wind blows outside, slapping the branches of the trees together and shaking the free the yellow and orange leaves, I want to do nothing more than curl up with a hot mug of tea, a fleece blanket, and a good book.

I have a habit of reading books quickly (and simultaneously) then moving on to the next good find without taking the time to note what I've read and how it affected me.

With that said, I thought I'd share some of my more recent reads from the past month or so...before I forget about them!

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I read Growing Up Amish: A Memoir by Ira Wagler in about two evenings.  It's a compelling personal memoir about the challenges of the Amish life and how the author left and returned to the Amish not once, but many times.

I've always lived fairly near Amish settlements; growing up in Maryland, we had the Pennsylvania Dutch just a couple hours to our north; many Amish families would travel down to our area to sell their crafts, canned goods, and quilts in local fairs and festivals.

When Knute and I lived in Illinois, our little town was just south of a big Amish area around Arcola, Illinois.  It wasn't unusual to be behind one of their buggies as I drove the back county roads. 

I think the Amish are so compelling to us Plain or English folk simply by the way they keep a slower, simpler lifestyle in this 24/7 hyper-digital modern world.  Ira Wagler's memoir is a unique look at how challenging it can be to accept the totality of that simple life even for some that are born into it.   

Ira Wagler also authors a blog if you're interested in checking it out. 

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Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood by Becky Gillespie and Hollee Temple was the May 2011 book selection for From Left to Write, the online book club that I participate in when I *cough* remember to write my reviews have the time to read the current book of the month.

I didn't receive a copy of this book for the May book club; I was in over my head this past May with the usual end of the school year insanity.  My friend SSM over at A Good Joe did receive a copy and chat about it as part of FLTW this past May; you can see her post here. She was kind enough to lend me her copy this summer and I skimmed through it fairly quickly.

{I say skimmed because this book is based on surveys and interviews of educated women who are balancing motherhood and their careers; it's not the most compelling prose.}

To be frank, I couldn't relate to much of this book, probably because I have never faced the choice of staying in my high-powered career or ditching the job and becoming a stay at home mom.  While I worked many jobs in my years before motherhood, Knute and I moved so many times with the USN that climbing a traditional career ladder simply wasn't in the cards for me.

I think this book is good for those moms who value both their career and motherhood and are seeking to find some balance between the two.  And there is value in the overall message in the title that carries throughout the book - good enough is truly good enough.  Shooting to be perfect in every way, every day, only leads to frustration, burnout, and an inability to seek contentment.

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I actually read The Memory Keeper's Daughter: A Novel by Kim Edwards earlier this summer; I had found a copy in my gently loved used bookstore during one of their Bag of Books for $1 sales (I loooove those sales!) and it sat on my bookshelf waiting, waiting, waiting for me to open it.

It's a hard story but a good story about what happens to a set of fraternal twins right after birth.  One is born healthy and normal; the other is born with Down's Syndrome.  The story is set in the early 60's, a time when disabilities - especially mental disabilities - were treated much differently than they are today.

Of course, as I type that line, I have to wince as I recall recent studies cited in political discussions that the rate of abortion for babies determined to have Down's Syndrome after genetic screening during the mother's pregnancy is astonishingly high.  Maybe we aren't treating our disabled any better today than we did decades ago. 

Without spoiling it, I will tell you that it is a good story, with characters that make good and bad choices; this is a novel that would make for a good book club discussion.

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Speaking of book club discussions, my little book club group read Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons by Lorna Landvik for our September meetup. 

{Lest you think that we have deep, heated discussions about plot, antagonist/protagonists, symbols, and literary themes, let me set you straight right now.  Book club = cheap & fun night out away from the kids/house/laundry.}

I have to admit, I've known about this book for a long time but was never interested in reading it.  The name alone really put me off; anything mentioning "housewives" usually gets my hackles up because I hate it when that word is applied to me (even though what I do fits the job description pretty well). 

But - I loved this book, mostly because the women in the book have their own book club; you get to read about all the different books they read over the years and decades, all with a bit of historical context of what was going on in our country at that time.  There were more than a few books noted in this novel that I found myself wanting to read as well.

This is another good book club discussion, especially if your book club is like mine - a bunch of moms who are friends and who love to read.  I only hope my little book club stands the test of time like the one in this novel.  {Hear that, KWBCers?  Let's hope we'll be reading together when we're old and gray!}

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett was the latest book club selection for my group and
it definitely led to some great chatter when we met up this month.  

Again, no spoilers, but it is set in the early 60's in Mississippi and deals with segregation in the deep south but from a different point of view - the women. 

The dialect/voice in the book is spot on; if you read Huck Finn and found the dialect difficult to follow, you may find that to be the case in this novel as well. 

Again, no spoilers; one of my biggest takeaways from this book was just how confining life in the south was for women - both black and white. It brought back some memories of my own time living in Florida and Virginia; while they aren't deep south like Mississippi, I still saw bits of the remnants of the southern lifestyle portrayed in this book.

If you get a copy of this for your book club, be sure to get one that has discussion questions in the back.  Very useful! 

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I've been reading The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton; I'm about two-thirds of the way through it. 

This summer, I picked up a copy of The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation  but quickly realized it was most definitely not light, just before bedtime reading.  No, it was some deep stuff, more of the wide-eyed-with-a-mug-of-coffee kind of reading, a few pages a day. 

I returned it to the library with a bit of defeat; I've heard such good things about Merton and his story of conversion to Catholicism and I really wanted to give his writings a good go of it.

Luckily, The Seven Storey Mountain, while very well-written, isn't as spiritually or philosophically challenging to read.  The autobiography of his early life up through his conversion and his eventual entrance into the Trappist monastery in Kentucky, it's - to use a very overused word - truly inspiring. 

If you've not read any Merton or you're looking for a book that helps you in your own constant conversion as a Catholic, I highly recommend it

Have you read any good books lately?

*Disclosure: Those are my Amazon affiliate links; thanks!