Reading Recap 2019: A Bajillion Books

I thought I read a lot of books in 2018. But last year I blew that out of the water by somehow reading 146 books! Now, 35%, or 52, of those were audiobooks, so it’s not like I sat down and read all of them. Audiobooks mean multitasking, which is a huge bonus. I also never watch TV or movies, so all my story consumption comes from reading. About 63% of the books are nonfiction, but only 13% were not narrative driven (mostly spiritual formation with the occasional investing or time management book thrown in the mix).

IMG_8842I didn’t set a reading goal this year, since I wanted to see how many books I picked up without a numerical finish line in sight. It worked so well, I surprised myself! And of course I’m not setting a goal for 2020 after that stellar reading year. Can I make it to 150? Who knows! I’m not stressing about it.

But reading so much means I read a ton of amazing books. Choosing which books to feature in 2019’s reading recap was agony. If you want to jumpstart your own reading life with top notch books, or have a weird interest in survival stories like I do, boy have I got recommendations for you!

As a heads up, I read a huge variety of books with all kinds of content, and so this is a blanket content warning for any and all books I mention. Please ask if you have any questions about a specific book. (There’s a lot of gruesome death and cannibalism in those survival stories, yo.)

Okay, on to the books!

The Indifferent Stars AboveThe Saddest Book:

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

A party of settlers treks across America to California, but disaster strikes, turning their story into the most well-known tragedy of the westward expansion. Full of terrible decisions and devastating loss, the Donner party’s journey drives some people to madness and all to the most terrible decision any starving person makes. Brown tells their story by following one young woman and her family, leading the reader to know them as people, not just names attached to a famous tragedy, and his writing does not shy away from the horrors they experienced. I learned about the Donner party in school, of course, but this book covers the full scope of the tragedy and how a series of poor decisions eventually boxed the settlers into a barren valley in the Sierra Nevada during the middle of one of the worst winters on record. Beware, this book is not for the faint of heart, but I’m fascinated by the decisions people make during unimaginable suffering and how those decisions shape their ultimate fate.

Bonus: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

In 1879, one daring explorer and his crew attempt to reach the North Pole, but when their ship sinks, they must trek a thousand miles across the ice to Siberia, fighting to survive.

The Winternight Trilogy

The Best Trilogy:

The Winternight Trilogy: The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower, & The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

A young Russian girl must defy her society and battle dark forces to keep the magical world of Russia – the house spirits, old gods, and mythical creatures – from being destroyed. This trilogy landed on my all-time favorites list before I even finished the first book, and the next two were more incredible than I had dared hope. It reminds me of one of my favorite books of all time, Daughter of the Forest, the highest compliment I can bestow. Vasya has to make hard choices, but she does not play to anyone’s expectations, including the reader’s. A stereotypical YA fantasy heroine she is not. She talks to horses, loves her family, and chooses her own path every time. How could I not love her? The tight prose weaves a fairytale with gorgeous descriptions, fully realized characters, and a heart-rending coming of age story. If you like your fantasy with a historical bent, full of fairytale magic and wonderful characters, this trilogy is for you.

Daring to DriveThe Best Memoir:

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal al-Sharif

A woman born and raised in Mecca tells her story of awakening from Islamic fundamentalism and finding herself at the center of the Saudi women’s campaign to drive their own cars. A deeply intimate look at a world Westerners literally can never enter, this memoir demonstrates the power of a single woman to make a difference. I was fascinated, disturbed, and awed by the Saudi Arabia Manal introduces me to: a country where women are nearly powerless, where families battle poverty in the geographic heart of Islam while the Saudi rulers hold enormous wealth, and where education truly changes lives. Manal bares raw and personal parts of her life, and inspires and challenges with her sheer courage to drive, against everything her entire culture holds sacred.

Grace for the Good GirlThe Best Spiritual Book:

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman

Living as a good girl is deeply exhausting and painful, but Jesus sets us free. Emily P. Freeman’s beautiful, gentle prose provides a path toward that freedom for every woman who doesn’t have a dramatic testimony, a clear before Jesus and after Jesus story. It’s no exaggeration to say this book changed my life; it lifted a weight from my shoulders I didn’t know how to set down by myself. Being a good girl means wearing a mask before other people and before God, but God wants more from us and for us. You won’t find any shame or burdensome lists of what we ought to be doing for God in this book, only the truth that God delights in exactly who we are now, this moment. If you have a young woman in your life who bears the good girl reputation and all that comes with that, Emily also has a book for her that presents the same truths: Graceful.

Bonus: Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

Being in relationship with an invisible God is more difficult and incredible than anything else we do in this life and is a profound and painful mystery.

A Year of Living PrayerfullyThe Most Fun Book:

A Year of Living Prayerfully: How A Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life by Jared Brock

Two millennials go on a year-long quest to reawaken their prayer lives and explore prayer practices of Christian denominations ranging from ancient Orthodox monasteries to modern name it and claim it preachers. The sheer breadth of the traditions and beliefs Jared Brock explores astonished me. He visits Jerusalem, Rome, and the largest church in the world, located in South Korea. Only in this book will you find bemused commentary on the author’s experience visiting a Hasidic Jewish community as well as acute observations on Catholic saints and their monasteries. I couldn’t put this book down and was captivated by how much I didn’t know about the history of Christian prayer traditions. He even visits Westboro Baptist and lurks outside Billy Graham’s compound trying to snag a visit. After all, he got to meet the pope using a similar strategy!

Bonus: The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy

A trucker tells stories about his decades as a mover, giving you the wry behind the scenes look at the moving industry you didn’t know you wanted.

Tattoos on the HeartThe Most Beautiful Book:

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Greg Boyle

How does love change a life? By showing a gang member he is worthy, loved, and known, then officiating his funeral days later. Father Greg Boyle has spent decades working with the deadliest gangs of Los Angeles through Homeboy Industries, providing jobs and second (and third, fourth, fifth) chances to the young men and women trapped in the cycle of poverty and gang violence. This book captures the beautiful and devastating stories of these men and women in thematic essays on love, redemption, grief, and hope. Sometimes it’s only when the trappings of life fall away that we truly understand what it means to love each other, and Boyle writes about human frailty and compassion with equal frankness. Not only is this book thematically gorgeous, it’s also beautiful, simple writing that goes straight to the bones of what matters.

The Marsh King's DaughterThe Best Thriller:

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Set in the Upper Peninsula, this dark suspense novel introduces Helena, the daughter of a kidnap victim and her kidnapper, just as her father escapes from prison. Raised in isolation, without running water or electricity, Helena has built a life for herself beyond her origin, but to protect her daughters and husband, she must face her origin and track down her father, the man who taught her to survive in the marsh. The flashback scenes are as riveting as the present scenes, the psychological intensity building in both past and present until Helena comes face to face with her father again. It’s not often I find books set in Michigan, but this one has a strong sense of place and Michiganders will delight in the author’s attention to detail, with references to the bridge, Marquette and Northern Michigan University, Tahquamenon Falls, Yoopers’ unique culture and challenges, and more. Most thrillers let me down at the end, but this one kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end.

Somebody's DaughterThe Book I Learned the Most From:

Somebody’s Daughter: The Hidden Story of America’s Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them by Julian Sher

Human trafficking in America isn’t limited to women and girls brought across the borders, and prostitution isn’t limited to adult women living in poverty. The problem of child prostitution is complex and far reaching; Julian Sher follows the stories of several girls as they drift in and out of prostitution and come into contact with different pimps, law enforcement, and social services. He explores the organizations, most founded by former prostitutes, who are fighting for these girls, and he digs into police departments and FBI units who battle the pimps, the attitudes of their colleagues and society, and the desperate circumstances of the girls themselves. His point is clear: child prostitutes are not prostitutes; they are victims of the men who prey on them. This book was hard to read, but it’s vitally important.

BonusMountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

Dr. Paul Farmer is fighting to cure the world, one disease at a time, starting with AIDS in Haiti and tuberculosis in countries from Russia to Peru.

The TigerThe Best Nonfiction:

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant

It’s 1997, and a man-eating tiger is terrorizing a village in Russia’s Far East. A perfect kaleidoscope of my favorite topics: Russia, tigers, and survival, this book was basically made for me, but it’s also brilliantly written. John Vaillant takes the reader on a journey through the effect of post-Soviet chaos on the Far East, the history of tigers in the region, the struggles the remote villages faced, and the battle Russian officials waged against poachers and their own government to protect the Amur tiger. He writes the stories of the tigers and the people with elegant detail, and the man-eating tiger’s menace leaps off the page as the hunters track it down. The sheer amount of research he did, including visiting the villages and talking to the people who lived through the terrifying episode, is remarkable. I listened to this book on audio, and immediately decided to buy my own copy, which almost never happens to me.

I could also tell you about the historical fiction set in the Arctic with a supernatural horror element that I read during the Polar Vortex, the enormous literary Western, and the historical non-fiction from freshman year in college that I loved enough to read again. But I’ll stop here.

Reading 146 books this year didn’t put much of a dent in my TBR, though. Trying to decide which books are worthy of my time helped me abandon more books half-finished than I’ve ever dropped before. Here’s to DNF’ing more books in the future!

If you want to see what I’m reading all year round, come find me on Goodreads! I love to make new Goodreads friends so I can stalk follow your reading life – discovering new books and quirky interests through other people is the best.

I already have my “excited to read next” list drawn up for 2020, which I realize might give you spontaneous folks hives, but makes me feel super pumped to get started. I’ll be trying my first Madeleine L’Engle book since A Wrinkle in Time as a kid, reading a whole bunch more fantasy books and survival stories, finally reading the big habit book of the past couple years, and maybe I’ll get around to the Shakespeare play I didn’t read last year.

Last January my library was closed for carpet replacement, so I stuck to my own books and my roommate’s books for the whole month. This January I have a (large) library fine (darn you, 900-page Peter the Great biography!), so I’m staying clear until my hold comes in, then I’ll pay off my debt. I’ll be reading books a friend lent me, rereading some of my own well-worn copies, and digging through my roommate’s shelves again. Basically, living the bookworm life.

Happy reading, everyone!

2018 Reading Recap: Reaching for the Goal

Creating 2017’s reading recap was so fun that I’ve done it again for 2018! Once more I put myself through the difficult process of choosing books to highlight from my reading life last year, which is also a highly enjoyable process. I met my goal of reading 80 books, although I’ll admit I had to knock out two shorter ones on December 31st, and so many of those books forced me stay up late for just one more chapter.

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Three books in my current pile…

While my To Be Read list grows faster than I can finish books, I don’t want to forget the best ones I read in 2018, so I’m sharing them to convince other readers that these are books worth devoting time to.

Remember, I read a wide variety of genres with varying content, so I’m issuing a blanket content warning for any and all books I mention online. Use your own discretion for your comfort level, and feel free to ask me about the books I’ve read.

Do you want to read more but don’t know what books to pick up? You aren’t alone; lots of people struggle with that. There are tons of ways to find good books, but finding the right book for you can be a different story.

I recommend Modern Mrs. Darcy and the podcast What Should I Read Next, or you can ask the readers in your life if they have any recommendations for you. Don’t be afraid to put a book down unfinished if it’s not for you – there are too many good books in this world to waste precious reading time on a book that you don’t like. (I need to take my own advice!)

Let’s do this!

his majesty's dragonThe Book I Finally Read: 

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

In the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, a young naval officer accidentally bonds a dragon hatchling and his entire life changes. I love a good fantasy where the worldbuilding is so matter of fact that no one blinks at the wild and unusual places the author’s imagination goes, and this book has that in spades. Nineteenth century Europe with dragon, aerial corps fighting in some of the biggest battles between Napoleon and the rest of Europe, all narrated in Regency prose. This book has been on my TBR for ten years, ever since I saw a 4-H friend reading it before bed on a club trip to the Rolex Kentucky. My friend was killed in a car accident three years later, as a college sophomore, and I’m so glad I finally read the book, with her in mind.

what's so amazing about grace

The Best Spiritual Book: 

What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey

An exploration of grace at the levels of ordinary life and overarching church culture, this book is remarkably relevant for being twenty years old. I was challenged, inspired, and humbled by Yancey’s words. It’s filled with true stories and simple prose, and Yancey shares some of his own journey toward grace. Our world is full of anger, bitterness, and hatred, but this book challenges us to take a hard look at ourselves and ask if we are truly ambassadors of God’s grace to the world, or if we are doling it out only to the ones we think deserve it. I think it says a lot that we as a church are struggling to give grace to the same people we struggled with twenty years ago, and I think this book offers powerful thoughts to consider.

unbrokenThe Book I learned the Most From:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

An Olympic runner joins the Army Air Forces, is stranded at sea, becomes a Japanese POW, and somehow survives to tell the story. Not only is Louis Zamperini’s story an incredible tale of grit and bravery, with an amazing twist toward the end, but I learned so much about the Pacific front of the war that I was completely unaware of. From the thousands of POWs, the terrible accident rate of the planes and their crews, and the sheer enormity of the war, Hillenbrand provides mountains of detail without ever losing her narrative. If you never read another book about the Pacific front, read this one – she’s a powerful storyteller and you won’t be disappointed.

the secret horses of briar hillThe Most Fun Book: 

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

A young girl, living in a hospital with other children in the English countryside, finds that one of the winged horses she sees in the mirrors every day has entered her world. An absolute delight, this book would have been one of my favorites if it had existed when I was a child (although it’s high on the list for me even now). Not only does the girl have a special bond with a winged horse, she has to protect the horse by collecting objects of specific hues of color while also living with the realities of life during WWII in an English hospital. Whimsical while dealing with serious themes, strongly influenced by The Chronicles of Narnia, I highly recommend this book for younger readers.

nothing to envy

The Saddest Book:

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

A journalist traces the stories of six North Koreans over fifteen years, through the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise of Kim Jong-il, and the devastating famine that killed millions of people. For me, North Korea has always been a vaguely menacing, partially absurd Communist dictatorship on the other side of the world that I knew little about. Now I know quite a bit, and it’s all heartbreaking. Demick vividly sketches the country’s slow grind toward industrial death, economic collapse, and starvation, and the wide gulf between south and north becomes ever more stark and terrible, depicted on a personal level by the six North Koreans and their stories. This book was written prior to Kim Jong-il’s death and his son assuming control of the country, and I would love to find an update detailing the changes – if any – that a new regime and the immense shaping of the world by the internet has brought to a country so isolated.

Bonus Book: Another Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison

A foster mom tells the stories of just a few of the dozens of children she has fostered, and I cried at several points (which I rarely do for books). Yet somehow, the book also fosters hope.

the glass castleThe Best Nonfiction Book: 

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

A family’s story is never simple, particularly a story that begins with charismatic parents chasing wonder and nonconformity on a nomadic trip across the country, stops in a poor mining town where the children must employ all their grit to carve out a life from intense neglect, and reaches New York City, where the children build lives as empowered adults and their parents choose homelessness. The beautiful, clear prose is nothing compared to Walls’ ability to present her family’s story as she saw it unfolding with no hindsight, no bias, and no filters. Her childhood was both magical and terrible, sometimes simultaneously, and I recommend this book as an incredible memoir.

the golem and the jinni

The Most Evocative Fantasy: 

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker

A golem and a jinni find themselves in New York City at the turn of the century, meeting by chance, and their opposite natures bring them together yet push them apart as they seek to create lives for themselves in the shifting chaos of the city. With the magic of folktales and literature, Yiddish and Middle Eastern culture, history and fantasy all woven together in one story, this book is compulsively readable. It brought me back to my middle school days of devouring fairytales by the dozens (although this book is not intended for youngsters). The prose is clear and elegant, but the characters really shine. Chava and Ahmad come to life (literally, in Chava’s case) through their emotional journeys, and although the book doesn’t end quite where I wanted it to, I was delighted to discover that a sequel is in the works.

You may have noticed that I mostly chose books for the same categories as last year, but that I replaced the favorite category. This year I read a lot of books that I loved, so I couldn’t bring myself to pick just one favorite. Last year was an anomaly!

I could share dozens more fantastic books, such as the two Guy Gavriel Kay titles I loved, the multiple memoirs and nonfiction narratives that taught me so much about other peoples’ lives and worlds, or the quiet dystopian novel that surprised me with its power, but I won’t overwhelm your TBR list.

If you want to keep up with what I’m reading all year, I post on Goodreads regularly, so come friend me! I do confess that I want you to friend me so that I can stalk follow your reading life – my TBR list is always ready for more titles.

In 2018, I read Jane Eyre, the final Harry Potter book, and a Shakespeare play (Titus Andronicus), just as I intended to, and in 2019, my priority list includes PersuasionThe Merchant of Venice, and The Martian.

This year, I’m not setting a goal for my reading life. I originally set goals to help kickstart my reading habit again after graduating from college, but now I want to see how many books I tear through without the numeric finish line taunting me. Also, I want to reread some old favorites, and I’m not inclined to do that with a goal, for whatever reason.

Right now I’m going to go finish a thriller with characters that are pretty boring (so maybe I should actually just put it down for good…). My library is closed for carpet replacement for most of January (so sad!), so I’m currently limited to books from my own shelves, with a few thrown in from my roommate’s collection. Time for those rereads!

Happy reading, everyone!

4 Awesome Podcasts

headphones-791078_1920Have you hopped on the podcast bandwagon yet? Who needs radio when you can listen to a podcast? Don’t worry, there’s a podcast out there for everyone. With shows covering everything from politics to money, pop culture to sports, food to comic books, this form of media is hopping.

I started seriously listening to podcasts about a year ago, although I had been listening to a writing podcast for longer than that. I’m also a completionist, so when I find a new podcast I like, I go back and listen to the archives. You don’t have to do that, but if you really like what you’re hearing and don’t want to wait for the next episode, that’s the best way to hear more.

I don’t know what you are into, although if you have a favorite writer or media personality, definitely check to see if they have a podcast. I just want to share four of my favorite podcasts with you as a starting point. None of these podcasts are related; I like them for varying reasons. They are wildly different from each other, but they are all super great. (And all the hosts have perfect podcast voices – that’s not always the case for some shows!)

WSIRN

 

What Should I Read Next

Episode Length: 45 minutes to an hour

Release Day: Tuesdays

Anne Bogel hosts this literary matchmaking podcast with a different guest each week, bringing a wide range of bookish interests and reading lifestyles to her audience. I followed Anne’s blog, ModernMrsDarcy.com, for a couple of years before I finally listened to the podcast. I can’t believe I waited so long!

In the standard show format, the guest and Anne chat about books and the guest’s reading life, including such possible topics as the guest’s bookstagram account, how the guest tracks their books, bookish quirks like only reading certain books before bed, and reading challenges.

Then the guest shares three books they love, one book they hate (or, more gently, say is not for them), and what they’ve been reading lately. Usually Anne will ask if there is anything the guest would like to change about their reading life, and then she tells the guest the pattern(s) she sees in the books they talked about and what they said about the books. For example, in one recent episode, the guest liked spunky iconoclastic female characters, fast paced books, and did not care about beautiful prose, so Anne recommended books with those traits in mind.

The show has featured people ranging from authors to librarians, parent-child reading duos to readers with specific book requests, podcasters to pencil shop owners. Many guests have blogs or other media presences, but many are just regular people who were chosen from the vast amount of guest submissions the show receives.

My to-read list has ballooned as a result of this podcast (and Anne’s blog! she has the best book lists), even though I don’t share book interests with the majority of the guests. If you consider yourself a book person, you definitely should check out this podcast. As Anne says, book people are the best people.

Anne has also written a book for book people: I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life. I’m waiting for the cold winter months to savor this small book of essays, but I know I’ll find myself in the pages.

AA

 

Afford Anything

Episode Length: 1 to 1 1/2 hours

Release Day: Mondays, with a bonus episode on the first Friday of each month

Paula Pant talks business, personal finance, financial independence (also known as FIRE*), real estate investing, and ruthless prioritization of your time and energy on this highly intelligent show. I started reading Paula’s blog, AffordAnything.com, about five years ago, and I find her message so inspiring.

Paula’s core theme is that you can afford anything, but you can’t afford everything, and this not only includes your money, but also your time, energy, and your whole life. You can afford to travel the world, but not if you also live in a luxury condo and pay $1,000 per month on your student loans, for example. You can build your own side business, but not if you also watch hours of TV daily or allow yourself to focus on pleasing others with the way you spend your time.

The show consists of two interviews per month and 2 Q&A episodes per month, one of which focuses on real estate. Paula is best known in the FIRE circle, particularly for her use of real estate rental investing to become financially independent. She practices what she preaches!

Recent episodes have included a controversial (and viral) interview with personal finance guru Suze Orman, and several episodes responding to that firestorm, an interview with James Clear about building better habits, and a personal finance Q&A episode with Joe Saul-Sehy that tackles some out of the box ideas for funding your kids’ college expenses.

Paula is a great interviewer, but she also does a great recap at the end of each interview, highlighting the key takeaways and action steps. The interviews are typically packed with information and points to consider, so Paula’s summary helps listeners to focus on the significant and limit the overwhelm.

If you are interested in starting a side hustle, improving your finances, or prioritizing your life goals, I highly recommend this show. And if you are curious about rental properties, Paula is super passionate about this topic and shares lots of great information.

*Financial Independence Retire Early

SA

 

Sorta Awesome

Episode Length: 1 hour

Release Day: Fridays, with the occasional bonus Extra Awesome episode

Meg Tietz talks all things awesome with her co-hosts Rebekah Hoffer and Kelly Gordon, which means having girlfriend chats about all of life’s topics, both serious and silly. From fashion and pop culture to recipes and personality types, this show covers it all. In the archives you’ll find episodes on rest, self-care, parenting, the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, The Bachelor franchise, and so much more.

In each episode, Meg and one co-host or guest share their Awesome of the Week, which could be anything from a product to a TV show, or anything else that is making their lives just a little more awesome. Then the episode moves into the theme of the week, which could be a serious topic such as anxiety or adoption, or a light and funny topic such as Netflix or a seasonal top ten list.

My favorite episodes are the confessional episodes: one group show has all the co-hosts sharing their unpopular opinions, like hating Christmas and an affinity for the uni-boob. Most recently, a confessional episode covered homemaking, which included confessions such as making children sleep in the closet (don’t worry, it’s a large closet) and letting an elderly neighbor plant the co-host’s garden for years on end. It’s all the things you would never confess to anyone but your closest friends, shared for the world to hear.

If you’re looking for thoughtful conversation on life’s issues and moments that make you laugh out loud, this show is for you. (There’s also a very active Facebook group for the show’s listeners, if you can’t get enough Sorta Awesome from just one weekly episode.)

TNRT

 

The Next Right Thing

Episode Length: 15 to 20 minutes

Release Day: Tuesdays

Emily P. Freeman creates a quiet space for your soul to breathe with this show. Decisions are hard, and as we make thousands of decisions every day, we get overwhelmed and lost in our own lives. As Emily says, this podcast is for those who have a decision to make, the chronically hesitant and the second-guessers, and I’d say this show is for everyone, perhaps especially those who think they don’t need it.

Every week, Emily offers a reflection, often in the form of a story, a small action, and a benediction. Her mission is to help you determine your next right thing in love, and that’s made easier when you take the time to slow down, listen to an episode, and follow Emily’s gentle suggestions. I invariably feel refreshed after listening. Emily always points her listeners back to Jesus, and offers quiet support for the next right step in our lives.

If you are seeking clarity in your life, struggling with the daily grind, or just in need of some quiet, meditative space, this show is for you. This is the one podcast I have never listened to as I also do something else, because emotional and spiritual clarity can’t be found while multitasking.

Emily is also a writer; her projects include hope*writers, an online community for writers both published and aspiring, her blog, at EmilyPFreeman.com, and four books. All of her work is dedicated to helping people discern their next right thing in love, particularly in the creative spaces.

Do any of these shows catch your interest? I think it’s time you joined the podcast world! If you are technologically challenged and aren’t sure how to find and listen to podcasts, you’ll find plenty of simple guides online, but your best bet might be to find someone who already knows the podcast world and can help you figure it out. (And if you’re the podcast savvy person, it’s time to subscribe your mom to those shows you know she’ll like but will never find by herself.)

Most podcasts drop a new episode each week, but sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. If it’s a good podcast, the host will usually publish episodes on a schedule and let you know if that schedule changes.

If you don’t know how to listen to podcasts, you’ll need a device that can access a podcast app. You can pick a podcast app in the app store, such as Overcast or Stitcher or a host of others, or you can use the IOS or Android podcast apps.

Happy listening!

2017 Reading Recap: Books, Books, and More Books

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Library books for the win! I still haven’t read The Golem and the Jinni

This year was a really good year for my reading life. Two days ago I finished reading my 75th book of the year and achieved my goal, which was especially exciting because the last 2 years I was too busy reading fanfiction to read enough books to meet my goal. Oops.

I read a lot of great books this year, and quite a few books that made me say, “Meh.” But because I want to share the book love, I’m going to share some of the most memorable books I read this year.

Two notes before I dig in:

First, if you like reading or want to get back into the habit, set a reading goal for yourself! Find books you think you’ll really love, not books you think you ought to read. Don’t compare your reading goal to anyone else’s, either. I read 75 books, and am aiming for more next year, but I am a literal speed reader. People who read at normal speed can’t keep up with me, and that’s okay. Don’t let comparison keep you from enjoying some fantastic books in 2018.

Second, I read books of many genres and varieties, so I’m issuing a blanket potential content warning for all the books I tell you about. Use your own judgment and feel free to ask me about any book I have read.

Here we go!

The Book I Finally ReadHarry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

A boy discovers he’s a wizard and gets to attend magic school while an evil wizard tries repeatedly to kill him. I missed out on the Harry Potter books as a kid, and in college thought I was too old for the series, but in January I decided this would be the year I finally read Harry Potter. And wow, was I missing out! These books are just so much fun, and there’s so much packed into the story that anyone can find something to love. I read books 1-6 this year, but didn’t quite make it to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you like fantasy, children’s literature and YA, or just want to finally be in the know, you should definitely give the first book a try.

The Best Spiritual BookGray Matter

Gray Matter: A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer… One Patient at a Time by David I. Levy

A neurosurgeon begins asking patients if he can pray with them before surgery, and the results are incredible and fascinating. I read quite a few books this year about missionaries, incredible conversion stories, and persecution of Christians that were all moving and important, but this book stands alone for me. I often make prayer a complicated thing in my head, but this surgeon’s simple and quiet prayers with people facing intense medical situations strips away any eloquence or trappings, and I found myself convicted of the power of prayer, quite unrelated to the words I use or the length of the prayer I pray.

The Book I Learned the Most FromSlave My True Story

Slave: My True Story by Mende Nazer

A twelve-year-old Sudanese girl is kidnapped and sold into slavery to an Arab family in Khartoum, Sudan, before finally escaping seven years later, thousands of miles away from home in London, England. I still don’t know much about modern slavery or its victims, let alone the terrible conflicts raging through Sudan in the past several decades, but Mende’s story gave me a glimpse into a world far removed from anything I have ever experienced. Her courage despite her enslavement and abuse humbles me. Bonus book: Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir presents the story of a female Sudanese doctor who grew up and worked in the middle of the conflict, before fleeing to England for safety.

The Most Fun BookNo Biking

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Faye Green

An American family decides that four kids is not enough, and adopts five more from Bulgaria and Ethiopia, leading to the hilarious, poignant stories Melissa shares about the trials and joys of international adoption and her big, crazy family. With nine kids, including four teenage boys, nothing is ever quiet for long around this house. This book touches a lot of serious topics, but the humor and joy Melissa writes with make it a delight to read. I haven’t read many memoirs yet, but I think this one will stay at the top of my list for a long time to come.

The Saddest BookNight

Night by Elie Wiesel

The horrific autobiographical account of one teenager’s survival in a Nazi death camp, and how he lost everything. It’s a very difficult book to read because of the absolute horrors Elie Wiesel endured and witnessed. I was unaware this was a classic Holocaust account until I read it, but the author’s spare and haunting prose makes it unforgettable. How could humans do such monstrous things to each other? The death camps cannot be allowed to vanish into the murk of history.

The Best Nonfiction BookEvidence

Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II by Darlene Deibler Rose

The story of a young missionary’s survival and faith in the jungles of New Guinea and through four years in a Japanese prison camp. I was humbled by Darlene’s faith in the middle of terror, abuse, and isolation. She lost her husband and her health during those four years, but she never lost her trust in the Lord. She and the other Christians she was imprisoned with spread the gospel and served their fellow prisoners without ceasing. This book is an incredible testimony!

 

My Favorite BookGoblin

 

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

 

The half-goblin youngest son of the emperor is recalled from exile when his father and older brothers are killed, and is thrust into a court of danger, prejudice, and intrigue as the last surviving heir to a throne he has no idea what to do with. I read a lot of awesome fantasy books this year, but I adored this book above all others. Maia, the new emperor, is completely unprepared for the complexity and turmoil of his new court, and struggles to deal with the psychological damage of his father abandoning him to exile and his mother’s death while learning to be a ruler. Yet he is one of the kindest fantasy protagonist I have ever met, and ultimately it is that kindness which allows him to survive and thrive as emperor. The worldbuilding, lovely prose, and fascinating use of pronouns only add to the sheer delight I experienced while reading this book.

 

I could tell you about so many more books I read this year alone, including the 1200 page epic fantasy novel that was book 75, or the fascinating story of a nineteen-year-old Alaskan schoolteacher, but that would require writing a novel of a blog post.

 

So instead, check out my Goodreads account! You’ll find all the books I read in 2017 as well as previous years, and my enormous TBR list. I’m so excited for all the books I’ll read in 2018, and I’d love to hear what you’re going to read! My 2018 list includes Jane Eyre, the final Harry Potter, more books by Guy Gavriel Kay, because he’s amazing, and a Shakespeare play that I have yet to choose. But first I have to finish the books due back at the library in just a few days…

Happy reading!

How to Bathe A Horse in 36 Steps

1. Ready supplies: shampoo, conditioner, sponge, scrub brush, bucket, squeegee, lead rope.

2. Change mind and swap lead rope for one with a chain–horse may try to escape.

3. Unwind hose from rack. Once it lies fallen before you, untangle it. Attach spray nozzle to end of hose.

4. Drag hose many feet through barn to grass outside, where supplies are waiting.

5. Attempt to fill bucket with water. Realize water is not turned on.

6. Go back in barn and turn on water.

7. Fill bucket with water. Add shampoo. Is it enough? Add more shampoo.

8. Grab lead rope with chain and go back in barn to fetch horse.

100_01029. Horse wanders around arena looking at you sideways.

10. Try to catch horse.

11. Avoid horse’s bared teeth and threatening hoofs. Ears are pinned back.

12. Move carefully in a wide circle around horse to horse’s head. Slide chain through halter and attach.

13. Lead horse out of arena to grass where hose lies waiting. Horse rushes over to grass. It might leave before she gets there.

14. Pick up hose. Horse becomes statue.

15. Attempt to spray horse’s feet. Hose becomes venomous snake. Horse tries to flee.

16. Prevent horse from fleeing. Continue spraying feet.

17. Enlist a horse-holder.

18. Chase horse in a circle, spraying her ever higher while horse-holder tries to hold her still. Pause tountangle hose from you, horse’s legs, horse-holder, and itself.

19. Repeat process on horse’s other side.

20. Put hose down by barn. Horse pretends it no longer exists and resumes grazing.

21. Bring bucket of soapy water to horse. Use sponge to cover horse in soap. She now remembers that cool water feels good on a hot day.

22. Scrub horse with scrub brush. Do not miss an inch. This might be your last chance for a long time. Make that white sock actually white.

23. Put horse’s tail in bucket of soapy water and scrub. Horse attempts to swat flies. You and horse-holder are now covered in soap.

24. Move bucket of soapy water far from horse. Bring hose back.

25. Chase horse in a circle while spraying her. Remove all the soap.

26. Spray her other side. Notice there isstill soap on the previously rinsed side. Spray both sides again.

27. Put hose down and grab conditioner. Slather mane and tail. Horse ignores you.

28. Thank horse-holder fervently as she gives horse back to you.

29. Collect all supplies and dump and rinse bucket and sponge while holding horse. Horse does not appreciate the bucket rinsing.

30. Scrape water from horse with squeegee. Repeat as necessary.

31. Kill horsefly.

32. Wipe horse’s face with damp sponge. Horse is offended and tries to flee.

33. Escape flies and go into barn. Comb horse’s mane and tail, put away supplies.

34. Wait for horse to dry. Wait some more.

35. Put horse back in stall. Offer many treats and ask for forgiveness.IMG_0376

36. Drive home. Realize hose is still lying on grass. Groan and vow to thank stablehand profusely for having to deal with it.

*The above events may or may not be hyperbole…But I err on the side of reality.

5 Things I Learned As A Sandwich Maker

Potbelly sandwichFor most of my senior year in college, I worked at a sandwich shop. It was in a downtown area with lots of office buildings around, which guaranteed a lunchtime rush. The sandwiches were very good, so many people were regular customers.

It wasn’t my ideal job. I made shakes and sandwiches and scooped cups of soup and worked the register. There were a lot of days when I came home and wanted to cry because I disliked it so much. But I did learn a lot from it.

So, in no particular order, here are five things I learned as a sandwich maker (and shake expert).

1. There is a ton of behind the scenes work that goes into that sandwich.

I’d never worked in the food industry before. Obviously the sandwiches didn’t appear out of thin air, and the food had to be ordered and kept stocked, but I had no idea how much time everyone spends in prepping everything.

Each day had a checklist of things that had to be done, like scooping salad dressing into individual cups or slicing enough meat and cheese for the day. I spent a lot of hours filling containers with mayonaise and sliding little cookies onto straws for the shakes. There were goals to be met everyday with number of sandwiches sold, number of the latest menu item to be sold, and always watching the total sales.

My general manager spent hours tracking all the food that was used and wasted, all the money that came in and went out, and all the employees’ schedules and availability. I commented to him one day that I had no idea that much work went on behind the counter before I worked there, and he looked at me and laughed. It was a tired laugh, because he had just spent ten minutes assigning tasks to my coworkers and me to get ready for the dinner rush.

 

2. Some people really do spend their entire working lives as restaurant employees.

Not all of them climb the management ladder either. One of my coworkers had worked there for over ten years, in the exact same position with low hourly pay. Others, like my general manager, had started at the bottom and worked their way up.

All my coworkers thought the general manager was weird because, from all appearances, he was passionate about making great sandwiches, just like the company’s mission statement said.

Some of my coworkers were perfectly content in their jobs; others, like me, were in school and had other aspirations, and some had bigger dreams but couldn’t figure out how to get there on the money they made at the sandwich shop.

3. Customers have no concept of the process.

The person at the end of the counter would call out, “Three large chocolate shakes!”

Since a large shake equals two regular size shakes, and the shake machine only had three spindles on it, I’d have to hop to it so those shakes were close to ready when the customers paid. But often, they’d give me weird looks and impatient sighs when I told them it would be just a minute longer. I don’t think they meant to be rude, they just had no idea that they ordered a time consuming item.

Or when people were irritated that someone else’s order took a few minutes, because it consisted of five sandwiches and a salad. No matter how fast we worked, someone was never happy.

One time, a customer ordered a PB&J sandwich. We had to be very careful with the peanut butter because peanuts are an allergen, so my coworker toook the ingredients off to the side to make the sandwich. I was on register, so I could not jump in to help with the sandwiches coming out of the oven. The customers in line started making rude faces and exaggerated gestures, because they thought my coworker was ignoring them and slacking on the job. It only took a minute or two to finish the sandwich and take care of them, but they were so irritated they got the manager to give them the sandwiches for free.

Maybe I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t think they actually understood what was happening on our end with the special sandwich. Rather than asking, though, they threw a fit at the register and demanded special treatment.

4. The weather matters, a lot.

I worked at this restaurant during one of Michigan’s coldest, snowiest winters. Over and over, the managers checked the daily sales figures and shook their heads. I was sent home early from a shift more than once because not a single customer had shown up in over an hour.

The lunch rush was only mildly affected, but after two o’clock, especially when it was very cold, very few people came out for dinner. I had no idea that an indoor business would be so strongly affected by the cold and snow, but I should have known better.

5. Hard work makes a difference.

I didn’t like making shakes and sandwiches, or counting change out, or getting ice cream all over my shirt as a shake flew off the shake machine again.

But I always do my best, no matter what the work is, and my coworkers noticed. The managers noticed. Different people told me, more than once, that they were glad they had a shift with me, because I pulled my weight and helped others. My money drawer was almost never off the recorded amount, and I always had a good attitude.

On my last day, the general manager told me that he would gladly be a reference for me, and that he would miss me working there. I didn’t even ask for a reference; he just volunteered it.

I hope never to work there again, but now that I look back, I’m glad I did. I made some friends, to my own surprise, and learned more than I thought I would.

The biggest lesson I took into the future? Never underestimate what you can learn from a job, no matter how irrelevant it seems.