Monday, December 11, 2017

On the Bookshelf: Learning about minimalism and (finally!) reading fiction

Hi, friends! I hope you all are having a stellar Advent so far. I'm here with another round-up of books I've been reading lately, but there are a few things you need to know. First, remember how I said I wanted to read more fiction? WELL, I did...kind of? I read a couple interesting fiction books, but I always seem to pick up non-fiction books as well and find myself compelled to read them (I'm currently reading two hefty non-fiction books at the moment). There also are not many books on today's list, because, well, The Punisher happened. Netflix decided to release the series of The Punisher, and naturally I had to watch the whole thing because Jon Bernthal is a great actor and the show has a riveting story and really interesting characters. So, all of my reading time went into watching hours of Frank Castle slaughtering his enemies. Since I'm not studiously watching a show at the moment, I'm hoping to finish my current books and move onto some more fiction reads, but we'll see when that happens! As for now, let's talk about what I've read, shall we? 

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. I have long wanted to read something by Neil Gaiman, and after talking with a relative about his books, I figured that this would be a good starting point. This is a delightful, somewhat dark fairytale about Coraline, a young girl who is rather bored with her life. Her parents don't pay much attention to her, and all of her neighbors are just odd. One day, she begins exploring the apartment complex and walks into a flat that is just like the one where she lives-but better. Or is it? I really enjoyed this book, I found it a little bit creepy, weird, and a lot of fun. I recommend it to people who enjoy fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm :)

The Lifegiving Home, by Sally and Sarah Clarkson. This is a heartwarming book in which a mother-daughter duo talk about ways in which they infuse hospitality into their home life. They divide this book into sections by month to talk about ways that they celebrate different holidays, create a family culture, and center their lives on God. I really loved a lot of this book! There were some great ideas and points of inspiration. However, I think it's good to balance this book out with good boundary formation, because The Lifegiving Home creates a sweet, happy, sentimental picture of family life without actually discussing the importance of boundaries, or "what if someone has a schedule conflict and can't (or won't) come to the hallowed Family Day celebration one year?" I wondered if any of the author's adult children are married, because the book didn't address the reality of adult children choosing their own path of traditions, and navigating one's family of origin with the family one married into-and I would have loved to see a section on this, because some people don't think about this reality at all until they get engaged. Otherwise, I really did enjoy this book and thought it was especially lovely to read as we prepared to enter into the holiday season.

Walking the Road to God, by Fr. Lawrence Carney. The author of this book is just an ordinary priest, who has decided to do something very ordinary: Looking to the example of countless saints throughout the history of the Church, he walks the streets and prays the Rosary. This book is a collection of stories and his thoughts about what he does, and the extraordinary ways in which God works. I have personally met Fr. Carney many times (he was a good friend and mentor of one of my good friends in high school, and Fr. Carney was on the list of priests we asked to celebrate our wedding Mass-but he couldn't, since that was the summer he went to Europe), and he is such a humble man, with such a beautiful heart and soul. I watched a TV interview he did a few months back and I actually remarked to my mom that "He's been getting younger" since beginning the ministry of walking the streets. Anyways, back to the book. It's a little rambly in places, because it literally is a priest telling stories from his life on the streets, but I really enjoyed it a lot. I love how Fr. Carney shows us that by doing something so simple-walking around in his cassock, praying, and talking with everyone from a tattoo parlor owner to the little kids-God can be glorified and draw people closer to Himself.

At Home in the World, by Tsh Oxenreider. I started listening off-and-on to Tsh's awesome podcast (The Art of Simple) several months ago, and so I heard about this book: a memoir in which Tsh details the year that her family spent travelling the world. First, I'm a sucker for travel memoirs, so already, I was pumped to read this book. Second, a lot of travel memoirs seem to be written by people who 1. Are single or married with no kids, or 2. Have loads of money to spend. BUT this book is written by a woman who traveled with her husband and three kids, and she specifically talks about budgeting because they didn't have unlimited money or resources. Through her awesome stories, Tsh also reflects a little bit on her marriage and her faith journey, which was really cool. I loved this book, and I wholeheartedly recommend it!

Give it up! My year of learning to live better with less, by Mary Carlomagno. This was a short, quick read about one year in which the author decided to cold-turkey give something up for each month (I picked up this book because I was like, "Oh, so is giving up things for extended periods of times trendy now? Catholics have been doing this long before it was cool."). The author gives up everything from alcohol to cussing to multitasking, and she talks a little bit about what she learned each month. I would have loved to read a little bit more about why she initially decided to embark on this year-long journey, because she just seemed to jump right into things in the beginning of the book. Also, at the end of the book she gets a little...weird?...when talking about mindfulness and stuff, which I could have done without. This book was interesting, though rather underwhelming for me, but I did find it funny/interesting/cool/inspiring that a little secular book was talking all about fasting from different things for a month at a time.

Goodbye, Things, by Fumio Sasaki. This book is all about the "new" Japanese Minimalism, and since I love Japanese topics and minimalism, I was intrigued. The author makes it clear that he is not a professional minimalist, but is just a normal guy who decided that he didn't want to live surrounded by clutter. After talking a little bit about why he did what he did and what he learned, the author spends much of this book talking about how he minimized in list form. I was taken aback a little bit, since I'm not used to picking up books that mainly consist of lists, but I guess it was part of the minimalist spirit behind the book, yes? Don't use more words than needed? Some of the points he made affirmed what I'd been thinking of and some of the stuff was new to me. Some of the stuff I disagreed with, but the author does make it clear that everyone's minimalist path is different, which I appreciated. This book also got me thinking more about how one's faith affects one's physical home. The author talked a bit here and there about Zen Buddhism (which, from what I've read, focuses a lot on detachment and letting go of physical things), and his minimalism fit that spiritual influence. For example, the photos of the apartments may seem rather drastic to a Westerner-I'm talking about apartments with literally nothing on the walls, barely anything in the living room, etc. The author did mention how his living room (which has pretty much nothing in it) is like a tea room, and forces you to focus on the other person, and I thought that was a neat way of looking at it. While my view of minimalism does differ from the author's, I thought this was an interesting look at another culture's practice, and it did get me thinking about a potential blog post for the future about faith & homes.

The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan. This secular novel is about a man named Anthony, who lives in an estate called Padua, and collects items that people have lost, with the hope to eventually reunite those items with their owners. I'm not making this up, folks. Knowing this about the book, I was really excited to read it, and the story is actually pretty cute-within the backdrop of Anthony's life, it shows the lives of other characters and how they grow and change. And, since reading this book, I have started calling my afternoon tea "The lovely cup of tea," since one of the characters always does that. Now, onto the reservations I have about this book: despite it's Catholic references, this book has some decidedly non-religious/non-Catholic things it portrays as A-OK. For example, fornication is pictured as totally normal and acceptable. The view of the human body definitely doesn't fit the Catholic view (ie: Sorry, book characters-it's actually not acceptable to drop the cremated remains of your friend anywhere you want). There's also some pretty bad language in the book. SO...I'm not sure what to say about this book. I really loved the main premise, and it had a cute love story, I just had moral quibbles with some of the content. 

Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay. I read this delightful epistolary novel in the span of less than 20 hours. The main premise is that Samantha Moore, a young woman who spent her childhood in more foster homes than she can count, has the opportunity to attend grad school and get a career going, when she's offered a generous grant from a foundation. The biggest stipulation is that she must frequently write letters to the head of the foundation, who wants to be known as "Mr. G. Knightley," so that he can learn about her and see that the grant is going to a good cause and is helping her. Through her letters to "Mr. Knightley" in this book, we see the pain, joys, and suffering that Sam has gone through, and how she's trying to grow through all the events of her past. We see her develop relationships with different people and try to find healing. So, even though this is a fun easy read (with some cute romantic stuff!) that's peppered with literary references (Sam likes to use quotations from P&P characters in her conversations), there's also some depth to the story. I really enjoyed it, and I really want to check out the author's other books now!

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my latest reads! Please let me know if you have any recommendations that I should add to my list :) 


  1. Good point on the Life-giving Home!! I thought it was interesting that none of her kids seem to be married and so are able to continue their traditions...I definitely don't think that would be realistic for me/us...but I like the ideas for raising children. One of my favorite parts was the Sunday brunch and prayer before they go to Church. We go to an 11am Mass so this would be totally doable for us to make a tradition. :)

  2. Too bad that Give It Up! wasn't a little more profound. The premise has a lot of potential! Maybe I'll just have to try it myself.