You Are What You Love | by James K. A. Smith

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith
(Brazos Press, 2016, 224 pages)

This book is a popular summary of James K. A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project (which includes the books Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom). As the subtitle indicates, the book could be viewed as a sort of theological take on Charles Duhigg’s popular The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

The book explores the ways that the Christian liturgical tradition trains and habituates human beings into a particular vision of the good. Smith argues that our loves are ordered and directed by the things that we worship. He shows how liturgies – both secular and religious – train us to love particular things and habituate us to particular social orders. The habits that we learn, either through the liturgies implicit in the shopping and consumption of consumerism or through the traditional liturgies of the Christian tradition, make us who we are.

Smith’s work is always peppered with illustrations from films, music, and literature. While I always appreciate this aspect of his books, it is also a bit of a double-edged sword. He often finds just the right literary or cinematic example to make his point come alive. However, there are times when trendier references date the work in unnecessary ways. That quibble aside, Smith’s book is an excellent and accessible summary of his more academic work on the topic.

Flirting with Disaster | by Victoria Dahl

Flirting with Disaster (Jackson: Girl's Night Out, #2)

Flirting with Disaster by Victoria Dahl
(HQN Books, 2015, 384 pages)

Victoria Dahl is definitely one of my favorite contemporary romance authors (when I’m looking for a romance I typically turn to her work). I needed a “light” read and I grabbed Flirting with Disaster from the library – it didn’t disappoint.

Isabelle lives in a pretty secluded area of Wyoming. She picked a secluded spot for a reason; she’s effectively been on the run for over a decade having assumed a new identity and keeping a low profile. Her circumstances understandably have kept her from getting too close to too many people, but when Tom, a hot U.S. marshal, comes knocking at her door she finds herself wanting to run while simultaneously being drawn to him.

Tom seems to know that Isabelle has something she’s trying to hide and he’s determined to figure out what it is. As he tries to get her to open up he can’t deny the spark of attraction. Soon they’re both more deeply involved with one another than they’d planned to be and it’s inevitable that one of them will find out what the other has been hiding…

If you’re looking for a good romance novel that has an entertaining story line AND steam, Dahl is definitely an author you should check out.

Untethered | by Julie Lawson Timmer

Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016, 335 pages)

Char Hawthorn is a college professor who gave up teaching when she fell for Bradley, the man of her dreams. She became a devoted wife and loving step-mother to Allie. Since Allie primarily lives with Bradley and Char, she and Char have formed a strong relationship.

Char and Allie’s life was suddenly turned upside down when Bradley was killed in a car accident. Char does not have legal rights to Allie but she continues to love and care for her. She is struggling with trying to help Allie cope with her father’s death. Allie has given up soccer, her favorite sport. She has abandoned her closest friend to run around with the wrong crowd. The only thing that she continued to be committed to was tutoring a ten-year-old girl named Morgan whom she has a special bond with.

Lindy, Allie’s biological mother, is a self-absorbed woman living in California. The only time she saw Allie was when Allie would travel to see her on short visits. Lindy must now decide if she wants Allie to move back with her for good or allow her to live with Char until she graduates from high school. Char, trying to deal with the heartbreak of losing her husband, must now face the fact that she might lose Allie as well.

Julie Lawson Timmer sends the reader on an emotional journey. As with a lot of fiction, there are some far-stretched occurrences in Untethered, but as a whole I thought this book was a good read. She draws together what it means to be a family and in this case, a blended family. The characters work on issues in their relationships and the complexities of parenting. It is a very compelling story that had me in tears.

Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country | by Louise Erdrich

Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors

Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors
by Louise Erdrich
(Harper Perennial, 2014, 160 pages)

“I can’t imagine home without an overflow of books. The point of books is to have way too many but to always feel you never have enough…” (7)

Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite writers and I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of this book. I’m pretty sure I put in a request for it as soon as I learned it existed. This memoir focuses on a road trip that Erdrich takes with her youngest daughter, Kiizhikok, into Ojibwe Country in northern Minnesota and Canada. A big part of the Ojibwe lands are islands interspersed throughout the region. These islands are sacred to the Ojibwe people for a number of reasons, one of which is the rock paintings contained on many of them.

As Erdrich takes us along on this journey we see how important her heritage is to her and also the value she places on books and the role they play in her life. There were so many good quotes that I pulled from this text because I related to so many of the things that she said. Like John Irving, Erdrich is one of those writers I just want to sit and talk with for hours… or just sit and read next to her. Either way, I’d be happy.

Anyway, if you’re an Erdrich fan I certainly recommend this. If you’re a bibliophile, I also recommend this – you’ll be reading along with a kindred spirit.



Garth Williams, American Illustrator: A Life | by Elizabeth K. Wallace and James D. Wallace

Garth Williams, American Illustrator: A Life
by Elizabeth K. Wallace and James D. Wallace
(Beaufort Books, 2016, 250 pages)

Garth Williams, American Illustrator: A Life written by Elizabeth K. Wallace and James D. Wallace is a biography of the famous children’s book illustrator, Garth Williams. Garth Williams was born in New York City in 1912, but moved to England with his mother during his school years. His father was an artist, but was not around during most of his younger years. Garth Williams is an interesting man. Over the course of his life he had 4 wives, 6 children, and moved several times with his final stop being Guanajuato, Mexico.

At the beginning of his career, Garth Williams thought that he would illustrate children’s books to earn enough income to become a serious artist. Those children’s book illustrations not only provided an income, but made him internationally famous. Williams illustrated such famous classics as Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, The Cricket in Times Square, and The Little House on the Prairie series.

At the beginning of the book, the authors explain that it would be difficult to cover Williams’ life in chronological order. The book does some jumping back and forth and is a little repetitious. I found it a little distracting. However, the life and works of Garth Williams is interesting and worth a read.

Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love | by James Booth

Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love by James Booth
(Bloomsbury Press, 2014, 532 pages)

I love Philip Larkin’s poetry, and I’ve been anxious to read Booth’s biography. Larkin is a profound but accessible poet. Many of his poems deal with failure, disappointment, and death, so he has the reputation of being something of a pessimist and a grump. However, his humor and his emotional articulacy have made him one of England’s most beloved poets.

Larkin’s reputation has suffered since the publication of his selected letters and of Andrew Motion’s major biography in the 1990s. These painted an unflattering portrait of Larkin that included significant doses of casual racism and misogyny. However, Booth, who is the literary advisor to the Philip Larkin Society and was a colleague of Larkin’s at the University of Hull, seeks to correct this impression. He does not shy away from the uglier statements found in Larkin’s correspondence, but neither does he offer a very convincing apology for them. Booth refers to Larkin’s “flashes of performative racism,” suggesting that these comments are more satire than conviction. He tries to counter Larkin’s reputation for right wing nationalism with a younger Larkin’s expressions of his liberal political leanings. Despite Booth’s attempts at portraying a more sympathetic Larkin, the picture that actually emerges is one of a writer whose prejudices grew and became entrenched as he aged.

Despite this particular failure, the book is still immensely valuable. Booth strikes a good balance of biographical detail and literary analysis. He thoroughly details the manuscript history of Larkin’s poems, using these details to give a picture of the poet’s writing habits and emotional life. As the title suggests, Larkin’s love life is a major subject of the book. Larkin never married, and many of his poems and letters deal with the indecision and potential selfishness surrounding this topic. However, Larkin’s broken engagement with Ruth Bowman, his long term relationship with Monica Jones, and several affairs with colleagues and employees at Hull University’s library (where Larkin served as the University Librarian for thirty years) provide plenty of biographical interest.

Booth’s deep understanding and analysis of Larkin’s poetry is the strength of the book, but his interviews with people who knew Larkin also contribute to the portrait. Though he doesn’t succeed in reversing the perception of Larkin’s more objectionable statements, Booth does show that his poetry – skeptical and gloomy as it often is – is inspired by and infused with a sense of the beauty of life in the world. Sometimes these contradictions must just be left alone.

Miss Jane | by Brad Watson

Miss Jane

Miss Jane by Brad Watson
(W. W. Norton & Company, 2016, 288 pages)

Miss Jane is a novel that tells the story of Jane Chisholm, a woman inspired by the author’s great aunt, who was born with a birth defect that changed the course of her life. Set in the early 20th century on a rural farm in Alabama the reader learns that Jane is born with incompletely formed genitalia. This means a number of things including the fact that she has to deal with incontinence and the fact that she’ll never have the type of romantic relationship most other people are privy to.

We see how Jane traverses life with this “burden.” With the help of her family and her family doctor she is able to live as normal a life as is possible in her condition. Even though it seems awkward to say given the subject matter, this was a really pleasurable read. Watson did an amazing job conveying a sense of time and place in his book while also really capturing the characters. I can’t quite put my finger on what books it reminded me of, but I couldn’t wait to get back to this book after any period when I put it down. It was an immersive reading experience.

I look forward to checking out more of Watson’s work.