The Muse left me inspired to write...and to read. In this season of feeling so ready for summer vacation, I love the way books take me somewhere else and expand my horizons in the fifteen minute increments I find to fly through a few pages. So today I'll share some of the great books I've read over the past couple of months, in case you're looking for a fun little get-away, too.
I just finished Life After Life, a novel by Jill McCorkle. It follows a group of people who live in and
around a retirement home. I expected it to be a bit sad, but it surprised me. I was drawn right into these characters and the things they share and remember about their lives: what they miss, mistakes they made, how they work to create a new life now that the old one exists only in their memories. The philosophical questions in this book about living and aging and seasons of life intrigue me. My favorite character in the book is a former school teacher who posits that deep inside, we're all still eight years old. It's funny to see how she applies that theory and how apt it can be. And my second favorite character is part of a plot twist that caught by totally by surprise. I won't give it away, but it's worth the read just to hear him describe his life strategies.
Working backwards through the list, I LOVED the new book from Chip & Dan Heath, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. I'm a fan of the Heath brothers: I love how they help me broaden my thinking, and this book does a really good job at pointing out how severely most of us narrow our focus when making decisions, ignoring how most things in life aren't nearly as either/or as we make them out to be. They talk about how we tend to use a spotlight to look at a decision...which does a great job of lighting up a particular area, but leaves everything else in the dark. They offer strategies to swing that spotlight around a bit and see what other possibilities it reveals.
And finally, I read Rob Bell's latest, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I'm not a Rob Bell devotee: we come from very different places, and some of the rocks he's flipping over in search of spiritual answers are the same ones I was exploring awhile back and decided weren't all that helpful. But I have friends who know him personally and love him, so I try to withhold any strong opinions. (And it wasn't until I read a profile of him in The New Yorker describing him as providing a release valve or sorts in the intense conservative culture of Grand Rapids, Michigan where he founded a church that I understood why he's such a big deal in certain Christian circles.) I liked this book more than expected, but with one caveat: as a writer, I think he needs to step up to the plate and reveal what these ideas mean to him. His writing is quite cerebral, but all the artful phrases don't land anywhere because he doesn't share about himself. He hints at an intense spiritual crisis but never tells us what that looked or felt like, or how he's working through it, or even what it looks like for him to look to his faith in mundane circumstances wondering what to do next and whether life has meaning. It would be interesting to read an "applied faith" book from him.