What I Read in July

Somehow, I read SO MANY BOOKS in July. This month's total is higher than any other... a whopping 14 books in one month. I guess the heat and humidity outside have kept me inside more with nothing to do but devour books on my to-read list!

Here's what I read this July-- please comment at the bottom with any thoughts or recommendations or anything at all!


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The Vacationers by Emma Straub. // "They had chosen to make the leap and, having leapt, were delighted to find that the world was even more beautiful than they’d hoped.

My mom was reading this one for her book club, and I happened to get it from the library at the same time, so we both read this one simultaneously. It only took us a night to read it, and neither of us liked it, honestly. It never really seemed to go anywhere and I never connected with any of the characters at all. It ended so abruptly with a strange sense of resolution that didn't really seem to fit how the book had been going, and it just left me totally dissatisfied and disappointed. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone, it just isn't worth your time at all.


Delicious! by Ruth Reichl. // "Change works both ways. You must accept those moments, experience them, and let them go. Because if you allow yourself to get stuck in that minute, nothing will ever change.” 

I had this book on my wish list for ages, but finally found it at the library and grabbed it. I'm a huge foodie and watch the Food Network whenever possible, so reading a book with such a focus on food was right up my alley. I was so enamored with this book-- the plot did not at all go as I expected (in such a delightful way) and I loved all the layers of story Reichl wove together. I was blown away that this was her first work of fiction-- it's fantastic and I would have expected her to be a fiction pro by the way it was written. You will absolutely fall in love with the characters, be surprised by the way the plot turns, and will want to eat every single thing Reichl writes about.


The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. // “To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live. To feel the joy of life, as Eve felt the joy of life. To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter every day. To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am. I am. That is something to aspire to.” 

Recently, my grandma gave me a few big boxes of books she had read for book clubs and such, and I found this one among them. I had seen it around, so I was curious. It was such a great and unexpected read-- it's told from the perspective of the dog, Enzo, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It's heartfelt and heartbreaking and hearing it all from the dog's point of view just makes it better and richer than I think it would have been otherwise. If you've ever had a dog and wondered what goes on in their minds, you would love this story of true love through the crazy twists and turns of life.


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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. // "Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.

I've seen this little book EVERYWHERE but really just never wanted to spend money on it. The library came through on this one! I read it while sitting at the car place getting my car inspected (at 7:30 am...) and here's the honest truth: it wasn't that great. Hardly anything she said was news to me, she was super repetitive, and I just wasn't amazed. I appreciate her core message that we should only keep the things that spark joy and get rid of the rest, but this book just didn't really wow me. To be fair, I did do some tidying up when I finished reading, so maybe that's the whole point?


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. // "We are liars. We are beautiful and privileged. We are cracked and broken."

I ventured back into the world of YA fiction with this one, and found that I blew through it in no time. I knew from the beginning that there was going to be some crazy twist (the writing style and everything just set things up for one) but I did not expect what happened at all. This wasn't an incredible work of literature or anything (it's not trying to be) but it's a great YA book with a strong pull and great twists along the way, so it was a solid read!


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New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver. // "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Ever since I heard that quote by Oliver, I've been dying to read more of her poetry. I finally got my hands on this collection, and I absolutely am in love. I spent several evenings curled up in bed just reading and re-reading these poems (and even reading some aloud to myself because that's when poetry truly shines). It's one I know I'll read over and over again-- her words are just gorgeous.


Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. // "Maybe that’s what religion is, hurling yourself off a cliff and trusting that something bigger will take care of you and carry you to the right place."

Okay, I STRUGGLED to get through this one. I know, I know. Everyone loves it. BUT I DO NOT KNOW WHY. I think my first big turn-off was the format...I do not like books that are written in the form of emails and letters and narratives all strung together. At page 50, I wanted to quit. I wasn't into it, wasn't feeling it...but because EVERYONE raves about it, I kept going. I admit, it got a little more interesting as the plot thickened and characters got more exciting, but I just never fell in love. This book was just mediocre to me, and I really don't get all the hype. Oh well.


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The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art by Erwin Raphael McManus. // "Our great fear is that we will never live a life worth sharing with others, never live a story worth telling, but that we will find ourselves trapped in a story for which there is no ending, only an endless cycle of disappointment and defeat. ... The reality is that our struggles and suffering give us the context to tell the greatest story of our lives."

I've had this book on my wish list for ages, and finally found it in paperback for cheap on Amazon and decided to give it a read. Overall, I actually wasn't super impressed or amazed by it. A lot of the time, it felt like little tweet-able one liners strung together without a lot of depth or continuity or anything holding it together. It wasn't bad, and I definitely underlined a lot of sentences and thought he said some good things, but it wasn't really anything spectacular. It's a short book, so if you need a little creative boost to remind you that your life is truly art and that what you do matters and that creativity is essential to our lives, this is a great book to grab.


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The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen. // "Now here in Richmond, that humanity shone before us."

This was my #COLLABOREADS pick of the month, so I'll let you read that review there


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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling. // "In my mind, the sexiest thing in the world is the feeling that you’re wanted."

Okay, so I should probably start this by saying I don't think I've ever actually seen Mindy Kaling in anything...I've never seen The Office or The Mindy Project, so I really don't know much about her except what snippets and commercials and stuff I've seen. But...I loved Amy Poehler's book, and I saw this at the library and thought it would be similarly amusing and fun to read, so I read it. I really just didn't enjoy it, though. I think if I already knew and loved Mindy, it would have been better. It wasn't bad by any means, it just wasn't really that exciting and it wasn't very funny and it didn't really seem to say a whole lot... I guess it wasn't ever meant to be serious literature though so maybe I should just take it for what it is and move on! Okay, moving on.


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Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions by Timothy Keller. // "When you believe in him you are not just forgiven but beautiful to God, righteous in Him. Now, how do you deal with criticism or failure? We should not look at who we are in ourselves but at who we are in him. Oftentimes after we screw up, we realize upon reflection that we are trying to save face, scrambling for reputation or approval. In other words, we try to prove ourselves, make ourselves beautiful, significant, and righteous--though we wouldn't use those terms. We are trying to make ourselves feel important and decent, instead of letting Jesus carry the burden of significance. If we really understood how God regards us in Christ, we could take disapproval and failure in stride."

I am a major Tim Keller fan and this book was no exception. Going through encounters with Jesus found in the book of John, Keller shares so much goodness, wisdom, and truth about who Jesus is and who we are in Him. I love when teachers and authors like Keller take Scripture and dive in deeply to it, showing meaning and significance and richness that can easily be missed with a quick skim. I underlined and loved so much of this book, especially that quote above that just struck me so powerfully. This book is such a simple yet glorious reminder of who Christ is and what He has done for us, and I would HIGHLY, highly recommend it to any believer, new or old.


The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. // "Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it."

I've heard about this book from several people, and I SEVERELY judged it by it's cover. I mean, come on, isn't that the WORST cover you've ever seen? What is even going on there? I finally decided to give it a shot and I have to admit-- it was AMAZING. So good. It's easy to read, with many pages having only one paragraph of text (which meant I could write lots of notes and process right on the pages themselves! bonus!) Pressfield talks extensively about Resistance-- the thing that keeps us from doing the very things we were created to do. Basically, I decided that Resistance is Satan's alter ego-- he hates when we try to do the things the Lord gifted and called us to, and will do anything and everything in his power to keep us from it. This book was a swift kick in the pants and a big motivational speech all at once. No matter who you are, this book will speak to you. Guaranteed there's something you feel called to do (even deep, deep down), but something's keeping you from doing it. DON'T LET IT. Grab this book, wake up, and go after it.


Life of the Beloved by Henri J. M. Nouwen. // "It was as if I kept refusing to hear the voice that speaks from the very depth of my being and says: 'You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.' That voice has always been there, but it seems that I was much more eager to listen to other, louder voices saying: 'Prove that you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular, or powerful, and then you will earn the love you so desire.'"

I cannot say enough good things about this book. I have already come back to it more than a handful of times to soak up the words again and again and again. I have always loved and wrestled with the idea of being beloved, and this book illuminated all of that. Originally written by Nouwen for a Jewish friend, I found it incredibly convicting and humbling and stunning as a lifelong Christian. I want to get the word beloved tattooed on my body to remind me forever of the core truth of my identity: I am His Beloved.


Fidelity: Five Stories by Wendell Berry. // "It was as though his soul were like a little moon that would be dark at times and bright at others."

It was originally here that I heard about Wendell Berry, and then I read this about him and wanted to just read everything by him. He's written so much, so I'll spend a lifetime trying to get my hands on all of it, which is a great problem to have. These five stories are all poignant and unique and paint beautiful pictures of his characters that are unlike any others. This was a great read for a breezy summer evening in my hammock between two big trees with a cider in hand.


I'll be on vacation for two weeks of August and then moving in to a new apartment, so I'm sure my August book list will be a lot smaller :)

If you're looking for a book idea...our August theme for #COLLABOREADS is "a book set in summer"! Find some ideas here and join us with your review at the end of August!

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