Tag-Archive for » review «

Tuesday, December 08th, 2015 | Author:

My parents and brother just came out to Kansas for Thanksgiving and they drove the last of my earthly possessions here with them. Which means, I finally have all of my books with me again.

As I unpacked the 6 or 8 boxes of books and started to sort them into piles to put on the shelves, a definitive sense of comfort came over me.

My whole life I’ve loved books. I’ve always had more books than I have had toys or anything else.

 

I’m not a fast reader, or a voracious reader by any means. In my adult life, I have to be intentional to spend time reading books because, well, Netflix is easier. But I want to be a reader, I like being a reader, and most of all, what I love about having my books back with me is that I love to SHARE what I’m reading.

I’ve said that for a long time to those who’ve scoffed or smirked at my full arms at used book sales (or my many boxes while moving so many times — which by the way, I sadly now only have about 1/4 if that of the books that I once had do to purging for moves).

I like to own the physical copies of books so that I can tell someone about a book and then offer, “I own it — do you want to borrow it?”

My mom actually even brought a copy of the Kite Runner with her in her suitcase, “I found this and I know that you leant it to me at some point but I think this is your copy.”

“Oh, you can keep it!” I said. “I have another copy right now. I’ve given it away several times to people because it’s so good, so I just bought another copy, so you can keep that one.”

There’s something about sharing the story that makes it even better.

So, as I was looking through my books, I thought I would share some of my favorites with you in case you’re in the mood to read this holiday season and need some suggestions.

www.tagsmaker.com_1b3347dac6d098da98038b6f251e9e63

Classics:

Crime and Punishment — I’ll preface it this way: Most Russian novels are long, sad, and have lots of characters so they can be hard to get into. BUT, this is one of my favorite classics. If you’re a sucker for redemption in non-fairy-tale ways, and you want to feel the hardness and sadness of the world along the way to that redemption, read this. Tell yourself at the start that you’re going to read the whole thing. I’ve only read two classics more than once, and this is one of them.

Pride and Prejudice  — If you want something much lighter than C&P, go for P&P. Men, this one is more of a woman’s pleasure (though if you like witty banter and well-told angsty love stories, please do read). “What are men to rocks and mountains?” Elizabeth Bennet asks. I ask that every time I climb a mountain. It’s a fun one, a great one. And it’s the other classic I’ve read more than once.

Brave New World — If you read 1984 and loved it, read this, it’s better. If you read 1984 and hated it, you might not love this, but again, this is better. If you read the Hunger Games or the Giver and loved it, go ahead and read a dystopian novel actually written for adults and see how much better they are. Still compelling. Still haunting. Still really, really good (and important). It’s a fast read.

Lord of the Flies — Another fast read, and largely a similar premise to the TV show LOST. What happens when a plane full of prep school aged boys crashes on a desert island? Find out. It really is thrilling.

The Old Man and the Sea — If you’ve never read any Hemingway but you want to, (and/or maybe you want to be able to say you have), this book is a great, super short intro to Hemingway. Also, if you love the sea (in a sailor kind of way, not a lay-on-the-beach sort of way), this is gonna be a good one, and much more palatable time-wise than the monster of a book, Moby Dick.

Farewell to Arms — If you’re ready for more Hemingway, I love this book. It’s centered on the story of an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Italy during WWII and it’s painfully good.

 

Plays:

Our Town by Thornton Wilder — You’ll be faced with the thoughts on what matters most in life and death, and what your town, your community means to you.

The Incident at Vichy by Arthur Miller — Miller is definitely best known for 1) being married to Marilyn Monroe and 2) being the author of famed plays Death of a Salesman  and The Crucible. But this little known play I stumbled on in a used book sale, and it has haunted me ever since. It’s a short, simple read, that poses the question through the characters: If you could switch places with someone and spare their life by giving yours (in this case for a Jew in Nazi controlled France), would you?

Newer Books that will be Classics soon:

The Kite Runner — I’ve probably given away more copies of this book than any other. The story feels so real, so true, so compelling that I couldn’t stop thinking about it while I was reading it. So many times I went to the author’s bio online to see if this stuff actually happened to him because it was so well written  and such a good, gripping, crazy story. Also, it really helps paint a picture of how Afghanistan changed hands to the Taliban and what that meant for the people on the ground there. Important read and really really good read.

The Things They Carried — This is my favorite book. Period. It’s set in the Vietnam war, told by a character that shares a name with an author, Tim O’Brien, who also served in Vietnam. But throughout the book, the narrator tells you “This is not a true story.” Just when you read something that is so crazy vivid, so specific that you swear this had to have happened for real, the narrator says, “I’m lying to you. This is not a true story.” Read it. It’ll drive you crazy and you’ll love it. It’s that good.

The Life of Pi — A kid and a tiger are on a life boat at sea trying to survive. It’s a story that touches on all the themes of humanity, including sanity. It’s really, really good and easy to get caught up in.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — A kid loses his dad in the 9/11 attacks. He then goes on a secret mission through the burroughs of New York trying to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that his father had. He meets the city through his quest, different people all affected in different ways by the attacks and by life, and also, they meet him. It’ll grip your interest and your heart.

Nonfiction/Comedy

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris — Most of Sedaris’ work is nonfiction essays and they’re all amazing. So read anything by him, and it will all be funny. But this anthropomorphism book is not strictly nonfiction because he uses animals as the personas for his incredibly funny stories, but it’s amazing. And a fast read, too. I read it in two sittings at a Barnes and Noble, and then still bought it because I knew I’d want to re-read it again and again.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs — Jacobs, an agnostic Jew who lives in New York City and writes for Esquire magazine decided to follow the Bible’s laws for a year. All of them. Like even the ones about not sitting where a woman has sat when she’s had her period, or not wearing mixed fabric clothing. What ensues is really funny, really educational, and really eye-opening to christians and others alike.

Into the Wild — This book is the best book I’ve read in the past decade. And it’s the best non-fiction I’ve ever read. Period. John Krakauer delves into the story of a young man who set off into the alaskan wilderness on a quest to find himself and experience nature but who dies while he’s there. Like a detective working backward through the clues, Krakauer, a journalist for Outside magazine, tries to find out what happened and to make sense of it all — for the world, for the young man’s family, but most of all for himself. I saw more of myself in this book than I was comfortable with, and that is always compelling.

Fun Books/Thrilling Books/All Others

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown — I read this book while studying abroad, about to go to Rome (where it’s set) and you actually learn a LOT of true historical information while just reading this thrilling tale of murders, secret society conspiracy, and papal scandal. I read the last third of the book laying on my friend Sara’s bed while she studied and I was so distracting with my exclamations of “WHAT??!!” and “Noooo!” that she made me leave the room. It’s Dan Brown’s best, even still.

Gone Girl — You’ve heard the hype. It’s true. It’s so well written and I did NOT see some of the plot twists coming. I actually listened to this one on audiobook and the version that’s on audible.com is really, really well done.

The Time Traveler’s Wife — Men, disregard probably. Women, um, read this now if you love a good love story. I loved it. Loved  it.

Private by James Patterson — I also listened to this mystery novel on audible.com and would recommend it. Typical but well done murder mystery. Really enjoyable.

The girl with the dragon tattoo/who played with fire /who kicked the hornet’s nest: This trilogy is incredible. I will give you this disclaimer though, the author was Swedish and, like the Russian novels, it has a lot of characters and so it takes a while to pick up steam (and they’re long). I listened to the first one as an audio book on an 8.5-hour drive down to college after a break and the first few hours were slow. But by the time I got to school, I couldn’t stop. The next few days I was listening every single chance that I got until it was finished. The other two books went very similarly.

Happy reading! And if you have book suggestions for me, please fire away!!

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 07th, 2015 | Author:

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I met him once, briefly.

“Sit, with the opportunity to listen to one of the ‘saints in the land’ speak… this morning,” were the chaplain’s closing remarks of introduction before Brennan took the stage.

“In the words of Francis of Assisi as he met brother Dominique on the road to Umbria: ‘Hi,'” he began in a slow, measured voice with a grin.

The crowd exhaled in full laughter, their air having been held in their lungs a little too seriously during the astounding and gracious introduction about him was given.

Brennan Manning, christian author and speaker, was in his 70’s and his light blue eyes had already gone blind. His friend and traveling companion had to lead him up the carpeted stairs of the stage to the podium from which he would address our sleepy-eyed college-student selves. It was a Wednesday in early January, 2010.

It was the first chapel session that I had attended at my christian college since being back from my year studying abroad. I didn’t know that Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel and grace-touter extraordinaire was to be the speaker.

But he was. As soon as our Chaplain began introducing him, my heart and ears opened.

I’d first encountered Brennan’s name and face when I was about 11 or 12 years old.

I was at the Christian book store with my mom, and a book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, caught my eye as it stared up at me from a “15% off” table in the center aisle. I picked up the book, and flipped it over to find a picture of Brennan looking back at me. He had wrinkled skin and white hair, and the short bio said that he lived in New Orleans.

I was impressed that a straight-laced looking, older Christian author lived in a place I only knew of for it’s debauchery on Mardi Gras.

When I first heard the news of Hurricane Katrina hitting the city in August 2005, I immediately thought of him and prayed for him and any family he may have there. I had not thought of him or his book at all since seeing that copy of the book several years before, but somehow, the information had stuck: There was a ragamuffin christian who lived in New Orleans. May God have mercy.

When I was in my early college years, I had been fully entrapped in the cycle of abuse and lies that my story unfortunately holds. Dying on the inside, feeling like I was never, never good enough to get out of the cycle, I found Brennan’s Ragamuffin Gospel again, and read it. Consumed it. I didn’t understand grace all of the way yet, but I knew, I knew I needed it.

And as I sat in the auditorium of my christian college, and as Brennan began to speak his famous message of grace, I was ready. I was familiar with grace now. I had realized that the grace of God on the hurting, the dirty, the trapped, the grieving, the sinning, the I-want-to-be-different-than-I’m-able-to-be’s was the only thing keeping me afloat. And Brennan’s words drenched me that morning.

I went up to him afterward, tears streaming down my face and urgency in my shaking voice as I spoke to him.

I don’t even know what I said to him, aside from “thank you, thank you so much for your message of grace today and in life.”

But I do remember that as he faced me, he took both of my arms, and clasped them right about at the elbow, holding our forearms parallel to one another’s as we spoke. He looked me in the eyes, though he could not see and his blue eyes were cloudy. They began to fill with tears in our short interaction. He thanked me, I thanked him, and we parted ways.

I didn’t think of Brennan the person (though I did use his books often) much for the next few years, until almost exactly 3 years later, when my life imploded, and the shrapnel of shame and pain went flying, lodging into anyone nearby.

About a week into the aftermath of that time in my life, in hours of searching through the book store for something to distract or help, I found it: Brennan’s memoir. It hadn’t been finished yet at the point I had met him, but I knew, this would be the book of the season.

The book is titled: All is Grace.

The reason Brennan knew grace so intimately is that he was such a “ragamuffin” (of his own naming). Ragamuffin meaning, one whose only prayer could be “God grant mercy on my soul, a sinner.”

In the beginning of the book, he writes this: “Warning: Mine has been anything but a straight shot, more like a crooked path filled with thorns and crows and vodka. Prone to wander? You bet. I’ve been a priest, then an ex-priest. Husband, then ex-husband. Amazed crowds one night and lied to friends the next. Drunk for years, sober for a reason, then drunk again. I’ve been John the beloved, Peter the coward, and Thomas the doubter all before the waitress brought the check.”

In his ruthless honesty about pain, about grief, about short-comings and sins, and shameful things, Brennan walked me through his life, and I found light in the broken places.

In a poem by  Leonard Cohen, it’s written: “There is a crack in everything. // That’s how the light gets in.” That’s what I found in those pages — a testament that God loved my cracked self, and that he could pour light and grace into me, and hopefully, maybe one day, out of me as well.

Brennan’s honesty of his story was a tiny shimmer of light in a very dark season.  I took my time over several months to read through the book. But I was finally finishing it on my way back from a trip to Israel in April 2013 when I heard the news — Brennan had passed away. I sat on the plane and cried a few silent tears. Tears for a man who was broken, who failed often, and who God used in huge ways to tell the world about the message of grace and love.

To this day, Brennan is one of the few Christian leaders who I would wholeheartedly recommend because of his ruthless honesty about who he has been, who God is, and that when you match those two up, the only conclusion is this: All is Grace.

——- ——— ——-

There’s a movie that’s about to be made about Brennan and his life which I’m really excited to recommend. It’s called “Brennan.” You can keep your eyes out for it to watch it, but more than that, there’s the unique opportunity to help it get created.

The movie is being made by the same folks that created the film “Ragamuffin” a couple years ago about Rich Mullins’ life (which was, obviously, one of the lives touched by Brennan Manning’s message of grace for the outcasts of the world). If you know me, you know I sort of despise christian movies, but I’m really, really, really looking forward to this one. They will execute it well, and it’s a story well-worth telling and knowing.

 ——- ——— ——-

Lastly, this is Brennan’s “A Word Before” note at the beginning of his memoir:

All Is Grace was written in a certain frame of mind — that of a ragamuffin.

Therefore,

This book is by the one who thought he’d

be farther along by now, but he’s not.

It is by the inmate who promised the parole

board he’d be good, but he wasn’t.

It is by the dim-eyed who showed the path

to others but kept losing his way.

It is by the wet-brained who believed if a

little wine is good for the stomach,

then a lot is great.

It is by the liar, tramp, and thief; otherwise

known as the priest, speaker, and author.

It is by the disciple whose cheese slid

off his cracker so many times

he said “to hell with cheese ’n’ crackers.”

It is by the young at heart but old

of bone who is led these

days in a way he’d rather not go.

But,

This book is also for the gentle ones

who’ve lived among wolves.

It is for those who’ve broken free of collar

to romp in fields of love and marriage and divorce.

It is for those who mourn, who’ve been

 mourning most of their lives,

yet they hang on to shall be comforted.

It is for those who’ve dreamed of entertaining angels

but found instead a few friends of great price.

It is for the younger and elder prodigals

who’ve come to their senses

again, and again, and again, and again.

It is for those who strain at pious piffle

because they’ve been swallowed by Mercy itself.

This book is for myself and those who have been around

the block enough times that we dare to whisper

the ragamuffin’s rumor —

all is grace.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com