2020 will be the year I read an entire bookstore! Not exactly, but I do credit books for carrying me through the pandemic. Maybe Covid has pinned my wings, but not my imagination. I have traveled to Korea, Hawaii, many times to France, even visited the Sea of Galilee during the time of Jesus. A French designer created a fashion line during Covid entitled, Art is Hope. I could not agree more! Thank you to our poets, artists, authors, composers and musicians for gifting us with beauty in these dark and uncertain times! Following are just a handful of books I have read over the last six months. Please reciprocate with your favorites reads in the comments! I will compile a “Corona” list and share. We are in this together!
It has been a long time since a book has so deeply touched my heart. The Book of Longings retells the story of Ana, a daring and brilliant female spirit; a scholar, a poet, a historian, the lover of Jesus. I can tell you from my studies in seminary that Jesus’ personal life remains much of a mystery. There is no historical evidence to suggest that Jesus had a wife, nor is their proof that he didn’t. It doesn’t matter! That is not the point of Sue Monk Kidd’s beautiful story. As only Sue Monk Kidd can do, she invites you on a magic carpet ride that immerses you so fully in 1st century Palestine. I read the book over nine months ago, and I am still carrying in the satchel of my heart the characters of Ana,Yaltha, Jesus and Tabitha. This is a story that reaches in and wakes up your own intuitive spirit, reminding you to follow your deepest longings. As in the entirety of Kidd’s canon, there are marvelous vignettes of love, loss, and my favorite, redemption. But also adventure. Jesus plays a supporting role in the story. But the way she portrays Jesus— pure tenderness—will touch you. The heroine of the story is Ana. I suspect Sue Monk Kidd is hoping we will call forth the Ana in each of us!!!! Of all the books on this list, this is my favorite!
I confess I love an epic historical fiction filled with marvelous characters that spans generations. Pachinko did not disappoint. What you realize reading this story set in Korea and Japan is that racism is sadly woven into the universal fabric. I had no idea what Koreans endured under Japanese control. More profoundly, this is a story of how humans prevail in the face of terrible odds. Pachinko shows how love and loyalty define a noble life.
This book was recommended by a well-respected author as one of his favorite newcomers in 2020. You may be familiar with Gail Tsukiyama from his beautiful book, The Samura’s Garden. The Color of Air is another literary watercolor painting. I read it in two days. This is my first book set in Hawaii, where nature is its own character in the story. The story takes place in the 1930’s in the small community of Hilo, whose day-to-day life is determined by the mood of the looming Mauna Hona volcano. The characters in the story all have secrets, and they seem to release as Mauna Hona releases ash and lava. It is the character of Uncle Koji who stole my heart. Nothing is more powerful than unconditional love!
Henri Nouwen was a priest, scholar, writer and theologian. He regularly tops my Spiritual Booklists. The way he approaches the spiritual life has always spoken to me. In 1983, after deep engagement in the cause of poverty, violence and war in Central America, Nouwen returned home lost, worn and weary. He encountered a poster rendering of Rembrandt’s infamous painting,The Prodigal Son, and it transformed his life. This book retells his experience with the painting, both in the poster, and later actually visiting the original at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. “Rembrandt’s embrace” made the familiar story of the prodigal son come alive for him. It is a page-turner, and will fill your soul! In this topsy turvy time, I think we are all rediscovering what “home” means to us both physically and spiritually! I find this book an incredible example of how art mediates hope!
The Nightingale was my daughter’s summer read for school, and let’s just say it launched me into a summer spent in France during WWII. I know I am late to the party on this one, but if there is anyone who hasn’t read it, you are in for a treat. I also read Alice Hoffman’s. The World That We Knew, Laura Morell’s, The Night Portrait, and The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer.
Several years ago, I was gifted with the opportunity to spend several days with the French chef and mother of six children, Mimi Thorisson, at her home and cooking atelier in Medoc, France. She taught me so many “family” recipes to bring back to Nashville. Shortly after our visit, she and her husband Oddhur decided to pick up their family of 8 and move to Italy. I admire their daring! Mimi said they arrived with only her favorite knives, a couple of pots and a cork screw. She documents their adventure in her newest book, Old World Italian. Her husband Oddhur is a fabulous photographer so the book is a work of art! In this time of no-travel, Mimi, in her lyrical voice, brings you to Italy! Bellisimo!
I was introduced to the poet Maria Rainer Rilke by my all-time favorite professor at Vanderbilt. Once you read a poem/prayer by Rilke, you fall in love. Ironically, Rilke got his start as the secretary for the famous French sculptor, Rodin. I just finished a fascinating nonfiction book about Rilke’s relationship with Rodin in Paris. Rilke has this incredible ability to give words to the longings of the soul. He is the consummate artist theologian.
I’m humming the Cheers show tune as I write this: “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.” Parnassus Books, the most incredible local bookstore in the country, reopened its doors this week. I absolutely love this place, not just because I am a lover of bookstore, but because they have supported my writing like no one else! Nothing compares to the knowledgeable and kind team at Parnassus; Sissy, Niki, Karen, Ann to just name a few. I hope you have been watching Ann Patchett on Instagram every Tuesday. Could there be anything cooler than an author you admire sharing what she’s reading and loves? I hope you will pick out one of the books on my list and purchase local at Parnassus!