Book Reviews: The Longings of Wayward Girls and Help Thanks Wow

The Longings of Wayward GirlsI found this book at a discount store for $2.99, and after reading it, I would’ve paid more. That in itself is a good plug.

The Longings of Wayward Girls follows two seasons of Sadie’s life – in early adolescence and post-marriage/kids adulthood. We go back and forth from her snobby neighborhood pranks to her brash decision making as a wife and mom, both of which lead to chaos. As a young girl, she and a friend play a horrible prank on a less popular girl, just before the girl goes missing. Fast forward to adulthood, Sadie realizes that many games are still in play. We’re all a bunch of children when whittled down. None of us, it seems, ever really grow up.

It’s hard to speak about a book like this without giving away details that matter. I can tell you that Sadie’s mother killed herself and left a scar in her so deep that you have to wonder how any of us ever heal from childhood tragedy. And even though Sadie’s husband is lovely and her two children are darling, sometimes it’s just not enough. There’s something to be said of our longings, even the ones we don’t understand.

The New York Times quote on the front cover says, “Enthralling… Once you’ve discovered this haunted world, you won’t want to leave it.” I found that statement to be accurate.

Buy The Longings of Wayward Girls here. 


 

Help Thanks WowIn keeping with my Lent reading, I finished Anne Lamott’s Help Thanks Wow and have moved on to A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor.

Anne Lamott is a great writer. Frank, to the point. She doesn’t waste time and space, which I appreciate. She’s also humorous, which is always a plus.

Help Thanks Wow is brief, and though I normally appreciate brevity, I think this book could use more meat. Her intent, I believe, was to strip down prayer to its most honest, meaningful purpose – to appeal for help, to live in a state of thanksgiving, and to marvel at all God does for us. I agree that those three points serve a plumb lines for our prayer life. Lamott offers anecdotes to support her position, most of which are delightful stories, some more moving than others.

At the end, I expected to feel like I’d encountered a new way of viewing prayer but I have to be honest and say instead I thought, “This is nothing new.” It’s Philippians 4:6 without the “Wow.”

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a nice read, but it wasn’t groundbreaking. More than anything, it was a reminder that sometimes being brief with God is enough, especially when you just can find any other words to say.

Buy Help Thanks Wow here. 

Lent Reading 2015

A few years ago I started observing Lent, but instead of giving up meat or coffee or carrots (which Jackson said he was giving up for Lent), I decided instead to take these forty days and immerse my brain in study. I pick a subject (or a subject picks me) and I read a selection of books that will stretch or test my faith.

This season of Lent will be about prayer. I’m starting with a super short book by Anne Lamott.

Help Thanks Wow

In truth, I’m terrible at prayer. I was that girl in the youth group who really tried, mainly because I knew I was supposed to pray so I could say YES when someone asked, “Are you doing your Quiet Time?” (I’m glad no one asks me that anymore.) I’d have bouts of regular prayer in adulthood, times here and there when I’d study something or pray for a very specific thing (like our adoptions), but nothing stuck. I’d get complacent and robotic. So I’d stop. I told myself that if it didn’t feel real, I shouldn’t do it. To be brutally honest, for many early years I was that person who used to say “I’ll pray for you” and never did, not because I didn’t care but because I didn’t understand how to make it a priority in a meaningful way.

Several years ago I stopped saying “I’ll pray for you” because I didn’t want to be disingenuous. I actually do pray for people, but it’s not a formal thing. It’s in the moment, at the second it occurs to me, and it’s usually very brief.

Lord, please make it easy for her today. Amen.

God, this feels so unfair. Make it not hurt so badly. Amen.

Heavenly Father, give him a moment to think. Calm him down. Amen.

Thank you for all of this, Lord. Truly. Amen.

Participating in responsive prayer has been helpful to me in recent years, but I know I’m still missing out on something. For that reason, I’m going to read about contemplative prayer during Lent, a practice I know little about but wonder if it will benefit my scatterbrained mind. After Anne Lamott will be a book by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, who wrote extensively on contemplative prayer. I’ve also ordered Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal, a book I didn’t even know existed.

My ten most influential books

I was tagged by our cousin, Annette, to list the ten books that have had the greatest influence on me or have presented me with some sort of challenge. To use her words, these are the books I’d grab if the house set fire. It’s hard to list only ten, but here goes.

1. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb (fiction) – Impeccable writing, inspiring story. I loved every word. (Buy it here.)

kiterunner2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (fiction) – I think I read this in two or three days. Many tears. Amazing storyteller. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on my shelf, so I must have lent it out. Thank goodness this book has made it into classrooms alongside the likes of Jane Eyre, King Lear, and Catcher in the Rye. (Buy it here.)

3. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (historical fiction) – This was the gateway book to reading all of Follett’s work. He is by far my favorite fiction writer. If only I could be half the storyteller he is… (Buy it here.)

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling (fantasy fiction) – Though I could easily say the entire Harry Potter series is a favorite, I thought it best to pick the one I love the most. The Half-Blood Prince taught me that things aren’t always what they seem. (Buy it here.)

5. One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (fiction) – Laugh-out-loud hilarious. (Buy it here.) 

6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (memoir) – When read in the proper time and context, this one is enlightening and reflective. (Buy it here.)

7. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (non-fiction/inspirational) – I’m still reading this one very slowly, but that’s only because every page is worth inhaling and digesting. (Buy it here.)

Middlesex8. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (fiction) – Once I got use to his writing style, the story poured out like paint on a canvas. Simply beautiful. (Buy it here.)

9. Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans (non-fiction/memoir/spiritual) – I could’ve have written this book, though not in the same esteem. Rachel is definitely more qualified to tackle religion, but we share similar experiences. (Now call Faith Unraveled, buy it here.)

10. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (non-fiction/memoir/instructional) – Essentially, this is my writing bible. (Buy it here.)