What Team Otto Has Been Reading Lately - November 2018

It's one of my favorite days of the month. The day all of us book lovers link up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share what we've been reading. Also known as the day my TBR list explodes!

The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life's Biggest Questions by Knox McCoy

As a kid, I spent a lot of time caught up in my own thoughts and chasing them around inside my head. I spent time parsing through silly things like why Donkey Kong was called "donkey" when he was really a giant ape or how on earth Kevin Arnold could snag Winnie Cooper.
But I also tried deconstructing deeper questions, like who God was and what it was that he wanted from me. It was often pop culture that helped me fill in the gaps of my understanding - sometimes in hilarious ways, and sometimes in ways that were accidentally profound.
And that's what this book is about: how I navigated life in the time I call the wondering years. 
So begins Knox McCoy's hilarious memoir in which he interprets his life story through the lens of pop culture.

According to the marketing information on the back of my Advance Reader's Copy the core target audience for this book is young adults ages 18 - 34 who listen to Knox's podcast, The Popcast with Knox and Jamie. The secondary target is Christian pop culture junkies. I am none of these things.

I've never tuned in to the podcast, and I am the farthest thing imaginable from a pop culture junkie. I don't subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime or even own a TV. I haven't watched a broadcast of a major sporting event in over a decade. I can count on one hand the number of concerts I've attended, and I can count on one finger the number I've enjoyed.

Despite all these arguments against me picking up this book, I did pick it up and I actually enjoyed it. Not in a change-your-life kind of way, but in a this-is-an-entertaining-way-to-spend-a-Sunday-afternoon kind of a way. Some of the pop culture references escaped me, but it didn't really matter. I could relate to the author's wrestling to make sense of his life and the way his upbringing shaped his experience of God.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God's Goodness Around You by Shannan Martin

As Christ-followers, we are called to be long haul neighbors committed to authenticity and willing to take some risks. Our vocation is to invest deeply in the lives of those around us, devoted to one another, physically close to each other as we breathe the same air and walk the same blocks. Our purpose is not so mysterious after all. We get to love and be deeply loved right where we're planted, by whomever happens to be near. We will inevitably encounter brokenness we cannot fix, solve, or understand, and we'll feel as small, uncertain and outpaced as we have ever felt. But we'll find our very lives in this calling, to be among people as Jesus was, and it will change everything. The details will look quite ordinary. They will exhaust and exhilarate us. But it will be the most worth-it adventure we will ever take.
Honestly it took me a few chapters to get into this book. It reminded me of the first time I picked up Ann Voskamp's writing and it took me a bit to get used to her writing style. I had the same initial struggle with Shannan's writing, but once I got the hang of her style, I so appreciated her rich insights. Her journey from living the dream as a cute little country housewife to ministering in her inner city neighborhood has clearly broken her open in the best of ways. You may take a while to get through this book because every few pages you'll think of someone you want to text to check in on, invite over for dinner, or send an encouraging card. And I don't think Shannan would mind that one little bit.

Here's another quote from her that perfectly sums up what I took away from this book:
The world would not feel so impossible if each of us committed to truly knowing five of our nearest neighbors. We wouldn't feel so alone if we would commit without expectation to the big-hearted drifters nearest us. This flies in the face of church small groups commonly arranged by demographics and shared interests, but I promise the results can be a wonderfully diverse reflection of God's kingdom. 
Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Every Day Life by Shauna Niequist

Celebration when your plan is working? Anyone can do that. But when you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that's when you start to learn what celebration is. When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that's celebration.
In this moving collection of essays Shauna Niequist describes her wrestling with God during a season of job loss and how she ultimately found her way to deeper health and wholeness through the practice of celebration. This book came to me at just the right time. I'd recommend it for anyone processing a loss or going through a season of disappointment.

Defiant Joy by Stasi Eldredge

In the face of the ultimate reality won for us by Jesus, we don't have to pretend that life is better than it is, that we don't hurt as much as we do, or that we feel happy when we are not. We are invited to be fully alive, awake, alert, and oriented to the truth, and to know that because of Jesus we can be defiantly joyful.
Like Cold Tangerines, this is another book that speaks to those of us going through a discouraging time. Through her own personal stories and plenty of Scriptural encouragement, Stasi shows us how to fix our eyes on Jesus so that we can experience a depth of joy that isn't dependent on our ever-changing circumstances. While the message of this book isn't new, I loved Stasi's practical suggestions on how to access joy when it feels like all is lost.

Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage by Madeleine L'Engle

The wonderful thing, whether we are together or apart, is to know that he is in the world, and that we belong together. And what I must learn is to love with all of me, giving all of me, and yet remain whole in myself. Any other kind of love is too demanding of the other; it takes, rather than gives. To love so completely that you lose yourself in another person is not good. You are giving a weight, not the sense of lightness and light that loving someone should give. To love wholly, generously, and yet retain the core that makes you you.
When I was in third grade, Madeleine L'Engle visited my school, and my class got to sit in the front row! I don't remember specifically what she said, but I do remember being captivated by her storytelling. A few years later I picked up the Wrinkle in Time books and read the series on repeat throughout my teen years.

I've tried twice now to get into her memoirs, The Crosswicks Journals, starting with Book One, A Circle of Quiet, but both times I couldn't find the motivation to finish. I assumed the series just wasn't for me. Last week for whatever reason Book Three in the series, Two-Part Invention, made its way onto my radar. I requested it from the library, and when it came in I inhaled it in just over a day.

This book tells the story of Madeleine's marriage to actor, Hugh Franklin, alternating between their first meeting as young people in the exciting world of 1940s New York City, their struggles as young parents balancing family, writing, and Hugh's work as a star on the hit soap-opera All My Children (Madeleine L'Engle was married to a soap opera star?!), and the grief of their final years together as Hugh battled cancer. Although the book is very sad, it was full of hard-won insights into prayer, vocation and family. I found it inspiring and strangely hopeful, despite the somber tone.

One more quote to show you what I mean:
Our love has been anything but perfect and anything but static. Inevitably there have been times when one of us has outrun the other and has had to wait patiently for the other to catch up. There have been times when we have misunderstood each other, demanded too much of each other, been insensitive to the other's needs. I do not believe there is any marriage where this does not happen. The growth of love is not a straight line, but a series of hills and valleys. I suspect that in every good marriage there are times when love seems to be over. Sometimes these desert lines are simply the only way to the next oasis, which is far more lush and beautiful after the desert crossing than it could possibly have been without it.

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Mama once said the city was a map of all the people who'd lived and died in it, and Baba said every map was really a story. That's how Baba was. People paid him to design bridges, but he told his stories for free. When Mama painted a map and a compass rose, Baba pointed out invisible sea monsters in the margins.
The winter before Baba went into the earth, he never missed a bedtime story. Some of them were short, like the one about the fig tree that grew in Baba's backyard when he was a little boy in Syria, and some of them were epics so twisting and incredible that I had to wait night after night to hear more. Baba made my favorite one, the story of the mapmaker's apprentice, last two whole months. Mama listened at the door, getting Baba a glass of water when he got hoarse. When he lost his voice, I told the ending. Then the story was ours.
Mama used to say stories were how Baba made sense of things. He had to untangle the world's knots, she said. Now, thirty thousand feet above him, I am trying to untangle the knot he left in me.
This hauntingly beautiful story centers around Nour, a Syrian-American girl who has just lost her father and moves with her mother and siblings from New York City back to Syria. Soon after, war breaks out in their Homs neighborhood, and the family must choose to either stay amidst the violence or flee as refugees across much of the Middle East and North Africa. Nour is comforted by her memories of her father and the stories he used to tell her, including the story of Rawiya, an adventuring mapmaker's apprentice who traveled a similar route 800 years before.

The storytelling that weaves these two tales together is masterful, and although it's a work of fiction, I feel like I have a much better understanding of the situation in Syria than I did before. If you're looking for a book filled with strong, resilient women or written by woman of color, move this to the top of your list. It's hard to believe this is the author's debut novel. I hope it's the first of many more to come!



  1. I appreciated your thoughts on The Map of Salt and Stars. It sounds like a book right up my alley!

    1. Thanks, Patricia! It really is a beautiful book. I hope you enjoy it.

  2. I'll be starting A Circle of Quiet soon, so it's interesting to hear your perspective on it and on the third in the series. We'll see how it goes!

    The Map of Salt and Stars sounds excellent.

    1. I hope you enjoy A Circle of Quiet, Allison! I think I'll probably come back around and give it another shot once I read the others in the series.

  3. What a great list. I added a few to my TBR list. I think I am most intrigued by the marriage one.

    1. Thank you for stopping by TJ! I appreciate your feedback :)


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