Today is World Book Day, and it must be celebrated. I still have a library card, rarely leave home without my Kindle, and love spending hours in a neighborhood book store. My passion for books started early, with Charlotte’s Web, and reading competitions that meant my name went on a cutout, laminated t-shirt in the lunchroom at Central Elementary.
My third grade teacher had a loft built over the wall closets in her classroom, and we could earn the right to climb that ladder, put our feet up and read. I was highly motivated to achieve that time to myself. Judy Bluhm and R.L. Stine, Mary Higgins Clark and Stephen King, Elie Wiesel and Corrie Ten Boom, Shel Silverstein and Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, my young life was rich with stories, words and poems to help with the transitions, pain, joy and emotions of life. Reading gave my heart understanding. Writers with guts, who share their truth with the world, gave me permission (and courage) to do the same.
I love to laugh: Life is far too nuanced for us to leave out laughter. Also, before you go any further, you should know how I loathe Pride and Prejudice.
So boring. We get it, strong female, secret lover who doesn’t speak often.
So, here we go, in no particular order, my Top Ten Favorite “Must Read” Books…
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran cuts to the core of our longing and struggle. His observations are insightful and thought provoking. He has the most brilliant mind. “You give but little when you give your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
Changes that Heal, by Dr. Henry Cloud helped me see myself. I learned why I did what I did, said what I said, and thought what I thought. He led me into the “grey” of life, and removed the mystery of my dysfunctions. I have read this book again and again over the years, and has been one of the most significant recovery tools and workbooks in my life.
An Italian mom of boys, and Martha Stewart’s Executive Food Director, Lucinda spoke to my soul. She is bottom line, no BS, and easy to follow if you aren’t a chef. She tells stories, pairs the dishes, and makes helpful suggestions. Our family favorites include the honey mustard chicken, the cheesy Italian fries, the peach shortcake, short ribs, and the bagel sandwich.
Night by Elie Wiesel opened my eyes to human suffering, as a sophomore in High School, when I read it the first time. Through his story of surviving the Holocaust, he taught me how to be present in pain, that some things will not be neatly packaged, that some parts of life can only be survived, and for that, I am grateful.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is actually my favorite book. (Don’t tell the others.) I laughed myself into a tizzy. All hail Queen Anne. She taught me to show, not tell, to write consistently, to just write the “shitty first draft” already, to take a memory and make it a story, to let the book write itself, to be honest, no matter the cost, to focus on content and the rest will come. This is by far, the best writing advice out there.
The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan came into my life at the perfect time. I was depleted, working in ministry, running on empty. Rest had never really been part of my rhythm of life, and the struggle to turn off my internal hustle left me having panic attacks. A lightbulb came on in me as he compared our (sometimes invisible) culture of anxiety to Pharoah, the task master, oppressive dictator of the Old Testament. I realized I had an internal task master, that I often thought was God, pushing me to strive, and work for God, without me ever really being with God. Hungry for another way, this book filled me with hope, for a life I wanted, and desperately needed. This is another book I return to, often.
Journey to the Common Good, by Walter Brueggemann, who has mentored and shaped my theological perspective of God, the old testament, justice, and neighborliness, perhaps more than anyone. He was the first person I heard criticize King Solomon for his greed. I had thought this for years, but everyone in my church circles kept using him as the “Get Rich” king in all their books and sermons, so I thought I was nuts for the first decade of really reading the Bible for myself. Reading his work, normalized my capacity to interpret scripture, energized my faith, and encouraged me to plumb the depths of systemic injustice and grief, while maintaining hope.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a book that always speaks. Alice is our teacher; her characters bring their whole selves to the novel, and she is a truth-teller. I wept at the injustice. I related to the struggle of being a woman in this world. I shouted every time any of the powerful women found freedom, and I felt encouraged to share my story, and stand up for what’s right. She made me want to see people, really see them, and ask more questions than I was comfortable asking, to press past the surface with people.
Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times, by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, I don’t even know how to sum this one up, but if you are looking for a place for your pain, a higher perspective on the days we are living in, and the courage to do something different, go on and read this. Dr. Rah changed my life with his teaching on lament, and has brought an incredible balance to my mega-church, and southern baptist roots.
Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey, whoo wee doggie, this girl done gone and said all the things that need to be said about the church, without being a bitter, mean spirited, hater. I wept. I mean, I literally held my kindle sobbing hysterically more than once. I loved Sarah’s book, Jesus Feminist, so I was a total fan girl already (even though the church was mad at her about that one, I was shouting her praises). She gave me courage to step out into the unknown, to leave behind what was not Jesus, and to embrace all the mess that comes with an authentic, genuine faith, and faith community.
The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper makes 11 books on this list of 10, but I cannot help myself. If anyone struggles to explain God’s heart for justice, this is a must read for you (or your friend that you are tired of explaining things too – hello 2017-2018). From Genesis to Revelation, Lisa breaks down justice in scripture, how we are each made in the image of God, all equal in His sight, and how we can pursue redemption and restoration together. Lisa is another mentor, and I would read her grocery list, with pleasure, and probably learn something profound.
This is a tiny list of my favorites, and also, my sister, Harmony Dust Grillo, is releasing a second edition of her book, Scars and Stilettos: The Transformation of an Exotic Dancer. It feels like she holds your hand and invites you into her journey. She’s not pushy, not preachy, and through her own truth, invites us to discover our own. She’s one of my favorite writers. You’ll love it.
What are your favorite books? What are you reading now, that’s moving your heart and stimulating your mind? Please do share – I am always on the hunt. Happy World Book Day, my friend!