Holly's Recent Book Picks

Holly's Most Recent Book Picks.


I'm frequently asked what I'm reading so I thought I'd make some notes here.


Non-Fiction

No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are by Jack Kornfield


Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield has produced another spiritual classic in this 2017 release. It is an enticing book about spiritual freedom and in-the-present living filled with memorable stories and highly useful practices.

(listed here summer, 2017)


Fiction

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin


Gail Godwin writes perceptively of fears and vulnerabilities, this time helping us to comprehend the complex grief of orphaned Marcus, an eleven-year-old boy who discovers strange comfort in his only living relative,  boldly flawed Aunt Charlotte. I agree with author John Irving who says, "I've long thought of Gail Godwin as a present-day George Eliot—our keenest observer of lifelong, tragically unwitting decisions."

(listed here summer, 2017)


Non-Fiction

Blessed Relief: What Christians Can Learn from Buddhists about Suffering by Gordon Peerman


This book is a must read for all ministers, therapists, and spiritual directors. It is one of the best books I've read in the last decade about non-attachment, healing, and living in the present moment. I wish I could have had access to it years and years ago as a young pastor! I would have possessed a lot more equanimity and a lot less judgment. Peerman brings to this fine book all of his accumulated wisdom as an Episcopal priest, a therapist, and as a Buddhist-Christian.

(listed here summer, 2017)


Fiction

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan


This is a gorgeous novel about the loneliness and lostness of being an immigrant, the unwavering and sometimes undeserved allegiance to the Roman Catholic church, and the enduring love of a large Irish Catholic family. I could not put it down.

(listed here summer, 2017)


Non-Fiction

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert


In Big Magic, prolific and steadfast author Liz Gilbert articulates her creative process of writing: showing up at her desk each day, trusting her ability to write, giving thanks for the joy of writing, and remaining unaffected by good or bad reviews. She is honest and forthright about the privilege, delight, vulnerabillity, and heartbreak of writing. This is an invaluable handbook for anyone who takes seriously their art or their creativity.

(listed here summer, 2017)


Fiction

The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton


This is a beautiful book about apples, orchards, reverence for the land, eccentric family members who love one another deeply — and a young girl who is trying to make sense of it all. Jane Hamilton writes with sensitivity, charm, and wicked humor.

(listed here spring, 2017)


Fiction

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson


I picked up this novel because I had been crazy about Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand which I mentioned below in the summer of 2012. The Summer Before the War is a beautifully crafted, unhurried, and deliberate examination of innocence, denial, upheaval, and change in the era of the Great War. Helen Simonson is always splendid.

(listed here winter/spring 2017)



Non-Fiction

On Living by Kerry Egan


This is an engaging and funny memoir by hospice chaplain Kerry Egan. Her chapter on accepting and cherishing one's physical body is truly memorable.

(listed here winter/spring 2017)



Non-Fiction

The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope


This was my go-to Christmas present book for December of 2016. It is an exceptionally helpful book about dharma and callings. Author Stephen Cope examines well known historical and modern figures such as Jane Goodall, Robert Frost, Marion Woodman, and Harriet Tubman to teach us about particular gifts, obstacles, and perspectives which may guide us in clarifying our own vocations.

(listed here winter/spring 2017)



Non-Fiction

This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick


This throughly researched and actively lived volume by young writer Melody Warnick reminded me of why I have come to value Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a place I despaired of and wept over at first. This book explains clearly how we discover hidden gems in our community and how we come to invest effort, time, and money in a town's geography, natural resources, people, and local business. This is a heartening and informative read for those who have lived in one place a very long time and for those who have recently moved.

(listed here winter/spring 2017)



Non-Fiction

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett


This book is Krista Tippett at her best: vulnerable, self-revealing, and vastly perceptive. She also shares deep and lovely wisdom from brilliant conversation partners she has interviewed over the years on her On Being radio show. I have taken endless notes in the margins!

(listed here summer 2016)



Non-Fiction

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem


In this glorious collection of essays by the renowned author, activist, and community organizer, Steinem demonstrates her passion and fidelity to those whom she serves. This world is much improved through her keen powers of observation and truth-telling. This book has meant a great deal to me after I saw Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker at Ghost Ranch in October of 2014.



Memoir

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


This exquisite memoir will become a classic in the literature of death as did John Gunther's Death Be Not Proud over 65 years ago. Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon with a master's degree in English from Stanford, documents his own dying from the perspective of a doctor, a scientist, a poet, a parent, and a husband. The result is lucid, lyrical, and unimaginably heartbreaking. This book is not to be missed and is going to be on everyone's reading lists for decades. Paul died in March of 2015 before the book was finished, so his wife, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi has completed the volume with a magnificently eloquent and loving tribute in the epilogue. It was a natural progression for me to read this book after Dr. Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. See that review below.

(listed here summer 2016)



Fiction

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce


St. Augustine said "Solvitur ambulando." "It is solved by walking." Harold Fry walks the length of England to lay eyes upon his dear friend Queenie Hennessy before she dies. And, as it turns out, his whole life is "solved by walking." Harold's spellbinding journey is a pilgrimage to healing and reconciliation, with plenty of unexpected and grace-filled encounters experienced along the way. After you've finished absorbing Harold's amazing pilgrimage, don't forget to read the sequel which is Queenie's affecting version of events, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.

(listed here summer 2016)



Non-Fiction

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande


This book, written by a doctor who is a surgeon and a professor at Harvard, was my go-to Christmas gift this past holiday season. I gave it to everyone. This is the best book I've read about getting old, planning ahead, and making good quality of life choices. The impetus of our culture and the medical establishment tends to put all of its money and priorities on safety rather than purposefulness and connectedness. This groundbreaking volume talks about how we might be safe as we age and still have a reason to get out of bed in the morning using our gifts and thriving in community. You will love this book because Dr. Gawande is not only humble and wise, he is a grand and colorful storyteller as well. One writer has added, "Riveting, honest, and humane, Being Mortal shows how the ultimate goal is not a good death, but a good life — all the way to the very end."

(listed here winter/spring 2016)



Memoir

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint

Non-Fiction

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong Places


Both of these fine books are by Nadia Bolz-Weber whom I have recently discovered — and I just love her! What a startlingly fresh voice from this densely tattooed Lutheran clergyperson who is the pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. She is an uncanny cross between Anne Lamott and Barbara Brown Taylor. She brings together Anne Lamott's hilarious irreverance as well as her "You know I'd be literally dead without Jesus" desperate, grateful conversion. She brings Barbara Brown Taylor's rich storytelling and expansive theology. Nadia Bolz-Weber is wicked, worldly, and devout. She's quick to tell us that if God can save her, God can save anyone.

(listed here winter/spring 2016)


Non-Fiction

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren F. Winner


This book, unlike any other, is academic and theological, earthy and sensual. The new metaphors for God are wild, deep, and visceral. This book will grab you.

(listed here fall/winter 2015)


Fiction

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain


This is the story of Hadley Richardson Hemingway, the first of Ernest Hemingway's four wives. Author McLain captures beautifully the giftedness, the recklessness, the striving, of the Lost Generation of writers in Paris in the 1920s. You will come to know many of them including Hemingway's mentor, Gertrude Stein. This novel is insightful and devastating.

(listed here fall/winter 2015)


Fiction

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain


You can taste and feel and smell the wildness of Kenya in the 1920s in this story of Beryl Markham. Courageous Beryl was the first licensed female racehorse trainer in Africa and the first woman to fly alone from east to west across the Atlantic. Tenacious, daring, and constantly thwarted by the stuffy patriarchy of British Africa, Beryl still makes her mark. Author Paula McLain is brilliant.

(listed here fall/winter 2015)


Fiction

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf


This new little book, by the author of Plainsong and Eventide, is a gem. Grace-filled, elegant, and subtle, it is about loneliness, old age, and intimacy. Authors David Rhoades ("Driftless") and Kent Haruf possess a similar style.

(listed here summer 2015)


Fiction

Euphoria by Lily King


This enthralling historical fiction is loosely based on a short period in the lives of anthropologists Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Reo Fortune. Most of the time, author Lily King creates her own tale. This novel is an exciting read which allows us to see how three gifted anthropologists of the 1930s relate to their work, their observations and note-taking, their tribes, and one another. It is a memorable peek into the science of anthropology.  Euphoria will please readers of Ann Patchett's State of Wonder. — See review below.

(listed here summer 2015)



Fiction

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant


This satisfying novel written in the spirit of Colm Toibin's Brooklyn (see below) is a fascinating account of Addie Baum's life as told to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter. Born in 1900 to immigrant parents, Addie shares her life's tale with all its losses, struggles, and triumphs. This novel, by the author of The Red Tent, is Addie's compelling personal story as well as the revelatory and symbolic story of a woman's possibilities and limitations in the twentieth century.

(listed here summer 2015)


Non-Fiction

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer


This gem of a book is a fine contribution to sabbath literature in an upbeat, modern way. In our communication saturated culture, Iyer talks about the lifesaving qualities of stopping and Internet sabbath and unavailability. It is noteworthy that the well known travel writer Iyer writes here about adventures in going nowhere. You will remember the impact of this 74-page book for a long time.

(listed here winter/spring 2015)


Fiction

Lila by Marilynne Robinson


In this marvelous prequel to Gilead, Pulitzer Prize winning author Robinson tells the story of Lila, Rev. John Ames' young second wife who becomes the mother of his only living child. Lila's survival and resilience are remarkable, as is her ability to love and trust the old pastor. Author Robinson proves well that she understands soul-withering poverty and abandonment.

(listed here winter 2014)


Fiction

The Liar's Wife by Mary Gordon


In this stunning collection of four novellas, Mary Gordon explores lives vastly different from her own. Gordon is an astute observer of behavior and touches on universal vulnerabilities which make us squirm. These wondrous stories are expertly crafted.

(listed here winter 2014)


Fiction

Point of Direction by Rachel Weaver


Anna and Kyle agree to be lighthouse keepers on a remote Alaskan island as they sort out their demons and their relationship. This book is a psychological thriller as well as a profound exploration of forgiveness of oneself and others.

(listed here summer 2014)


Fiction

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent


This astonishing and perceptive novel was published in 2013 by an author born in 1985! Although a work of fiction, this historical fiction was painstakingly researched and based on the 1830 execution of a young farm worker, Agnes Magnusdottir, who was the last person to be put to death in Iceland. During the last months of her life, young Agnes was sent to live with an Icelandic family whose members were forced by the law to take her in. The family's affection for Agnes and their grief at her execution changes them forever.

(listed here summer 2014)


Fiction

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd


This will undoubtedly be Sue Monk Kidd's great epic novel. It is ambitious, fastidiously researched, and spellbinding. This story of slavery is told through alternating voices: the voice of Sarah, the plantation owner's daugher, and the voice of Hetty, Sarah's own slave. This book is brutal and inspiring, a tale of misery and degradation, but also a tale of courage, vast perseverance, and hope.

(listed here spring 2014)


A Collection of Short Stories and Essays

The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett


This collection of short stories and essays will bring delight to fans of Ann Patchett who is also the author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder. This book insures that award-winning Ann Patchett will continue to be regarded as one of America's most elegant and insightful writers. I have given this book to numerous friends as a birthday gift. (listed here spring 2014)


Non-Fiction

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz


This is a great read about the crippling power of too few choices and too many choices. How do we absorb enough information, but not too much, in order to choose wisely? Barry Schwartz teaches us how to navigate confidently and well in this information rich age.

(listed here spring 2014)



Fiction

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri


Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri scores again with this memorable novel about two Calcutta-born brothers, one a Maoist revolutionary in India, the other a marine biologist who emigrates to America. It is a heartbreaking yet redeeming tale about courage, displacement, abandonment, and connection. There are few writers who articulate emotion as rawly and deeply as Lahiri.

(listed here winter 2014)


Memoir

Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson


Thirty-three year old Artis Henderson creates a beautifully crafted, unflinching memoir in memory of her husband Miles who died in a sandstorm in 2006 while piloting a helicopter in Iraq. She tells the story of her unlikely union with Miles, the deep love they shared, her circuitous path through loss and grief, and how she navigated a military life. This is an excellent first book by a promising new writer.

(listed here winter 2014)



Non-Fiction

The Power or Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life by Robert Brooks, Ph.D. and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D


Authors Brooks and Goldstein have written a comprehensive guide to the building blocks of resilence. These include cultivating empathy, managing stress, accepting oneself and others, communicating effectively, learning from mistakes, developing self-control, and claiming areas of expertise. This book relies on solid research, compelling stories, and insightful case studies.


My favorite part of the book was the section in "Dealing Effectively with Mistakes" on overcoming fear of failure. Extremely helpful!

(listed here winter 2014)


Fiction

Jewelweed by David Rhodes


David Rhodes triumphs with this new novel, which like Driftless, depicts the heart-rending struggles of small town folks in the driftless region of Wisconsin. He also takes on the supermax prisons in this book, reminding us of their persistent inhumanity and their huge commercial profits. I was so sad when this book was over because I wanted to read about these Jewelweed characters forever.  I was delighted to have David Rhodes sign my copy of Jewelweed at Boswell Books in Milwaukee.

(listed here summer 2013)


Non-Fiction

The Myths of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky


I draw on this book every week to become more resilient myself or to pass on some wisdom to one of those who come for spiritual guidance. Dr. Lyubomirsky, the world's foremost science of happiness researcher, teaches us to swim against established cultural currents and to find happiness and redemption in unanticipated circumstances and in unexpected places.

(listed here summer 2013)


Non-Fiction

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott


This is a glorious little book on prayer written by the astonishingly religious, irreverent, and hilarious Anne Lamott. Lamott is credible because she shares her suffering unreservedly, and how by mercy and grace, she survives. My favorite quote from the book is this:


If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.

(listed here spring 2013)


Fiction

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty


This haunting and beautifully written novel tells the story of Louise, age fifteen, and Cora, age thirty-six, her married chaperone, both of whom venture forth from Wichita, Kansas in 1922 and come of age on a trip to New York City. It is a novel chock-full of secrets and losses and undreamed of possibilities. This book also relates the saga of the orphan trains which took children West over a span of seventy years. The Chaperone is a startling and compelling read.

(listed here spring 2013)


Non-Fiction

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown


This life-changing book written by shame researcher Brene Brown is off the charts amazing. In discussing the pervasiveness of shame, she also offers us tools to overcome that shame: worthiness, resilience, wholeheartedness, and hope. In the end, she says, it's all about being willing to be vulnerable. As we dare greatly, we model vulnerability and risk-taking for our children and grandchildren as well as for the companies and institutions we serve. Along with Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, I am going to be giving Daring Greatly to all new parents.

(listed here winter 2012-2013)


Fiction

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas


I purchased Tallgrass in the bookstore at the Japanese Internment Camp (now a museum) in Manzanar, California. This outstanding novel is set in a small Colorado town where another Japanese Internment Camp was located. Tallgrass is a remarkable coming of age story reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird. This time, however, the heroine is not Scout, but Rennie, who grows up fast during the intense and terrible years of World War II. Rennie matures quickly as she learns about violence and racism, but also of friendship, risk-taking, and the power of love.

(listed here fall 2012)


Memoir

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball


Harvard grad Kristin Kimball is a captivating writer who tells us what it takes to live off the land and to be an organic farmer producing a “whole diet” for hundreds of people. An urbanized New York City travel writer, she amazes herself by falling in love with a farmer and with farming and writes passionately of her crops, her animals, and her land. Who knew that I wouldn't be able to put down a book about farming?

(listed here fall 2012)


Memoir

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White


In 1993, thirty-two year-old Neil White is sent to federal prison for bank fraud. This federal prison is in Carville, Louisiana, the town founded by Clinton aide James Carville's grandfather. In 1993, Carville is the site of a federal prison, an order of nuns, and the last remaining leper colony in the United States. In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is Neil White's story of gaining humility and wisdom from the lepers with whom he lives.

(listed here fall 2012)



Memoir

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed


This astounding memoir recounts Cheryl Strayed's 1100 mile solo journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. The author looks back on her twenty-six year-old self embarking upon and enduring this wild pilgrimage in order to overcome her fear, to heal her grief, and to exorcise the damaging memories which haunt her.

(listed here summer, 2012)


Non-Fiction

The Wisdom to Know the Difference by Eileen Flanagan


This volume, based on the Serenity Prayer and written by a Quaker, is the best book on discernment I've read. Her chapter on “Letting Go of Outcomes” is especially good.

(listed here summer 2012)


Fiction

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson


This delightful comedy of manners is both hilarious and heartbreaking. It is a sweet story of persevering love which overcomes cultural stereotypes and prejudice.

(listed  here summer 2012)


Memoir

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton


Author Gabrielle Hamilton holds an MFA in fiction and is the chef/owner of New York City's esteemed restaurant Prune. Her no holds barred memoir is the story of her evolution into New York City's best chef. (James Beard Award 2011) This gritty memoir also chronicles her abandonment as a young girl, the birth of her young sons, her adoration of her mother-in-law in Italy, and the demise of her marriage to an Italian doctor. Her intimacy with food is so intense and so lovely you may have to wipe drool off the page.

(listed here winter 2011)



Non-Fiction

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr


Rohr writes: “If you are on course at all, your world should grow much larger in the second half of life.” He teaches us how to loosen our grip, to expand, to release. Most significantly he shows us how to make good use of suffering and failure. I will be re-reading this book for years.

(listed here fall 2011)



Fiction

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal


This exquisitely written novel is a tender coming of age story set in Nebraska. It is also an epic love story about hard choices and second chances. This book contains the most wondrous description of a first date I have ever read. Enthralled by McNeal's characters, I stayed up way too late night after night.

(listed here here fall 2011)


Fiction

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett


Just as she did in Bel Canto, Ann Patchett lures us into exotic and disturbing worlds we don't want to leave. The completely unexpected ending of this book will make you gasp and weep.

(listed here fall 2011)



Fiction

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow


Heidi Durrow, who won the Bellwether Prize for fiction for this novel, tells the story of Rachel, a biracial child who literally falls from the sky and survives a horrific family tragedy. The author, a daughter of a black parent and a white parent, is a particularly astute observer of race and culture.

(listed here fall 2011)



Biography

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder


Tracy Kidder brings us the unforgettable story of Deo, a medical student in New York City who has survived genocide in Burundi. Kidder exposes us to the despair and slaughter of civil war, but also gives us an astonishingly resilient hero. This book is full of horror and grace.

(listed here summer 2011)



Memoir

Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival by Anderson Cooper


Anderson Cooper lets us see his vulnerable and broken heart in this intimate memoir. He tries to come to grips with the tragedy he witnesses as well as the lingering despair of his young brother's suicide. This is such a touching memoir that it makes me want to watch Cooper on CNN all the time.

(listed here summer 2011)



Fiction -- Short Stories

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon


Siobhan Fallon, an insightful writer and army wife, has written a stunning collection of short stories about military families at Fort Hood. She writes astutely about the terrible stress war inflicts on spouses, partners, and children.

(listed here summer 2011)



Fiction

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese


This is the best novel I've read in several years! This grand epic, set primarily in Ethiopia during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, tells the life story of twins born in a mission hospital. Their father is a British surgeon; their mother is an Indian nun. The medical details included in this book add to its credibility and richness. Author Abraham Verghese is a doctor and  professor of medicine at Stanford.  

(listed here summer 2011)



Non-Fiction

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell


I am going to give this to all moms and dads at their baby showers! I wish I had received it before I raised my children. --  A number of outrageously successful people have simply been born at the right time in history, but it mostly boils down to finding your voice and putting in your 10,000 hours of mastery. This book is fascinating reading and Gladwell's examples are intriguing.

(listed here winter 2011)



Fiction

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin


A jewel.  I loved this novel set in the first half of the 20th century. It is the story of Eilis, a young girl who leaves her intimate and familiar community in Ireland to make a living by herself in New York City. It is an immigrant's touching tale of deprivation, loneliness, exhilarating love, and excruciating choices.

(listed here winter 2011)



Non-Fiction

A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller


Wayne Muller delivers again in this satisfying, counter-cultural handbook of Enough.  He is a magnificent storyteller and enthralls us -- most memorably with his personal tale of spiritual and physical sufficiency during a slow recovery from a damaged heart. He explores the question “What is enough?” in every conceivable way.  (listed here fall 2010)



Fiction

Driftless by David Rhoades


Glorious writing! Colorful, memorable characters in a small town in the driftless (where the glacier didn't go) area of Wisconsin.

(listed here summer 2010)



Memoir

Deep Peace by Mary Pipher     


The author of Reviving Ophelia offers us a tender, honest, vulnerable memoir describing what made her who she is and her breakdown in 2002. She vividly describes the stress of book tours, relentless travel, and the pressure to please the media.  She inspires us with the story of her recovery and the reclaiming of her true values.

(listed here summer 2010)



Memoir

The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana


This is the story of a young Fulbright scholar's year in Syria during the Iraqi War.

She becomes fluent in Arabic, considers becoming a nun, and discovers an unexpected love.  With a degree from Harvard Divinity School, she writes lucidly of war's deep pain and her struggle to answer God's call.  A mystic and scholar's Eat, Pray, Love.

(listed here summer 2010)