Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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“The Novel Cure” : We Are What We Read

Read books more. Read the news less.

This is my new mental health mantra.

Because of the number nine.

Nine. I have nine news apps on my phone. The Washington Post. The New York Times. The Guardian. NPR. Politico. Buzz Feed. HuffPost. The New Yorker. The Wall Street Journal.

Ten. If you count National Geographic.

Never has it been more important to keep up with the world. It’s head spinning the headlines a single week brings. And it’s an essential part of my work to keep up — or at least endeavor to keep up.

Each week I edit our Sunday prayers so that they speak to this hurting world we share. This past week alone I added intercessions for the Group of Seven talks in Quebec, the Korean summit in Singapore, volcano victims in Hawaii and Guatemala, the LGBTQ community for Pride Month, refugees and asylum seekers.

It’s a moving target.  It matters deeply. But I know as soon as they are printed they are also incomplete and possibly obsolete.

And that’s okay. Even in the best of times it’s not humanly possible to digest it all. Habitually surfing the headlines is not good for your mental health. Not good for my mental health, for sure!

So I have resolved to read books more and to read the news less.

To retreat, to refresh, to restore the soul, to recover perspective.

And yes, simply to escape into the world of a good book.

Call it biblio-therapy. Not a word I made up but a real thing. Biblio-therapy was pioneered by the authors of The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You.

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So, here I present my own little version, a diversionary reading list of my own making. Fifteen books that I have recently read, am currently reading, and are in my reading pipeline — the stack of books beside my bed.

Fiction. Memoir. History. Science. Spirituality. Cats. Dogs. Here I list them all in no particular bibliographic order. Reviewers’ quotes shamelessly lifted from dust jackets.

IMG_4860Jamaica Inn, Daphne Du Mauier: The 1930’s classic tale of romantic suspense by the acclaimed author of Rebecca. This is the perfect book to read on a dark and stormy night.

IMG_4871Vinegar Girl: A Novel, Anne Tyler. William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew Retold. “… a knockabout comedy at its best, genuinely laugh out loud funny, and indeed, Tyler’s funniest book to date.” One of my favorite authors, she’s written a lot!

IMG_4872The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr. I read this because I want to write a book — a book still in my head. This one is “full of Karr’s usual wit, compassion, and perhaps most reassuringly self-doubt.”

IMG_4861Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed. “As loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got punk and spirit and makes an earthy and American sound,” A remarkable debut for a first time author.

IMG_4863When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi is the author who died in 2015:  “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality had changed nothing and everything.” “This is an unforgettable, life affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death, and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.”

IMG_4873The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen, Elizabeth Norton. The title pretty much explains this one! “A power hungry and charming courtier. An impressionable and trusting princess. The Tudor court in the wake of Henry VIII’s death… where rumors had the power to determine fate.”

IMG_4862Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World, Christopher De Hamel. A big fat, nerdy book about about books that changed the world with lots of fabulous pictures. “Reading is my life, but only about once a decade do I find a book that seems to tilt the world, so afterwards it appears different.”  My world was tilted!

IMG_4874The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, Kathryn Joyce. An investigative journalist’s deep dive into the world of the for-profit adoption business, misguided evangelical theology, and the lost voices of adoptees and first families. Being in reunion with my daughter Rebecca, this is a powerful and eye opening read.

IMG_4865Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, Alan Lightman. Even though my summer trip to Great Cranberry Isle got cancelled, I am still reading this astrophysicist’s beautiful book. “Deeply brilliant. Alan Lightman’s prose is so simple and graceful that it can be easy to miss the quiet, deep sophistication of his approach to the topic of science and religion.”

IMG_4869Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World, Amir Alexander. Okay, yes, very nerdy I know. But fascinating. This brief history takes us into the lives of “Galileo, Isaac Newton, and Thomas Hobbes, and from the Papal Palace in to Rome to the halls of the Royal Society of London to show how a disagreement over a mathematical concept became a contest over the heavens and the earth.”

IMG_4870After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path, Jack Kornfield. This one I love for the title alone. It draws on the “experiences and insights within the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Sufi traditions… Filled with ‘the laughter of the wise,’ alive with compassion.”

IMG_4868Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, C.S. Lewis. The great Christian apologist of the 20th century, this is his last book. An engaging retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from antiquity written “with new meaning, new depths, new terrors.” Lewis reminds us of “our own fallibility and the role of a higher power in our lives.”

IMG_4866Cats Behaving Badly: Why Cats Do the Naughty Things They Do, Celia Haddon. Having become a crazy cat lady not quite a year ago, this was a must read. I refer to it often.

IMG_4867Dog Crazy, Meg Donohue. A gift from my canine loving friend Chuck, this little novel is “a big-hearted and entertaining story that skillfully captures the bonds of love, the pain of separation, and the power of dogs to heal us.” A great beach or backyard read.

IMG_4876French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, Mireille Guiliano. Self- explanatory!

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Reading has the power to enlarge us and inspire us and entertain us and enlighten us. And dare I say, even heal us.

Reading, Lectio Divina, is a spiritual discipline, no matter what kind of books you read!

So dear readers, tell me. What books do you have stacked up in that pile on your bedside table?

JoaniSign

And check out my favorite book store in D.C! East City Bookshop on Pennsylvania Avenue SE!


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U&U: The List 2016/2017


The third annual U&U List, full of twists and turns, blessing and curse, presented in whimsical and random order for your year ending contemplation and consideration. (And once you’ve read mine, grab pen and paper and come up with your own!)

  1. 2016/2017
  2. 61/62
  3. I’m with Her/I’m Still with Her
  4. Bishop Payne Library/Library of Congress
  5. Ghost of Christmas Present/Ghost of Christmas Future
  6. Story District 1st 2nd Tuesday/Story District 2nd 2nd Tuesday
  7. Unorthodox&Unhinged/Sex&The Single Vicar
  8. Milk/Almond Milk
  9. Mulder/David Duchovny
  10. Whole Foods/Harris Teeter
  11. Blogger/Author
  12. Kindle Fire/iPad Mini
  13. Target/Lululemon
  14. Killer ESP/Killer ESP
  15. Kind Bars/Dangerously Delicious Pies
  16. OK Cupid/DC Singles
  17. #NeverTrump/#NeverEverEverTrump
  18. Old Town/Capitol Hill
  19. Metro/Uber
  20. Priest Associate/Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity 
  21. La Croix/Spindrift
  22. “Going Clear”/”The Path”
  23. TOMS/Bucketfeet
  24. Knowledge/Wisdom
  25. Maniac/Bibliomaniac
  26. Caffeine/Half Caf
  27. Half Marathons/Half Measures
  28. Lewis Carroll/Christmas Carols
  29. Vacuuming/Dusting
  30. Alphabetical/Color Coded
  31. Worshipper/Whisperer
  32. Friend/Femme Fatale
  33. Sirius XM/Spotify
  34. Keeping Secrets/Spilling the Beans
  35. Break Ups/Make Ups
  36. Cider/IPA
  37. Mom/Mom-in-law
  38. Procrastinator/Finisher
  39. Wedding Chapels/Baptismal Fonts
  40. Aunt Joani/Great Aunt Joani
  41. Nail Biting/Manicures
  42. Rosary Beads/Meditation Apps
  43. Head Bands/Head Space
  44. Fair Trade/Free Trade
  45. Off the Cuff/Office Hours
  46. Early Voting/Emigrating
  47. Curtains/Shades
  48. Tights/Spanx
  49. Blue Glasses/Red Spectacles
  50. Gray Hair/God’s Highlights
  51. Preacher/Teacher
  52. Possibility/Possibilities Publishing
  53. God with us/God within us
  54. Burt’s Bees/Bella Cara
  55. Backpack/Purse
  56. Matchie-Matchie/Mix&Matchie
  57. Out of the Pool/Into the Fire
  58. Road Tripper/Time Traveller
  59. Fit to be tied/Wii Fit
  60. Mood Swings/Climate Changes
  61. 6:30/Half Past Six
  62. Business/Pleasure
  63. Ribbon/String
  64. Coworkers/Coconspirators
  65. Democrat/Citizen
  66. Ball Points/Felt Tips
  67. Stuffed Animals/Animal Shelters
  68. Feel the Bern/Feel the Pain
  69. Saint Robin (Williams)/Saint Carrie (Fisher)
  70. “The Tudors”/”The Crown”
  71. Potted Plants/Fresh Flowers
  72. Le Pain Quotodien/Carluccio’s
  73. Starbucks/Stumptown
  74. Victoria’s Secret/Bloomers
  75. Pajamas/Slips
  76. Turtlenecks/Cowl Necks
  77. Collecting/Contemplating
  78. Safety Nets/Safety Pins
  79. Bitches/Bichon Frises
  80. Krispy Kreme/Sugar Shack
  81. Amazon.com/East City Bookshop
  82. Left Turn/”The Right Turn”
  83. Huntley Meadows Nature Park/Flirtatious Downtown Dog Park
  84. Hand Dryers/Paper Towels
  85. E-book/Real Book
  86. Facebook/Instagram
  87. WNS4950/JLPU&U
  88. Baby Spinach/Grownup Kale
  89. Friday Therapy/Wednesday Therapy
  90. Blissed/Blessed
  91. Digestive System/Solar System
  92. Irritable/Anxious
  93. Banker/Debtor
  94. Songster/Dancer
  95. Babbler/Believer
  96. Off Ramp/On Ramp
  97. Oak Trees/Acorns
  98. Hipster/Hope Peddler
  99. Peacock/Like the Bird
  100. Middle Child/Going Wild
  101. Star Gazer/Earth Dweller

And I am ecstatically, exquisitely, eternally grateful to the Creator of the Universe, the Very Ground of my Being for each and every day of each and every year.

Each and every day, even if it be the worst day, is a holy day, a gift.

Big blessings be to you and yours in 2017!