The Red Couch Book Club

RedCouch-books-2018Tis the season for posts reminiscing about 2017, rating best books of the year, and looking toward the new year. In the land of the Red Couch, this year has been one filled with changes. In March, I was honored to step into the role of editor for this incredible community. You all have stretched my thinking and my reading this year, and it’s been quite an adventure and learning experience!

Something that is so interesting about planning a year’s worth of reading in advance is learning to trust that the right book will be picked for the right month. I found that to be true in so many ways of our 2017 selections, whether remembering the importance of lament to learning the complex history of immigration in the United States to making space for the layers of hospitality this season, each book seemed picked for the right moment in time.

As we sorted and arranged and added books to the 2018 lineup, my hope is that the same holds true for next year. It was difficult narrowing the list down but I love the story we’re trying to tell through these books! Head over to SheLoves to check out our 2018 book selections!

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Environmental Print

Every Tuesday I volunteer in Bea’s class for Writer’s Workshop. It’s been so fun watching the kindergarteners progress in their confidence as readers and writers, even in these first few months of school. A couple weeks ago, the class learned about “environmental print,” or words they already know because they see them daily.

cereal-1444495_960_720Mrs. M pulled out boxes and bags with things like Froot Loops and Cap’n Crunch. Many of Bea’s classmates knew those words right away but Bea didn’t ever raise her hand. The more signs that were pulled out of the bin, the more I realized that the environmental print in our home doesn’t match the environmental print in the homes of her classmates. It’s not that I’m against many of the products used, it’s just that we happen to like other brands.

This exercise made me think about the environmental print in my own world. I’ve been trying to read books that reflect more diversity – authors of different backgrounds and points of view than my own. In the past years, I’ve added Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to my shelves; I’ve looked for authors from different countries and life experiences. I’ve read most of Roxane Gay’s works and am currently reading essays from the Palestinian Festival of Literature. These authors have expanded my world and challenged my point of view.

I was talking with a friend the other day about a book that helped me better understand the evolution of gun laws in America. It gave me reference points and a history of an issue I hadn’t much thought about until recent years. I told her that what I loved about The Second Amendment: A Biography is that it seemed so balanced and unbiased.

But, I was reflecting that if I really connected with it and found it unbiased, it probably wasn’t. I have strong opinions on this particular issue and so any book that I connect with most likely will, on some level, reflect my own worldview.

I realized that, while I’ve been diversifying my reading list culturally and racially, I haven’t been diversifying it politically. Now, there isn’t enough time in a lifetime of reading to read every single point of view from every single issue. I have to be selective and picky to a certain degree. But…. I also strive to be fair and balanced.

As I look through my bookshelves and at the environmental print around our home, it’s pretty clear what our family’s beliefs and values are. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing in itself but I’m challenged to be more open to truly different points of view. As this year winds down and I look back on what I’ve read and make new goals for next year, I’m wondering how to include books from people I don’t agree with. Maybe I need to diversify in different ways.

How do you keep your reading list balanced? In what ways do you seek out other opinions and points of view while recognizing limited time and resources?

Author Interviews

I’ve had the honor of conducting a couple of author interviews recently over at SheLoves Magazine. During Advent, I not only like to read specific devotions but also books that help me slow down, pause, and breathe during this season of anticipation. These two books fit that niche perfectly. They aren’t written specifically for Advent, but their cadence and message would be perfect companions during the next couple months.

red-couch-interviews-kaitlin-curtice3Glory Happening by Kaitlin Curtice
Glory Happening was one of my favorite books this fall and I was so excited for the opportunity to interview her! These short meditations helped me to enter into a spirit of pausing and waiting. You can read our conversation over at SheLoves.

Those Who Wait by Tanya Marlow
Tanya is another author I had the honor of interviewing over at SheLoves. Tanya looks at four Biblical stories of waiting and what we can learn from them. Her book can be read at any point but is especially pertinent for this time of year. You can read our conversation over at SheLoves.

What are books that help you get into the spirit of Advent and Christmas that aren’t explicitly about Advent and Christmas?

Review: A Pocketful of Seeds by Debbie Johnson + Giveaway

One thing I hear over and over when grappling with how to live out justice in my everyday motions is to start small. Find what I can get behind and do that. For some, they have the energy and passion to call their representatives every day or to attend town hall meetings. For others, writing postcards or op ed articles is the best use of their time and resources. Some find inspiration through book clubs or small groups. But still, doing justice every day can be overwhelming.

51k3ZY2-VcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In the midst of writing about doing justice in my daily life, I received a copy of A Pocketful of Seeds by Debbie Johnson. She understands the challenge of staring at the thousands of avenues of spreading hope so she breaks down Bible verses, encouragement, and practical ideas into daily “seeds.” The idea is that when we start with a small seed, life grows.

With a background in social work, Johnson knows first-hand best practices for helping those in our neighborhoods, as well as across the world. Because of her experience, the advice and suggestions given come from a place of expertise.

What I appreciate about A Pocketful of Seeds is that each day is truly a small nugget. They’re an easy couple paragraphs to incorporate into my routines – whether first thing in the morning or during those first few minutes of nap time. Johnson also gives incredibly practical suggestions for how to begin, from ideas for how to help local food pantries to what joyful giving looks like for you and your family.

If you’re looking for a practical way to explore what doing justice can be for you, I’d recommend this daily devotional.

How do you incorporate justice into your daily life? What are some small seeds that have worked for you?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away a copy of A Pocketful of Seeds. Leave a comment about how you are pursuing justice and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, November 10, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Who Is My Neighbor?

I just took a class about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I’ll be sorting through those ideas and perspective for a long time. Partly, because the class was taught by a Palestinian-Muslim woman and so I’m learning to take what she has told us about her experience as truth and also listen to the perspective and stories of my Israeli-Jewish neighbors (and dear friends) as truth. It’s not that they are calling the other side wrong or untruthful. But there are definitely sides.

51lRXUeov4L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In the midst of all of this, I read Mending the Divides: Creating Love in a Conflicted World by Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart. Co-founders of the Global Immersion Project, Huckins and Swigart have devoted their lives and careers to building peace in conflicted areas.

What they’ve learned is that talking and summits are not going to mend the divides of conflict. A radical shift in response the the question, Who is my neighbor? is needed. Or, perhaps it’s not a radical shift. After all, Jesus answered this question through his parable of the Good Samaritan thousands of years ago. It’s a story we’re still learning.

I appreciate the story-driven but practical approach Huckins & Swigart take in Mending the Divides. Each chapter starts with a real-life story, links a Biblical lesson, connects some practical next-steps, and ends with a few questions for reflection. The book is built around four steps to peacemaking: See, Immerse, Contend, and Restore.

As I look for ways to bring peace to this world through my own daily actions, I appreciated the gracious and helpful tone in Mending the Divides. I was reminded that, while international trips are important learning experiences, the real sustaining work of peacemaking happens during school pickup and in our family’s values and actions.

My biggest takeaway, especially in light of walking humbly with God is that peacemaking starts with listening. The more stories I listen to, the more complex a conflict seems. Everyone has a valid point of view and it’s hard to pick a “right side” when you hear stories from all sides. So, I’m listening and learning. I’m remembering that everyone’s experience is true. And, I hope that if more of us stop and form relationships, those divides will be mended.

Have you ever immersed yourself in a global conflict through relationships? How has that changed your perspective? Have you ever intentionally immersed yourself in a local conflict through relationships?

BackyardThis post is Day 28 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

The Power of Stories to Enlarge Our World

If you’ve been around here for even a day or two, you know I can talk books and books all the time. I truly believe reading and engaging in perspectives outside our usual thinking can help change the world. Today, I’m over at SheLoves Magazine sharing some of my journey of reading diversity. Here’s an excerpt, but I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves and join the conversation!

annie-rim-power-of-story3I am a nerd in the very untrendy sense of the word. I don’t wear cool glasses. I know little to nothing about pop culture references. My clothing style is firmly preppy without any funky flair. But I can engage in conversation about a lot of political topics, about some theology, and my favorite: history. As an art history major in college, I learned about the evolution of cultures and societies through their art and literature.

Talking books and ideas lights me up, makes me excited, gives me energy. And so, in today’s culture of divisiveness and other-ing, I turn to books to help me understand.

In her inspiring TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds me of the power of storytelling, of the necessity of listening to the stories of other cultures and experiences. Ideally, this happens face-to-face over a cup of something warm or a shared meal. Realistically, that’s hard to make happen naturally.

I’m unlikely to find someone to be my new culturally-diverse instant best friend, so I have made an intentional point to read more books by people of different nationalities, different backgrounds and identities than my own.

Of course, I had read diverse authors before, working through Paulo Coelho’s magical worlds and my year of books from Iran and Afghanistan. But I knew I needed to be more intentional, to pick books not only because they looked interesting but because they stretched me and grew my perspective. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest!

What are some of your life-changing books? How do you expand your reading horizons?

BackyardThis post is Day 26 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Engaging in Uncomfortable Topics

Sometimes the idea of befriending the checker at the grocery store or volunteering with refugees seems too daunting. It may be outside my comfort zone to strike up a 32075671conversation in the park or I may not have enough extra hours to volunteer somewhere. Does this mean learning about people who believe differently, who look differently, or who are in a different economic bracket is out of our ability?

This is what I love about reading. I may not be able to have coffee with every refugee or march in every demonstration but I can get to know people outside the news headlines and stereotypes through a well-written memoir or well-researched novel.

Earlier this year, I compiled a list of books to help see the “other,” but I thought I’d add a few to it today.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
If you want to read more about immigration and refugees.
This powerful collection of short stories focuses on Vietnamese immigrants who have been displaced and affected by the Vietnam War. Honestly, this is a group of immigrants I don’t think about much. They aren’t in the news; the war ended before I was born, so it seems like history. However, it’s not ancient history. Our involvement in this war has shaped the way we view the military and our world responsibility today. These stories made me think about the lasting impact of our foreign policies and the displacement involved.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
If you want to read more about women’s rights, equality, and oppression.
This was a well… difficult book to read. Most of these fictional short stories included some sort of sexual abuse or violence. They were incredibly hard to read. The reason I always recommend Roxane Gay is because she does not tie up these stories with a neat, redemptive bow. She keeps them incredibly raw and real. After the recent #metoo stories that flooded social media, I think we could all do with a bit more discomfort and openness to hearing the stories of abuse survivors.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
If you want to read more about police engagement in predominantly black neighborhoods.
This book follows the story Starr, a high school girl after she witnesses her best friend shot in a “routine traffic stop.” It’s an incredibly timely book and, while it will make many people uncomfortable, I think that’s the point. Thomas does a good job of bringing the lasting reality of police bias and resulting misconduct to life. This is a young adult novel and, like most YA novels tie everything up with a tidy ending. I guess, at 15, I wanted that type of ending too, but I need to remind myself when I start to roll my eyes.

What are some novels that have helped you learn about uncomfortable topics?

BackyardThis post is Day 21 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.