Never Unfriended: A Book Review and Giveaway!

This past month I had the opportunity to be on my very first book launch team to help promote the release of Never Unfriended by Lisa-Jo Baker. Lisa-Jo is the community manager for (in)courage, a website that I love and that has encouraged me greatly over the years. When I saw that Lisa-Jo’s book was going to be about friendship, I jumped at the chance to review it.

NU_OrderNow-1_1024x683Friendship is something that I have struggled with ever since I graduated college and realized that friendships don’t come as naturally when you’re not constantly surrounded by peers in the same stage of life. I actually wrote a little about my difficulty with friendships on my blog back in 2009 (holy cow, I have been blogging for a long time), and reading that post again made me thankful that 1) so many people in the comments echoed my sentiments and 2) I have come a long way in my pursuit of friendships since that post. Nevertheless, I still feel that I have a lot to learn in this area, and so I was eager to read Never Unfriended and see what it had to say.

The book did not disappoint. I found myself caught up in the book’s opening pages and put my trusty pink pen to work highlighting sentence after sentence.  I took my time with this book so I could stop and think about each chapter and what it said about friendships. I loved Lisa-Jo’s confessional, relatable tone and found so many parts of this book that resonated with me and challenged me to think about the way I approach friendships. Some of my favorite quotes:

“While we might have defined friendship our whole lives by what others do to us, in the end it’s what we do for others that will define us as friends or not.”

“We have worshiped at the altar of inclusion when we were built to worship at the altar of the only living God.”

“Latching in to a friend with the hope that they will give us God-sized affirmation will always disappoint.”

“When we are convinced that our lives bring delight to a God who views us with such an all-consuming passion that He would choose to woo us, love us, die for us, sing over us, and celebrate us, then we are women who can give other the gift of guilt-free friendship.”

“Perfect will leave you lonely. But friendship teaches us that perfect is rarely as interesting and never as satisfying as real.”

“God is wildly in love with even the people who might make us the craziest. The people who are difficult and the people who are grumpy and unhelpful and hard to understand. And sometimes those people are us.”

I wish I could quote all of chapter 10, the chapter titled, “Live Like the Kingdom of God is a Co-Op, Not a Competition.” It talks about jealousy and comparison and how those things can eat away at us and our relationships. It is the chapter that convicted me the most, as I am the queen of comparison and everyone comes out a loser in that game.

The few nitpicks I have are related to the writing style, which uses a lot of choppy, fragmented sentences. She also quotes a lot from secondary sources, and I thought some of the integration of those quotes into her writing could have been smoother. Neither of these things detracts from the book’s message, however.

Bottom line: If you’re someone who has struggled with friendships, this book is for you. If you’re someone who wants more out of your friendships, this book is for you. If you’re someone who loves the friendships you have but want to be a better friend, this book is for you. I definitely recommend it, and the good news is, I want to give away the copy I pre-ordered!

TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY, just leave a comment on the post answering this question: What is one quality you value in your friends? 

The giveaway will remain open until Thursday at midnight. I’ll announce a winner this Friday, April 7. Good luck!

*Disclaimer: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

What I Read in 2016

Of the goals I made for 2016, I am chagrined to admit that I only succeeded in achieving one of them: reading 25 books. In fact, I managed to read 31.5* books this year, so really I’m an overachiever. While for some this is a paltry amount, I’m rather proud of it, as my reading in the past few years has been scattered and lackluster (I didn’t read more than 15 or 16 books in 2014 and in 2015). Like I have for several years, I tracked all of my books using Goodreads, and I thought I would also share them here. I’ve listed the books in the order that I read them, along with the rating I gave each one.

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Photographic proof of my goal achievement. 128%! It’s better than getting an A. 🙂 And yes, that profile picture is not at all current.

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (4 stars)
  2. Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster (5 stars)
  3. Undone by Michele Cushatt (4 stars)
  4. The Trunk Key by Carolyn Nash (2 stars)
  5. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (I didn’t rate this, but this was my review: “This book was so disturbing I can’t recommend it at all.”)
  6. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (3 stars)
  7. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (4 stars). I read this aloud to Charlotte and enjoyed it as much as I remember enjoying it as a kid. I read a lot of other books to Charlotte but didn’t think it was fair to count those, so I just counted one. 🙂
  8. Holding on to Hope: A Pathway Through Suffering to the Heart of God by Nancy Guthrie (5 stars)
  9. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (2 stars)
  10. Looking for Lovely: Collecting the Moments that Matter by Annie Downs (4 stars)
  11. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (5 stars)
  12. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (3 stars)
  13. The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken (5 stars)
  14. Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression by Zack Eswine (5 stars).
  15. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (4 stars)
  16. Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld (2 stars)
  17. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh (4 stars)
  18. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne (4 stars)
  19. The Girl in Seat 24B by Jennifer Peel (2 stars)
  20. *No One Knows by JT Ellison, the reason I only read 31.5 books. I realized about halfway through this one I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters, so I stopped reading. Life’s too short to read books you don’t like, unless you’re in school, kids. Then tough it out. 🙂
  21. Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty (4 stars)
  22. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (4 stars)
  23. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (4 stars)
  24. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala (3 stars)
  25. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (4 stars)
  26. Distant Shores by Kristin Hannah (3 stars)
  27. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda (3 stars)
  28. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (3 stars)
  29. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (2 stars)
  30. The Scars that Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering by Vaneetha Rendall Risner (4 stars)
  31. A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman (4 stars)
  32. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing (4 stars)

Before I looked at this list I felt like I read a lot of the same kind of book, but I think I ended up with more variety than I initially thought. 19 out of the 32 books got a rating of 4 or above, and I am pleased with that. All of the books that got 5 stars (5 of them) I absolutely loved and would wholeheartedly recommend, but they are all pretty different from one another. The books that got 2 stars (5 of them) I really didn’t like much at all, but I kind of hate giving out 1 star ratings, so I ended up not even rating the one book I detested (looking at you, Sharp Objects). Of all the books I read, only 2 are books that I purchased. The rest I read through my library’s online eBook collection, borrowed from a friend (thanks, Leah!), or got for free on my Kindle. I used to buy a lot of books, but as I have gotten older and have more limited space, I really appreciate the ability to borrow books from the library and hope to read most of my books in 2017 that way as well.

I want to approach 2017 with a more structured plan (more on that later), but I’m happy with what I read this year and can’t wait to discover more great books! What were your favorites books from this year?

My Lack-of-Progress Report

As long as I have known how, I have read books. One of my earliest memories involves me getting caught reading Aesop’s Fables in bed when I was supposed to be asleep (I had a very trusty little flashlight that allowed me to stay up many a night, unbeknownst to my parents). I would read during class, at meal times, in the car, everywhere. As I got older, I quit reading in class, but I still would take a book with me if I anticipated having any sort of downtime. In college I would read books when I should have been doing homework. But something shifted in grad school. There, reading was my job, even more so than it had been as an undergrad, and coupled with that “job” came the assisting and teaching of classes, which left me little time for “pleasure reading.” During summers, I rejoiced in not being forced to read, and I would read a lot of fluff, books I’m sure my professors would have been horrified to see me reading (although who knows, perhaps they too are closet fluff-readers).

Now, 4 weeks into the Summer Book Project of 2008, I have yet to complete a single book (although I’m about 100 pages shy of finishing the MacDonald fairy tales. In 4 weeks, I haven’t finished a single book! I’m deeply disturbed by the fact that I have all kinds of free time, and yet I am not reading. No wait, I am reading. Blogs, news headlines, the SparkPeople message boards, facebook posts. Just not any books. How have I come to this point? I have always considered myself a reader, but now that self-descriptive phrase appears to no longer apply.

I recently read an article in The Atlantic that might shed light on my current existential crisis. The author surmises that the Internet (namely, Google) has decreased people’s abilities to digest larger works of literature because everything people now “consume” in a literary sense is in the form of a blog or news headlines or facebook wall posts (my examples, not his entirely). In short, the Internet has changed the way we think, absorb, and process information. Our brains have become adept at skimming over information, looking for only what we came to find, and so we no longer linger over words as perhaps we were wont to do. I found this particular passage to be quite enlightening:

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

This describes my plight exactly! Reading is a struggle (even reading the whole article was difficult), and it almost physically pains me to write out that little confession, but there it is. And it’s not as though this problem is inconsequential; for Nicholas Carr (the author of the article), this crisis of the mind is of utmost importance: “The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking. If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content,” we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture.”

Is there any cure for me? Anyone have any ideas of how to combat this? My very existence as a reader is at stake.

Goodbye For Now

This will probably be my last post for a few days, since we move in the morning and I’ll be out of town anyway. Last night when I was going through the stuff in my room it occurred to me that I keep the strangest things (movie stubs, ribbons I won in 4th grade, notes from all of my college classes, foreign currency I’ll probably never use, random quotes). I have always found it hard to throw things away, and I haven’t quite figured out why, but I think it’s unhealthy. I mean, some of the stuff has sentimental value, but there are other things I can’t part with for fear that “I might need them” at some point or another.

I can’t help but think that shows a lack of trust on my part. I don’t like to over spiritualize things, but maybe part of my reluctance to throw things away is my way of showing God I don’t trust Him to provide. I have this irrational fear that the minute I let go of something, I’ll need it. For example, if I throw away those notes from my first English class in college, what happens if I need them in one of my grad classes? Well, hello, God gave me a brain! I didn’t get into grad school b/c I take good notes, although that does help; I got into grad school b/c I have a certain degree of intelligence, and for whatever reason, UTK saw something in me that warranted admission into their program. God is not going to let me flounder through grad school; He’ll be with me every step of the way, and the help He offers is far more valuable than some notes in a binder. The value I place on these material objects should be overshadowed by the value of the intangible that God offers me everyday–grace, peace, wisdom, truth. Does not His Word say that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness? (See 2 Peter 1:3). So maybe I’ll go throw away that poncho I’ve been saving in case I “need” it…

I hope everyone has a fabulous Memorial Day weekend!

EDIT: Just though you’d all like to know the books I want to read this summer. My list will more than likely expand.

1. Critical Theory: An Introduction by Terry Eagleton
2. An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis (he was a medievalist, you know, which makes him doubly cool)
3. Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway (can you believe I’ve never read it?)
4. Captivating by John and Stacy Eldredge
5. Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
6. Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson
7. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
8. Persuasion by Jane Austen (the only Austen book I haven’t read)
9. Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (July 16, can’t wait!)

Anyone have any recommendations?