Coffee and Irony 2021 Reading Challenge: Karen Swallow Prior, Tamar Adler, Flannery O’Connor, and Rupi Kaur

Tis the season in which the book world explodes with reading challenges, but since I’m…..passionate? Extra? I wasn’t satisfied with any of the ones I’ve seen, so I made my one. Nothing particularly unusual here, just categories that suit me perfectly – and may suit someone else, who knows? I’ll list the categories first, then a breakdown of which books I’ll be reading for each category.

1. A book about books or reading

2. A book set in Russia

3. A book about food or cooking

4. A book about productivity, organizing, or cleaning

5. Unread book by a favorite author or an author you’ve enjoyed in the past

6. Choose Your Category – I’m doing works by Flannery O’Connor and Wendell Berry, two authors I’ve needed to read for a long time

7. A book of theology

8. A book about a current issue from a Biblical perspective (adoption, human trafficking, poverty, homelessness)

9. A work of philosophy or political thought (this can be very short – there are actually quite a few short books especially in the “political thought” realm)

10. A collection of poems by a single poet

11. A memoir

12. Bonus Choose Your Category – I’m going with a book on creativity or art

*Note: my choices below are linked to Goodreads, partly because it’s by far the most useful way to organize books and to-read lists, and partly because I interned there in college so have a ton of loyalty.

  1. A book about books or reading. Of course this has to be On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior, whom I love and follow on all channels (had a moment of such pure delight when the lady herself followed me on Instagram!!).
  2. A book set in Russia – I swear to all reading souls that I will finally finish A Gentleman in Moscow. I swear! It’s a brilliant little book I was just in a Mood when I tried it the first time.
  3. A book about food or cooking. Tamar Adler and Shauna Niequist are the queens of writing about food in a non cookbook form in my opinion, though I have very complicated views of Niequist’s apallingly tone-deaf privileged tone when talking about her life (privilege is a word I rarely use but when she casually mentions staying at hotels all over the world as a child and spending every summer at a lake house as an adult, yet seems to have zero understanding that that alone is a lifestyle unobtainable and foreign to most of us and constantly complains of how hard life is!? It’s hard to put up with. I was a missionary kid and pastor’s kid too: trust me when I say my life did not resemble hers :).

    Having said that, Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace is one of my favorite books not just about food but of all time, so to say I’m excited to dive into her Something Old, Something New: Oysters Rockefeller, Walnut Souffle, and Other Classic Recipes Revisited is an understatement. I’m also preemptively obsessed with The Art of Eating by M.F. K. Fisher so that’s probably on the palette too: here’s a quote.

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

4. A book about productivity, organizing, or cleaning. Tim Challies’ short and hopefully sweet Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity is my pick (for those who don’t know, Challies is a very popular Reformed book reviewer and blogger: attended part of his panel at the 2019 Sing! Conference and have followed him loosely for years).

5. Unread book by a favorite author. I’m gonna whisper this real quietly in a darkened room. I LOVE Dickens. And I majored in English Literature. But I have never read Hard Times. So I’m comin’ for the hardest of times.

6. Choose Your Category: for me, a book by Flannery O’Connor and something by Wendell Berry. These folks are absolutely revered by literary Christians – along with people like Tolkein and Marilynne Robinson – and yet while I love both of those two, I’ve always been unable to get along with O’Connor or Berry. Listening to The Literary Life podcast recently, they mentioned that sometimes readers hate O’Connor until they read her letters: in understanding who she is through this personal lens, they’re able to find meaning in her other work. I’m going to give that approach a shot by reading The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor.

As for Berry, apparently his books fall loosely into a series called the Port Williams series, and while it starts with Nathan, the second, called A Place on Earth, is the first to be rated 4+ stars on Goodreads, and as a self-help habit I never read books rated less than 4 stars on Goodreads (GR ratings are the IMDB ratings of books: crowd-sourced yet fanatically, shockingly accurate. Except for young adult books. But who trusts YA as a genre anyway?). I will be attempting to Get Into Wendell Berry by reading A Place on Earth.

7. A book of theology. NT Wright is seeping to everywhere with his New Perspective on Paul, so it seems very timely to read this Banner of Truth publication on the movement. Getting the Gospel Right: Assessing the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul.

8. A book about a current issue from a Biblical perspective (adoption, human trafficking, poverty, homelessness). Adopted for Life by Russell Moore – Moore is a leading evangelical writer and intelletual who was adopted himself, and this book apparently combines his personal story with a theological look at the topic.

9. A book of philosophy or political thought. Finally gonna knock the seminal, Super Important Stuff is in these pages, Common Sense by Thomas Paine off my list.

10. A book of poetry. An unorthodox choice of book, but I’m fascinated by the rise of “Instagram poets”, and Rupi Kaur is probably the queen of them, and unlike most of them her work seems actually good? She got famous by posting short visual poetry to Tumblr and Instagram, but there’s real power and talent in the bits of her pieces I’ve read so far. Milk and Honey is her first collection, published in 2014. But I will ALSO be reading Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford. He is best know for this mindshattering bit:

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life.
     —from Ask Me

11. A memoir. Most likely this will be something on Winston Churchill, that bombastic legend of a man. The Literary Life podcast informed me that the Paul Johnson bio is fantastic so likely that will be it.

12. Bonus Choose Your Category: A book about creativity or art. Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark stormed across my creative landscape in 2020. For 2021, I’ll be reading this 1979 classic, now revised by the author, that apparently is an enduring beginner’s book on how to draw: The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I’m also interested in reading The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers.

Find all these books and others I plan to read in 2021 on this Goodreads list!

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