the books julia considered buying *just for this retreat*...but was talked out of by Teri. at least mostly.
the books julia considered buying *just for this retreat*…but was talked out of by Teri. at least mostly.

I’m on silent retreat this week. Is it breaking the retreat to post book reviews? Maybe, but this kind of thing is what you make of it. I came with a list of “should reads”, but on my first morning waking in my little hermitage, I realized how much of life is governed by “shoulds”. Praying out the shoulds, I’ve read what I’ve read, among long walks, journaling, and staring at the sky. I want to commend to you three of the books.


Geraldine Brooks’s The Secret Chord is a novel of the life of David. It has Batsheva, it has Avshalom, it has Mikhal. However, the story is told from the perspective of the prophet, Natan (Nathan). More than just what David was like from another person’s perspective- there are many books that cover that- this book is about what it means to be David’s prophet, David’s accuser, David’s priest, and David’s friend. For almost anyone who is a frequenter of this blog, The Secret Chord will harmonize what you know in your bones about the role of being the professional “voice of God”. If your congregation has not recently done work on the life of David (as mine has), then this novel would be great for a church book club, accompaniment to other study, or for reflection as staff on what it means to speak truth to power with love.

Side note: If you are an Enneagram 3, Brooks totally writes David as a 3. I don’t know that she intended to, but the long passages of his striving, glad-handing, and using the harp as tool for processing all came across to me with 3 resonance. This, of course, made me wrestle because I don’t want to sympathize with David. Ever. Yet, this portrayal of my own number made me see things in the king I never had before. Drat you, Geraldine Brooks!


RevGal Jennifer Garrison Brownell has written a sweet book called Swim Ride Run Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon And Caught My Breath. Brownell intermixes the experience of training for and competing in a triathlon with learning and unlearning some of the certainties of her life. Her writing unspools both what she always thought she couldn’t do (swim) alongside what other people assume is too hard (live with someone in a wheelchair). Her writing is exuberant and thoughtful at the same time, like I imagine having a conversation with her would be. There is an aspect of the book that covers caregiving for her spouse, which is not evident in the book blurb or in the introduction. This tender part of the book gives it heart. Being a caregiver is not all that Brownell is anymore than triathlete or pastor or mother, but these roles and opportunities give shape to her character and to the story so that the reader can find truth in there.

Side notes: If you liked Sabbath in the Suburbs or Any Day a Beautiful Change, this is definitely a book for you. If you are already fairly to very athletic, skip the introduction and go directly into the book. (That’s blasphemy to me, but the introduction is a little self-conscious and the book is worth your time.) If you know someone who is wrestling with physical changes or needing to make this, this is a book to share with that person. Use the Breath Journals for what they are, good spaces to pause and reflect.


Life After Murder: Five Men in Search of Redemption by Nancy Mullane chronicles what happens to those who are finally released from prison following the sentence of “X number of years to life with the possibility of parole” as a result of murder. The reality is that prisoners with that criminal history, that particular sentence, and suitability for parole are extremely unlikely to commit murder again. In fact, they are the best candidates for parole and re-entry into society. The book follows five men in the California system from prison into parole. Mullane (a National Public Radio reporter) speaks to prison officials, lawyers, and state employees about the prison and parole systems. The book is wrenching, hopeful, suspenseful, frustrating, joyful, and grievous. Since I am forever interested in why we imprison so many people, why we commodify the lives of our brothers and sisters, and what the differences between punishment and rehabilitation are, this book was very interesting to me. If your congregation has a heart for prisons, prison ministry, or ex-felons, this book may be useful for study. If you live in California, the book is particularly pertinent. If you are interested in redemption songs stories, this is a book for you.

Side note: I don’t have one, I just thought I better type something here for balance. I will note that this is posted later in the day because I had to wait for Sister Julia (the nun who oversees the retreat place) to have time to let me onto her computer, graciously. I commend Christ in the Wilderness in Stockon, IL to you for silent retreat (with no interwebs unless you go through a nun).


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