The Month in Books: January

books

January! Things sure were crazy this month. I had two back to back work trips to Orlando and Las Vegas (oh, the glamour), which meant I had lots of airplane reading time. Here’s what I read this month.

Hag-Seed (Margaret Atwood)
A modern retelling of The Tempest set in a prison literacy program and written by Margaret Atwood? Yes, please. There was a character named Krampus the Mennonite–I think that’s worth mentioning. This was a story within a story within a story. I loved everything about this. Also, the cover was gorgeous.

Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave (Jill Kargman)
I listened to a radio interview with her, and she was funny. This book, for the most part was not. It was mean-spirited. I don’t have time for humor based solely on making fun of other people.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)
Quick airplane book. This is only my second Neil Gaiman book, and it felt more like an interlude than anything else. It was fine. At times it felt a bit too precocious, a bit too much like what I would expect from a Neil Gaiman novel. At 176 pages, though, who can complain?

The Partly Cloudy Patriot (Sarah Vowell)
I read this right before the Inauguration, which felt appropriate. I want to see what she’s writing now, how she’s processing our current situation. I think what brought me the most comfort from this book was the fact that she is so unabashedly patriotic, even while being upset about where we’re going. America is bigger than the POTUS, bigger than the policies in place. This was a really good reminder of that.

Royal Wedding (Meg Cabot)
Is there anything more delightful than finding a new book in a series you loved as an 8th grader?  When I saw this, I had to grab it for my four hour plane ride to Las Vegas. Meg Cabot has such a fun writing style, and this didn’t disappoint.

The Actor and the Housewife (Shannon Hale)
Did you know it was possible to love a book where the word “icky” is used more than once? It’s true! Oh, but I loved this one. I picked it up because I loved Midnight in Austenland, and kept it on my library pile because the protagonist was Mormon, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a Mormon protagonist. Things I loved about this book: the fast-moving, unpredictable plot. The dialogue. The fact that Becky Jack isn’t afraid of standing up for what she believes in, but she never seems preachy or fake. The family and other background characters. And of course, the romance (even though it wasn’t really a romance). We need more books like this.

Packing for Mars (Mary Roach)
Well, this successfully annihilated any conception that being an astronaut was a glamorous job. Wow. The thing I love about Mary Roach is that she takes such obvious delight in what she’s writing about. She throws herself into whatever it is she is studying, and man but this woman does her homework. I also love the way she weaves in humor and sarcasm, even in the middle of a dense sentence; even in a footnote. Proof that smart is funny and you should never let anyone tamp down your excitement and joy, no matter how strange the subject of it is.

So that’s that! Let’s see what February has in store.

 

Lost and Found

On the first day of 2014, I drove to the grocery store and back without getting lost. It was the first time I had done so since moving to this new town in October—usually a trip there and back had resulted in at least one wrong turn, one moment of reaching for the OnStar button in my car, one moment of I have no memory of this place. Am I still on Earth? I had kind of accepted it.

When I posted about this spectacular feat on Facebook, several family members responded with congratulatory messages: “We’re so proud of you!” “Good job, Amy!” “We knew you could do it!”

We celebrate small victories.

I can do a lot of things, but going somewhere without getting lost at least once is apparently not one of them.

I don’t know what’s to blame for this character trait, but it probably has something to do with the fact that as a kid, I spent every car ride in the backseat with my face in a book, oblivious to the world around me. When I got my driver’s license, I could barely get out of my hometown. I’ve gotten better since then, but barely. I get in the car to go somewhere I’ve been a thousand times before, and then somehow I end up in the wrong neighborhood, on a winding country road, or just generally in the middle of nowhere. I try to embrace it. Like they say on the bumper sticker: Sometimes the journey is the reward.

Sometimes getting lost helps you remember the beauty of the where you live. Once I found three old cemeteries and an abundance of quaint country churches on a beautiful fall day after taking a wrong turn in the middle of Ohio. Another time I ended up taking an accidental tour of Pittsburgh at two in the morning, cruising through Lawrenceville and Bloomfield and then somehow ending up downtown, where the bright lights from theater marquees made it look like midday as their reflections glittered on the snowy sidewalks. I had to see the city while everyone was sleeping to understand its inherent charm.

For a while I worked in southern Kentucky, and there were many spring and summer mornings when I unintentionally discovered rolling hillsides, dilapidated farm houses, a fish hatchery, so many river lakes, and once, a small-town library book sale. During one trip I cruised past a trailer with a big-screen television parked on the front porch and the door wide open. Some horses grazed nearby.

I eventually got where I was supposed to be going.

Even when the road seems too winding and you can’t see the end goal, if you take your time and pray for the best, thing usually work out.

I am always getting lost.

But that’s okay, because there’s a lot to be found.

The Time I Jumped

2011 taught me that if your New Year’s resolution is to be fearless, God will send you to the top of a mountain in a third world country and expect you to jump.

When I made my resolution that year, I meant it.  I’ve spent my whole life being cautious and pragmatic, never taking enough risks.  It was time for that to change.  A few weeks into January, I got invited to join a local church’s July mission trip to Guatemala, and i said yes almost immediately.

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Six months later, I was in the beautiful city of Panajachel, three hours from Guatemala City.  We spent the days traveling to neighboring villages, laying the the foundation of a house and playing soccer with kids.  We spent the evenings wandering through the street markets and eating in restaurants, one of which featured a guitarist who bought everyone a purple friendship bracelet and told us that he was channeling Jim Morrison and we were all so, so connected.

On the last day of the trip, our group piled into a van and drove to a nature reserve, where we spent some time looking at monkeys and then signed up to go zip-lining.  Most of the group stayed, but some went back to the city for an afternoon of coffee and shopping.  With my New Year’s resolution in mind, I stayed.

I don’t like heights.  I don’t like speed.  Yet without really thinking, I decided to go zip-lining in a third world country.

After being fitted for helmets and and going over the rules and technique, we began our trek to the top of the mountain.  It was almost a mile, mostly uphill.  To get there, we crossed several tiny bridges that wobbled menacingly if more than one person walked on them.  (More than one person always walked on them.)  By the time we reached the top and faced the first line, I was breathless and exhausted.

If this was a story on the back of a Sunday School pamphlet or a televangelist’s testimonial, at this point in the story I would have looked around at my beautiful surroundings, smiled, and said “Philippians 4:13!” before cheerfully jumping off the mountain and flying through the air.  Instead, I took one look at the line and burst into tears.

It was then that I realized I had signed up to jump off the side of a mountain at extreme speed while attached to a cord.

I made it only a few feet before reaching for the cord I was attached to and stopping, leaving myself hanging in mid-air, sobbing.  I went a few more feet this way, stop-and-go like a fool, before finally letting myself go.  By the time I made it to the end of the line, it was already my turn again.  At this point, I was completely out of my mind with fear and adrenaline.  Out of pity or a fear of having a crazy blonde American girl trapped in mid-air on their zip-line, the man who was accompanying our group offered to ride the next line with me.

I kept my eyes shut and screamed bloody murder the entire time, but I made it.  Somewhere during the next two line, the man who I was attached to noticed that I was still keeping my eyes firmly shut, although I had finally stopped screaming.

Mira, mira!”  he yelled, pointing to our left.  I finally did.  A blanket of green, tropical forest, and in the background, the lake and volcanoes that defined the landscape.  It was maybe the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  I kept my eyes open from then on.

I eventually grew brave enough to want to zip-line on my own, but my new friend refused.  “Too dangerous,” he told me.  We began to chat as we flew through the air, exchanging names and pleasantries.

“Mucho gusto! Gracias!”  I yelled, trying to remember high school Spanish.  “Mucho gusto!” he replied.

We finished our adventure and went back to the city, where we met up with the rest of our group in a coffee shop.  They asked me how it had been.

“I cried the entire time.  It was so much fun!”

I guess the moral of this story is that if you want to become fearless, you should probably expect to end up flying between two mountains with a Guatemalan man strapped to your back.