The Absurd and Amazing Adventures of Cafe Girl: The Reading List

June 17, 2009

The Reading List

Just as I was starting this depression dip, I had a great urge to read. Read anything and everything. My mind wanted to be stretched. I craved the richness of language. I scoured the shelves for copies of The New Yorker, Newsweek and Time Magazine. I couldn't get enough time and space then. There was too much going on.

But now, here we are. All the time in the world. So here's what I've read or been reading:

Angry Conversations With God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan E. Isaacs
I found this purely by accident at Barnes and Nobel. Isaacs is a writer and performer who does improv and writes pieces for NPR. She's quirky and when I grow up, I want to be just like her. Tired of feeling abandoned and neglected by God, Isaacs decides to take God to couples counselling. Each chapter is chronicles her journey from Los Angeles, to New York, her search for God in the American church, and her search for love. I love this book because Susan begins her journey feeling exactly where I am now: completely and absolutely devastated and wondering if God is just out to get you. And, like me, she finds pat Christian answers completely useless. My favorite passage: "Be careful to whom you bare your grief, especially if it's someone churchy, like Martha. Because the Marthas of the world can't leave a question unanswered, a problem unsolved or a sorrow unhealed; they have to fix it....But then when your pain doesn't go away -- when it feels like your intestines are being ripped out and God has abandoned you, or worse: he's there but doesn't care -- when you realize that God himself has orchestrated your collapse -- then Martha will wish she hadn't come to be Jesus to you, because now she's stuck in some crappy midtown cafe listening to your horrifying thoughts about God -- the kind of thoughts she successfully dodges in the the midst of her everyday life. But you're not in everyday life. You're in hell."

The Shack by WM. Paul Young
Made me want to eat scones. Seriously. I must have missed the bandwagon when it came around, because I vaguely remember the book being all the rage. But it was recommended by a friend who read it in her time of depression. The main character, Mack, receives a mysterious note, apparently from God inviting him back to the shack where Mack's daughter was brutally murdered. Mack goes, and God shows up, in the form of an African American woman, a Jewish guy, and a small Asian Woman. (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). There's a lot of cooking and eating in this book and a reference to scones and pastries -- hence my craving for scones. But other than that, the book explores the nature of God, our misconceptions of Him, and His heart for humankind. It touched, in a very thought-provoking way, on topics everyone struggles with -- freewill, why a good God doesn't stop pain and suffering, forgiveness, expectation, disappointment, how we judge God. I liked it well enough, but it wasn't life changing.

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
I'm still trying to get through this one. Written after the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis examines his own agony and sorrow over loss, death, and God's place in it. C.S. Lewis is heady, which was what I was craving. I love the rawness of it. C.S. Lewis, great Christian writer, wonders about God. It comforts me to know that even the best and brightest, especially the best and the brightest, wrestle deeply with God. I really identified with his opening line, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness. The yawning. I keep on swallowing." Erm.. depression, anyone?

Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies
I first heard a review of this book on NPR. Written by actress Isabel Gilies, most famous for her role on Law and Order: Special Victim's Unit as Detective Stabler's wife, it tells the story of how the marriage between Gillies and her poet husband Josiah falls apart after they move to small-town Ohio so Josiah can take a teaching job at Oberlin College. I know it sounds macabre to read something like this when you're not only depressed but your heart is broken. But strangely, it felt comforting. Sometimes you can't see things coming. Sometimes, life does indeed just suck and it's not your fault. This made me smile, "When your marriage falls apart, some very distinct things happen to you. One is you lose about twenty pounds very quickly. Ironically, even though you feel terrible, you start to look pretty." I didn't have a marriage that fell apart, but I think I might have lost a few pounds these past months. And yeah, I got to say, my boobs have gotten really big.

Where Is God When It Hurts by Phillip Yancey
Answer: Around. I know it sounds very flippant, but that's what it comes down to -- God's around. This is my second go-around trying to finish this book. Can't get through it. I also forget that the book is really focused on physical rather than emotional pain. But I've always loved Yancey and his writing style, so I'm going to go back to it and try and finish it this summer. Which brings me to...

Disappointment with God by Phillip Yancey
I just got this in the mail today -- it was a $3 purchase from This one's about emotional pain, so I think I might find it more applicable to where I'm at.

The Bible by... erm... God?
Lest you think I'm not "going to the source." I am reading Scripture. The Psalms more specifically in both The Message translation and the New American Standard. I've never sought more scripture in my life, mostly in a bid to just calm my soul. My new favorite is Psalm 77 in The Message version. It begins like this: "I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens. I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord; my life was an open wound that wouldn't heal. When friends said, "Everything will turn out all right," I didn't believe a word they said." But don't worry, the Pslamist goes on to remember God and His goodness, pondering over what God has done. I like Psalm 77 because it's so real. I know God is real and I know God is good. Hell, I even know God is here. But because my wound is so open, I just need to yell a bit. I'm in pain, ok?

1 comment:

Susan Isaacs said...

Hey Cafe Girl! Thank you for mentioning my book, Angry Conversations With God! When I was going through my own private hell, my pastor recommended two books to me I really didn't want to read 'another book,' but they turned out to be very helpful. "Shattered Dreams" by Larry Crabb; and "A Grace Disguised" By Jerry Sittser. Both cringe at the pat christian answers people lob at you.

In the end you just have to walk through it, but it will get better. I promise. Thanks again for the mention! Susan